“Consciousness is a continuous process of unfolding,” writes Thom Cavalli, “punctuated by dislocations and reunions.” These dislocations are necessary so that opposite polarities of consciousness, which are incomplete in themselves, can view each other clearly and make the adjustments necessary to come into synthesis and reunion again.
Such dislocations may come in the form of crisis, an abrupt intrusion of imbalanced energy into what had seemed a stable field. Under the influence of this intrusion hitherto hidden psychic factors make their unexpected appearance.
Crisis serves to expose polarities that have been suppressed by the prevailing order. Polarization manifests the Yin/Yang in its more extreme states – a turbulence we interpret as chaos and experience as disorientation and distress. And yet such chaos can be a necessary prelude for those opposing polarities to be reconciled.
In the realm of self-awareness, the Yin/Yang polarities are represented by consciousness and unconsciousness. Within a person's unconscious are repressed patterns (called shadows) that reflect our disenfranchised self – ways we have been, things we have experienced, that we intensely dislike and so push out of awareness. Being unconscious, they can irrupt into waking life without our quite realizing what is happening or the part we are playing in it.
To bring one of these patterns into consciousness requires dreaming it awake – luring it into objective view where it can be witnessed in all its luridness. Such a dreaming awake usually produces an uncomfortable situation thoroughly infused with the wounded qualities of our suppressed psyche, a drama in which antagonist and victim seem indisputably identified.
Once such a psychic polarization has occurred, an opportunity for resolving that irrupted pattern is at hand. The shadow cannot be effectively confronted until it has manifested consciously, therefore bringing it out - through dreaming it awake - is a necessary (though extremely difficult) part of the healing process.
When the urge becomes overpowering to assume some past role, along with the familiar (though usually unpleasant) emotions that role dictates, this is a signal the shadow has emerged from unconsciousness and is parasitically living through us. We, as host of this unintegrated manifestation, assume its unconscious state and therefore offer no resistance to its imbalanced energies.
In fact, the natural propensity is to identify with superficial characterizations (victim, perpetrator, etc.) and fully accept the shame these roles prescribe. Nourished by this, the shadow drinks from the intensity of our involvement in the drama it has unleashed. After filling up at the pump of our darker emotions it can slink back unnoticed into the unconscious until hungry once more.
In that moment when the shadow seems most powerful – in its outward manifestation – it is paradoxically also most vulnerable. Here is the point of intentionally “dreaming it awake,” for in bringing unconscious content into view we have the chance to sooth and balance disturbed and distorted portions of our psyche that are usually beyond reach.
Taking advantage of this weakness is challenging however. To begin with, we must recognize that the conflict is not really between, or about, external parties. Anyone involved in facilitating this process is a friend, provided our overreaching intent is to be healed. Nevertheless it is we ourselves who must do what seems impossible when the shadow is ravenously stalking – namely, not feed it.
“Not feeding it” means not allowing the shadow (which will feel like us) to embody whatever emotions (self-justification, self-vindication, blame, etc.) the situation seems to bring up and entitle us to. Nor can we simply numb out. Rather, we need to be consciously present with the intensity of the uncomfortable feelings that arise - while doing nothing to either express or expiate them.
If we can sit in this nerve-jangling state, giving all those wild and wounded emotions our fullest compassionate attention - while simultaneously denying them their usual destructive discharge routes - we will be performing a microcosmic salvific act. The energy that would have continued to feed our sense of disempowerment, as personified by the shadow, will be retained for consciousness and fuel our own awakening.
By surrendering to what had seemed like death – and not dying – we will experience a resurrection that institutes a new and true awareness of personal empowerment.
And what had seemed a hopeless crisis will transform into joyful celebration.