Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Thanksgiving Thank You: Illuminating the Shadow

In Jungian Analytical theory there is a concept referred to as the Shadow. The simplest and most straight forward description that I have ever heard of the Shadow is, “The Shadow is the place we put all those things about ourselves that others and society find unacceptable.” Just like the name implies those things that dwell in the Shadow are hidden from the light of day, not only from the light of society or the light of our friends and family but much of what is relegated to the shadow become lost even to ourselves.

The things that are relegated to our Shadow are impulses, the things that arise in us naturally and unbidden. Jung says that we are born whole people and the process of life experience and the imposition of social mores whittle away at us so we progressively become less and less of who we were born to be. Now this is not always a bad thing, infants have some pretty distressing impulses. Have you ever see the baby that discovered you could make cool designs with the stuff in his diaper? Have you ever experienced the thought when standing on a high ledge, “I wonder what it would be like if I just jumped right off the edge?” Those are impulses that are perfectly normal but I would suggest it would be a bad deal if we always followed through on them.

Some impulses are very weak and pretty much disappear like the impulse to smear feces…we hope. Some impulses are very strong, however, and persist in seeking expression. The weak and strong impulses are generally different for different people. Now here’s the hitch, the strong impulses that are stuffed into the shadows, it is theorized, begin to warp and change as the battle between them seeking expression and you trying to suppress them rages on. Jung contends that this is one of the principle sources of harmful or even evil acts; the impulse warps, becomes ugly and every once in a while it breaks through your defenses like a frog leaping forth from your mouth. A benign example; have you ever met that person who REALLY wants to be part of the “in group” but just can’t pull it off socially, they hang around the fringes and occasionally blurt something out that just isn’t quite right? That would be an example of someone who has the impulse to be gregarious and social but, for whatever reason, has relegated that part of them to the shadow but that part keeps trying to break out.

People who are really neurotic have huge Shadow selves and small, whittled down, anemic “authentic selves”. People who are just downright evil, say, like Hitler or Stalin, have enormous Shadow selves but have no compulsion in freeing their twisted impulses to reek havoc in the world. People who have fully liberated their Shadow selves and found ways to give creative and positive expression to their impulses are often referred to as “Self-actualizers” and most of us are caught somewhere in-between hopefully heading in the direction of self-actualization.

So, that is my enormously verbose psychologist way of leading in to what this post is really about, a Thanksgiving thank you, a thank you to the sport we love and to the community of triathletes that have embraced me and that I have embraced. I can not begin to convey just how small I had become and how far I have come. By the time I was 25 years old I was practically invisible were it not for my Shadow. I spent years fighting to escape into the light of day with some success and many, many failures. One I entered into the sport of triathlon it was as if someone handed me a sledge hammer and steroids and when I figured out what to do with them the walls came crashing down and I am rushing headlong into my future, ever more whole, ever more alive.

What, you ask, is the metric against which I measure? When I was 26 it was my goal to get through college, get an obscure degree in some field of Philosophy. I wanted to get a job in an obscure Philosophy department in a tiny college and get an office that was remote and packed with books and papers. I wanted to hide from the world and do nothing but read and think about things that didn’t have much application in the world…and now, well, now I will be running the Las Vegas Marathon dressed as Elvis and, indeed, that is the direction that I want to go, had always wanted to go.

I am heading in the right direction and every day I become more of who I am and so I am thankful, thankful to my lovely wife, my wonderful friends, my crazy bloggy peeps and the global community of triathletes that have helped ignite the flames of my passion.

Thank you, thank you very much!

FINALLY, had a little run today, a little 10K, smashed my old PR on a much harder course and ran about 47:10, I’m still waiting for official results to be posted. I did a 2 mile warm up run from my home to the run start and then about a two and a half mile run a little later after some post-race coffee with friends so when you look at my Garmin profile the run course is between those two downward spikes in my average heart rate. My first mile and last mile of the race are sullied by my much slower paced warm up and post race run but note that one sub-7-minute mile…Whoo-Hoo!


  1. Happy Thanksgiving.

    (Nice run!)

  2. You're welcome, and thank YOU right back!
    Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving.

  3. Happy Thanksgiving.

    Is that run primarily on the strength of aerobic work + hills? Great stuff, however you got there!

    I'll be thinking about the Shadow topic of your post for some time....

  4. Awesome Run Brian!!

  5. Very interesting theory by CJ. Very thought provoking and practical. IMO

  6. It is so obvious how well schooled and educated you are based on how you wrote that. Well put. Some of what you write sure pertains to a lot of us. You are certainly welcome but I think you give us more than we give you.

  7. Another thought-provoking and genuine post, thanks SB

  8. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family (still a few hours left).

  9. Nice run!! Great pace!!!

  10. Anonymous8:41 AM

    Very interesting me thinking.

    That is an awesome 10K time! Great pace!

    Happy belated Thanksgiving :)

  11. great run, there baboo - hope your elvis costume comes together!