Keeping a Darkness Journal: What to do with the Parts of us we Fear

Keeping a Darkness Journal

I learned to never tell anyone what I truly felt, almost as soon as I could talk. This lesson left me constantly worried about what people would think of me and how much I could be hurt by them. It only took me a few years to internalize this process so thoroughly that I was no longer even telling myself what I really felt. Of course I am not alone in this process. There are many of us who have learned the same thing, in this culture that is hostile to any so-called weakness.

The fire and ice in peopleʼs lives slowly gets shared in my consulting room as they, like I myself had to do, begin to peel this onion to get down to true feelings. Gradually, I am told how they hate their addictions, their illnesses, their weight, and their loneliness. Some of us hate it that the slightest confrontation paralyzes us. We might also hate it that we beat ourselves up over the smallest mistakes, or we are ashamed that we burst into tears under pressure, or we simply want to give up. Others of us are afraid of our anger, our rage, and of being out of control, or of being swallowed up by our sadness.

For better or worse, I know all of these feelings well enough, and I doubt if there are many negative or self-critical voices that I havenʼt met. In my memoir, Cracking Open, I share with you a glimpse of the pain I was afraid to open up to and look at anew, or even allow myself to remember, until the Self, the Greater Personality deep within me, took over and drove me toward it, until I couldnʼt escape.

The questions I have always had to struggle with are: “What do I do about these emotions, these parts of myself and my life?” and “What do I do with them?” These questions demand a choice from me. Am I going to try to cope with the negative thoughts, feelings, and moods that come from the dark corners within me, within my shadow – or am I going to face them, try to heal and transform them, and in that process transform myself and re-kindle my spirit?

When I choose only to cope, I have come to understand that I am actually giving in to that old Calvinistic voice that I grew up with assuring me that I am flawed. In that atmosphere, I was afraid to expose or admit to my shadow, my fears, my failures, my anger and resentment, or, strangely enough, even my successes. I was also taught that pain was to be avoided and denied, because its presence signified my failures. I have come to realize that the choice to cope means that deep inside I will be continuing to see myself as a failure, and see myself as inadequate or bad. I must add that there were times when coping was the best I could do.

Over the years, as you see in Cracking Open and Into the Heart of the Feminine, Massimilla and I have learned to take the choice of facing ourselves instead of just coping – and we profoundly value the journey this choice initiates. So how do we approach our feelings of fear, rage, and despair…and things about ourselves that we hate, fear, and are ashamed of? What we do is to write everything we think and feel in these areas and about them in our Darkness Journals. The approach is “no holds barred,” without restrictions or rules. My rage, fear, and despair come out in whatever way I am moved to articulate it – in whatever language I experience it. If I am mad at…someone…you…part of myself…God…or fate, there is no shortage of four-letter words. The direct expression of my shadow is, in the long run, the beginning of acceptance and transformation.

To have a protected place and a container for the expression of my underworld is essential to the process of acceptance and transformation. Jung was clear that nothing can be transformed until it is accepted. And I want to be clear that I donʼt think acceptance means embracing, surrendering to, or even befriending; nor does it imply forgiveness. These are other questions to consider. But expressing these things in the concrete form of journaling does give me both the freedom and the ability to relate to my inner darkness in a more objective way.

Actually, I keep three journals. One is for my daily reflections and dreams. The second one is for thoughts and feelings about the topics of my writings. The third is my Darkness Journal. I got the idea for this journal from Dr. Jung when he advised a woman in analysis with him, as to how she should process what went on in the deeper, and sometimes, frightening parts of her mind. He said, “I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can – in some beautifully bound book…It will seem as if you were making the visions banal – but then you need to do that – then you are freed from the power of them…Then when these things are in some precious book, you can go to the book and turn over the pages, and for you it will be your church – your cathedral – the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them – then you will lose your soul – for in that book is your soul.”

This is the way Massimilla and I value our shadows and the wounds and potentials hidden in it. We also make it a point to remember that nothing in our shadows frightens us more than our own denied and impoverished potentials. Of course I often wonder what door I am opening here. We think we know our likes and dislikes, our pet peeves, and our sources of pleasure. But are we intimate with the complicated terrain of our hearts, the landscape supporting our journey into who we are and the living world beneath who we have been conditioned to think we are? And all too often, we practically feel duty-bound not to truly face ourselves.

There was a time when I feared that facing the real desires of my heart would wreck my life. This fear is also one worthy of exploring in my Darkness Journal. So, too, was the dream I had many years ago, when a huge raging bear was chasing the terrified young man that I was, through the collapsing ruins of a burning castle. Moreover, I have learned that when pain, resentment, anger, and other emotions are denied and repressed, their infection builds up beneath the surface of our awareness until, in some way, it makes us sick.

As I thought about Jungʼs advice, I wondered, “Just what did he mean when he said this book, my Darkness Journal, could become my cathedral, the seat of spiritual power in my life?” My reveries reminded me of another one of my favorite quotes from Jung that supports my equilibrium: “The great principle of transformation begins through the things that are lowest. Things…that hide from the light of day and from manʼs enlightened thinking hold also the secret of life that renews itself again and again. In the past when a transformation of this kind was sought, the mystery religions prescribed a ritual of initiation.”

In this cathedral, my Darkness Journal, I forget all the stories and explanations about why I feel the way I do. I put aside all the ways I’ve been taught to smother these feelings and let myself risk knowing what is drowning, smoldering, or burning within me. Then when I find my ground again, it is as if the force of my experience has been a desperate prayer or call to the Power that is greater than I am and to accept that my life is valuable. My Darkness Journal may begin the ritual by which I will be transformed and as a container for transformation becomes my cathedral. In many cases, the things I am journaling about turn out to be indications of where I have betrayed myself or where my life force has been abused, denied, or repressed. My fear of the deep emotions I have to face have turned out to be like the fierce-looking gate guardians to temples or gargoyles on real cathedrals. They scared me, but once inside where I face myself and my transformations, I may also find centers of strength, wisdom, and love. I have learned I have to go through the gates of my deep emotions, wounds, and denied potentials to enter the sacred space of my passion, love, and purpose. More than once, I had to call on the help of a good therapist, and later a good Jungian analyst, to get by these guardians. But my Darkness Journal has become the sacred space where I can meet “the life force,” the Self, and the Divine within me.

It seems odd to me that the longer I face and write into the dark areas in my shadow, the more I am able to experience self-compassion and learn to accept the causes of my pain with understanding and gentleness. As I write, I am creating more room within me to accept life, and more strength and the kind of courage that can prepare the ground within me to let love and meaning grow.

Categories: Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris

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