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The Shadow Self

According to Joseph Cambell, the final stage of the Monomyth is called the Freedom to Live. Here the hero gains a Freedom from the Fear of Death. This allows him or her to, “fully live in the moment, neither anticipating the future or regretting the past.”

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?


“Well isn’t that kismet.”

That was my thought as I saw the topic of this week’s Daily Meditation Series by Richard Rohr.

For those who don’t know, Richard Rohr is a Franciscan Friar I find very inspiring, and most of my days start with reading his Daily Meditation.

This week’s topic- the Shadow Self.

The Shadow Self is a concept popularized by Carl Jung. It refers to those aspects of our personalty that we repress. The ones we keep in the shadows.

We often repress these things for good reason! I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful most people don’t pull out their dicks in Trader Joe’s. I’m relieved when people don’t slap folks that annoy them, or leave their children on the side of the road. I’m happy we don’t tell others what we really think about their haircuts or their shoes or their dresses. It’s good that people at least attempt to hide their racism and sexism and alcoholism

But just because we repress these urges, doesn’t mean they disappear. In fact, usually the opposite happens. If we don’t deal with them properly, these shadow impulses begin to take on a life of their own.


As I’ve written before, back in May I started seeing a therapist. I cannot emphasize enough the positive impact this has had on me. Like if ‘Therapy’ was written in text message form, I would give it a thumbs up AND the double exclamation point! I believe in it so much that if a newly diagnosed person came to me for advice, seeing a therapist would be the first thing I would tell them to do.

Because there is the physical side to this, but there is also the mental. And most of think we can handle the mental side on our own.

I know I did. It took two years, two recurrences, over twenty rounds of chemo, and countless nights of bombarding Jaimie before she was finally like, “Dude- I love you- but you got to talk to somebody.”

So for the past three months that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. And we’ve uncovered all sorts of shit! Thoughts, feelings, traumas. Stories my brain has been telling itself over and over again. For almost two months we barely talked about cancer. Once some of those underlying issues started sorting themselves out, I was able to focus on the reason I went there in the first place.


Which brings me to Richard Rohr and this week’s meditation series. A couple of weeks ago my therapist posited a theory that maybe the cancer was my shadow self.

I sat with that idea for a few days, but the more I thought about it, the more I questioned it. Cancer isn’t exactly something I try to repress. I mean I’m sitting here and writing a blog about it for goodness sake. And it’s not something I’m ashamed of. I mean maybe a little, but not enough to fuel negative behavior.

But the thought interested me, so I sat with it for a few more days. It dawned upon me that maybe the cancer isn’t the shadow, it’s the fear that comes along with it.

Fear is such a huge part of this. It’s something most of us try and keep hidden from view. I’m not just talking about those of us who have it- our loved ones hide theirs as well.

And thank God they do! I can barely deal with my mom worrying about me when I cough, if I had to deal with the full brunt of everyone’s feelings I’d probably just move to a silent monastery so no one could talk to me!

Plus, covering up the fear we feel has given us lots of incredible things. The Pink Ribbons and the Never Give Ups and the yellow bracelets and the strong arm selfies. It’s given us Walks and Runs for the Cure and fundraisers out the wazoo. It’s given us community. Most importantly, it’s given us hope.


Please note- my life is really good. I don’t sit around freaking out all day! And I am not writing this so people will think I’m brave or scared or anything like that. But that side does exist, and reading Richard Rohr this week reiterated the fact that it’s not something I can run from. It has to be dealt with. Which is the reason I so highly recommend therapy. It’s given me a place to go wrestle with these fears under the watchful eye of someone knows how to help me. If you’re dealing with things and are on the fence about seeking help, maybe this blog will convince you to give a try.

Because while I might not yet “fully live in the moment, neither anticipating the future or regretting the past,” I feel like these sessions are giving me a fighting chance.

What more can anyone ask for?

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