Guilt is the emotional consequence of knowing, on some level, that we are not the mask we portray ourselves to be in the world. We are guilty because we know we fail to meet the standard of perfection. We are aware of our inferiority and our darkness hidden within.
Actually, this knowing is a saving grace, because despite having to suffer the torture of guilt, we are owning the existence of our dark side. We encounter and suffer inwardly the dilemma that in a less conscious individual is only known through the disowned projection of one’s dark side onto a scapegoat that reflects the hidden darkness within. In projection, guilt is avoided because the real problem is projected “out there.” It can be eliminated and controlled by imprisoning or killing off the bad guy “out there.”
Our time is rife with mass projections of evil onto Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, women, Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Palestinians; the list is endless. The world is currently completely divided into separatist camps that see themselves as morally superior to all others. They completely project their inferior dark side onto some other camp “out there.”
The preponderance of these polarized camps in our time is the surface repercussion of a more deeply brewing clash between the collective unconscious that contains all our darkness with the idealized moral superior values that our egos identify with in our religions and modernistic lifestyles. Would that the collective consciousness of the world could feel guilty, that is, own more fully and grapple with the true depth of its nature versus continually locating it outside where it destroys its neighbor and the world in order to be delivered from its own evil.
Unfortunately, though the world must arrive at this deeper truth to survive now, it is the individual that must lead the world in this task. The individual who faces their own shadow is the advance guard of a transformed world. On the other hand, how fortunate that every individual who faces the true depth of their own shadow advances the world on its path of survival. How empowering!
How do we own our shadow? How do we resolve our guilt? To begin with, as long as we only identify ourselves as light beings, or as beings who must be purified of or relieved of our own darkness, we will always suffer guilt. As Erich Neumann states:
“Just as light cannot be extinguished by the superior power of darkness, so too there is no evidence to show that darkness can ever be abolished by any superior power on the part of light.” *
Light requires the contrast of shadow to be defined; dark requires the contrast of light to be known. One cannot be separated from the other and be whole. The two are inextricably opposite sides of the same wholeness.
Human beings are beings of light in their spirit, as reflected in mental processes and consciousness. Human beings are beings of darkness in the depths of their instinctual, animal natures. Spirit beings could not be in this world without their animal bodies. Animal and spirit are inextricably linked in a partnership in this world, saddled with the challenge of developing a relationship which acknowledges and finds life for both animal and spirit.
If we identify with an ethic that says passion and pleasure are evil, we will suffer guilt. Our wounded animal self will torture, ad nauseum, our morally superior controlling ego with depression and “bad” fantasy. We must abandon this old ethic. Our new ethic must grant the human animal its basic human right: The right to pursue happiness. With this gesture, our spirit consciousness acknowledges its animal partner, though the challenge of true integration and reconciliation with the fullness of who we are is indeed the greatest human challenge.
Guilt can be relieved when we accept that the animal hungers, lusts, and rages. The fact that the animal has these experiences does not make it bad; it simply makes it a human animal.
Of course, it is equally appropriate for its spirit counterpart to require of the animal a bit of refinement and restraint. Once the animal energies can find satisfaction and expression, with conscious consent and collaboration that allows for a fuller expression of all that we are, we advance.
What ultimately will relieve us of our guilt, is to embrace a new human ethic: Integrated wholeness versus perfection based on suppression or repression of the animal—that which has led us to our current status: a crumbling civilization with its discontents!
May we all herald in this new ethic, beyond guilt, as brave pioneers taking full responsibility for our individual wholeness in our interdependent one world.
* Reference: Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, p. 46.
Note: I am grateful to Erich Neumann and his book, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, which has inspired much of this blog.