In the introduction to Shadow Work, author Michael Ruth states that this work is one "of hope and healing... about recovering our dignity as human beings-about restoring our lives to the wholeness which is our birthright... It is time we made a return -- a return to our true Self." (Capitalized S in Self for clarity?) From the beginning we understand that wholeness is psychospiritual wholeness (exclusively in the Judeo-Christian tradition) which the author terms "the walk of life."
In Parts One and Two the author describes what he believes has been going wrong with the world since 4th century Christianity under Constantine -- Western European expansion, the Great Depression, changes in the USA from 1940 to 1990 (e.g., increased violence, crime, drug addiction), and, more to the book's thesis, the loss of spiritual direction or morality. Chapter 2 explores "spiritual darkness" using the metaphor of Adam and Eve's fall from God the creator's grace in the Garden of Eden. The key attributes lost in the fall and sufficiently lacking in modern life are transcendence (spiritual experience of life beyond the five senses), majesty (love of God's singular, unique creation of self), and dignity (noble purpose) in life. The fear, shame, foolishness and attempts to hide from God and each other in the fall becomes Ruth's model for alluding to a dark side, or shadow life, which leads to the birth and evolution of ego, the unconscious, personal defense mechanisms, fear, insecurities, selfishness, narcissism, incivility and tendencies to blame or victimize each other in relationships, groups and organizations.
In Chapter 3, Dr. Ruth blends Carl Jung's concept of "individuation" (becoming one's mature, responsible self) along with other theological scholars' opinions into the general argument for spiritual growth. The shadow is the unconscious opposite of what the person embraces and accepts into consciousness and the ego about the self. The fictional characters in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde become models to characterize the purported duality or "split personality" in everyone's respective selves. By confronting disowned, disassociated and negative parts of the "true Self," that is, by making the unconscious more conscious through self-analysis, one can correct, integrate the whole, find the soul and grow spiritually. How does the author manage other conceptions of the self and self-growth? Generally, he minimizes them as popular parts of contemporary culture and pop psychology or redefines other conceptions of self as merely examples of self-absorption, apparently having no spiritual purpose and devoid of any positive meanings for individual and collective growth.
How do we regain paradise lost, our soul, our birthright and sense of spirituality in life, and best claim our unique, higher and more authentic calling on the walk of life? In Chapter 6, "Fighting the Good Fight," we know that parts of our inner self are shadow enemies, and we are offered general guidelines for accepting this marathon grand
challenge and fight for individuation. The author, holding to his universal mystical reductionism position, asks the question, "Are we energetically and consciously pursuing psychospiritual growth, or are we lazily meandering our way through life?" This reviewer
puzzled over this question and many others in this book -- What does it mean? Do we
only get only two possible answers? Can each life be reduced to a single this-or-that
In Chapter 7, "Mariah: The Example of a Warrior," Dr. Ruth provides one blow-by-blow self-reported case history of a woman reared in an alcoholic mountain family who, along with her sisters and young daughter, had been physically, sexually and emotionally abused by her husband, husband's family and male friends while he used
and sold illegal drugs out of the family residence up to the day of his shooting at the hands of Mariah. Mariah is a fighter and survivor who learns how to deal with and get through the most frightening experiences, but is this really an example of spiritual growth
via self-analysis, bringing the 'shadow land' into consciousness, achieving a spiritual sense of self, soul, and purpose in life? Yes, she values life as a sacrament now, with the added freedom to grow and make her own decisions without the domination and threatening
presence of a crazed, tyrannical husband. These questions and many others are scattered throughout the reading of this frustrating, at times, paradoxical collection of exhortations. These questions can not be easily answered or neatly placed in a conscious-growth versus negative, unconscious or shadow category. These questions can not be
answered by repeating the words individuation, wholeness, "walk of life" and other murky concepts with generalized, ambiguous and often vague meanings representing
the author's more sophisticated version of 'verse stamping' and possible need for personal integration.
The book provides an apt indictment and realistic rebuke of formal church practices for its phoniness, hypocrisy, pettiness, and superficial politeness. The consequences to self and community are losses of authenticity and spirituality to 'verse-stamping,' uniformity
of behavior and general defensiveness regarding emotional expressions of love/anger, bias/bigotry, sexuality and divorce. The church's general resistance to take up the ancient call for spiritual growth fails then to provide a truly redemptive, supportive community atmosphere in which participants can express conflicts, verbalize shortcomings, confess sins and otherwise deal with roadblocks to needed growth. At least in one reported instance, the author apparently was unable to provide this mutual security when meeting with a group of church members to improve their parent-child relationships.
This reviewer would have appreciated more self-disclosures from the author's shadow world, but Ruth maintains a moral high road throughout as authoritative pastor, teacher, scholar and psychoanalyst searching for underlying conflicts, repressed feelings and meanings. He does admit to having an early difficulty with prayer. But nowhere is there discussion of other contributing factors to the loss of a sense of soul, purity of heart or the experience of spirituality, nor of a better path to take for soul searching, insight, and illumination beyond Jung's self-analysis and mysticism. The availability of therapists is mentioned, dreamwork is suggested, too; but the role of the devil, the machinations of transference, catharsis, conversion and other psychological constructs are conspicuously left out of the exhortations. No global trends, secular, cultural, sociological or group process variables are allowed to further muddy the waters. In a way this book is like a projective inkblot test which forces the reader to try to make sense of general, ambiguous forms and suggestions by digging deep to unearth conflicts, issues and expressions which become squeezed into the author's closed model of interpretations. Maybe it provides some post hoc evidence of weakening (or evolving?) social institutions and the fall of some of mankind's sacred values.