The Shadow Illuminated
What happens in January 2020?
You may already know we have a big moment coming up on 12th/13th January 2020 when a conjunction between Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn heralds the beginning of a new developmental cycle lasting in excess of thirty years. Whilst the actual time of the conjunction and the days around it may well present some interesting challenges (more on that nearer the time!), its real significance lies in its relevance to the evolutionary development of humanity in the coming years. When the Lord of Karma (Saturn) meets the Lord of the Underworld (Pluto) in the ambitious, responsible and pragmatic earth sign Capricorn we know we’ll be held to account in terms of how we impose our will upon the world, take responsibility for our choices and behaviour, exercise and respond to authority and generally manage the material realm.
In the final week of April 2019, first Pluto and then Saturn turned retrograde in Capricorn. Doing so at this point dictates that when they finally form their conjunction in January 2020 it happens only once rather than several times across the course of a few months. A single alignment such as this reflects an intense but relatively short-lived recalibration which sets us on a new path rapidly and with little mercy! We’re not afforded time to adjust, test the water or tip-toe out of our comfort zone. Like a bird pushed out of the nest by a well-meaning parent, we must simply learn to fly on the wing. And learn we will. That said, this conjunction is not the apocalyptic moment some may fear but instead an opportunity for an inner apocalypse of sorts: the deposing of the shadow-self which has imposed its limiting mores and constructs on us for so long we barely even know it’s there.
Deposing the Shadow Self
Both Saturn and Pluto were conjunct the South Node when they turned retrograde in April, alerting us to the risk of reviving old and unhelpful habits in the coming months. But if we use this time to reflect, realign and prepare for a meaningful new beginning in 2020, the past can become fertiliser in the present, for a rich and productive future.
This alliance with the Moon’s South Node illuminates the fears, feelings and desires which form the shadow-self. It may be unsettling at first: a threat from within that we need to keep at bay. Mobilised to keep us small and safe, fear taunts us with all the dreadful things that might happen if we dared to speak our truth, follow our desires or admit to who we truly are beneath a lifetime’s veneer of ‘acceptability’. But Saturn and Pluto have no time for such small-minded thinking. They need us awake to ourselves – warts and all. Ready and willing to embrace the freedom and responsibility that comes with unwavering commitment to truth. Between May and November 2019 they invite us, somewhat insistently, to embrace the complexity of our shadow-self as a core aspect of humanity, not some dreadful aberration best ignored.
The funny thing about the shadow is we all have one, and mostly its contents are the same as everyone else’s. But few people want to own up! The details may vary a bit, but basically it’s the usual morass of anger, lust, envy, crippling vulnerability, fear, worthlessness, hatred, greed, blah, blah, blah…. We’re simply hiding what we all share, but somewhere along the line we’ve decided we’re the only one with these feelings and we really need to make sure no one else finds out otherwise there’ll be hell to pay!! This is how we collectively prevent anyone else owning up and ensure that no-one references what’s really going on beneath the surface of pretty much everyone everywhere!
We allow the shadow to isolate and shame us into silence. We deny those parts of us which don’t fit with who we want to be and hope they’ll keep quiet. The process seems tidy and efficient, but in practice it doesn’t work so well. The energy used to keep everything hidden (including from ourselves!) is energy wasted. It’s like leaving an electrical appliance plugged in, draining power when we don’t need to. It’s costly and unnecessary. All energy is precious and needs to be respected.
But won’t everyone owning up to their shadow be a risky business? What if we can’t control it once it’s all out there?!
Owning and accepting the shadow isn’t the same as acting it out, which tends to happen from a place of unconsciousness and denial rather than conscious intent. Admitting you want to do something isn’t the same as doing it. Acknowledging certain feelings isn’t the same as acting on them. It can, however, release considerable tension and enable us to better manage our inner drives. Normalising the shadow saves us from the tyranny of the repressed. Bringing radical acceptance and fierce compassion to the wounds that create denial in the first place enables conscious intentionality in times of stress. This helps guard against aberrant actions, not encourage them. The shadow controls us as long as it’s hidden. We control it once the tables have turned and we know what’s in there and why. As Carl Jung observed, ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate’.
Yes, this can be tricky inner work and if we need support to do it there’s absolutely no shame in seeking it out. It’s important we nurture ourselves into deeper inner integrity however we must. Psychotherapy, homoeopathy, acupuncture, bodywork (among many other techniques) can help facilitate the process. But so can a cup of tea with a good friend who can hear us speak our truth and still love us at the end of it. And if that good friend is your cat, dog or other furry companion they can bring their own special wisdom to the table! There’s no one way to do this work, to reclaim our authentic self. We all find our own way in our own time. Saturn and Pluto simply remind us that time may just be now and extend a guiding hand, albeit into some apparently dark and difficult places.
So the rest of this year will be best used normalising what we all share and accepting, without fuss or fanfare, that we all have these troublesome tendencies. It’s simply part of being human, not some dreadful aberration which must be kept hidden on pain of death! Anger, jealousy, depression, hatred, despair, violent impulses, lust – whatever it is you’re not owning up to you can rest assured there are thousands out there not owning up to the same thing!! And whilst this may all sound a bit dramatic, conjuring images of florid breakdowns, it can really be very low-drama ‘this is just the way it is’ if we want it to be. Because that’s actually the whole point: we’re not different because we have this inner darkness. What we believe may isolate us forever, is ironically what makes us all the same! Simply accepting that all this mess comes with being human can neutralise a whole load of pain and stress in the blink of an eye!
As we purge our shadow we purge our life…
In facing our true feelings now, change may become unavoidable once Saturn and Pluto join hands in January. As such, this shared retrograde offers the chance to make inner adjustments – an acknowledgement here, an acceptance there, a turning toward something we still fear to see – before we live our truth no matter what. Come January there may indeed be bridges to burn, but there will also be new paths to walk and fresh terrains on which to plant our flag and call our own.
Of course, truth doesn’t always come in a neat and tidy package. If that’s what we’re seeking we’ve already sown the seeds of denial. Truth encompasses everything and is rarely straightforward in a world of contradiction and paradox. The truth of ourselves is complex and uncomfortable. It’s our contradictory nature which says one thing and does another, both equally heartfelt. It’s us as loving and rejecting in the same moment, as peaceful and angry, as wise and yet impulsive and unthinking. It is us as spiritual and material beings, infused with the divine whilst bound to the physical realm of form and desire.
Through the rest of this year we’re invited to walk a path that bears some pitfalls. We may have to fall down them to discover what’s real and what’s not, who we are and who we’re not. Our discoveries may shake us to the core and challenge who we believe ourselves to be. But within that challenge lies the deepest truth: that when we touch the very ground of our being, all paradoxes are resolved into the simple statement ‘this is me’, without apology, excuse or explanation.
From fear to inspiration
Events in the coming months may illuminate the fear of having our true face judged by another. Saturn and Pluto will poke at our reluctance to simply be who we are and live our beliefs without guile or veneer, revealing where we avoid taking full responsibility for our lives. They present an alternative and more radical choice: a counterpoint to the pressure to conform, stay silent or speak only the ‘right’ things in the ‘acceptable’ way.
The drive to blend-in and be part of something bigger is a defining force in the human psyche. In days gone by it was the only way to ensure survival. Going it alone was a certain path to vulnerability and death. These days many are blessed with the chance to pursue their own truths, but even in doing so still seek others to affirm their worth. The prospect of standing completely alone – naked but for our own wisdom – is profoundly unsettling and though many strive to embody such freedom, it’s a rare individual who fully does so.
But a groundswell is happening and more people each day are standing firm in their own truth, shaking off the projections foisted upon them, the imaginings of those who look on in judgement or condemnation. This aloneness is an act of power. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the companionship of others. But if we rely too heavily on acceptance and not enough on the transformative power of authenticity, we risk losing ourselves in the quagmire of social pressure and trending perspectives peddled as unquestionable truths.
Fear controls us in subtle ways: as the voice of reason and responsibility or the whisper of ‘common sense’. It speaks about shame and demands we explain ourselves. It tells us we cannot survive alone in a world where acceptance is the all-access pass to security and power. It points out the pitfalls without acknowledging the joyful freedom of no longer needing to hide. We may have to face this fear in the months to come. We may even slip back into a constellation of emotion we thought we’d conquered. But don’t believe the lie! These very echoes are the doorway to liberation. They show us where we’ve adhered so fast to the opinions of others we no longer recognise our true self. They reveal where our deepest vulnerabilities lay, where our sense of self-worth is threatened. In doing so they invite us to embrace the fear, be engulfed by it, allow it to flood through us like a tidal wave. By holding our nerve in its onslaught we reclaim our power to discern which fears simply diminish us and which speak words we actually need to hear.
By expanding to embrace fear rather than shrinking to accommodate it, a crippling dread can slowly morph into nervous excitement and anxious but enlivening anticipation. This is how we find the courage to say ‘no’ after decades of saying ‘yes’, or to stick with ‘I don’t know’ when pushed to take sides. Gradually and step by step, as we live more fully our own truth, fear becomes inspiration: the augur of greater authenticity and an opportunity to further embody our sovereign self.
Fear has its place, for sure, but not in the diminishment of our autonomy. To the extent that we allow it free reign without question, it will continue to shrink and belittle us. Saturn and Pluto insist it’s time to face it, acknowledge its mighty power and in so doing transform it into courage for the road ahead.