Letting go of the shadow figures

I did a CCC class yesterday on the ego’s use of the past. More specifically, it was on what the Course calls “shadow figures.” These are our images/memories of key people from our past who didn’t give us the love and special treatment we wanted.

I tried to make the class a bit more practical than past discussions of shadow figures that I have led. As a a result, I found it hitting home more, for myself and others. Today, I tried to boil its practical import, and wrote the following:

Most of us are telling ourselves this story about how we are moving through life, about the relationship between our past and present:

“My past wasn’t ideal. I didn’t get the treatment I really should have really gotten, and definitely not the treatment I wanted. In many ways, it was very painful and truly unfair. I don’t dwell on that a lot, but I do want to improve my circumstances now. I want to get treated better than I did in the past. I want to be with people who give me those things that the people in my past refused to give, or at least did not give enough of. Who doesn’t want a present that’s better than the past?”

The Course, however, would say that this is a cover that hides our actual guiding story. Can you, therefore, see yourself moving from the previous story to the one below? Can you try to acknowledge that the following story has actually been the one you have been living out?

“I see my past as one of victimization. I believe that key people in my past refused to give me the love I should have had. As a result, I view my identity as having a gaping hole, with the material to fill that hole lying in their hands. I therefore carry these people around with me, hoping to ‘show them.’ In the present, I find myself ‘inexplicably’ attracted to people who remind me of these shadow figures. If I can get the current people to give me the love I was denied, then it’s as if the shadow figures have given it to me, and I have won. That is the purpose of the vengeance theater I have been staging.

“I see my past victimization as one big I.O.U. which grants me the right to take vengeance without guilt. That, indeed, is how I relate to the present—as a place in which to take vengeance on the past for what it did to me. The current people are meant to pay for the sins of the past, sins they themselves had no part of. But that doesn’t matter to me, because I am actually in relationship with my shadow figures. When I talk to the people in the present, I am talking to my shadow figures. And when I hear the people in the present answer, I hear my shadow figures speaking to me. On an emotional level, then, I am literally living in the past, in a fantasy world of my own making. I am still back there, locked in a perpetual private struggle with my shadow figures, forever trying to wring from them the love they so wrongfully withheld. I keep hoping to win this war, to ‘show them’ once and for all, but mostly my new relationships just repeat the patterns from the old relationships, so that with time I merely add new shadow figures to the attic overhead.”

And if we can acknowledge, at least in part, that that has been our actual guiding story, can we go one step further and embrace the following?

“I acknowledge that this has been my guiding story and I find it repulsive. I want to step out of the past and start living in the present. I renounce my belief that my past has power over my identity. I deny that those past people hold my identity in their hands; only God does that. And I acknowledge that the past itself is over; it no longer exists. How, then, can I live in it? I forgive the people in the past for not playing the role I assigned to them. And I forgive the people in the present for not acting their part in the vengeance theater I scripted for them. I want to leave the past behind and truly be with them in the present, not as actors wearing masks, but as real people. I want to discover all the potential that lies in us entering into a holy encounter now.”

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