Why "Dark Lady"?

[Note: This essay is a work-in-progress and will be modified in the coming weeks. Please feel free to email me any thoughts or suggestions you may have about it.]

"Well, you aren't really dark..." a friend remarked when I told him the title of my then-new blog.

While it's true that my near-translucent skin defies even the fairest shades of Clinique, my hair is dark, my eyes are a darkish muddy mixture of green and brown, and my moods can be darker than dark.

And I have what I have come to think of as a Dark Soul -- dark, that is, in the Jungian sense of feminine darkness, meaning depth, complexity and terrifying impenetrability to anyone without industrial-strength night-vision goggles.

Cinderella & PrinceAs a child and teen, I identified completely with the "light" -- the fairy princesses and heroines who lived happily ever after with the well-heeled mate of their choice and absolute fulfillment.

But secretly more compelling than any Cinderella fantasy were the tragic, suffering and sacrificing heroines like The Little Mermaid.

Just below the dancing Cinderella of my fantasy aspiration, yearned the desperate image of the ex-mermaid, trading her voice for legs and dancing for a beloved prince who could never be hers, each graceful step shooting blades of pain through her newly minted feet.

Yet she bears it joyfully because her love for him is so powerful it overwhelms her agony (or maybe does that make her a mer-stalker?).

And when given the opportunity to reverse her tragic choices by destroying the object of her desire, she turns against her own life on his behalf.

The Little MermaidAnd what does she gain?

A Soul.

So even as my own love life played out her story again and again -- via a widely varied array of short-lived relationships with men whose only commonality was their inability to connect to me -- it took many broken-hearted years to realize that the conventional "light" goals of relationship, marriage, family, etc. were not deeply important to me and so I had persistently sabotaged my conscious efforts towards them.

Yeah, some of my exes said they loved me, some of them hinted at marriage ... but I couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't quite me that they wanted, which felt like a crueler kind of rejection than simply being dumped.

Licking my wounds, I was so often stunned (although not quite surprised) to see many of these men dive into marriage with the very next woman they met. And I began to realize that marriage for its own sake would not only be unfulfilling to me; it would be a trench of misery.

So I turned off my dating profiles, said no to the singles scene and just... went ... dark.

The truth had emerged like the mute mermaid forced from her tenebrous depths by unfathomable desire -- what I really wanted and needed was to build a Soul.

And, for me, this could not be done within the conventional confines of marriage.  It could only be done alone.

And while, it is very possible to pursue "Soul-Building" within marriage, and many people do this successfully.... I am not one of them.

And that was my first Dark Soul Lesson:

Be honest with myself about who I really am and what I really want and not what I think I should want or be.

In other words: Turn away from the "light" of conventional values, and listen to the faint rumblings in the shunned, benighted regions of the Soul for what Jungian analyst James Hollis calls "the tuning fork inside us..."

Creating a Life
"When something is of us, is for us," he asserts in his mind-blowing tome Creating a Life, "it ...  resounds... The resonance within us cannot be willed; it happens ... [and it] is the surest guide to finding our own right path."

But, he cautions, "To hear it, one must be attentive, faithful, courageous enough to break from the power of the other cacophonous sounds and hear the resounding of our soul's intent. ... When we are pulled deeply into something, even love, it hurts and opens us up to great suffering.  But the willingness to open to depth is the chief way in which dignity and purpose return to life."

And so my second Dark Soul Lesson was:  

Pay attention to what I'm really feeling.

Follow its guidance, no matter where it seems to go -- whether I like it or not, whether it's painful or not. And especially, if it's painful -- go into the pain, experience the suffering all the way through to the end ... because that is the only way to get I will ever get to the end.

Suffering, I've found, persists more vigorously if it's denied or resisted, stuffed down with food, alcohol, compulsions, TV and other mass-opiates.

Kali Maa
But going through it -- and I mean really through it -- transforms you.

It is no coincidence that the deities presiding over "the dominion of surrender, death and rebirth" are female. The feminine/yin, I believe, has a much more visceral awareness of the fluid mutability of all things, as women bear monthly changes to our bodies -- to say nothing of pregnancy itself. And through it all, we know we remain ourselves.

The masculine/yang, however, is less comfortable with this notion, as it experiences the body and therefore the ego -- the perception of self -- as more static, and identifies with immutable ideas and images.

Take, for example, "Persephone of the Underworld, Kali, and Isis," per Cedrus Monte's insightful treatise, The Dark Feminine, "From the perspective of the ego, they are lethal forces." 
"But without yielding to this composting and transcendent energy, no transformation is possible and therefore no renewal of life-force. ...

"Psychically toxic substances, like the hydrogen sulfites that originate deep within the bowels of the earth through volcanic activity, are primitive and primal energies which erupt into consciousness - fear, pain, pride, rage, envy, our intolerance - which can be converted into fodder for spiritual regeneration.

"Primitive energies become transformed not by denying them, but by working them into new life through heightened consciousness; that is, by fully acknowledging them... Only when we are willing to fully and deeply acknowledge the presence of these dark forces can the Angel - our redemption - come."

Sometimes I wonder if we resist suffering not because we can't bear the pain, but because we dread the transformation it will inevitably bring. After all, what if we transform into something we can't handle? Something that horrifies and alienates our friends and families?

We might. And if we do... Tough shit.

And that was my third Dark Soul Lesson:  I must be who I am, whoever that might be -- good, bad, terrifying or beautiful.

Any change I undergo must be in the direction of becoming more myself, regardless of whether it conforms to an ego-ideal (i.e. nicer, smarter, more enlightened-seeming, etc.), and regardless of the effect it has on "friends."

And, hopefully -- in the alchemical sense of the heat of suffering burning and purging away impurities -- I'll end up a better, purer, more enlightened version of myself.

But what is "better" and what is "purer"? And what exactly does "enlightenment" look like, anyway?

I suppose it might look like Gandhi.

Or it might look like a really, really bad 70s hairdo...

Or it might not look like anything at all.

Glibness aside, I would say compassion, understanding, strength, wisdom are probably part of what enlightenment "looks like." But maybe not necessarily, and maybe not all the time. And undoubtedly, enlightenment can look pretty dark.

Even Gandhi could be an asshole now and then, I'm sure.

But he was probably aware of it when he was, and forgiving of himself as well as forgiving of others in their occasional states of asshole-dom.

This doesn't mean run around acting like an asshole just because it's fun (or if you find it fun, ask yourself why it's fun), but there is great integrity in awareness of and even in embracing those moments when we express something other than our ideal selves.

Which leads me to the fourth Dark Soul Lesson:  Our Shadows are our friends.

According to Jung, the shadow is everything we desperately want not to be, dread we may be, and probably to some degree are.

Jung's Dream of the Shadow
Jung wrote, "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."

In other words, the more we deny our shadow, the stronger it becomes. But how and why does this happen? And what is the ultimate effect of our denial?

Let's say you grow up in a household where loudness is forbidden and where, as a child, you were shamed for squealing in enjoyment or pain. Then the part of you that is might squeal loudly -- and is probably most capable of feeling and expressing joy and pain -- gets denied, cut off from from your consciously chosen identity and cast into the unconscious.

From there, lolling around in all those repressed emotions it can become very powerful, controlling your beliefs and actions.

Like a banished child, this part of you longs to be acknowledged and included, and will force its expression on you.

Shadow Projection
It therefore compels you towards the very behaviors you consciously decry. And you find yourself attracting the very people who embody these abhorrent qualities. You'll point a savage finger at their transgressions -- even as it forces you to deny your own secretly enjoyed moments of volume. And you end up denying the deeper levels of emotion in which the shadow is buried.

And with the denial of the shadow and its powerful emotion comes the denial of our own creativity, our own true selves. Jung noted, "in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity... [T]he dark side of his being, his sinister shadow...represents the true spirit of life..."

In the end, it's a sucky way to live: A socially-acceptable half-person.

No thank you.

More insidiously, the less aware we are of our own shadow qualities, the more vulnerable we are to the projections of others. The more we struggle to hide our shadow qualities, the more visible they will be to others who share those same shadow qualities.

Worse, those whose own shadows are far "blacker and denser" than ours will overwhelmingly see in us -- the  object of their projection -- the entire hideous contents of their contorted psyches. Jung observes, "it frequently happens that the object offers a hook to the projection, and even lures it out. This is generally the case when the object himself (or herself) is not conscious of the quality in question."

And that's how a free-thinking woman who likes cats gets burned as a witch and Mata Hari faces a firing squad.

Which leads me to the fifth and final Dark Soul Lesson:  Know thy shadow and its "hooks." (And remember, people who do not know themselves can throw really, really fucked up projections your way, so remember to duck.)

Unfortunately, since the male psyche is dominant in our culture, women are often forced to navigate and ultimately choose from among the panoply of male projections: madonna, whore, maiden, bitch, seductress, psycho, wifey, girl-next-door, deliciously rapeable Girl-Gone-Wild....

Smug AssholeThe execrable dating manuals of the 90's and 2000's insist that the only way for a woman to "catch him and keep him" is to embody one of these projections (usually somewhere between wifey and seductress) and never really "let him know you" -- because once you do, he'll realize that you are different from the wifey-seductress projection he fell in love with and will dump you, cheat on you, and/or live miserably with you forever telling his buddies or girlfriends that his wife "just doesn't understand him."

Thankfully, not all men are this pathetic. But even the less pathetic of the testosterone-infused struggle with the forces of projection and disillusionment.

Even Shakespeare, who crafted some of the most fully developed female characters of English literature wrestles in his Sonnets with his real-life Dark Lady.

It is worth noting that, with the possible exceptions of Juliet, Lady Mackers, Cleopatra, the most realized of his female characters are breeches roles, suggesting that perhaps even his fruitful imagination was constrained by the image of Woman.

I read my first Dark Lady sonnet in my mid-teens and was astonished by its cynicism and raw sexuality -- this was no simpering Summer's Day. I read more and was enraptured, not by an image of the "Dark Lady" herself who, in spite of Shakespeare's dotage remains a nebulous figure, but by the Bard's fierce struggle with his attraction to her.

Even in the first Dark Lady sonnet, he proclaims her "foul" blackness as "fair" -- and further avers that all must agree "beauty should look so."

And while at times time he disparaged his attraction to her as shameful lust, most often he wrestled to see her as a real person, not merely a masculine projection of the feminine (seductress, madonna, etc.).

Her darkness pulled him down to earth, transforming his notions of yearning for what should be into appreciating what is. Through her, perhaps, he developed the wisdom so beautifully applied to his female characters.

But I have to wonder what her perception of their connection was. Just how much of a "hook" was there in her own shadow self -- the Dark Seductress that pulled him against his intentions -- and was she able to control it?

Was she, like Mata Hari, deliberately playing with the fire of the male unconscious without realizing the extent of its danger? Or was she a poor dumb innocent like Lucrezia Borgia or Monica Lewinsky -- a na├»ve lighting rod to male projection.

Awareness is key.

One of the hardest lessons I've struggled to grasp these past several years is becoming aware of my own "lightning rod" aspects. Yes, there may be in me a tiny "hook" that draws out their projections; but in the end I am only a mirror to their unknown selves -- for better or worse.

I have been called everything from angel to bitch to seductress to lunatic to the Voice of Reason -- but I must remember that, while I contain many of those aspects, none of them defines me.

Like the delicious darkness inside each of us, I am someone who can't be known through seeing alone -- or at least, I am not satisfied with being "known" that way.

Are you that way too? I'd like to know you.