Gilgamesh and The Shadow

I finally got around to procuring and starting to read a book that has been around a long time—If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him:  The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients.  (Sheldon Kopp, 1972)  This is a must-read for all psychotherapists and psychotherapy clients.  It delves elegantly and eloquently into the essence of therapy and the intricate boundary complications between a therapist and his/her clients.

One of my favorite anecdotes from the book is his discussion of the Gilgamesh myth and an early example of the shadow.  He describes how Gilgamesh was an oppressive tyrant who became so overbearing that his subjects consulted a goddess, Arura, and asked her to intervene.  Arura, displaying feminine wisdom, knew that the answer was to create a double for Gilgamesh who would wrestle with him and teach him that he too was a mere mortal.

And that is what our shadow does—reminds us that we from the dust of the earth like all people and creatures.  We want to think that we are noble far beyond the herd but if we openly acknowledge our shadow when we look at “them”—those people who embody all the things we loathe—we have to humbly confess, “There go I but for the grace of God.”  Or to quote a favorite bromide of mine, “What we see is what we are.”

Let me quote Kopp:  Each of us has such a shadow from which he flees.  Each man is haunted by that specter of a double who represents all that he would say “no” to in himself.  To what extent I deny my hidden twin-self, you may expect to see my personality twisted into a grotesque mask of neurotic caricature.

And here are a couple more gems from Kopp, “All of the significant battles are waged within the self.”  Or, as W. H. Auden put it, “We wage the war we are.”  And then Kopp notes re a client of his, “He prefers the security of known misery to the misery of unfamiliar insecurity.”  Shakespeare put it this way, in Hamlet, noting that we prefer to “cling to the ills that we have, than fly to others that we know not of.”


2 thoughts on “Gilgamesh and The Shadow

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