I have had the pleasure and privilege of spending the last several days in Maine on my favorite lake enjoying the sun and nature. Last night, it began to rain so my daughter and I decided to watch a movie. After scanning the selections and reviews on her computer, she suggested we watch “The Florida Project,” a 2017 slice of life drama which, according to IMDb TV, follows a “precocious six-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Walt Disney World.”
Childhood. Adventure. Disney World. Sounds endearing, right?
I did not like the film at first. I kept waiting for the plot to unfold or an inspirational moment, but neither surfaced. Instead, I felt a mounting anxiety combined with sadness and despair as the reality of life in a poverty stricken hotel-turned-residence community exposed all the things that make me uncomfortable: poverty, lying, foul language, cheating, stealing, hustling, betrayal, fighting, child abuse, pedophilia, drug use, prostitution.
The movie was shown through the eyes of a child who had friends, freedom, food, community and a caring mother, all of which made it more palatable. However, the stark contrast of the lives profiled to those of the privileged thousands visiting nearby Disney World, made me stop and think.
The movie did an outstanding job of portraying the reality of the situation, but I wasn’t happy with the way it left me feeling. Something was tugging at me to look deeper.
It wasn’t until morning that I realized the importance of what I was experiencing. It became clear that the issues in the movie that made me uncomfortable were the ones I needed to examine more closely. Maybe it was time to look at what it means to lead a privileged life. Had I been turning a blind eye to the realities of those less fortunate?
With all of the recent unrest and attention pointing towards inequality and racism, my viewing of this movie was particularly timely. It became evident that the cinematic story I witnessed was one I had chosen to overlook, just as many instances of injustice get somehow justified through the selective stories we tell ourselves and the parts of our psyche we choose to keep hidden.
I have recently been working on my own personal growth and have also started “The Life Purpose Project,” a series of one on one sessions to help people reach their life’s purpose through discussion, dream interpretation, tarot, and flower essence therapy.
I am a believer in the power of positive thinking and healing through love. However, I have been finding that in order to truly heal and make significant progress forward, we need to look at something called our “shadow self”.
According to an article in highexistence.com, “the shadow is a concept first coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung that describes those aspects of our personality that we choose to reject and repress. For one reason or another, we all have parts of ourselves that we don’t like–so we push those parts down into our unconscious psyches. It is this collection of repressed aspects of our identity that Jung referred to as our shadow.”
Some examples of repressed shadow tendencies include “aggressive impulses, taboo mental images, shameful experiences, immoral urges, fears, irrational wishes, unacceptable sexual desires.”
Our shadow self develops as a result of societal expectations that tell as we are a “bad” person if we have certain thoughts and behaviors. We want to fit in and be accepted, so we deny and hide these impulses and pretend they do not exist as parts of ourselves. On top of that, if left unchecked, these qualities feed into a larger collective societal shadow which can multiply and become more systemic, resulting in a world that tolerates prejudice, racism, abuse, and inequity.
Jung believes that these innate qualities are present in all of us and the only way to effectively deal with them is to recognize, accept, and find ways to constructively manage their presence within our lives.
I have been using dream interpretation and the Tarot to help uncover the shadow within myself and my Life Purpose Project participants. Both methods point out areas of the subconscious that ultimately want to be seen and accepted before allowing us to move forward on our spiritual path. Meditation and identifying psychological triggers can also help shed some light.
One thing “The Florida Project” made clear was that when we look at these shadow qualities, whether within ourselves or society as a whole, the feeling can be extremely uncomfortable. It can bring us to places and uncover a world that is unnerving and painful.
The idea is not to run and deny, but to look directly into the areas of darkness. When we do this, “fear becomes an opportunity for courage. Pain is a catalyst for strength and resilience. Aggression is transmuted into warrior-like passion. This wisdom informs our actions, our decisions, and our interactions with others..” (highexistence.com).
If we seek to accept the shadows as part of who we are, if we allow them to come forward without condemnation, we may be able to heal not only ourselves but the world as a whole, and people like those featured in the “The Florida Project” may have a fighting chance.