The following is excerpted from Decomposing The Shadow: Lessons From The Psilocybin Mushroom.
Within the depths of self we find the Shadow: the personification of what we wish to avoid facing about ourselves[i], the portion of ourselves we fear most, the source of fear itself. When we block emotive-psychosynthesis of the shadow by avoiding personal accountability for its presence within us, we generate emotional repression. These repressed aspects of the shadow are then projected across the perception of reality as we unconsciously offload the responsibility of fault for the shadow. We repress and project because we are afraid of the shadow; the dark side of self. This fear influences us to avoid bearing witness to these shadow projections, and instead, we generate a false perception of danger towards anything that may rouse a direct awareness of shadow. The body physiologically reacts to this false perception of danger and generates a stress response. The mind also reacts to this false perception and the ego engages in preprogrammed evasion mechanisms, causing us to retreat within, or to lash out. Self-doubt, passive-aggressiveness, judgment, arrogance, self-deprecation, and general anxiety are all expressions of the chronic fear resulting from avoiding responsibility for the shadow. Psilocybin mushrooms can guide us into the shadow, help us to face it directly, and facilitate the emotive–psychosynthesis needed to grow through chronic fear. From this experience, we discover the courage and strength to navigate the shadow in daily life.
I can see a parable for facing the shadow with psilocybin in the story of Luke Skywalker training with Yoda in the Dagobah swamps in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. In it, Luke Skywalker—a young Jedi warrior in training—goes to a swamp planet in a star system called Dagobah. Luke is seeking a Jedi master named Yoda so that he can also learn to become a Jedi, an enlightened warrior of The Force. In Star Wars, The Force is the ethereal energy that flows through all things throughout the universe. It is the energetic source of all life, and through practice, can be channelled to accomplish great feats and develop significant supernatural powers. The concept of The Force parallels a variety of different philosophies on universal energy like Prana, Chi, Qi, Reiki, The Quantum Field, God, Love, etc. There is two ways one can embody The Force: with the light side, or with the dark side. To embody the dark side is to use the power of The Force for self-serving purposes. The path of the dark side eventually leads a Jedi into becoming obsessed with this power. The dark side inspires corruption and destruction. It is a representation of what constitutes the cultural values of evil. A Jedi gives into the dark side when they loose their self to the darkness within. A Jedi becomes consumed by their darkness because they has not learned the truth of its presence by facing it with courage.
At the depth of Luke’s training in the Dagobah swamps, Yoda brings him to a cave and tells him that it is strong with the dark side of The Force. Luke is encouraged to release his weapons and go inside.
Yoda: That place is strong with the dark side of the force, a domain of evil it is, and you must go.
Luke: What’s in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.[ii]
Due to a lack of self-confidence and trust in The Force that is flowing through him, Luke ignores the guidance of Yoda and enters with his weapons. Deep within the cave, he finds himself face-to-face with Darth Vader, a great Jedi who gave into the dark side, Luke’s greatest nemesis. In a battle between them, Luke cuts off Darth Vader’s head only to realize that the face behind Vader’s mask is his own.
So how is this story a parable of facing of the shadow using psilocybin mushrooms? From a psychedelic perspective, we can see the Dagobah swamps as a representation of the psyche, and the different places Luke trains within the swamps as different emotional environments within the subconscious. Yoda is the ambivalent voice of guidance, the voice of the psilocybin-enhanced intellect; he is the teaching voice of the mushroom. There is even a physical correlation to the mushroom, as Yoda is a small creature with a large head that lives in a swamp.
Yoda exposes Luke to new ways of understanding himself by confronting him with different mental-emotional challenges throughout different areas of the swamp. During his training, Yoda helps Luke better integrate these new experiences into his journey of becoming a Jedi. Like the creative ideas and metaphors generated within a psilocybin journey, Yoda speaks to Luke in parables. He does not tell Luke what to think or explain what his experiences mean. He only guides Luke through the swamp while providing perspective on how to consider the challenges within these new environments and how they relate to The Force and to developing a connection with it. While sitting on Luke’s back, Yoda guides him through the swamp like the psilocybin-enhanced inner-monologue guides us through the emotional environment of the subconscious. Yoda speaks with an enlightened knowledge of The Force, constantly presenting Luke with new ideas to consider. Like psilocybin, Yoda’s guidance inspires Luke with alternative ways of seeing the significance of his internal experience in relation to the energy of the universe, but does not directly explain to Luke what it all means.
Like many of us, Luke is a resistant student who often holds tight to maintaining control out of a lack of trust in himself and his connection with The Force. He resists surrender to his wise teacher. This lack of trust and surrender makes it difficult for Luke to grasp the simplicity of Yoda’s teachings and is often the source of Luke’s confusion and frustration—similar to what some may consider a “bad trip”. Over time, Luke learns to release his resistance to the simplicity of these teachings the same way we learn to surrender to the honesty of an emotional experience with psilocybin.
When Yoda—a personification of the wise inner-voice unlocked with psilocybin—brings Luke to the cave, he has brought Luke to face the shadow. The cave is the source of Luke’s fear, self-doubt, and everything he wishes to avoid about himself. Asking Luke to release his weapons is a metaphor for surrendering the ego’s constructed defence mechanisms and learning the ability to face his shadow from a personal power sourced in The Force—the All That Is, All At Once. The ego’s defence mechanisms are the psychological functions that prevent the conscious mind from directly facing great emotional challenges. When we repress the emotional aspects of self we do not want to deal with, the ego works like an automatic security guard to keep these aspects repressed, preventing us from having to deal with the painful truth of our repression.
When Luke enters the cave still holding his weapons, it is another expression of his reluctance to release control and surrender to Yoda’s wisdom. It is the presence of his ego defences—his weapons—that creates his anxious and inevitably failed confrontation with Vader, who is a unique personification of his shadow. Luke fights this personification with his weapons instead of a strength channelled from The Force. He attempts to destroy his shadow with the ego instead of learning to accept and integrate it from his spiritual center. When Luke is exposed to the head of Vader and sees it to have his own face, he is being shown that fighting his shadow with his ego is fighting himself and this will only result in self-defeat.
Like Yoda helping Luke through the swamp, psilocybin mushrooms help by guiding us through the unfamiliar environment of the subconscious. They encourage us to let down our defences and discover a personal power sourced from deep within. The mushrooms expose us to our power to address the honesty of emotional experiences and help us learn how to face dark challenges within self with a confidence and courageousness sourced in the ground of being; the All That Is, All At Once.
 Dear Star Wars Fans, please do not take offense. I do not mean to imply that this perspective on the story is the intention of George Lucas or the deeper meaning of the story itself.
[i] Jung C.G. CW 9.1: Archetypes of the Collected Unconscious, 2nd ed. Princeton, Nj: Princeton University Press, 1969
[ii] Lucas, G. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.” 20th Century Fox Video. 2006. DVD
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Teaser image by mariuskluonis, courtesy of Creative Commons license.