In the second article of this series I described evil as a force that “corrodes and eats away at the human spirit,” that “delays or derails the natural unfolding of your deepest potential,” and pursues “the destruction of goodness in all its forms such as love, creativity, consciousness, healing, and maturation.” But accurately applying this definition to the events of your life is often easier said than done. Not only does evil have many disguises, but our inherent egocentricity tends to cloud our judgment and perceptions.
If a decision or action is in line with the goals of our ego, we tend to call it good. But if it thwarts our will or poses an obstacle to our goals, we usually see it as bad. Rock and roll music was the “work of the devil” to many parents in the 50’s and 60’s, but the “stairway to heaven” to their exuberant children. Obviously, different people may view the same event differently, and sometimes we adopt opposing views of a particular event in our own life as well. For example, if a series of disappointing circumstances keeps you from pursuing a particular career path, you might label them as evil. However, if you later recognize that that career wasn’t really a good match for you, your evaluation of those obstacles may change from bad to good.
Clearly, life can be very paradoxical with regard to good and evil. From one perspective and point in time, an event may appear evil, and yet from another perspective and point in time, the opposite is true. An underlying reason for this is that the aims of our ego don’t always coincide with those of our deeper self. We may want what is not in our best interest, what is not congruent with our true nature and calling. We then view the impediments and frustrations we face as evil when in fact they reflect the wisdom of the universe redirecting us to our proper path. Thus, we label as evil what is actually the guiding presence of the Self, or God, and can end up waging war against our own psyche.
Minimizing evil in your life involves aligning your will with that of the Self (the guiding center of the total personality) and perceiving reality through the eyes of the Self. Doing this requires attention to the psychological process that is trying to unfold in your life. For example, if a snow storm and a flat tire interfere with your plans to attend a lecture by a popular speaker, perhaps that lecture is not what you need to be hearing. Honoring your psychological process involves getting out of your ego standpoint long enough to see the big picture, to see a higher purpose and will at work in your life. It means discovering and going with the flow of life rather than insisting upon your own way. It encourages asking your deeper self, “What attitude should I hold towards this event? Is this something I need to be taking a stand against, or assisting with?”
Reflecting on the paradoxical nature of evil, Jungian psychologist John Sanford writes:
…the ego is a sleepy bear who prefers to hibernate. Few people become conscious without having to become conscious, without being driven to it by necessity. And this is where evil comes in. For the most part, it is only when people encounter evil in some form—as pain, loss of meaning, or something that appears to be threatening or destructive to them—that they begin to find their way to consciousness. And only when people are tested in the fire of life, so that what is weak within them is purged away and only the strong elements remain, does individuation take place. This purging can only take place in the context of a certain amount of suffering and struggle. Paradoxically, without a power in life that seems to oppose wholeness, the achievement of wholeness would be impossible. From the point of view of psychology, then, evil is a necessity if individuation [development of the personality] is to occur. (Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality, p. 40)
As Sanford points out, what appears to be evil sometimes guides us back to our proper path and deepens our consciousness. This is an important insight, a paradox regarding evil which needs to be recognized and appreciated. In fact, discovering the good or redeeming aspects hidden within life’s tragedies and disappointments is often crucial to our healing and growth. But there is also a danger in this observation for it can open the door to the false conclusion that all evil ultimately works towards good and that evil really isn’t evil.
In a previous article I pointed out the cunning and devious nature of evil. Here is a perfect example of this for it shows the way in which a spiritual insight is easily turned into its opposite. By overgeneralizing and misapplying an insight, a constructive idea can be made destructive. In this case, the realization that evil sometimes works for good, or that evil events may lead to good in unexpected ways, can lure us into the false belief that all actions and decisions work out for the best in their own way. “It’s all good” as they say, so don’t sweat your decisions. “There are no wrong paths and no wrong answers.” “Wherever you are, that’s where you’re meant to be.”
If these statements sound like clichés, that’s because they are. Of course, clichés often hold a kernel of truth and may offer a helpful perspective in certain situations. But these particular statements can also lead to a complacent attitude towards the reality of evil. They convey the idea that any decision is about as good as any other, and invite a false optimism regarding spiritual reality. Under their sway, you are likely to take less care and responsibility for the decisions you make. Such complacency is dangerous because not all evil promotes individuation or consciousness. Sometimes evil simply destroys life, corrodes your moral instincts, or enslaves the soul. The decisions you make and the reflection you put into them affects the movement of evil in your own life and in the universe.
1. Sanford, John A., Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality. Crossroad Publishing Company: NY 1984.