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24
Apr

Integrate Your Shadow: Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

Posted on April 24th, 2014

A country lawyer with only 1 year of formal schooling, Lincoln found himself in the middle of the greatest conflict in American history. When elected, he was called a country bumpkin and a disgrace. By the time the Civil War ended (1860-1865), 529,000 men out of a country of 32 million lost their lives. Every family was touched by the agony.

Despite the pressure, his spiritual development was astounding during those years.

How was this possible? Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Schenk, records how Lincoln struggled with serious depression from a very young age. Yet, he notes, his pain fueled his greatness and propelled growth.

He was able to integrate his deep feelings, his melancholy, and his failures into a larger purpose. His lifelong journey involved integrating his gifts and talents, which were so powerful, with his sadness and depression. In photos, we can observe he was a “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Observers have long noticed how Lincoln combined sets of opposite qualities. Lincoln not only embraced contrasts—self-doubt and confidence, hope and despair – but somehow reconciled them to produce something new and valuable. In this lies the key to his creative work as President – and an enduring lesson. Living a good life often requires integrating a bundle of contrasts into a durable whole.

His humanity was the integration of all of who he was. This enabled him to hold together a nation that was in great danger of falling apart. He did not need to divide the nation into good and bad guys. He had learned to hold that tension and complexity in himself. His heartbreak opened up for him a greater capacity for joy and suffering.

As a result, he was able to hold the nation together at end of …read more

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