At sunset today my flickering shadow moved along the sidewalk and fascinated me. It's funny stuff--this illusion caused by lack of light. Now it's Halloween, (Witchs’ New Year) the one day when main-stream culture is actually allowed to dance with the shadow. It's like a temporary mass hysteria (or perhaps a streak of sanity) during which it becomes socially acceptable to play a dominatrix, Dracula, a demon, or even to dress in drag. Letting out the dark alter ego can be not only playful, but profoundly healing. I'd like to offer a brief introduction to shadow-work. These processes have the potential to help us let go of our deepest darkest fears, forever.
What is Shadow?
In Jungian theory the term 'Shadow' refers those qualities about ourselves that we dislike and deny. This includes fear, anger, depression and/or any combination of our hidden personality. It's also known as the wounded self, the dark side, and is associated with our manipulative ego strategies. Like mushrooms, shadow aspects thrive in darkness (unconsciousness) and die in direct light (awareness.) These qualities are known as the shadow because they are the sides of us which appear to be separate from the light of Spirit. Robert Bly uses the metaphor of a bag that we lug around behind us. He suggests that we spend the first half of our lives filling the bag, and the second half trying to empty the bag. One of my meditation teachers added to this image. He says that we carry this bag as we climb the ladder of enlightenment. As we ascend each rung, there is more light by which to see what's in bag, and we can then more easily remove that which no longer serves us. This suggests that the more enlightened we become, the more shadow is revealed.
Facing our fears, and moving through darkness is not foreign work for many of us. Whether it's admitting that we've become controlling like our mothers or recognizing pattern of self-sabotaging our own success, we often have these painful psychological insights. Now, what do we do with them?
The basic premise of all shadow work is that as you embrace the enemy, you become more whole. After all, what happens when you shine the light on a shadow? It disappears. Awareness is the light that if shined on our negative aspects, helps us become more integrated, healthy beings. Famed philosopher Ken Wilber suggests: that which we cannot consciously see about ourselves will unconsciously run our lives.
The tricky paradox is that by definition, the shadow is unknown and difficult to see. Our shadows are dark illusions that fall on the people around us, often casting an illusion that seems to originate within them. But when we look closer, the shortcomings we perceive in our friends are actually reflections of our own unhealed wounds. The ego simply doesn't want to hate itself, so it turns it's judgment on others. In fact, some spiritual teachers believe that all judgment is actually self judgment. If you find yourself emotionally affected or triggered by other people’s behavior, it is a strong message that you have some shadow work to do.
Here’s one process I often use with my clients:
1. Look around at your friends and family. Make a list of the people who annoy, bother, trigger, anger, frustrate or frighten you.
2. Ask yourself, what is it about them that I dislike?
3. Reflect on whether you possess that quality yourself, or perhaps if that quality points to some unhealed aspect of your personal history. This process might look like:
Sally is too prissy, conservative. Do I hold back, and judge my own radical tendencies? Boyd is so social and attention-seeking. Do I secretly wish I were more popular? Natalie is too shy. Is it difficult for me to express myself?
4. Replace these limiting beliefs or behaviors with empowering new ones. You can use any number of personal growth tools such as: affirmations, journaling, praying or books such as The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. For faster results, I recommend you seek the support of a coach or spiritual teacher.
David Richo, Ph.D., author of Befriending the Shadow, suggests that the healing process begins when you "Acknowledge that you have all the attributes humans can have, that you contain both sides of every human coin." Ultimately this work points us in the direction of non-duality. At the basic level, we begin by simply observing and embracing our aversions. But with practice, we may realize that we actually possess the whole of human experience within us, none of which is either good or bad; wrong or right. This awareness illuminates the whole of our being, dispelling the illusion that the shadow is separate from Spirit. The true work is not overcoming the shadow, but seeing clearly that these polarities are in fact complimentary energies, and that light cannot not exist without darkness. And therein lies our enlightenment.
Enjoy the dance.
If you’d like support integrating your spiritual path with material success, Kamala offers a complimentary trial session to help you towards success and self realization right her at:
Kamala@blisscoach.com or see