What is the shadow?
Our shadow selves are the subconscious parts of ourselves, both positive (light) and negative (dark), which we repress, deny and hide. Shadow work is essential to breaking through to your authentic self. Our shadow selves live in our subconscious, far below the surface of our conscious awareness. We spend much of our lives denying and suppressing our shadow selves which, in turn, makes them powerful, effective blockages to our self-discovery. When we bring our shadow selves into the conscious light of day we begin to understand and embrace them, integrate us back to us, and we set ourselves free.
“Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious.”
– Carl Jung
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.
“Closer examination of the dark characteristics – that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow – reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive, or, better, possessive quality. Emotion, incidentally, is not an activity of the individual but something that happens to him. Affects occur usually where adaptation is weakest, and at the same time they reveal the reason for its weakness, namely a certain degree of inferiority and the existence of a lower level of personality. On this lower level with its uncontrolled or scarcely controlled emotions one behaves more or less like a primitive, who is not only the passive victim of his affects, but also singularly incapable of moral judgment.”
– Carl Jung
An example of this would be an angry father or a sad mother we grew up with. We suppress the anger and we suppress our sadness. I’m not going to be like that. I remember feeling that as a child as I heard my parents fight, and I vowed that I would be different. What this means for us is that we tuck it down deep and it becomes our shadow side, still affecting us through our subconscious. As we start to bring it to the light it is challenging. We have suppressed it for many years, kept it down and not wanted to look at it, and now we bring awareness to it. It stirs up a lot of feelings. It takes the work of a warrior to be truly authentic with ourselves, to shine the light, and delve deeply into ourselves. I believe moving into observer when doing this work is highly important, having compassion for ourselves, allowing it in, giving it some distance, and remaining as grounded as possible in moving through these emotions/feelings.
“Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. We meet our dark side, accept it for what it is, and we learn to use its powerful energies in productive ways. Romancing the Shadow and learning to read the messages it encodes in daily life can deepen your consciousness, imagination, and soul.”
– Romancing the Shadow by Connie Zwieg, PhD., and Steve Wolf, PhD.
“One must have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star.”
– Friedrich W. Nietzsche
Emotions are not good or bad, they just are, and all of our emotions serve us. We make them good or bad. How do we embrace them all, all of who we are, and not get sucked into victim or old stuff? I believe first we must identify what we are resisting within us, and shine light on it. I know, it’s a warrior move, and it’s good to work with someone or a group as you start to delve into treasure hunting in the underworld. I also feel this is mystical work, delving into the subconscious, the dark within us. It’s also important to remember that the dark soil is where the seed grows, and the dark can provide nurturing soil for us to grow. As we integrate the shadow it is empowering, we become more whole.
I wanted to touch a bit on Spiritual Bypassing and how that does not serve us. Robert Augustus Masters, psychotherapist, author, and speaker, has written a book on this and is a true inspirational leader when it comes to shadow work.
“Spiritual bypassing—the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs—is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. When split off from fundamental psychological needs, such actions often do much more harm than good.
“Spiritual bypass is a defense mechanism. Although the defense looks a lot prettier than other defenses, it serves the same purpose. Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture.
“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many forms, often without being acknowledged.”
– Robert Augustus Masters
Personally, this has been a big one for me. As I started working on myself after my divorce, I did take some accountability for the past, and learned very quickly to focus on the positive, which was beneficial for me at the time, but after years, not so much. I moved into the land of denial, stayed focused on only the positive, denied the negative, and my growth slowed down and the same stuff kept coming up in different forms. My life really started to shift again when I delved into shadow work about 6 years ago with an amazing coach, friend and mentor, Larisa Stow. She helped me go into the depths of my subconscious I didn’t even realize existed, and to bring parts of me back to me, to love myself enough to love all of me. Her strength and warrior spirit allowed me to see my strength, fire and warrior spirit. I have not turned back and I am eternally grateful for her.
After my work with Larisa and my studies in ministerial school, I moved to Oregon, and worked through an extensive shadow process with a group here in Ashland, lead by Rev Norma Burton. It was incredibly powerful. Norma’s process, teaching, shaman beauty, coaching, and powerful experience provided a sacred place for us to go deep, I appreciate and respect her and her work. The books and CD’s by Robert Masters have also been impactful tools and processes for understanding and working with the shadow. I continue to work on me, grow, learn and work with others. It’s been instrumental and transformational in my life and I feel it deeply at a soul level. It is a part of my purpose in this lifetime.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
– Joseph Campbell