The Shadow – a term that is being bandied about a lot in the spiritual community at the moment and often with very little understanding of what it actually is. I have been specialising in Shadow Work for around 7 years both in my counselling and teaching practice, I am not a trained psychologist or counsellor, however I do have a good understanding of the human mechanism from my years in teaching and counselling and in my own individual path.
So here goes…firstly a basic intro into the theory of the Shadow, what it is and how it manifests and then a brief introduction into what it takes to “Embrace Your Shadow”. Obviously it is quite an intense process and one article ain’t gonna cover it all but hopefully will give you a starting point and a bit of direction to move forward.
The Shadow is a term coined by Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst who worked with Sigmund Freud and others in the early days of understanding the human psyche and how it functions.
The human mind has been classified for purposes of understanding into 3 main sections: The Sub-conscious Mind (The “hidden” mind); The Conscious Mind (The “Aware” mind) and the Ego (The sense of self). Much has been written on these aspects and I am not going into much more detail here. In many spiritual and religious practices and beliefs the ego is seen as “evil” and needs to be destroyed. This is in part how the Shadow comes into being.
From the womb until around 6/7 years of age we exist in what is called the “absorbent phase” – we absorb and “suck up” everything around us as “just the way it is”. The people around us (parents, siblings, teachers and the like) have been in this reality longer than we have so we take their word as fact. Our sub-conscious mind is at the forefront of our awareness, our ego and conscious mind has not developed yet.
At the age of 6/7, we start developing our ego or sense of self. We realise that we are not part of a nice cosy little reality, we get exposed to external influences that may contradict our earlier upbringing and we start to feel separate from those we have relied on for so long. We realise that we can be rejected, that people may not like us and so we start trying to “fit in” and “do the right thing” so we can feel valued and belong again.
During this process we create in our minds the ego which disconnects us from the sub-conscious mind. In creating this ego we suppress a lot of what we want to experience because it is considered “wrong” in the eyes of people around us. Our natural joy and exuberance in life is dampened and suppressed – and Ta Daaa!!!! The Shadow is born.
The Shadow is the part of us that wants to express itself, but can’t because the ego, created by societal influences, judges it as “wrong” or “bad” – something we as souls and divine beings don’t really understand but supress as a matter of survival.
As divine beings having a human experience, we naturally want to experience things, this is why we are here. The mundane world we inhabit however doesn’t have this divine awareness, and is all about survival so we are forced to do and be things that our souls don’t necessarily want to be; just to survive in this reality. What it takes to survive in this reality we get from the world around us and the people we trust to educate us. And that is where things go pear-shaped.
In the Divine Oneness, pain doesn’t exist, time doesn’t exist, separation doesn’t exist, however to expand our experience they have to exist in the mundane experience. The mundane earthly experience is perfectly created to help our divine essence find its truth and power. This is beautifully illustrated in Neale Donald Walshe’s story of the Little Soul and the Sun. I will briefly paraphrase it here but it can be found in Conversations With God; Book One and I believe there is a separate Children’s Version published under the Title “The Little Soul and The Sun”.
In the beginning, a little soul was sitting in the brightness of the Sun and musing. He asked The Sun what he was and The Sun answered; “You are a shining soul”; but the little soul didn’t understand and asked, “but Sun, how do I know I am a Shining Soul?”; because in the light of The Sun, the little soul was almost invisible. The Sun answered, “Would you really like to know?”, and the Little Soul answered that he would. The Sun warned him however, that to experience and know his brightness would mean that he would be separated from the Sun and have to experience The Darkness.
“What is the Darkness?” the little Soul asked, and The Sun replied, “Everything you are not.” And so the little soul descended into the darkness, forgetting who he was and, surrounded by darkness, he cried out in anguish “Sun, Sun why have you abandoned me,” and the Sun replied “So you can find your way back to me”.
In essence, this is the process of Shadow Work – to unearth the hidden aspects of ourselves, to clear the ego-constraints we have taken on and be the best we can be in our human, mundane experience. We don’t do this by being perfect, or holy or divine, by studying the correct doctrines or worshiping the right god but by expressing our love in the darkness of our human experience. Love for ourselves with all our flaws and love for others with all their flaws too.
The Dark Shadow – the flaws that hurt and harm those around us and ourselves as well as the Light Shadow – the part of us that contains our power and divinity, our strength and “glory” – the parts of ourselves we supress so we can fit in and “be normal”.
The question you need to ask yourself before embarking on this life-changing process is the same question asked by Carl Jung: “Would you rather be whole or good?” If the answer is “whole” step forward – if the answer is “good” step back – you are not ready for this.
The above sounds a little contradictory and complicated doesn’t it? But it is quite simple really and will become clearer as we discuss the ways the Shadow expresses itself and how to unearth these hidden aspects of ourselves to find our truth and love. Initially this may sound a little like the self-sacrificing rubbish that created The Shadow in the first place, but stay with it until the end – you may surprise yourself!
Quickly, a little diversion to add clarity: From spirit or love there is no separation, no judgement and nothing “right” or “wrong”. From the perspective of the ego (fear) there is separation, there is right and wrong. Healing and embracing the Shadow – creates the bridge between these two realities.
Simply put the unhealed Shadow expresses itself using the ego aspect of fear to create separation. When you are judging someone else as right, wrong, good or evil, you are acting out of your unhealed Shadow. Judgement and discrimination are big ones here. Justification of your actions, excessive emotional outbursts, self-abuse and mutilation, anger, listening-to-respond not listening-to-hear, knee-jerk reactions, seeking validation and the need to give excessive validation, trying to control and manipulate your environment or those around you, are all indicators that your Shadow is unhealed. Putting yourself and others down, denying your value or the value of others are also big warning signs.
From the above it may sound like you need to back off and become a doormat that people walk over as you bless them “In Love and Light” No! The Shadow is about you and no-one else. It sounds selfish and arrogant and in a way it is. What you will notice however is that as you step into your healing and power, so the people that abuse you disappear from your life and “better” people come in. You experience a sense of joy and connection you have never experienced before.
Embracing The Shadow is a scary and frightening process where you will face your darkest fears, but see your brightest light. It takes courage and patience and it is a process that never ends. To heal your Shadow means to accept everything you have judged “wrong” and “bad” about yourself and love it, own it, integrate it and embrace it and by doing that embrace all the world in truth and unconditional love.
It is about being Jesus Christ and the Devil Incarnate in equal measure and fully comfortable in either role, it is about achieving a sense of self that can not be shaken by external influences, surrendering your reputation to gain your integrity.
This is a reality of duality and it is only in accepting and embracing that duality that we can find our centre, our joy and our love. That – in essence – is what Embracing the Shadow is all about.
“Out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field I will meet you there.” – Rumi
“It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognized.”
I Ching, Hexagram 5, Hsü,
- Ford, Debbie: Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming your power, creativity, brilliance, and dreams. Hodder & Stoughton.
- Walsch, Neale Donald: Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue. Hodder & Stoughton.