What is shadow work anyway?
Well, if you happened to go outside last night, you are probably aware that today is the full moon. The Harvest Full Moon in Aries to be exact and it promises to be a real doozy. The most powerful one in all of 2020 according to the astrologers I follow! LOL! Anyway, in my recent equinox email one of the 11 suggestions I made in order to make the best of the equinox energy was to engage in "shadow work" and honestly there is no better time than the full moon to illuminate the shadows, amiright? Plus, we are heading into the darkest time of the year (in this hemisphere, anyway) both symbolically and literally and it makes sense to explore and learn to embrace the shadow.
Well, I had a bunch of people reach out asking me what I meant by "Shadow Work" so I'm gonna write a little blog about it to shed some light on the subject (see what I did there??) and give a few suggestions for how to incorporate this valuable practice into your daily's.
The concept of the shadow was original coined by famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung. It is defined as all the parts of ourselves we can't really see and have been disowned by us. Freud called it the unconscious, but it's really all the same thing. Jung just made it way more engaging in my opinion.
The Shadow develops childhood, because we are taught to be certain ways and discouraged from being other ways. This is both family and culturally specific, but typically our shadow is all those parts of ourselves that we don't like and the qualities we don't want to admit we have (jealousy and murderous rage anyone?? I didn't think so!). This can include things like arrogance, laziness, perceived weakness of any kind and even urges to run around naked and pee on the floor! You think I'm kidding, but who wouldn't want to do that really?
If we don't want to admit we have these qualities then unfortunately they can take over and drive the bus of our lives. We've all had experiences where we say the next day or hours later "I can't believe I said that (or did that), that's so NOT ME!" Right? This is the shadow! Everyone's shadow is different. Becoming conscious and "awake" as they say has to do with finding these parts of ourselves and developing a healthier relationship with them. We can never get rid of our shadow we can only be more aware of it and find greater acceptance and love for these parts. (Yes, even the parts that want to pee on the floor!)
These shadow parts always serve a valuable function in our lives kind of like the pain we feel when we touch a hot stove. It hurts to feel that pain, but if we didn't have it we'd have some pretty burned up hands and fingers on this planet, yes??
Typically our shadow serves some kind of protective function to keep us safe from a perceived threat. A lot of times however, unfortunately the threat is no longer real. It may have been real when we were younger, but as adults, we've likely outgrown the threat that was once there. The shadow reaction to protect us is no longer needed. You can imagine how useless and annoying it would be if we were constantly violently pulling our hand away from things that weren't really hot, right? So it's kinda like that. These shadow aspects can keep us in a reactive state even when there is no threat. This is why so many of us are so stressed out all the time is because our nervous systems are working on overdrive trying to protect us from all these perceived threats that aren't there or aren't there YET.
Myself included! Like how much time have I spent worrying about getting COVID and freaking out about the failure of society and civil war?? Has this been part of my experience? NOT AT ALL, but my nervous system has still been working on overdrive wreaking havoc on my health and wellbeing, right? That's just an easy example, but shadow work is usually a lot more complex than this.
So this is why doing shadow work is important. It helps you to regulate your nervous system and feel more at peace. It also helps you to face challenges and disrupt patterns that have been in place for a long time. It also keeps you from passing on these outdate beliefs about perceived threats to your children. In fact, I'd venture to say that if you are not actively engaged in this kind of work, you probably are passing these things on to your kids. It's kind of like if you don't exercise you are definitely NOT getting physically stronger. Or if you are not aware of what you are consuming food and drink-wise and are eating all fast food cuz it's easier you are definitely NOT getting healthier.
So how do you do shadow work?
First of all, you might already be doing it without calling it "shadow work" just like you could be exercising if you have a physically active life without calling it exercise. So don't freak out, ok!
Shadow work can be a s simple as having a meditation practice where you are just observing your moment to moment feelings and emotions and detaching from them instead of getting sucked up in them and taking them personally. This helps you to observe your shadow which is typically revealed in uncomfortable emotions and anxiety.
Here's a list, (cuz I'm finding that this list likes lists!)
1. Meditate daily
2. Journal about how you feel with acceptance and awareness. Let it all out, honey!
3. Cultivate a LOT of self compassion. It's really hard to identify the aspects of yourself that you have disowned. It's painful and embarrassing. Anyone who has ever engaged on this kind of journey would certainly agree.
3. Identify your shadow parts and give them persona's. I have a lot of fun with this. I have an inner critic named Mabel who wears a powder blue suit and sensible shoes for example. When she takes over and keeps me from doing something I know I want to do (like writing blogs!), I just say "Mabel, you gotta sit this one out! I don't need your input!" and then I imagine giving her another job to do (like cleaning the inner house, ya know, getting rid of the cobwebs and stuff). You get the idea.
4. Go easy on yourself when you make mistakes and feel like crap! These are usually powerful opportunities to get in touch with your shadow and have a better relationship with them.
5. Look deeply into situations where you are blaming other people for your suffering. When we blame others it is likely because we are disowning a shadow. We are all powerful creators of our own experience. When we blame things outside of ourselves, we are side-stepping looking at aspects of ourselves that we could take responsibility for. This isn't true across the board but in many situations. It's just something to be curious about.
6. Hire a therapist who specializes in shadow work (ME! Pick MEEEE!) to help guide you through this rather difficult and draining process (I'm just kidding there are plenty of qualified people out there). Someone preferably who can make it a little fun to take out some of the suffering and intensity required to do this work.
6. Read books about the shadow. Anything by Carl Jung. I also really like The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Hidden Power of your True Self by Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson and Debbie Ford.
7. You can also get my friend, Keri Nola's super cool app (yes, in the App Store) called "Messages from Shadow" which is a tarot-like card deck that helps you illuminate what you may not be able to see when it comes to a particular situation. If you're interested I can also do powerful "Shadow Card Readings" that can be instrumental in helping you break through certain blocks that are keeping you stuck in your life. These cards are powerful and always somehow accurate!
Anyway, that's all for now. This work is at the heart of what I do, so I'm sure I'll be touching on this topic in different ways in most of my blogs. I just wanted to write something fairly quickly for those of you who had questions.
And just so you know, I LOVE getting responses to these emails and I DOUBLE LOVE the questions that come in. It helps me know what to write about and makes me feel like there's someone reading these besides my mom! LOL! Right now it's still just little ole me fielding the questions. I don't have some team that's reading your responses or even an assistant. It's a great time to be in touch before I blow up, get on Oprah, and need a staff! HA!!!
Every blessings to you and yours!