Recently I met my small Spiritual Guidance Group. Due to cancellations and other commitments the group had been reduced to three of us who had been meeting for the past couple of years. One had recently begun the Art of Spiritual Guidance Program, a two-year journey with Atum O’Kane. She shared with us that one of the primary topics of conversation had been the weekend of the shadow that would take place in year two.
She indicated that she was fearful of doing shadow work to which her colleague responded that she was interested to know about what all this shadow talk means.
So I dismissed my prepared agenda and we began an evening long discussion of shadow. I explained that shadow was much more than one thing. We did not have a shadow we have shadow. I like eminent Jungian Robert Johnson’s concept that we all walk around with a metaphoric large black bag over our shoulder. In it we place all the shaming, disowned, and unacceptable traits that were rejected as we grew up. James Hollis another brilliant Jungian tells of how as a six year old he strolled on to the front porch sans clothes and was shouted at thus ensuring that shame of the naked body became a shadow trait.
So why should we explore the contents of the black bag? Suppressing our shadow qualities uses up our life energy or qi. In addition that which is kept in darkness can grow in its power over us and manifest in our conscious lives. Also that which is brought into the light loses its power over you. A bit like observing the sun rise and watching the darkness fade away. Finally there is often gold in the shadow.
One of the things that emerged when I did the shadow weekend was this gold. I dressed up in my tux as a playboy, a character that I had played out unconsciously during my thirties and forties. It was illuminating to realize that there was positive energy here that was attractive. I had been working so hard to show I was a “Spiritual Person” that I had lost some of my inherent joyful personality. (To my amusement one of my companions in this program asked if I would go out on a date in my shadow outfit.)
How do we know what shadow is lurking in our unconscious? The best way to discern shadow is to become conscious and responsible of your own life. For example when you find yourself instantly taking a dislike to someone you will find shadow there. They will represent something in your self you dislike. Recently I met someone who triggered me. She seemed to think she knew how I should deal with in a certain situation. The words “insufferable certainty” popped into my head. It not take me long to recognize a shadow characteristic of my own. It makes me especially aware when I am about to fall into that particular hole.
Another mechanism is to notice when you behave in a manner that you felt was unacceptable or over the top. Notice if you react to a comment/situation/email violently. Reaction is generally a sign of shadow engaging.
Another important indicator is your body and your feelings. Notice when you have very strong feelings about something, Observe the currents of energy that run through your body. For example opening a specific email from my teacher caused this current to flood my body and I reacted by dramatically shutting my iPad shift. When I examined it I realized I was feeling judged. As a friend of mine commented it did not read that way to her – shadow behaviour always come back to you.
Another sign is when you feel like a victim – taking responsibility and exploring why you feel like a victim will often reveal shadow.
So how do we get things out of the black bag? Well the first step is awareness. Begin to take more notice of yourself and your inner reactions. To start don’t try and change anything just observe. The second step is acceptance. We learn to take full responsibility for our own behaviour not constantly blaming someone else.
Third we try to understand where the shadow came from. This has been absolutely fascinating work to make sense and understand who we are and why. The same way that Hollis developed shame of the body, I became a chameleon because showing who I truly was caused a reaction from my authoritarian and evangelical Father. I learned to present myself in a way that got me acceptance, the rest went into the black bag.
Then we try to own it and diminish its power over us. This begins to happen through the process of awareness, acceptance, and understanding. Finally we know who we are and that we do not have to be controlled by these subterranean shadow complexes.
A s Robert Johnson said, “The shadow gone autonomous is a terrible monster in our psychic house.” The gift of shadow work is the taming of that monster and reclaiming the disowned gifts that share its lair.