Continued from Part 2 – How The Shadow Awakens.
Working with your shadow offers an immense opportunity for soul encounter – the opportunity to meet, learn from, and embrace your unique essence, your deepest and most authentic self.
When undertaken with courageous vulnerability, this soul encounter will help you develop deep compassion for yourself and others. Soul encounter enables unconditional acceptance and love for yourself and by extension all those around you.
It is the path to wholeness.
Shadow ‘work’ can be and often is, psychologically and emotionally challenging.
Encountering the true self requires a descent into the underworld you have created; into those dark, shadowy places of yourself that are anything but pleasant and appealing to look at.
Shadow work requires us to look at aspects of our lives and ourselves that we may have been avoiding, consciously or unconsciously, for decades. It can call for us to revisit memories of trauma, abuse and various forms of loss as well as highlight limiting beliefs and patterns that no longer serve us.
The question to ask is:
Are you ready for this?
What is your tolerance for change?
How easily do you handle ambiguity, confusion, irritation of ‘bad’ feelings?.
We are the architects of our life experience, the artists of our inner domain, and thus we create the inner and outer reality we inhabit.
You’re going to have to encounter life experiences that likely make you feel anxious, edgy, irritable and possibly frightened.
To cope with this and do your shadow work effectively, you need to safely graduate your exposure to your fears and learn to feel your emotions without hostility to them.
These two points cannot be emphasised enough.
Firstly, in order to effectively invite to the surface, release and integrate the shadow parts of yourself, you must firstly create a safe and secure environment to do so.
If you have a death-like fear of singing, there is no point booking yourself to sing in front of 10,000 people. The sheer fear you will feel will more than likely overwhelm your psyche and do no lasting good. If you make if through the experience it’s probably because you pushed past the fear forcefully. This is not shadow work and brings us onto our second point.
In order to release and integrate properly you must be with the experience in its totality.
You must bathe the feelings that arise with the totality of your attention.
You must do this without reacting in any way, shape or form to the experience. No pushing, shoving, striving, avoiding. Just be with the experience as it is.
This is no small task and often takes people repeated attempts to yield into the experience and let go of the habitual desire to fight, flight or freeze in the wake of the experience.
We might call this ability to be with our experience, to be present to it. The most difficult aspect to be with is typically our emotions.
It helps considerably in this regard to cultivate a way of being that is like surfing your emotions as they arise. This is something Raphael Cushnir pioneered as a practice for becoming present and consciously releasing blocked emotions.
I’ll illustrate this process with an experience from my own life.
Years ago I hated to dance in public. I felt terribly self-conscious as many men often do in this regard. I would make up excuses in nightclubs or worse still, get drunk enough to find the confidence to do it.
I was living in London at the time and to overcome this I booked to go to Morning Gloryville which is a sober, morning dance party where you ‘dance your way into the day’. If you haven’t been, it’s a riot.
At the time I didn’t feel particularly positive about it BUT the pain of living with this false fear outweighed my pride about ‘looking stupid’.
So I went along, on my own, sober, in the broad daylight and danced myself away. And guess what? It was horrible…. for the most part.
Everyone once in a while I would slip out of self-consciousness and actually let go of myself. I was literally losing my sense of self (some people call this flow state), metabolising my fears and actually having a good time.
So week one was 90% unpleasant, 10% fun. What did I do? I went back again and again until it was 90% fun and 10% unpleasant.
Every time it rolled around I tried to find ways to wriggle out of it, cancel or see friends instead. I trudged along the road like a condemned person. What a pitiful state.
Looking back now I laugh at that ridiculous reaction of petulance. It’s good to have a sense of humour about yourself and I did develop one the third of fourth time.
Most of all though I noticed the same thoughts and the same emotions each time and I just sat with it until they faded. I didn’t power over my feelings, I felt safe, I just felt uncomfortable and I could deal with that, particularly because I knew it wasn’t permanent.
For the most part those fears have metabolised now. I still feel them a little but nowhere near before and I actually look forward to ecstatic dance now.
I feel light and liberated, like I have another aspect of my life back that has opened up to me. It’s not the list of things ‘I don’t do’ and that feels awesome.
So now for you.
1% of life is subject, 99% is your ideas about it.
Exercise For The Day
Return to your list from a couple of days ago of things that make you feel self-conscious.
Pick just one and make a plan to act on it in a graduated way over the next 4 weeks.
If it is an experience, book in something once a week for the next four weeks. If it’s something at home (like committing to writing or painting) then make special space and time for it.
Remember these principles for success:
- Do it on your own. Shadow work is for yourself, taking someone along is an unconscious crutch. You are solely responsible for the quality of life experience. You can ask a friend to join you in 4 weeks’ time when you’re professional at it.
- Commit to it. That time of week will roll around you will think of every excuse you can come up with to not do it. This is the ego trying to protect you. Be compassionate with yourself, surf all the feelings of anxiety and do it. If it is genuinely too much for you, then revisit the exercise with something less raw. Note though that it will always be uncomfortable.
- Remove distractions. Get rid of your phone, book and music. These are all distractions from the fullness of your experience. You will want to reach for them when you feel anxious, do not do this. Be with the experience as it is.
- Do it sober. No drink, no drugs, no cigarettes. These are all ways we numb ourselves to the full richness of our experience. Be sober and stay sober.
- Be vulnerable. If it’s a group setting, talk to a stranger you meet. Don’t tell them you’re “here to do shadow work”, just talk to them about the present experience. Tell them you’re new if you like, tell them you’re nervous if you are. People respond to authenticity.