Continued from Part 3 – Going Into Your Shadow.
Shadow work is an immense opportunity to meet, learn from, and embrace your unique essence, your deepest and most authentic self. When you create a safe environment and vulnerably lean into your fears, you can reclaim aspects of your psyche to become whole again. To do this we have to learn to be with our emotions just as they are.
Many of the things in your shadow are easy to find, simply by looking at what makes you uncomfortable.
Some things in your shadow though, are much subtler, and more difficult to find. As we learnt earlier on in the course, we each carry a significant bag of repressed material in our lives and nowhere does this sink more deeply and more unconsciously than into our ideas of ourselves and by extension the world around us.
You’ll recall we learnt about one of the mind’s responses to the shadow which is to project our fears out onto the world around us.
Nowhere do we do this more abundantly and more subtly than in our opinions about others and the world around us.
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.
A Case Study in Projection
Let’s say you’ve been brought up conservatively with a modest attitude towards sex.
You pick your partners carefully, go on many dates and have sex only once you feel very bonded. You form long term relationships and you’ve sleep with less than 10 people in your life. You maybe have sex 2-3 times a week
Now you go to a party and you see someone of the same gender talking about all the sexual partners they have had. On and on they go about their wild tantric sex and absolute lack of desire to get into a relationship.
How do you feel?
Probably like that person has ‘loose’ values, is ‘oversexed’ or maybe that they are just ‘immature’ and need to ‘grow up, find someone and settle down.’
All of these are judgements.
All of these are projections.
What is happening is you are seeing (projecting) your repressed sexual energy in the actions of the other person and you’re reacting with fear (judgement) towards that.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with either persons’ philosophy towards sex here.
The reaction is the interesting phenomenon. This shows you your shadow.
Remember, your fear is the signpost.
Let’s rewind and pretend this time that you have a deeply intimate and sexual relationship with your partner. You practice all kinds of tantric activity with them, both in and out of the bedroom, you cherish and love each other both gently and wildly.
Now you go to the party and meet the person. You’re completely unmoved by their speech.
This time you respond perhaps with curiosity about their sexual endeavours.
So now you are responding consciously not reacting unconsciously.
This is a huge difference and it’s because you’ve integrated all aspects of your sexual self. You don’t choose to do that with dozens of partners, you do it with one person you love deeply, and you’re very happy as it is.
This phenomenon of projection extends way beyond our attitudes to sex. It goes into politics, religion, friendships, family, work, all aspects of life.
Every time you react with hostility and judgement to something, chances are you are projecting your shadow onto them.
Now, if you’re anything like anyone else, you probably do this a lot more than you would like.
That’s fine. We’re all human. We all have a shadow.
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.
— ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN
Getting Over It
Projection is not necessarily a bad thing. Since the shadow ‘bag’ is closed and its images remain in the dark, we can only see the contents of our own bag by throwing them innocently, as we say, out into the world.
Spiders are horrible, gun-owners are evil, the bankers are untrustworthy.
Yet it is precisely through this extensive shadow mud-slinging that we eventually come in touch with our own mud and embrace it.
Once you appreciate that you contain multitudes of light and dark, you become whole again. Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke about it like this:
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”
The fear of spiders is a judgement on appearance. The fear of gun-owners is a judgement on our capacity for violence. The fear of bankers is a judgement on our capacity for greed.
At the most extreme end of this, you might look at a prison guard in Auschwitz and think they are the pinnacle of evil, an atrocity of human behaviour.
This is a projection and rejection of that very same potential within you. If your life was under constant threat, you would be surprised what you would do to save yourself.
This is not something to be ashamed of, it is human nature.
Embrace it. Own it. Be with it.
When we truly accept these aspects of ourselves we learn to love ourselves more deeply, more fully. We realise that we all have the capacity to fall into ignorance and behave in ways that undermine ourselves and others. We are all on a journey of improvement.
We are all ‘perfection in progress’.
We are all perfection in progress.
An Interesting Exercise
Mindfulness is the salve for projection.
When we are mindfully watching our thoughts, emotions and reactions to our behaviour we are becoming aware of the shadow and allowing it to surface.
Through non-reaction to this emotional content, we integrate it properly into ourselves and embrace the fullness of our character and therefore our experience of the world.
Spend today carefully observing where you make judgements about other people. They can be particularly prominent in meeting new people when the mind is making first evaluations.
Write these down, then write down the aspects of yourself you’re not acknowledging when you make these judgements.
Then forgive yourself for each one.