Continued from Part 4 – Going Deeper.
As you begin to enter your shadow, a newer and deeper relationship with yourself will begin to unfold. What’s beautiful in this process of having gone through your shadow is that feelings of spontaneous joy and peace and love, tend to accompany successful shadow work.
As you delve deeper into your previously unloved areas and rescue them, you can rest effortlessly within yourself afterwards, and this is the gold that is at the end of the journey that makes this so worth doing.
This of course is the purpose of doing this difficult work. But first we have to go through the tricky process of navigating through the underworld experience that must be done. Your ability to do this effectively is linked very closely to your inner attitude throughout this, what we might think of as your approach, in addition to your capacity for mindfulness and emotional mastery. So in this part we’re going to go deep into these elements of inner attitude.
How you cope with, process, and integrate the uncomfortable experiences that come up as a result of going into your shadow has an awful lot to do with knowing what’s going on so you can cultivate an attitude of receptivity, curiosity, ownership, and non judgment for your entire experience, all of which are key for the successful processing and transformation of your fears.
So let’s look at each in turn.
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.
Now as we’ve spoken about already, shadow work is a direct encounter with your soul, with the deepest part of yourself that wants to come out. This soul encounter and embrace is essentially the resurrection of your truest essence – your authentic self.
This can often be psychologically and emotionally challenging. Encountering our soul requires a descent into the dark, shadowy part of ourselves that are typically not very pleasant or appealing, and it really forces you to look at aspects of your life and yourself that you may have been actively avoiding consciously or unconsciously, sometimes for many years.
As you move closer to meeting your soul through this initiation experience, various aspects of your mind and in particular your ego will try to keep you from pursuing this encounter.
These fears, for example, often want to protect us from painful memories of things that we’ve done or that have been done to us. They may have been working inside of us for a really long time, perhaps since childhood or even in infancy. When you hold this truth really close to your heart before, during, and after a shadow work experience, you can really enable the forces of love and compassion within you.
Instead of pursuing the ordinary reactive-type responses we were just speaking about, you make space to be receptive and you cultivate self compassion for the experience that you’re having because you know that these fears are coming out of love and not just to torment you.
This inner attitude of receptivity – of receiving – is crucial for allowing a much bigger field of awareness around the experience you’re having. So instead of feeling smothered or buried by the discomfort that arises as you move into an activity or an exercise or experience that is consciously unpleasant for you, you recognize the feelings that come up, you comprehend them, and most importantly, you allow them just to be as they are.
This is vital because the full release of the shadow material in your unconscious cannot take place whilst any kind of conditionality or pact inner or outer is placed upon it. What you have to remember is that it’s actually because of a mental judgment or a thought in the first place that happened years and years ago either from you, or absorbed by someone else into you, that the fear has become stuck there to begin with.
So to unstick these fears, it requires us to be in a state of pure unconditioned awareness of whatever arises, and this is a big topic that we’ll address it in more detail in the next lesson on mindfulness and emotional mastery. But for now, what I want to impress upon you with respect to shadow work is that cultivating this attitude of receptivity to all experience and self compassion for that experience are the key pillars for your inner attitude.
Fear comes from a place of love.
As we have already touched on, the shadow casts itself over many activities in our life and across much of our thinking. The size of our shadow means it covers ground over a wide spectrum of things, some of which might cause a little bit of discomfort to look at and some things which cause a great deal of pain.
You might find, for example, that going to a drawing class is mildly uncomfortable because you used to love drawing, but put it away many years ago. When you go, you’re slightly nervous to meet the unknown, but after an hour starting to find your feet and you’re drawing talent is still there and you actually enjoy doing it, which is of course why you went in the first place. That’s an example of lighter shadow work, but of course no less valid.
But now let’s say you’ve been in a relationship that broke up a year ago after you cheated on the person and got found out and your partner was devastated and the relationship ended badly with no sense of closure and whilst you’ve tried to move on with your life, you feel a dark stain on your inner moral compass about the event. When the topic of cheating comes up in a casual conversation, even in relation to someone else, you start to feel hot and uncomfortable and fall into a vortex of negative judgements about yourself.
This is an experience that is much harder to look at, right? It’s much harder to be with. It’s much harder to own. This is what we could think of as darker shadow work, yet owning it and looking at it and being with it s exactly the nature of the shadow work that we’re talking about.
Just like many things in life, the more we practice, the better we become at something and cultivating ownership of our experience is no different. So you can start with smaller things in life and as you successfully integrate these lighter parts of your shadow, you can graduate into deeper and darker territory. And that’s typically what actually happens.
This is in fact the right way to do it and the healthiest, safest, and perhaps most effective way for your emotional health and wellbeing. Just as if you, uh, just at the beginning of weight training, you wouldn’t rush to bench press 200 kilos. You could give it a go, but you’re likely just ended up really hurting yourself. The correct method is to train, to pick up something just about difficult enough to challenge you, but without overwhelming you, shadow work is no different.
What happens when you try to look at and integrate something very deep before you’re ready to is you stop pushing yourself away from it. The level of fear that you feel is so high that you become overwhelmed and immediately look to blame someone or something else and you can’t be with the experience unconditionally. Therefore, nothing gets successfully integrated and in the example was speaking about before, you might just end up saying, well, they deserve to be treated on an I was getting bored in the relationship.
This is of course just an excuse for taking ownership of their experience and an attitude of ownership is vital to create an environment where you can bring up the feelings that you have about it to the surface safely. It’s also important in that you don’t go full tilt the other way and start to hyper identify with the experience. It’s easy to fall into victim mode and self condemnation, and this is actually just another strategy of the ego to stop you from actually being with the experience and conditioning.
So you see it’s quite delicate balance of ownership and this identification from events that really shape your ability to process through uncomfortable past experiences and memories and feelings as we go into shadow work. The key point to remember here is to really own the feelings that come up as part of the process of not pushing them away and feeling them through to completion.
The key point to remember is to really own your feelings.
The last aspect of getting this inner attitude right for working with our shadow self is curiosity. Cultivating an attitude of curiosity towards your shadow self is vital to help generate the patience, mindfulness and apprentice-like mindset that you really need to bring the process all the way through to fruition and completion.
Fully understanding and integrating a soul encounter through shadow work can take weeks, months, maybe even years, depending on the depth of the work that you’re trying to do. It can be a slowly life-altering experience that may create deep changes in your career, location, friendships, life partnerships, and in daily habits of eating, sleep, exercise, and time allocation and in every aspect of who you are and how you show up in the world.
Consciously living a soulful life is profoundly significant work with the power to transform both yourself and the wider world and as such, it’s really important to develop an attitude of patient curiosity towards yourself and your shadow work and to allow the process to play out.
This is particularly important because the ego that we’re all very familiar with speaks through linear rational thought and the soul or by extension the shadow has an entirely different language, one that is not always recognized or looked at in mainstream western culture. You see the soul speaks through imagery and sound and sensation and emotion and metaphor. Symbolic representation via words and images. The language of the soul is best captured in the language expressed by artists and musicians and poets, and that’s why we love music and as much as we do because it’s speaking to such a deeper aspect within ourselves.
When you start to go deeper into your shadow, it’s important to tune into that language which is the language of your soul, and this means making space within yourself for that imagery and metaphor and feelings and body sensations that arise up from your own experience both during and after your shadow work experiences. Pay really close attention to these things, really respect them and work to become more and more aware of them.
One thing that’s interesting is that the imagery of your dreams is also a prime gateway to the realm of your soul, and the process of tracking and working with your dreams can bring directly into the realm of the soul language. It’s quite a good idea to keep a journal by your bed to keep track of these images and note that these images and dreams that you have don’t tend to yield to rational experience, so you can’t just say, oh, I dreamt about x, and it means y, it’s better just to log the experience and allow it to sit in your experience and be consciously curious about it.
Another reason an inner attitude of curiosity is required is to keep going and plunging into the depths of your experience. You see the depth of our conditioning as human beings is unfortunately very deep and this runs not just from family but from friends, coworkers, community members and wider society.
As you start to go deeper into your own shadow, you’ll notice it all around you and this will cause you to reflect deeper still on your own conditioning. This is a really good thing. Recognizing and working with projections is a life skill. Once you become aware of how common projections are in the everyday dynamics between lovers, colleagues, community members, and even nations, you’ll see and experience the world in a very different light, so keep open minded and curious to allow the path to deepen further.
The last and perhaps most fundamental reason to cultivate an attitude of curiosity is to move to an apprentice mindset about your entire life experience. The importance of this cannot be underestimated at all.
As you begin to go deep into your depths and observe the shadow in yourself and in wider culture, it can be easy to fall into something of a despair or even a grief about the full spectrum of conditioning that we’re in.
Conversely, it’s also easy to fall into superiority thinking, “oh, I’m doing all of this great shadow work and no one else is, and I’m becoming enlightened, no one else is.” This is really another strategy of the ego and indeed an aspect of your shadow which is to avoid acknowledging that you don’t know everything.
The correct and most productive attitude is one of being apprenticed all the time by life. Remember, as we spoke about, fear is your messenger. Your shadow is actually showing you who you really are.
Your soul is acting as always as your greatest friend and teacher, and the correct response is to be a willing and humble student of such information.