What is Shadow Work in Spirituality?
Welcome to the wonderful world of Shadow Work. Well, maybe wonderful is not the best term to use... I won't sugar coat it, it's not as fun as some other parts of the spiritual journey but I would go as far as to say it's the most necessary. We cannot awaken without addressing our shadow. And believe me, you can be the sweetest person on the planet and still have a shadow side. In this example, some shadow aspects might be bitchy or rude. While it may seem healthy and helpful to keep these aspects in the shadows, know that they WILL find a way into the light of day sooner or later.
The best way I have heard it put it this:
"Anything that we disown becomes banished to the realm of the shadow" - Rev. Stephanie Red Feather
The first thing we need to understand as spiritual beings (which is everyone whether they are on the spiritual journey or not) is that we are EVERYTHING. Within each of our cells the entire universe can be found. We are a microcosm of the macrocosm. We here the term Oneness and the phrase we are one all the time but most people see this as just a pretty concept. But, when you learn how to connect to it and experience, it's quite eye opening.
Many will be resistant to shadow work in the beginning because it means owning the fact that within you is, or there is a the capability of being, a bitch, a thief, a liar, a murderer, a racist, a seductress, a stripper, a prostitute, and so on. All the things one might label as "bad" exist within you.
Did any of those words trigger a reaction in you? You can bet they are shadow aspects then. BUT DON'T LEAVE JUST YET! Nobody is saying that these things are "okay". Or that you should go murder somebody or what have you. Not at all. It's simply saying that had you had the same circumstances and life and dna coding as one of these people, it's possible that you would have ended up the same way. As well as finding compassion knowing that hurt people, hurt people.
Since you may be just discovering shadow work, let's start off easy shall we?
In order to be whole, we cannot have parts of ourselves that we disown, or don't allow to be part of our experience. The shadow can be hard to see. Often we are playing out our shadows without realizing it.
The easiest way to begin shadow work is to look at your judgements of others.
These will show you which aspects of yourself you have deemed as "bad" or not worthy, or not appropriate. These labels often come from our upbringing or societal conditioning. Basically, what we are told is right and wrong, bad and good.
We must begin to look at these things as energy signatures. The problems actually arise, and terrible things happen when the energies are supressed for so long that the person simply cannot hold it in anymore. For example, in such a sexually repressed society where men must hide any feelings of attraction towards women, it is no wonder that he watches porn or the energy builds to a point where he harms a woman. AGAIN - THIS DOES NOT MAKE IT OK. But in order to stop these things from happening, the shadow must be addressed. If instead, this man sought a therapist and was a able to admit his desires and thoughts to a therapist who understands this work, they could together work to love and accept this part of him, knowing it is there for a reason. Once this part received some love and acceptance, the tension and desire would lesson and he would probably find a partner or workshop in which he could explore these "darker" aspects in a safe container.
Why do shadow work?
Remember that what you don't own, owns you. Your shadow is often running your life without you realizing it. The reward of owning all aspects of yourself is a feeling of wholeness and freedom. Freedom to feel the fullness of life, freedom from feeling shame about certain aspects of yourself, and freedom to be ALL OF YOU rather that the parts that you deem as acceptable. It's a truly remarkable feeling. You will also gain relief from judgement and hate and experience more love in its place.
I always recommend seeking support from an energy and trauma informed therapist when doing deeper shadow work like this. But, here's how you can begin on your own if you'd like.
Start to notice the things that trigger you most in other people. The things you simply cannot accept, or that make you think "how could they do that?" It doesn't matter how big or small. Start making a list.
Look at your list and try to find the keyword within the action that you deem is wrong. What is wrong about it? Are they a liar? Are they rude? Are they an idiot? Are they close-minded? Too openly sexual?
Know that within you somewhere is either the capability to be the same way, OR a desire to be the same way that you do not believe or do not allow. They don't always have to be bad. For example, I get triggered when I see coaches and healers charging extremely high amounts to work with them, which tells me that I am also worthy of that but will not accept it. Along with some other things..
Begin the work of accepting that aspect of yourself. A great book to read on shadow work is The Darkside of the Lightchasers by Debbie Ford. She offers the practice of saying to yourself over and over (in the mirror is best) "I am _______" Fill in the blank of your trigger word. Repeat it until you find some acceptance for it.
Look into your past and see if you can find any example of when you might have displayed this behavior and/or had a desire to. This work requires a deep honesty with the self.
There is so much more detail that can be gone into on this subject, but I hope this gives you some understanding and a place to begin your shadow work.
Please reach out if you are in need of a safe container in which to experience these aspect. Working with a practitioner will make your efforts 10x more effective. When our shadow is seen and accepted by another, that is when the real healing occurs.
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