“A spiritual life can’t save you from shadow suffering”. Suzanne Wagner
From Carl Jung to Debbie Ford to Ken Wilber, at the leading edge of our development we are all talking about it – The Shadow, what it is, how we meet it and what are the benefits of working with it.
Within this article, I would like to offer you a view of The Shadow that will help and support as you enter the shadow lands.
Welcome to the Shadow Lands
A Psychological Model of The Shadow
Frank Lake observed, at birth baby moves from the mother’s birth womb too, for the first nine months of life, the Psycho-spirit, “Womb of Spirit”.
In the “Womb of Spirit” baby is held in being-in-relationship, safely empathetically connected to (M)other, as (M)other holds, and reflects to Baby its Spirit (Source).
But towards the end of the nine months the infant begins to realise that it is in fact separate from (M)other. As the Authentic Unifying Centre is broken the infant moves from a simple feeling of being-in-relationship to a being-in-the-world.
This is an overwhelming time for the infant, as it faces its own self; it becomes separate from Source (Spirit) and is plunged into the depths of terror, despair, and emptiness.
If however, the empathy connection with (M)other is strong the infant will develop a strong internal sense of being, if the connection is broken or weak the infant will be wounded at a level of being.
To deal with the pain of the wounding, psychologically the infant sets up defences against the world. One defence is to repress anything that might bring dis-ease.
Repressed aspects are stored within an unconscious space in the infant’s psychic, a space in which repressed energies can be forgotten about; Jung used an archetype as metaphor to describe this forgotten unconscious space.
There is an interesting article that follows this argument, suggesting it is possible to trace the ontology of the shadow through an understanding of Stanislav Grof’s ideas. Where the process of birth, sets up the archetypal imagery that supports the creation of our shadow realm.
The Ontology of The Shadow – The Paper.
The Shadow metaphor signifies chaos and wildness of character, unknown and potentially troubling.
In myth, it appears as the wild man, mysterious fighters and dark enemies.
The Shadow is not an “I” that we can dialogue with, The Shadow is an “IT”, a psychodynamic defence process or space in which that which is disowned or disassociated from is hidden.
Robert Bly offers a great description of The Shadow as process.
As a child we have a 360% ball of energy but as we are told by our parents to keep still – Smile – not speak until you are spoken to.
We put the parent offending activity into a bag that we drag behind us.
And dragging that bag take a little bit of our energy – as we move through school each time we are told “that is wrong”- “don’t be/act like that” we put the offending characteristic in the bag.
By the time we are fully grown, we are using most of the 360% ball of light energy in not only dragging our bag around, but also keeping a tight hold on all the badness that might escape out.
We no longer have any energy left to support our growing development, and over time we become so accustomed to pulling the bag we forget that it ever existed.
We repress what we feel to be negative – this can be both the script statements“I must not be angry” and “I must hide my light”
We repress not only negative aspects but positive aspects.
How do I meet The Shadow?
In the past it was thought Meditation could help in supporting shadow work, however we know that Meditation is a great way of realising your true original face but it is lousy at dealing with The Shadow, why, because you cannot meditate on something that you cannot see.
John Marshall Roberts in “Igniting Inspiration”, puts it this way, The Shadow creates a filter between the Mind and Spirit, we use meditation to reconnect with Spirit but once we leave the meditation and fall back into Mind we lose the Spirit connection.
The Shadow filter is too strong for the Mind and Spirit to stay in relationship.
Robert Augustus Master in “Meeting the Dragon” explains that, if we want to meet our Dragon (Shadow), and take back our positive repressed aspects (Gold), then we must turn towards the Dragon sitting on the gold, and face the fear and pain of re-owning the repressed negative aspects that the Dragon represents.
However, it might be worth taking a few moments to look at how Marc Gafni, and in some way Stephen Wolinsky sees The Shadow.
It’s a False core self because you are not living your Unique calling.
Although we can see the shadow as our pathology, it is also possible to see how we might repress things that we just do not want to deal with, things like anger, and jealousy. Ok so there are some things that it might be best to hide in the shadow, but it is also best to not hide something in the shadow so you can forget about it. There are social, and cultural behaviors that are best repressed, and yet we also need to recognise that we have it within us to make someone the projection of our own lack of motivation, inspiration, and dedication. Not only can I do this but We can do this on a grand scale.
The fear that we might feel of not being seen as an infant might, as Wolinsky offers, mean we create a reason for why we were not wanted, ( I was not loved because I was not good enough), and this reason creates a false self. The false self is the self that does anything it can not to become the reason why it was not loved.
So it might try to be the best, to always work towards recognition, to also always want to be loved, and all the time the love it receives is never enough, because the self cannot break away from the false self of not being good enough.
The self will never know its unique self, it will never hear the voice of God speaking, quietly, telling of the wonder, and joy, and passion, and life, and freedom there is in living one’s unique calling. And so we all live out our lives through our false self/Unique Shadow.
We never really build a relationship with our anger, never allow our self to become full of the righteous anger of seeing someone held back, imprisoned, and made a slave to an ideology that is just plain wrong.
We will never be motivated by our jealousy, when we see someone doing better than us, rather that find fault with them, we use our jealousy as a motivation to be better, greater, more unique.
So, yes we need to repress but we also need to learn how to meet and work with our shadow, to see that by not being fully engaged in a dialectic with the shadow we will never be free to become our Unique Self.
Shadow work can be very painful, meeting and hearing from those parts of our self that we forced way.
There can be great sadness when we awaken to the understanding that what we thought to be true about who we are, was just a defence against the emptiness we were fearful of falling into, and when we awaken to this realisation, we understand that it is by embracing the emptiness that we find our salvation; the salvation of our unique calling.
How do I work with The Shadow?
Well let’s keep this simple and use a basic Integral Theory perspective.
That which we have repressed we tend to see in others, we PROJECT the repressed characteristic on to other people, so other people become a mirror in which I see my Shadow energies.
So Face It, face the Mirror, see how your strong emotional energy is projected into the other;
“They are always so Angry or They are so Chaotic or They are really Great.”
How let’s talk to that emotional energy Talk to it
“Why do you see me as Angry/Chaotic”?
“Because I find it frustrating to be around you, it’s like I have a real strong need to push you away, like I do not want you around”.
“What do you not want around?”
“I do not want Angry/Chaos around”
“My parents always told me that if I got Angry or was Chaotic God would punish me”
(So Angry/Chaos were repressed)
Now Be It, re-own you repressed energy – and say “I have Anger/Chaos”.
And as we reconnect with a repressed energy we free up a little bit more energy, energy that we can use in supporting our growth and development.
This process could quite easily work with the repression of positive qualities or what William A. Miller terms The Golden Shadow.
“When we project positive traits onto others, especially without empirical evidence—such as in romance, these are traits of our own that, for whatever reason, we refuse to allow entry into our consciousness. Make a list of positive traits in others, and notice when you say, “Oh, I could never be like that!” These may well be part of your Golden Shadow”.
Working with The Shadow then helps to:
- Recognise our Shadow projection
- Release the energy used to hold the repression in place
- Allow a reconnection to Authentic Self – by losing up the filter between The Mind and Spirit
- Deepen interpersonal relationships
- Enable a more directed feeling of freeness and fullness
We see and read about people who have fallen foul of their repressed energies, from the politician who campaigns to stamp out prostitution only to be found paying for sex or the sportsman with a clean cut public image who in private cannot sustain an authentic loving relationship, to the guru who enjoys the private company of young women.
As Suzanne Wagner said at the top of this article – it is hard and painful work dealing with The Shadow; it is so much easier sitting in silent meditation deep in the arms of the divine at one with the Causal Self.
No one wants to enter the land of shadows but once you have made the journey you will find gold, and wonder, and yourself.
And in the end as you work through, and release the repressed energies, slowly step by step you return to that simple feeling of being.
Where to go for help
If you are ready to deepen your shadow work I recommend checking out the Alethic Coaching Book Store where you will find a category dedicated to books that explore the shadow. In creating the category I have tried to avoid books that explore the shadow through analytical psychology. In the category I am preferring to offer books that might help you in building your own shadow work.
Jung said that an enlightened person, is a person who bring light to their darkness. Knowing all that we are, both our light and dark side bring us into a greater degree of synergy, embodiment and awakened transformation.