Written by Rev Jeff Lanier
Recommended Listening:Tool - Forty Six & 2
You have more than likely heard of shadow work, whether from traditional healing circles, or from musical references by bands like Tool. Maybe this is your first time hearing the term, and that is ok too. Regardless if this is your first introduction or if you are experienced with it, shadow work can be an extremely powerful process to work with. As we move into October, I thought this would be a good time to look at the background of shadow work, to discuss what can happen when our shadow remains unaddressed, and how we can begin to work with our own individual shadow.
The term shadow is primarily attributed to Carl Jung, a student of Sigmund Freud. Jung’s theory suggests that this unconscious part that exists within everyone is our emotional blind spot. This unconscious shadow is made up of suppressed aspects of the personality. Although it is commonly interpreted as negative aspects that would be repressed within the shadow, that is not always true especially with negative self beliefs. What can happen when we suppress parts of ourselves and never bring them to light?
According to Jung, when the shadow is left in the dark it will project itself between the self (ego) and the real world. It is a psychological projection from the internally- suppressed parts of ourselves over the world we experience, like a veil impacting how we perceive the outside world. This repressed part of us can be anything that does not fit into the ego’s ideal image. This could be something like someone who expresses disgust at the LGBTQ community, because they are trying to suppress their own sexual tendencies. For me it was my creativity, with my ego telling me I could not make a living as an artist and support a family, leaving me completely unable to enjoy art and the majority of my life.
No two shadows are the same, so not everyone will work with their shadow in the same way. Working with the shadow comes with risks as well. Shadow work should be taken seriously, and I always recommend some sort of professional helper, which could be an experienced spiritual guide or trained behavioral specialist. If you want to start exploring your shadow, there are lots of prompts that are available online to trigger different areas within ourselves. I would suggest to start with a question that feels comfortable to you. This will give you a comfortable space to become familiar, and find what will work best for you. Some people will use these prompts for journaling, and some will meditate and contemplate on the question. The more challenging questions are probably where there is some deeper work to be done, and for these I would suggest involving someone who is familiar with shadow work, and that you feel you can trust to help work through bringing these to the light in a healthy way. Most importantly, a guide can help you find ways to integrate your shadow in a healthy way.
This month, try experimenting with the example questions below or find another prompt that works better for you personally. Take some time to relax and deeply explore the question, whether that is through journaling or contemplative meditation. Ultimately the goal is to bring the shadow to light, see the repressed and how it is manifesting, and not to repress it further. What is something I am afraid of doing/trying, and why? What is something that I would like to improve about myself?