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Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

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Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Xiao Rong » Sat Apr 26, 2014 3:05 pm

I wanted to do a post about the Shadow, because I believe that integrating your Shadow side is critical to holistic well-being. Now, by the Shadow, I don’t mean black magic, hexing, cursing, or what-not -- so if that’s what you’re here for, this post isn’t for you. What I’m talking about today is the Shadow aspect of the self, a concept initially created by Carl Jung. According to Debbie Ford, the Shadow “contains all the parts of ourselves that we have tried to hide or deny. it contains those dark aspects that we believe are not acceptable to our family, friends, and most importantly, ourselves. The dark side is stuffed deeply within our consciousness, hidden from ourselves and others.” Often, these messages begin in childhood, such as messages from your parents that being selfish, or mean, or vain, or greedy, etc., is not okay. But we all are capable of all these traits at some point or another in our lives, but often our psychological response is to put those things into the Shadow, to distance yourself from them and deny that you are capable of it.

The trouble is, the more that you try to live wholly in the Light (i.e. deny your Shadow is a part of yourself), the denser your Shadow becomes. The darker your Shadow becomes, the less control you have over it, and the more likely it’ll come to (bluntly speaking) bite you in the a**. It is also very common to project your Shadow onto other people’s behavior - by being blind to how you are the one casting your own Shadow, you’ll see it everywhere in everyone else, and the more you will grow to hate it. You’ve probably heard about how some of the people who shout homophobic diatribes or support the most vicious anti-gay laws secretly harbor gay tendencies themselves - because they refuse to accept their sexuality, they can only consciously deal with their Shadow by hating it in other people. But of course, this is not the only example of the Shadow. We each have our own Shadows, such as denying our fears, our selfish impulses, our vanity, etc.

You might wonder if it’s a good thing to keep fear, selfishness, greed, etc. locked away. There are a couple of problems with this. The first is that we are imperfect people, so we are all capable of these things, and simply denying it just means you have less control over it. The second is that often you’ve locked away good things in your Shadow too. For example, maybe your parents always yelled at you for not planning or being prepared enough. So you learn that being spontaneous and creative are unacceptable, and you start putting it into your Shadow, and trying to live in the Light by being meticulous and careful. Deny the Shadow too hard, though, and you’ll be too rigid and too careful, and stop being able to take risks and be creative, even when those things can be positive for you. By liberating your Shadow, you can bring them back into your consciousness, and access your creativity and spontaneity again.

The goal of Shadow work, then, is NOT to banish your Shadow, to exorcise it from you forever. The goal of Shadow work is to accept your Shadow, to embrace that it is a part of you.. You bring it into the light, by bringing it into your consciousness. Then, and only then, do you have control over it, and make peace with yourself.

Identifying Your Shadow

When you deny one of your own traits, oftentimes you become hyper-aware of it in other people (e.g. "If you spot it, you got it"), and you'll react irrationally to one of these traits in others. Here are a few ways whereby you can try to identify your Shadow:

- Notice if there are certain people who just REALLY bother you, for whom you have an irrational dislike. Maybe other people have pointed out that you get disproportionately angry at this person. Ask yourself what about this person bothers the heck out of you. Chances are, whatever that thing is, that's your Shadow.

- Write down a list of 5 people whom you really dislike (maybe people you know personally, or celebrities, or fictional characters - doesn't matter), and next to each name write down a trait that you hate about them.

- Write a letter to someone whom you really despise (you probably shouldn’t really send this letter). Now read the letter back to yourself, as if someone else wrote it about you.

- Notice what kind of advice you give to other people. What are you telling others to do to make their life better? Ask yourself whether you follow this advice yourself in your own life.

Integrating Your Shadow

One exercise recommended by Debbie Ford is to refer to the list of negative traits that you hate in other people. Then stand in front of a mirror and say each word over and over again: "I am [that trait]." It'll be uncomfortable, but say it until the energy around the word disappears.

Think about a time when you have shown that trait. For example, maybe the thing that you notice is your Shadow is greed. Try to think of all the times in which you have acted greedily. You'll likely feel guilt and other negative emotions, but it's very important to let yourself feel them and process them.

Ask yourself what is the positive side of that trait that you deny in yourself, and how it may have helped you in the past.

I heard of a great example once of a woman who was really nice and sweet, and in the process of doing Shadow work she found that she really hated people who were "b*tchy" (specifically, being assertive). Then she asked herself, were there times when I've been b*tchy? Of course she had. And then she asks herself, were there times when being b*tchy would have been a good thing? She realizes that it could have really helped her when her plumber came late, did a poor job, and then overcharged her like crazy. So in accepting her b*tchy side, she also reclaims her assertiveness, and now she can use her assertiveness in situations where she needs it.

It’s often recommended to keep a journal of your Shadow work, and pay close attention to any subtle inner shifts.

The Positive Shadow

In addition to the Shadow with all the negative traits within ourselves, we also have a Positive Shadow, the traits which we love in other people and which we don’t always recognize in yourself. One great way is to ask yourself who are 5 people whom you admire, and why you admire them (e.g. Nelson Mandela, for his courage). Acknowledge that you have that quality, and recall situations where you have demonstrated that quality. You can try using a mantra such as, “Courage is a part of me” and repeat that in front of a mirror, and see how you feel. Now see how you feel applying it in daily life - for example, the next time you have the opportunity to say something to a bully. It might be uncomfortable, but the more that you can do it consciously, the better you’ll get it at it (the more courageous you’ll become).

You can also try the letter-writing exercise again - write a letter to someone you admire, explaining why you admire them. And then read it back to yourself, but pretend like someone else wrote it about you.

Final Thoughts

I think that integrating your Shadow is really important for your own psychological healing and wellness. Shadow work is also an ongoing process - it’s not like once you have identified your Shadow, you’ve solved it forever. You should remember it and retain your awareness of it. You also likely have multiple Shadows ...

Image
Any Doctor Who fans out there? Okay, sorry, I just had to do that.

So the exercises above are really just ways to initiate the process, but I think you’ll probably find that even starting Shadow work can be an immensely healing process.

Recommended Reading
The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time; I hope you have found it helpful. I’d love to hear about ways in which you have worked with the Shadow, or any questions you might have!
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Heartsong » Sun Apr 27, 2014 9:42 am

This is an excellent post, Xiao, you've done a marvelous job!

You might wonder if it’s a good thing to keep fear, selfishness, greed, etc. locked away. There are a couple of problems with this. The first is that we are imperfect people, so we are all capable of these things, and simply denying it just means you have less control over it. The second is that often you’ve locked away good things in your Shadow too. For example, maybe your parents always yelled at you for not planning or being prepared enough. So you learn that being spontaneous and creative are unacceptable, and you start putting it into your Shadow, and trying to live in the Light by being meticulous and careful. Deny the Shadow too hard, though, and you’ll be too rigid and too careful, and stop being able to take risks and be creative, even when those things can be positive for you. By liberating your Shadow, you can bring them back into your consciousness, and access your creativity and spontaneity again


This is a fantastic point, and one often overlooked, I think, especially when we're trying to suppress parts of ourselves that we'd rather not acknowledge. To deny our Shadow is to deny ourselves the opportunity to grow.

In addition to the Shadow with all the negative traits within ourselves, we also have a Positive Shadow, the traits which we love in other people and which we don’t always recognize in yourself.


I think this is an aspect of our Shadow that more people work with than they suspect. How often do we attempt to emulate or incorporate those traits that we see in others that we desire in ourselves? Although the line between these aspects can be easily blurred, particularly when someone says something like, "Why can't you be more like so-and-so? They're so patient and generous".

Do you have any more information on the Positive Shadow?
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Xiao Rong » Sun Apr 27, 2014 10:08 am

Thanks, Heartsong!

As for the Positive Shadow, I actually don't have a huge amount of information on it. It seems like it's less problematic than the Negative Shadow (less likely to jump out at you and bite you in the a** when you don't expect it), so I haven't found very much about it ... I'll keep my eyes peeled though if I see more!

Also, one thing I did recently was to develop a Tarot Spread to tell you more about your Shadow (in part because the last few weeks I've been doing a lot of Shadow work, and also because I am practicing Tarot!):

---6
---5
-3--4-
---2
---1

1) The Light - What you know and accept about yourself
2) Your Shadow - What is hidden from you about yourself
3) Why You Fear Your Shadow - What is preventing you from seeing or accepting your Shadow
4) Why You Should Embrace Your Shadow - What are the positive sides of the Shadow that would benefit you?
5) How to Integrate the Shadow Into the Light - What steps you should take in order to accept your Shadow
6) The Outcome - The possibilities if you can succeed in bringing the Shadow into the Light

I think these could also easily be applied to your Positive Shadow as well!
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Seraphin_npocampo » Sun Apr 27, 2014 10:35 am

Xiao Rong wrote:Also, one thing I did recently was to develop a Tarot Spread to tell you more about your Shadow (in part because the last few weeks I've been doing a lot of Shadow work, and also because I am practicing Tarot!):

---6
---5
-3--4-
---2
---1

1) The Light - What you know and accept about yourself
2) Your Shadow - What is hidden from you about yourself
3) Why You Fear Your Shadow - What is preventing you from seeing or accepting your Shadow
4) Why You Should Embrace Your Shadow - What are the positive sides of the Shadow that would benefit you?
5) How to Integrate the Shadow Into the Light - What steps you should take in order to accept your Shadow
6) The Outcome - The possibilities if you can succeed in bringing the Shadow into the Light

I think these could also easily be applied to your Positive Shadow as well!


Wow! I believe I have to do this! Thanks for posting this Xiao!

I also have a meditation how to discern the strength of the shadows that I can share if someone is interested.
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby firebirdflys » Sun Apr 27, 2014 10:59 am

great thread Xiao!
yes Seraphin...please post. It sounds like it would go well here.
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Echo_of_shadows » Sun Apr 27, 2014 2:03 pm

Thanks for the posts, Xiao. I've thought about working with the shadow side, but I haven't seen much information on how to do it. I think it would be something worth looking into for myself, perhaps for help in recovery from the abusive relationship I was in.
I looked up "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers" on Amazon and I was impressed even with the little bit that was in the preview.
I'd like to try out your tarot spread some time. For now, I'm going to go daydream about David Tennant and "Silence in the Library." :wink:
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Xiao Rong » Sun Apr 27, 2014 2:16 pm

Thanks for the positive feedback, everyone!

Seraphin wrote:I also have a meditation how to discern the strength of the shadows that I can share if someone is interested.


Ooh, I'd love to know more about this, if you don't mind sharing!

Echo_of_shadows wrote:Thanks for the posts, Xiao. I've thought about working with the shadow side, but I haven't seen much information on how to do it. I think it would be something worth looking into for myself, perhaps for help in recovery from the abusive relationship I was in.
I looked up "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers" on Amazon and I was impressed even with the little bit that was in the preview.


Yes - I think understanding your Shadow self is always a helpful process. The Tarot spread I did the other day helped shed a lot of light on my own recovery process from my abusive childhood.

As for the book - I picked it up randomly at a yard sale, but I was really impressed with it. It's not a specifically Pagan book, but it has a lot of great visualization exercises and stuff that I didn't include here. Plus, it's a pretty short book (less than 200 pages) and really easy to read, so it won't take a lot of time to read it, either.

For now, I'm going to go daydream about David Tennant and "Silence in the Library." :wink:


Bad news, Echo ... you've got more than one Shadow!
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Seraphin_npocampo » Sun Apr 27, 2014 6:48 pm

Well it's very simple. I think this should be performed after doing Xiao's Shadow Spread or my very own version of Shadow spread. :wink:

This Shadow Spread throws like into your hidden feelings, what you're hiding from yourself. It a good spread when you know something is not quite right but you're unsure what that is, or that you are having trouble confronting something.

Spread layout:

-----------3
-----4-----1-----2
-----------5

1 - Current Attitude
2 - Thoughts/Feelings underlying that Attitude
3 - How the attitude is evolving
4 - How others perceive your Attitude
5 - What is hidden or non confronted.

So for example if we had:

1 - Justice
2 - King of Pentacles
3 - The Hanged Man
4 - Seven of Cups
5 - Queen of wands

The attitude that is being assumed is one that strives for fairness and equality, balance, the thoughts and feelings that are underlying show that this attitude has been developed from wisdom and experience of the world, and is grounded.

This attitude is moving towards a spiritual transformation, that will bring about a new way of understanding.

However other people think that they are just being foolish, chasing day dreams.

What is hidden is that though the attitude is seeking fairness, it may be lacking true sympathy and understanding for others.

The Meditation

In your mind, go to your astral temple or house of psyche and build (if you haven't made one) or go to the room/house of your soul or soul chamber, as some Kabbalists put it. In the room is a desk, with a mirror, lamp and drawers on either side. Sit at the desk. Open your drawer to your left and take out an object. Place it on the desk in front of you. This object represents your negative shadow. What is it? Do you recognize it? What thoughts and emotions does it bring out? How can you manage these emotions? etc.

Now open the other drawer to your right and grab another object. Place it on the desk in front of you. The object represents your positive shadow. What is it? Do you recognize it? What emotions do you feel? Which of the two objects pulls you the most emotionally? etc.

Replace the objects in the drawers and close them. Now focus strongly on your heart in the center of your body and repeat to yourself, "balance, balance." Smile -- both in your mind and physically -- and in your mind, open your eyes, switch on the lamp and look at the image in the mirror before you. What do you see? If it's clear image of you, your shadows are balanced. If it's a fierce, sad, upset, disappointed, worried or angry image, you may be overbalanced toward your negative shadow. Leave the room or the house and open your eyes.

Well I just want to say this is "my way" of performing this. I'm not saying this should be done in this way only. You may of course, tweak or adjust some things. It is also good to go slow, add some techniques of your own, practice it, and then add more if you want.
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Xiao Rong » Sun Apr 27, 2014 7:23 pm

Wow, that's very beautiful - thanks for sharing, Seraphin!
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Seraphin_npocampo » Sun Apr 27, 2014 7:28 pm

You are welcome Xiao!
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby raynelae » Mon Apr 28, 2014 8:29 pm

That's very interesting, Xiao! I like it. :)
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Xiao Rong » Thu May 01, 2014 6:19 pm

I'm adding a little information about how to engage in Shadow work, which was inspired by my readings on the Shadow, but with my own little Pagan twist ...

Some time ago, I wrote a post about developing your relationship with all the elements; what I'm writing below is an adaptation of some of the stuff from that particular thread.

- - - -

As Kassandra said to me once, "The lesson of the elements is balance." We are each comprised of each of the four elements; we could not live if we were missing any one of them. Every element has many valuable lessons to teach us, as well as dangers if we are too dependent on any one of them. And every element has a positive, healing, and beautiful side, as well as a negative, destructive, and monstrous side.

Most of us likely connect to one element more easily than others, but we all have the qualities of all the elements in varying degrees. It's usually pretty easy for us to identify the elements that we connect to easily (you know, when people say stuff like, "My element is Water!"), and it is certainly delightful to explore this affinity. But I think it is also very important to pay attention to the element(s) that you DON'T connect to. I propose that this is called the Elemental Shadow - the element that represents your dark side, the things you would rather not think about or acknowledge. The problem with leaving any one element in the dark is that we lose whatever gifts it may bring us, and we are not living in balance with all of the elements. We let that element become our weakness, when we can leverage it for strength.

Is there one particular element that you just DON'T like? Maybe you find it really boring, or really disgusting, or really frightening, or maybe you just don't think about it much at all. (For me, this element was Earth. Prior to my Shadow work, I thought that this element was kind of boring and dull - and also muddy and gross!).

Here's an exercise that I would suggest (based on The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford): Take a sheet of paper, divide it down the middle. In one column, come up with everything you fear and hate about your Elemental Shadow. In the second column, come up with everything you admire or respect about your Elemental Shadow. Then look at the negative column and think to yourself about every time you've done something like one of the items of the list, and do the same thing with the positive column .Don't be afraid to let yourself feel all the emotions that accompany it (shame, fear, confidence, etc.) and let yourself work through it. Hopefully by the end, you'll see how you have all the best and worst parts of your Elemental Shadow in you, and that it's a strength that you can draw from and consciously control.

Let's say your Elemental Shadow is Fire. Your list might look a little like this:

BAD
- All-Consuming --> I have been wasteful in the past
- Uncontrollable --> Sometimes I lose my temper when I shouldn't
- Destructive --> My anger once cost me a friendship
- Burning --> Sometimes I have a sharp tongue

GOOD
- Warm --> I like to be kind and supportive to my friends
- Bright --> I am quick-witted and intelligent
- Passionate --> There are some things that I care very much about
- Energetic --> I bring a lot of enthusiasm to the things I'm involved in

As other people have noted, you can also spend time physically interacting with the element to get comfortable with it - maybe consider meditating by candlelight (Fire), going to a beach (Water), playing the flute (Air), or climbing a mountain (Earth). There are infinite possibilities!

Again, the point of this is to bring all of the elements into balance within ourselves, and I hope that this information about spending time working with your Elemental Shadow will be helpful to you!
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Seventhwatcher » Fri May 02, 2014 7:37 am

Interesting. I actually had a dream a few months back where I had a dew momenta of lucidity. I promptly summoned my shadow and chased him down and ate him. Grabbed his arm, he shrunk down to the size of a gingerbread man cookie. And in one gobble gone. Eaten.

Anyone have any ideas what I may have accomplished with this?
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby shatteredsouls » Fri May 02, 2014 7:38 am

This is meaningful. Thank you. :) I think all of us have been too socially engineered by the society - must have perfect personality, our goal must be to become rich, must study well etc. We feel guilty when we discover those bad sides, receive frowns from people around. I think that's when we don't love ourselves because we want to be good in all sorts of ways but we can't be good at everything. We're all just humans. We are greedy and selfish. I think it will be helpful if we can accept the 'bad' part of ourselves so our heart can live easier.
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Re: Knowing & Embracing Your Shadow

Postby Xiao Rong » Fri May 02, 2014 8:27 am

Seventhwatcher wrote:Interesting. I actually had a dream a few months back where I had a dew momenta of lucidity. I promptly summoned my shadow and chased him down and ate him. Grabbed his arm, he shrunk down to the size of a gingerbread man cookie. And in one gobble gone. Eaten.

Anyone have any ideas what I may have accomplished with this?


That's interesting; I'm not sure. It's interesting that the moment that you grabbed him, he shrank down. The goal of Shadow work is to accept and embrace your Shadow, not to dominate it, but maybe that was your psyche's way of taking your Shadow into yourself ... ? Do you feel like there have been any internal changes, any subtle shifts in how you behave since then?

Shatteredsouls wrote:I think that's when we don't love ourselves because we want to be good in all sorts of ways but we can't be good at everything. We're all just humans. We are greedy and selfish. I think it will be helpful if we can accept the 'bad' part of ourselves so our heart can live easier.


Exactly! I don't remember who said it, but the quote that sticks out in my mind is, "It is better to be whole than to be good."
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