Bob Ross the painter, legend, and icon once said, “You need the dark in order to show the light.”
Another time, he was quoted saying “It’s hard to see things when you are too close. Take a step back and look.” These wisdom nuggets aptly encompass the nature of our shadow: it’s needed to know our light and the way we befriend our shadow is to look (be the observer).
March was an auspicious time to take a closer look at shadows. It’s likely the forces of Mercury retrograde and the spring equinox stirred up outdated beliefs, emotions, and behaviors that need to be released.
For those of you new to shadow work, briefly stating, it’s a process of accepting the parts of you that don’t fit into the neat, tidy box of your self-identity. Overtime, anything that doesn’t fit the self-image gets repressed which energetically blocks life force from flowing naturally.
For example, I grew up in a family who valued intellect and sarcasm over emotions. Thus, from an early age, I formed a self-image of Amy, the intelligent, sarcastic person. I deemed this trait better than being emotional because I wanted to fit in.
Slowly, I started to repress my emotions and have a strong aversion toward anyone I thought was ‘overly emotional’. By integrating my shadow into my being, I was able to allow myself to feel fully again.
So, why should you befriend your shadow? Because it’s innocent. It’s actually your ticket to freedom, the friend who bails you out of jail. This jail is of your own making, a cage of self-image that keeps your soul trapped in a box.
Merriam Webster defines shadow as, “Partial darkness or obscurity within a part of space from which rays from source of light are cut off…”. Your shadow helps you see what’s cutting off your light. The integration of it, allows the ego (self-image) to fade and light to come through.
So, let’s take a few minutes to learn a process to befriend our shadow because we all want more light…
Step 1: Identify what your shadows are
A great exercise is to answer the following question: If you went on your social media, and someone said you are _____ (some quality, trait, behavior etc.), what could they say that would hurt the most and offend you?
For example, if I woke up to a comment saying that Amy girl is needy, I would feel resistance and anger. This is a clue that I have a shadow around being perceived as needy. Shadows usually work in pairs of opposites (yin/yang). Thus, if needy is my shadow, it is likely I want to be perceived as independent (which is true haha).
Most shadows have some aspect of judgement. Another question to ask yourself is: What in others do I judge? This question will help you gain clarity because usually what you judge is what you repress in yourself. For example, if I judged someone for being disorganized, it’s likely I’m repressing that trait and have a self-image of being an organized person.
A quick tip is to take the enneagram test. It goes beyond identifying your personality type, it also captures what you might be repressing.
Step 2: What’s your response?
Abraham Hicks always says, words don’t teach, experience does. Thus, now equipped with the knowing of what your shadows might be, you can use your life experience as a testing ground. Notice when your shadow comes up, how do you respond? I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity but there are four basic responses: distract, project, repress, or accept.
To distract would look like drinking, getting an ice-cream, avoiding etc. Project is basically blaming others for how you feel. For example, if I think “Other people make me uncomfortable”, it’s likely the tension I feel around others is a reflection of how I perceive myself (I might have a low self-esteem).
To repress could be to identify the shadow as bad, and fight it (shove it down) or pretend it’s not there. Accept, is to allow the trait to be there and watch it pass and/or express it.
Step 3: Observe and/or Express
The healthy way to respond to our shadow is to observe and/or express. For example, I wanted to move into a new apartment but for various reasons didn’t have the funds to make a down payment that month.
I knew I had a shadow around being perceived as needy because I felt an aversion toward asking a friend to borrow money. It didn’t fit my self-image of an independent woman.
My response, was to first observe. I noticed the strong sensations of tension in the body and the story formulating that I was somehow less of a person for needing something. The shadow hates observation because as you witness, it can’t stay in your experience. The tense energy literally felt like it melted as I drew my attention to it.
Expression is another way to integrate the shadow. You express the part of yourself you cut off. In my case, I expressed my neediness and asked my friend for money. I say express AND/OR because sometimes the trait could be problematic to express.
For example, if you repressed a desire to be a sexual exhibitionist (having sex in public), it would be enough to observe the sensations and thoughts as they arise. Eventually, it would lose energetic power.
Step 4: Note the Results
Next, you want to notice how integrating the shadow makes you feel. In my case, I felt like I had my life force back. Before I integrated it, I had split energy. There was a strong identification with being independent and anytime neediness came up, I’d repress it. Now, when I need something, I am able to accept it into my experience and not judge it as right or wrong.
Step 5: Loving Kindness
The shadow has a lot of fear around it. Mainly a fear of being judged a certain way. A beautiful way to soothe fear is give it love and empathy. Thus, when I notice a shadow, I quickly say the mantra “I now release all judgements of myself and others.” These words ease the tension and remind me that there is no inherent right/wrongness, only a story that makes it seem so.
Step 6: Learn Shadow Language
Shadow work is a vast field. It’s difficult to summarize in one article. Thus, I highly suggest more research on the topic. That way when you’re observing you know what to observe.
Just like the Buddha said to watch your thoughts, emotions, etc., there are certain aspects of your shadow you should watch. The more you immerse yourself in the jargon of shadow language, the clearer you can see.
The shadow is a loyal friend because we need the good and bitter to be tested and go deeper into beingness. Every experience is our teacher that brings us home to our true nature. We collect the energy we splintered off and learn to surrender and accept it all (not just the parts we believe are good). Take your spiritual vitamins my friends.
“I embrace my shadow self. Shadows give depth and dimension to my life. I believe in embracing my duality, in learning to let darkness and light, peacefully co-exist, as illumination.” ~ Jaeda DeWalt
Art by Julia Grigorieva