* The following is based entirely on my own understanding, research, and practice; it should be known by the reader that I am not an expert nor a definitive dictionary.
It is more important than ever to recognize the shadow work we have to do—as a global tribe.
Shadow work also seems to have become a rather hot topic, so this one is for all those out there who might be hearing or reading the term “Shadow Work” but are still not entirely sure what it means.
In a nutshell, shadow work is the effort of confronting and integrating all the aspects of yourself that you have shoved down into the deepest part of your heart. It is understanding that these ignored aspects manifest as personal drama and are the culprit of our toxic cycles.
How can you tell if you are experiencing a toxic cycle? Simply put, it is when your actions/thoughts result in harm to others or yourself and begin to repeat themselves.
I like to think of it as striving to become a human yin-yang—accepting that there is darkness and light. And that each exists next to and within the other.
It is also important to remember that neither is inherently good or bad; it just is or is not. We are the ones who determine whether they will have a negative or positive impact on our hearts, and subsequently, the world around us.
This is how I visualize it for myself: when I feel a great turmoil in my heart or something occurs that makes me want to run away—shove it down and ignore it—I stop what I am doing and become still and silent.
I take a seat cross-legged inside my heart, underneath the great oak that lives there. There is moss beneath me; shade and sunlight exist here equally. Once I am comfortable, I then call up that feeling or action that caused me to feel so disrupted, and once it is fully manifested in front of me, I simply ask it, “Why?”
No fear, no anger, no forced love, just an authentic and open, “Why have you come here?”
I will often get a response that goes something like this:
“I have always been here. I have been trying to talk to you all this time, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”
Usually, in this place where this feeling and I can interact without raising our voices at each other, I see that it is actually deeply hurt—that I have been ignoring it. All this time, it just wanted the inclusion that I had denied it for so long.
Once I am able to accept that it was my own unwillingness to listen dividing us, I then imagine that I am dipping my head and raising my hand gently, reaching out to offer my caress to the beasty in front of me. At first, it will recoil, maybe even bare its teeth, because it does not trust that I am finally willing to offer kindness. The beasty truly believes that I am about to shove it away as I have always done. But not this time.
This time, I leave my hand open, waiting for it to choose to rest with me. Eventually, it begins to sense that I truly do have compassion in my heart, and it will lower its hackles and cease its growling.
It will sink down to lay its massive head in my lap and close its eyes to rest in the compassion that I had been withholding for so long.
That is about the time something within both beasty and I dislodge—an unexpected sigh of relief deflates both of our bodies.
The relief of realizing that we do not have to fight each other any longer.
This is what it is about: sinking into yourself, allowing everything you are afraid or ashamed of to rise to the surface, and entering into an understanding conversation. A conversation where you do not have to fight each other—where you do not have to fight yourself anymore.
Doing this work takes patience and a major willingness to confront aspects of yourself that you are not proud of. When you become comfortable with this work, you can begin to apply it to situations like the fight against systemic racism. And that, my readers, is the overall point of doing shadow work. A method to becoming a force for positive change in the world around you.
When beginning shadow work, it is important to remember that your shadows are not inherently “bad.” Nor are they an aspect of yourself to demonize. Your shadows only become “demons” when you constantly shove them down further and further into your heart without letting them breathe, speak, or otherwise participate fully in the experience of this Earthly vessel.
This is what we have been doing with our history of brutality, exclusivity, and ignorance in regards to the experience of our country’s BIPOC population. We have not been allowing this history that our country is built on to breathe, speak, or otherwise participate fully in the experience of being American.
We all have a responsibility to do the hard work—to confront our shortcomings and begin to transform them into strengths. I know there are people who are of the mind that my generation does not want to work hard, but what they have had trouble understanding is that we do not want to put our heads down and do what we are told. Our idea of hard work is bucking from our backs the lies that we have been told about what life is supposed to be like.
We are waking up to how America was founded on ideals, fears, and opinions that oppress our fellow humans to this day. Since we first entered the education system, we have been told that America is a wonderful and fair country.
This is only true if you are willing to agree with the oppressors.
But this could be true, also, if we are willing to do our inner work and bring it to the community table.
But there is another aspect of shadow work that must be understood before you can truly begin.
It is not about playing the blame game.
Doing this work, rather, is about accepting responsibility for what is occurring within your heart. Placing blame and accepting responsibility are two totally different things. By setting aside blame and accepting responsibility, you take your power back. You pick up the solution with your own hands rather than shoving it onto someone else—someone who is far less equipped than you are to soothe the beasty in your heart.
Now, accepting this, what are we to do? Now that many of us are starting to do the inner work and waking up to all the buried truths, what are we to do?
There are still those in my generation who continue to spout the rhetoric of oppression.
So now, I speak to you—you who are willingly choosing to perpetuate injustice:
You will find it increasingly difficult to find a place for yourself at the table we are beginning to build, where true equality, understanding, and moral responsibility will be the norm.
Continue to be the kind of person who enjoys lording power over others and making them feel small and, in the name of everyone you ever took power away from, you will know what it truly means to feel small, as my beasties swallow you whole.
This is another aspect of integrating your shadows—learning how to call them into their dark form wisely, just as the Hindu goddess, Parvati, called her Kali Aspect into being in order to settle a great battle. It is about being both equally, knowing when to call which forth, and maintaining integrity within your power.
I like to think of it like this: darkness is there to help when light cannot stomach what must be done, and light is there to bandage the wounds of darkness when the battle has been concluded.
The discovery of inner shadows and the practice of integrating them will be different for everyone because each person is experiencing an entirely unique reality.
(Please remember that I am sharing what this work looks like for me, and it will be up to you to do the proper listening and research to personalize it to your own experience.)
It seems the work usually comes upon people when they are in a place of spiritual life or death; when you are confronted with the choice to grow and break a toxic cycle or succumb once again to the karmic washing machine.
It is about accepting spiritual death as a rebirth. It is a chance to embrace a renewed feeling of love for every part of yourself so as to better extend that love to others.
Just as the snake regularly sheds its skin, so, too, do we humans have the option to shed ours.
What our country currently stands on is outdated and destroying us. If we are divided in our hearts, we will be divided in our outside world, and the change we all want so desperately to see will be forfeit.
It will not be easy, and there will be tears. But it will be worth it.
And just as tears can scald, so, too, can they heal.
Good luck, my friends.
And remember: your heart is nothing to fear.
In fact, it will be your greatest tool in this era of change-making.