Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Shadow work

Life is full of all kinds of challenges, but one of the biggest can be ourselves.  There are so many ways in which we hold ourselves back, so many ways in which we self-sabotage.  We create problems that we put in our own way, often denying it was us in the first place.  Which makes it extremely hard to clear them out of the way, because every time we start to make progress, we turn around and put the exact same blocks right back where they were.

Self-help is something that has been popular for a while.  Go into any book store or library and you will find a well stocked self-help section.  While many of these focus on the light side of things (how to build yourself up), some do delve into the shadow side. 

Shadow work is something that I feel very strongly about.  I think that in order to really understand where we are at, we need to see the whole picture.  We need to know ourselves, good and bad.  We can't grow and improve if we are constantly tearing ourselves down.

Shadow work doesn't mean doing away with your darker aspects.  Many of the darker parts of ourselves are there for a reasons.  We have anger to protect ourselves, and sorrow to help us adjust to loss.  The goal of shadow work is to understand these parts of ourselves, to see why we do what we do, to own our process, and to harness it to work for us instead of against us.

Now, if our shadows are sometimes parts of ourselves that we can't see, how do you figure out what they are so you can work on them?  I find that looking for things you avoid, or things that make you uncomfortable is a good place to start.  When we want to deny the existence of something, we will try to avoid it.  And, of course, an obvious sign is when we verbally deny that we do something.  It can be helpful to ask a loved one if there is something we do that we then refuse to admit that we do.

I also think that we often find frustrating, in other people, things that we don't want to own in ourselves.  So pay attention to things that you complain about (even if it is only in your own head) when other people do. 

Once you've identified some things that you think you need to work on, how do you actually start to improve?  For me, the first step is always to explore that aspect of myself.  This might mean doing some meditation and contemplating it.  There is almost always journaling involved.  But I also find that looking for it, outside of myself, helps me see things more clearly.  It also gives me a different perspective.  So, I might look for a book or movie that has a character that either struggles or embodies the thing I'm wanting to explore.

The really interesting thing about looking for parts of ourselves in things that are outside of ourselves, is we can not only see the similarities, but we can also see the differences.  I definitely struggle with insecurity, so when I see a character that is ruining relationships by being overly jealous or clingy, it does help me understand my own emotions better, but I also know that these are not behaviors I do (okay, I'm a little clingy sometimes, but not in the restrictive way, just in the 'I want to go with you...' way).

I love exploring both heroes and villains who share a similar trait, because I think that it shows how someone might be overwhelmed and turn towards doing harm instead of trying to overcome a struggle.  But, I also think that sometimes villains illustrate how a shadow can be a strength, even if they use that strength in a way that we may not agree with.

Consider, for a moment, someone who is constantly angry.  When cast as a hero, that anger most often is a flaw, something that they try to repress or control because it always turns on the people they care about.  But, when it is the villain who has the anger, it becomes their drive, it fuels them and keeps them going when they encounter obstacles.  Obviously, letting your anger control you isn't good for anyone, but anger can be a great motivator, and if you learn to harness it and make it work for you instead of ruling over you, then you can steer where it takes you and control yourself so you don't hurt other people because of it.  Anger is one of the things that keeps me moving forward when I hit struggles...I get angry and need to conquer whatever it is that is holding me back (really great when learning something new!)

One big thing to remember, when working with your shadows, is that this isn't something you will necessarily conquer the first time you work on it.  It is more like peeling away layers of paint on an old piece of furnature.  Each time you work on your shadow, you will chip away a little more, or go down one more layer.  You may need to take a break, and that is okay!  Pushing yourself too hard too fast, like with most things, does more harm than good.  But, if you keep working at it, soon you will be down to the base wood.  And then you can begin the process of repairing any damage and then building up a new and fresh layer of varnish to protect it!

Shadow work is one of the reasons I was first drawn to my path.  I was never afraid of my own darkness, but I was respectful of it.  I knew that it could be harmful, both to myself and to those around me.  I wanted to learn how to work with it, how to control it, and how to use it to help me.  And I knew that in order to do all that, I had to understand it.  I had to go into the shadows to become comfortable with them.  But ultimately, it is so worth it!

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