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Shadow Work Part 1 - The Luminous Shadow

holly leaf shadows on a golden glowing maple leaf
a luminous shadow in the forest

Working effectively with the shadow is a major key to personal growth. It's also the number one way to have healthier relationships. And remember - self healing is healing a part of nature, and when any part of nature is healed, the whole system (i.e. THE WORLD) benefits. In this first installment, we'll explore how the shadow is not merely darkness, but also a portal to brilliance.

Turning to face the dark is a necessary part of the evolutionary process, but it's tricky. The shadow realm is not merely dark. It's cloaked, mirrored and foggy. So how do we work effectively with what we can't see clearly? First, let's define this space: Our shadow realm is a place where we store fears, insecurities and old pain we haven't yet healed from and/or come to peace with. This is where wounds and traumas go for later processing. It's also where talents that matter deeply to us but we haven't yet cultivated lie in wait for the right conditions in which to grow. Once developed, these abilities will enable us to come into our full strength. In the meantime, however, we feel protective of them and embarrassed about how undeveloped they are. Think of your shadow world as not only a dark place, but a place where your mind hasn't yet organized things properly. You are likely to get hurt in a dark and disorganized space, and you are well aware of this. Now let's look at how this combination stymies our ability to perceive our circumstances clearly. Similarly, if you were feeling vulnerable and afraid because you were walking alone in a dangerous neighborhood at night, your senses would be tuned all the way up so you could sense danger before it got to you. In this scenario, your mind is wide and scanning, expecting danger and getting startled by every leaf moved by the wind, by every sound, by every shadow - including your own. Every person you encounter is a potential threat, and by default no one is then able to be an ally. You don't notice the purple clouds drifting past the moon, the glittering stars, or the music of tree trunks creaking in wind. You lack trust in this situation, and you are primed to fight or flight, two of the three tasks of the sympathetic nervous system. Now think about what happens to your sensory perception when you stub your toe while walking. Are you aware of the beautiful leaves all around you, or the scent of food cooking, or the sounds of birds? No. Your mind is honed in on one thing: toe in pain. You've frozen, the other task of the sympathetic nervous system. So what happens to us when we're traversing our shadow realm with our perception alternately scanning for danger that may or may not be there and hyper focused on all the toes we're stubbing as we bumble around in a dark and disorganized space - and all the while not scanning for safety, peace, love, and other beautiful and supportive things that might be present? We find danger and pain, and we don't find anything else. This leads to the dark expressions of our shadow, which are to blame and/or mistreat whoever is present and feel justified in doing so, and/or to crumple, not set healthy boundaries, and allow toxic situations to develop rather than meeting them head on or walking away. In so doing, we set ourselves and our relationships up for failure, and miss the opportunity to learn from our own mistakes.

☆ But there is a luminous side to the shadow. Here is one way to access it: ☆

  1. Strengthen your muscles of humility, forgiveness, and healthy self-worth. Without these, the next step will be a shaky one at best. How? Practice! Forgive yourself and others every day. Look honestly at both your strengths and weaknesses at the same time. This simultaneous awareness is a crucial method of neural re-circuiting so you don't slip into either self deprecation or self aggrandizement.

  2. Accept you have a shadow. We all have one. We are all imperfect. We are all wounded in one way or another. We all have things to learn and work on. And we all have things that we will never be good at, and therefore need the support of others. Your shadow is protecting your vulnerability.

  3. Identify these shadow parts of yourself. What are your wounds and traumas, and what circumstances tend to reactivate the pain of them? What are situations and ways you tend to need help? What do you want to learn and master, but haven't yet? If you don't know what your shadow is, you'll project it onto your relationships and circumstances. And... even if you do know what your shadow is, if you haven't integrated it, you are still going to project it onto your relationships and circumstances, so...

  4. Maintain your vigilance. Keep going back to step one.

  5. Seek out effective support. Effective support both bolsters you with senses of safety, strength and worthiness, but also helps you maintain your vigilance. Whether it's a close friend or family member, a partner, a teacher, a therapist, or a healer, having someone by your side who both holds space for your pain and holds you accountable in a way that encourages you to see ways you have holes in your perception and un-accessed agency will help you grow in this situation without toppling into aggressive behavior.

  6. Understand this is a perpetual work in progress, and that no matter how strong you get, you're still vulnerable and flawed. Even once you come into your strengths, you are still human and therefore prone to mistakes. Even with the knowledge of the circumstances that trigger you into emotional disregulation, you can't always avoid these altogether and you may well still get triggered.

This is some of what I have learned and am still working on, both in regards to my own shadow and in healing from wounds I've received from the shadows of those I've been in relationship with. It's hard to turn around and face our own mistakes, but until we do, we cannot be whole. The farther we are from our own wholeness, the more likely we are to cause ourselves and/or others harm. This is the very work that the world needs now, so for the good of all, please open your heart, look closely, and learn.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to contact me, schedule a mentorship session, purchase my art, or send me a tip. Here's wishing you the kindling of star-brilliance in the darkest spaces. With care,



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