Thursday, July 7, 2011

Illuminating Your Shadow

I came across this post recently over at Crazy, Sexy, Life and knew right away that I wanted to share it with you. The post was written by Erin Selkis, a health blogger and nutritional coach.

I'm a big fan of Debbie Ford who, along with Deepak Chopra and others, does a lot of work with the Shadow and The Shadow Effect. I recently started reading The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Hidden Power of Your True Self by Debbie Ford, Deepak Chopra, and Marianne Williamson. If you like what you read here, I definitely recommend checking out the book. 

Illuminating Your Shadow

Along the path of spirituality and personal growth, and as you awaken to who you truly are, there may come a point where you hit a wall on your journey. Maybe it’s that even though you have come to a high level of self-love, you just can’t seem to embrace yourself unconditionally. Or, maybe there is a dream or goal that you feel is so true to you, but it’s just not happening. Or, maybe your relationships don’t seem to be working out, and aren’t as deep and loving as you want them to be. Whatever your challenge may be, oftentimes it is the unexamined “shadow” parts of us that are holding us back. Owning our shadows is an incredibly transformative process that allows us to fully love ourselves for all that we are, and to step into the beauty, light and love that is who we are.

Just what is the shadow that I am referring to? First introduced by Carl Jung, and taught by Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford, among others, the shadow is simply all of the “dark” parts of your ego. It’s all the crap that you don’t like, that you don’t want others to see, and you don’t even want to see in yourself. It’s all the qualities of your personality that you judge as ugly, disgusting, gritty or embarrassing. It’s all of the things that you hide from, judge and think are nasty. Now, the first thing that may be coming to your mind is “If I don’t like these parts of myself, why on earth would I want to own them? If I just pretend they don’t exist, or just don’t acknowledge them, they will go away.” Well, not exactly. Debbie Ford has this great comparison to a beach ball: What happens when you try to push and keep a beach ball under water? It keeps popping up to the surface! You spend a ton of energy trying to keep it from floating up to the surface; but no matter what you do, it will eventually pop on up. It’s the same with your shadow. These repressed qualities and emotions of the personality, often even hidden from you, will rear their heads and show up in self-sabotaging ways. You probably don’t even know it is happening. Luckily, though it is not easy work, there are ways to identify your shadows and then own and eventually come to love them.

Before I share these techniques, I want to explain a few things regarding shadow work. First, we are all both “all of it” and “none of it.”

“Huh?”

What I mean by this is that we are all everything in this universe. We are all light and dark, rich and poor, virtuous and evil, extroverted and shy. We are all one, and we all express the same qualities or have the ability to express the same qualities simply because if I am it and you are too. We are not separate. Remember this when embarking on this work to help you not to judge yourself-
you are a human being, and what is in you is also in everyone else. And, at the other end of it, at the heart of it all, we are none of it, because as our true authentic and enlightened selves, we are pure love, compassion and beauty. These qualities and emotions that we see as dark or evil are just parts of our egos, they are not who we are. But, it is important to embrace them and love them to become our authentic selves and clear away the darkness that gets in the way of our light.

Second, the goal of shadow work isn’t to “get rid” of these parts of you; it is to see them, accept them, embrace them, and find the gifts in them so that you can use them to your advantage and not have them popping up at inopportune times. By loving them, you release their hold on you and allow yourself to love yourself more fully.

Identifying Your Shadow Parts

If you pay a little attention, it is very easy to see when a shadow is shouting at you. Most often it shows up in people around you as something that you judge, don’t like or annoys you. Are you often surrounded by people you judge as angry? Or as pushovers? Or as overtly sexual? Anytime you see something in someone else that you don’t particularly like, you have a great opportunity to identify one of your shadows. Another way to notice a shadow is to identify things about yourself that you try to hide from yourself and others. Are you messy but keep a spotless house for when you have company? Do you deep down think you are a bitch, so you act as nice as possible to others in hopes that they don’t see what you see? Other ways to identify shadows are: write out every word that you would be upset if someone called you, notice if a certain emotion seems to take control of you suddenly and uncontrollably and notice if people often tell you that you are a certain way but you don’t see it.
OK, now that you have most likely identified quite a few shadows, how do you work on accepting and integrating them? When you have some time, in a safe and comforting space:

1. Identify a time when you embodied that quality or aspect in your past. What happened? How did you feel when this occurred? What did you believe at the time? (Often this situation occurred in childhood.) If you can’t identify a time when you embodied the quality, think of a situation in which you could.
Allow yourself to experience compassion for yourself and for the situation. Forgive yourself for judging yourself as whatever your quality was. Really feel this and give yourself the love that you deserve. If you need help expressing compassion toward yourself, picture yourself as a young child or picture someone you love very much.

2. Identify what this aspect of yourself is here to teach you and what its gifts are. You can even name this part if you want! For example, one of my shadows is Mean Melissa. She came about in middle school when I thought the only way to be liked was to be super nice and that if I was “mean,” no one would be my friend. She ruled my life for a very long time; whenever the fear of not being liked or accepted popped up, I would do whatever I deemed as “nice” in that moment, no matter if I wanted to do it or not. I was terrified that people would think I was mean. But, because I stuffed her away, Mean Melissa would pop up every so often in ways that were detrimental to me (especially in my relationship with myself). When I asked Mean Melissa what she was here to teach me, I learned that she was teaching me that it is better to be whole and true to myself than nice, that what others think of me doesn’t matter to me, and that I am loveable just the way I am. Her gifts are power, determination, acceptance and passion (which got stuffed away for a long time along with Mean Melissa!).

3. Ask this aspect what it wants from you. Maybe it wants recognition, or love, or for you to slow down, or for you to have more fun in your life, or for you to take better care of yourself. Listen to what this quality wants from you and give it to it! Mean Melissa told me to stand up for myself more and be true to my opinions.

4. When you feel you have completed integrating this quality, acknowledge yourself for the work you just did! You are amazing. Really hear that.
Often you will notice things in your life starting to shift as you accept more and more of your shadows. You won’t need to use precious energy hiding these parts of yourself, and you have freed up the authentic qualities that are truly who you are.

Erinn Selkis has been studying holistic nutrition, psychology and alternative medicine for over three years, and loves helping others live healthy and happy lives. She is a health counselor and compassionately supports her clients to improve all aspects of their lives through nutrition and personal growth.

Photo credit: rustman

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