Working With Your Shadow

Draw a line through your life dividing it in half. The part above the line is your daily life – your job, your relationships, your kids, housework and friends. This is the area that is mostly under your conscious control. It is where you balance your checkbook and decide where to go for dinner. The area below the line is the realm of your shadow. It is the realm of emotion.

The shadow is the engine that drives your life, that gives it vitality. It is the source of your power. Above the line life is pleasant, orderly, reasonable, rational, and frankly, boring. It is like my grandmother’s living room – meticulously neat, without a breath of life in it.

The shadow side of life is more like my mother’s house – something always bubbling on the stove or in the oven, six unfinished projects cluttering up the place, heaven help you if you needed to find anything. . .

By itself, neither realm is complete. Each needs the other to make a whole. The shadow is a swirling mass of passionate, driving, surging, often chaotic feelings, and it needs a sense of order to give it direction and purpose. Conversely, daily life needs spark, it needs creativity and passion to give it vitality, lest we die from never-ending monotony.

Blending the two realms can be complicated. It is an art requiring a good deal of practice. In the ideal, it is what we learn as we “grow up.”

The forces of the shadow in raw form are unruly and wild. They are also passionate, creative and exciting. The shadow rebels against the social pressures of confinement, conformity and control and can therefore be disruptive.

Conversely, our rational side can be controlling as it seeks to squeeze the life out of our emotional self. Because our rational side is more socially acceptable, many people lash their emotions down to minimize their “disruptive” influences. Fundamentalist religious sects are legendary for their repression of emotion. Social prohibitions like this turn the imaginary line we have just drawn through your life into a barrier.

Parents and society cast a wary eye on our “wild” side. Teachers, ministers, nuns, bosses and police officers all have much easier jobs if you are good, obey the rules, don’t walk on the grass and don’t create disruptions. People who think for themselves are an ongoing headache for corporations and other institutions, and these organizations can exert a great deal of pressure to dissuade disruptive (creative) behavior.

We are also learning however, that “the outsider,” “the rebel,” gives us the new perspective, the creative juices we need to vitalize and refresh society to keep it vital and alive. It is the wise society that learns to listen and learn from its critics and outsiders.

Individualists challenge the accepted order and ask us to look at our often mindless, sheep-like behavior. They challenge the barriers we so often erect to our emotions. Therefore, in our society we give the creative influences a great deal of freedom to roam and critique. But, while we give them considerable influence, we also give them little real power.

We like to manage the impacts of the changes and reforms they perennially champion, because although they are usually right, they also often operate on a time line well ahead of the changes society is ready to accept. Conversely, those with power in society, like the military and the police are kept on a tight leash, lest they misuse their power.

When the rational side dominates life, we can go through our days without much disruption, but what’s the point? We have essentially become the living dead. We have lost the essential fire that makes us human! I don’t think anyone does this by choice. Rather, they are forced into it. Instead of being guided to manage their shadow and turn it into a powerful asset, these people were abandoned emotionally and left to fight their way through the swamp of difficult emotional situations with little real support. They probably learned to do what was modeled to them – to shut their emotions down.

This bring us to an important consideration. When you lock up the forces of the shadow, they regress. They go rogue. And like a caged beast, confinement can make these forces wild and rebellious. This is a well documented problem for fundamentalist religious sects.

Conversely, the forces of the shadow, without guidance and support can also become vulnerable and fearful. Unsupported, these forces can use their considerable energy to protect us against perceived threats. Make no mistake, the shadow has more than enough power to totally control your life! It can shut you down sexually, make you avoid situations and cause you to withhold your love for fear of being rejected, for example.

Unmanaged, these forces can make you afraid to succeed, spurn making commitments and make you tiptoe around life without ever allowing you to drink from the cup. And, by the way, if these trapped forces ever break through to the surface, there can be real hell to pay!

However, there is an even more significant matter to consider. When confined, these energies create stress, and we are beginning to understand the devastating affect stress has on the mind and the body. Put simply, prolonged abnormal stress is a very significant contributor to disease. Medical science is beginning to understand the connection between stress and all manner of problems like heart disease, obesity, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, diabetes and cancer, to name just a few.

The wise person seeks to work with the energies of the shadow, to befriend and tame them as one might tame a wolf puppy. Doing this takes commitment, time and courage because there is always the risk that the beast might turn, although this never really happens. This fear is a safeguard to keep the timid and uncommitted from getting involved in the process.

The benefit to turning the power side of yourself into an ally is that there is no longer a separation between your daily life and your passion. Once befriended, this previous source of dissension and conflict becomes an incredible source of creativity and joy. Ideas and compassion stream forth from the place in the past that only knew fear and pain.

This once wild beast becomes a gentle and loving source of incredible strength and courage. No longer do you have to pit yourself against the storm alone and unfriended. You are then free to pursue your life with the fullness and majesty of all your power, without the need for manipulation or artifice. There is an incredible honesty to this kind of power. It does not threaten, it actually empowers others.

In the ideal, the imaginary line we have drawn through your life becomes a blur as influences from each aspect of the self now flow readily and easily into each other. We eventually become an integrated whole. Many millennia ago the Taoists in China recognized this pattern and saw it not only in humans, but all throughout the natural world. They immortalized it in what may be their most enduring symbol:

In theory, meeting your power, learning to work with the untamed beast that lives in your shadow, is not all that complicated. But as with all spiritual concepts, that which is easy to understand can be difficult to do. That is why God created life, so we could practice and learn.

It is easy to get caught up in the drama of life and lose sight of the larger process of learning that is taking place. For this and other reasons, I generally urge people to not do this part of the journey alone. You can do it by yourself, but it makes an already challenging process that much more difficult. A good shaman has been trained to work in the realm of the shadow.

He or she will be familiar with its twists and turns and can guide you through the confusion and help keep you on track. It is not an easy process, but it is incredibly rewarding. If you think about it, it is a vital investment in your happiness and well being, and what is more important than that? Especially when you consider that this is what you came here to do!

The other thing to consider is that you are going to have to do this one way or the other, anyway! As I said, that is why you have come here. Doing it on your terms, as a matter of choice, is far easier than being painted into a corner by your fear and then having to work your way out. And, doing it is worth it. I would not trade one moment of my life today for all the years I spent in pain and anguish before. Had I only known then what I know today. . .

copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016

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