Deep beneath the social masks and happy faces we present to the outer world, lurks a hidden shadow: an angry, wounded, fragmented or isolated part of us that we tend to bury or ignore. Integrating the shadow is essential for a balanced life.
The shadow compounds all the dark impulses—hatred, aggression, sadism, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, sexual transgression—that are not socially acceptable and thus hidden out of sight. The name originated with Carl Jung, but its basic origin came from Freud’s insight that our psyches are dualistic, sharply divided between the conscious and unconscious. Socially accepted norms require that we suppress our unconscious side, but what hides in the shadows will attempt to come out.
Whatever qualities we dare not face within ourselves, we tend to project out onto others. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is integrated in a person’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. The work of becoming spiritually conscious requires us to face and integrate the shadow, or else it will sabotage our best intentions.
Put another way, one does not become enlightened by imagining light, but by making the darkness conscious so it can be integrated. Rampant shadow projection is a hallmark behavior of the spiritually unconscious.
The shadow always wants to be heard – when ignored, it turns ever more mean and nasty. Resisting the shadow simply solidifies it, causing suffering. This arrogant behavior causes pain and suffering in anybody who has suffered because of the shadow’s cruelty, either in themselves or others.
And herein lies a great gift. Whenever the shadow projections out there trigger an emotional response in us, it means that there is a need for forgiveness, healing and acceptance. This emotional charge is a dead giveaway that we need to do some healing within ourselves so we can become neutral to the shadow projections out there.
In other words, we’re able to recognize the shadow projections out there because the same potential exists within each of us, whether we act on them or not. Most of us are uncomfortable with this truth, which causes us to further suppress and project our own shadow. In truth, the enemy is not out there but in each of us.
The enemy is in the White House, but the enemy is also Muslim; the enemy is a Jew, the enemy is a terrorist or a non-documented immigrant; the enemy is the person we choose to blame for our own situation, and the refugee from whose needs we recoil… the enemy is in all of them, and also in you and me. In truth, the enemy is really not an enemy at all. It is but a dark reflection of the shadow that resides in each of us and gets projected out there onto whomever we choose to judge and condemn. This enemy is an orphan, cast out of our consciousness and wandering the dark alleys of our collective unconscious as the shadow.
We cannot fight the shadow with more shadow, for that simply escalates issues and increases suffering on all sides. Instead, we need to heal the shadow by bringing the light of consciousness to it. The wounds in consciousness can only be healed through consciousness.
Bringing shadow material into consciousness drains its dark power, and can even recover valuable resources from it. The greatest power comes from having accepted our shadow parts and integrated them as components of ourselves.
The shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality; and integrating these orphaned aspects of our being can lead to restoring personal wholeness and leading more authentic life. We start this process by recognizing the shadow existing in us, forgiving ourselves for our fear and aversion of it, acknowledging it for what it is, and learning to use its powerful energies in productive ways.
In their book, Romancing the Shadow, authors Connie Zwieg, Ph.D. and Steve Wolf, Ph.D. share effective ways of decoding the messages of the shadow in daily life to deepen one’s consciousness, imagination, and soul.
Integrating the shadow takes honesty and courage, but the rewards are immense. First, the suffering stops. This is the surest sign that we have chosen the right path again: the unnecessary suffering stops.
More importantly, new possibilities emerge everywhere in life. Author David Richo calls this work “shadow dancing” in his book, Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side. Changing our relationship with the shadow allows us to discover a critical shift in our viewpoint: Where everything seemed sterile and barren and there seemed no possible answers before, now everything seems possible.
How to manage the shadow currently rampaging through society? A few things come to mind.
- Become part of the solution. Instead of cursing the darkness, align with the light by consciously changing your tribal attitudes, words, and actions. Refuse to dehumanize others based on their race, religion or background. Recognize that the world’s wrongs have their seeds in you and me as well. The potential for good or evil exists in each one of us. Once we begin to acknowledge that in ourselves, the shadow immediately begins to diminish.
- Recognize opportunities for healing, change and growth. See the rampaging shadow out there for what it is: an opportunity for each of us to heal. Now is the time for true shadow work to begin. The spiritually unconscious cannot do this work; it needs to start with you and me. When we take responsibility for the work of forgiveness and healing in our own lives, we will find the courage to start doing so on a larger scale. That is how we heal the world; not with bigger weapon systems, more name-calling or hatred.
- Strengthen your commitment to higher goals, vision and values. Nurture your core values, your soul and your spirituality. Meditate, spend time in nature, do energy work to set your soul free, and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
- Learn how to practice detachment. Do your very best to continuously release thoughts of resistance and attachment, for they are simply sides of the same coin. The Sedona Method has a wonderful phrase to summarize this process: “Embrace that which you resist, and surrender that to which you cling.” Detachment frees you from anxiety so your inner space can be peace.
- Remain in the Now. The past is over and no amount of worry can change it; the future is not here yet; so stay in the present moment. This moment is a golden opportunity to grow in consciousness. Choose to see every event of your life as a gift from heaven, sent your way with the sole purpose of enlightening you.
- Stay open to the possibilities. During turbulent times, the ego works overtime to find some security. In the process, we often settle for the safe rather than the good. When you have faith in a Higher Power and stay open to all the possibilities in the Field (even those you have not yet conceived of), you are making space for optimal outcomes to show up.
- Keep learning. Perhaps you cannot change all the things out there that trouble you. But you can learn something new each day that will help you outgrow the limitations of tribal thinking and become the highest expression of yourself. What will you learn today? Tomorrow? Next month? It is the accumulation of small changes over time, that feed the evolution of your consciousness.
- Stay involved. When faced with the shadow and all the cognitive dissonance it creates, it can be tempting to hide your light. You may want to play it safe, go into denial and avoid conflict. I’m here to tell you that you were created for bigger things! You are on this planet at this time because at some level, you recognized the potential for growth, change and fulfillment offered by the very things you call challenging in your life right now. This is not the time to find excuses for remaining passive, or to wait for heaven to come and rescue us. We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for! So muster your courage, stand tall, breathe in faith and let your light shine, for you are meant to be here now! Become an instrument of change and healing, and your own fulfillment will follow.
Finally, remember that shadow is aligned with the ego and never wins in the end!
About the author
©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit http://www.adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.