It’s the season for shadow work – but it’s probably not what you think
When we do shadow work, we’re working to take the unconscious and move it into our consciousness.
If you’re plugged in to the health & wellness world, you may have heard this phrase “shadow work” coming up a lot lately. Right after Halloween and into Scorpio season – the season of increasing darkness certainty sets the tone for the most mysterious practice in the self-development toolbox.
But what is shadow work really? One might assume from its title that it’s some dark & witchy practice that calls for the eye of a newt, the beak of a gizzard, boiled under the full moon for three days. Or you may have been led to believe – like myself – that it’s looking at all the “bad” aspects of yourself that “don’t serve you” and working to get rid of them.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how badly you wanted to boil your spare gizzard beaks – neither of those are very accurate. And thank goddess, because the idea of sitting down to pick apart every little bit of ourselves that we hate did not sit well with me.
Instead of thinking of your shadow side as the “bad” side of yourself – think of it as your unconscious, repressed side of being. When we do shadow work, we’re working to take the unconscious and move it into our consciousness.
What is your shadow side?
Your shadow side is the part of you that lies underneath the “I’m fine” face that you show the world. It’s the part of you that gets so annoyed by your partner’s chewing noises for absolutely no reason. It’s the part of you that’s wounded and isolated – but it’s been so shoved back into a corner that the only way it has to communicate is to lash out.
But how much of ourselves is really unconscious and repressed? You’d be surprised. In Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby’s podcast episode about shadow work, she talks about the power our unconscious desires & fears have over us. Because they often happen in the background of your awareness without you knowing, they’re much more powerful than your conscious choices.
It’s the reason you keep doing things you know are bad for you. It’s the reason you consciously set new goals and aspirations but then time after time, just don’t do them.
Let me just say – it totally makes sense that we push aside & avoid our negative feelings. Not only are we conditioned to do so by our societies from birth, but they’re obviously no fun to think about. However – much like an impending pile of dishes or a stack of dirty laundry – ignoring them won’t make them go away.
Would it be much easier to turn a blind eye and chalk it up to being “just the way I am” ? Sure. But aren’t you a little bit curious of what a life outside of daily irritations, attachments & triggers would be like?
How do we work with the shadow side?
There’s a form of yoga asana called restorative yoga. While traditionally this means you’re surrounded by pillows, blankets & props while you drift in & out of supported bliss – let’s take a broader look at the true meaning of the word. To restore something means you bring it back to its original condition. In yoga talk – this means you come back to your true form. You return to what was always known but may have been forgotten.
Keeping this idea in mind, our shadow traits are reactions & responses we’ve picked up along the way that aren’t really us at all. I like this shift because it takes us out of the mindset that we have to “fix” ourselves. In reality – we’re completely fine the way we are. We’ve just picked up some dust & grime along the rocky, dirty road of being human. Shadow work is bravely looking at the dirt we’ve collected, rolling up our sleeves and working to clear it away.
It all starts with observation and consciousness – noticing how you respond to certain situations and asking yourself why. That’s bringing the unconscious to the conscious. It’s noticing the “knee jerk” responses & patterns we’ve picked up and holding them under a microscope. We trace them back to see if we can’t find how they’ve become ingrained in us in the first place. and we ask if they’re really doing us any good.
On the other side, there are aspects of ourselves that we’ve been taught to hide & shame throughout our lives – like female sexuality or male vulnerability for example. I think the work here is to look at our relationship with those traits and remove the narrative behind them. It’s not about what others might think of you, it’s about how you feel when you open up to that part of yourself.
Keep compassion for yourself throughout the entire process. Remind yourself that you’re not a bad person just because you behave shittily sometimes. We all do. But also remember that it’s in your power to change.
You have a choice with every moment to restore your innate truth of wisdom, power and compassion.
You can do this. Xx
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Hey there 👋 I’m Sierra – welcome to my website!
I’m a writer, mindfulness coach, and community builder located in the here and now.
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