Spiritual shadow work is inner work to reveal and repair a vital part of our mind and spirit.
A shadow is a dark silhouette that creates an outline of an object which blocks a light source. The light of awareness helps us see the content of our shadow self.
If we are to become a well-balanced individual, we need to address these darker aspects of our psyche. The space inside the silhouette is the mark our Ego makes as we live. Western medicine gives us drugs to numb out any negative feelings. Numbing out with drugs doesn’t help; it masks our awareness of these aspects. The underlying issues remain and then manifest in other ways.
Spiritual Shadow Work = Inner Work
Our shadow self is that part of our psyche representing the darker, unhealthy levels of our personality and instincts. Our personality type runs on a continuum from healthy to unhealthy. We go up and down depending on several factors such as traumatic events, stress, illness, losses of any kind.
“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” — Sarah Williams
Know Your Darkness
We must address these unhealthy aspects of our psyche to be healthy. Fear is the universal roadblock. It keeps us from looking into the darkness. One of the major roadblocks on your spiritual path will confront the issues of Ego and the effects of the cultural narrative.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ― Carl Jung
If you want to improve yourself and your relationships, you must delve into the darkness.
“Until we have seen someone’s darkness we don’t really know who they are. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.” — Marianne Williamson
Culture teaches us to mask or ignore our dark side. So we are not aware we are slipping into unhealthy thinking until it is too late. Learning about the harmful thought scripts of our Ego will help us control these tendencies. The answer is not to ignore or hide them but to give them our attention. Identifying and repairing these thought scripts is what we call spiritual shadow work.
“Consciousness is like a tunnel. You see only darkness when you look in from the outside. But, when you look out from the inside, you finally see the light. Meditation shifts your vantage point from the outside to the inside.” ― Guru Tua
The Shadow in Western Thought
In modern Western thought, the first use of the term “shadow” regarding the human psyche is by Carl Gustav Jung.
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” — Carl Jung, (1951)
The shadow self describes those aspects of the personality we don’t like, so we try to repress. Self-Awareness is the key to spiritual shadow work. The more aware we become, the more light we can shine on these darker aspects.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Self-acceptance is another key. We must learn to accept all aspects of our default settings to see them. If we continue to deny them, they continue to rule our thinking. But once we bring them into the light of our awareness, we can learn to move beyond them. We don’t remove these aspects; we learn how to integrate them into healthy behaviors.
The key to change is to use our habitual nature for positive change. The formula starts with illuminating these darker forces. Then we must accept they are a part of us. Once we see and accept them, we direct their power into positive thoughts and actions. Here’s an example. If you are angry about a social situation, channel your passion into positive action.
The goal of inner work is to identify roadblocks to our development and make us more integrated and aware. When we become more aware of our dark side, we will gain more control over thoughts and emotions. That doesn’t mean we experience less; it means we learn to understand our experience of life better.
If you are self-aware, you can tell when you are slipping into your personality’s unhealthy aspects. The Enneagram of Personality is a tool to identify the thought scripts that show when we are slipping into unhealthy patterns.
The Shadow in Eastern Thought
The shadow self is a common concept in many indigenous cultures. It’s one way to describe spirit entities that work at the periphery of our lives. It’s a part of us that connects to our ancestors.
In this sense, the shadow is not just part of our personality but also of our “spirit world.” We know these entities as spirit guides. They manifest in the Shamanic Journey. This ancient form of creative visualization is another technique.
Both Freud and Jung used this process used in the early development of modern psychology. His technique of regression is just another name for the Shamanic Journey.
Shadow Self — Inner Work Tools
This kind of psychological work can be intense. The Ego will fight being brought into the light. But spiritual shadow work is the key to breakthroughs in awareness.
There are several tools we can use to delve into the psyche. Almost every spiritual technology can reveal some aspect of your shadow. Here are a few you should investigate.
A journal is the first tool we recommend for the inner journey. It’s the most underrated tool for inner work. The more accustomed you are to using it, the more valuable it becomes. You will create several of these as you walk your path. These journals reflect the truth of your inner thoughts. So, they are your best personal coach and counselor. They can show you trends in your thinking and the roadblocks in the way of your spiritual growth.
You should create one to record your dreams when you awake. Keep one with you to jot down creative ideas. Use them for notes during automatic handwriting sessions. Your handwriting reflects your mood and state of mind. We see it as an essential tool for any explorer.
Meditation is learning to fold your attention inward. Your inward journey will help you find silence and peace. There is a simple two-step process for beginning meditation. You need to take a few minutes and do it.
“The mantra is the first mobile communication device. Everything is vibration. Vibration is sound. The mantra is the sound that resonates with the same sound and vibration as the Soul of the Universe.” ― Guru Tua
The Enneagram is a system of cognitive science. It’s a blend of both science and spiritual tradition. So, it draws on several sources for its psychometric knowledge. It has been scientifically tested to verify this system’s underlying theory and outcomes. It is deep enough to satisfy the clinician but uses a common language, making it available to everyone.
“Darkness is the absence of light. Ego is the absence of awareness.” ― Osho
Dreams are one way the shadow self reveals itself. Sigmund Freud used dreams to formulate the backbone of Freudian psychology. So learning how to lucid dream is one tool we recommend. It is the easiest way to expand awareness. Lucid dreaming is a technique that allows you to be aware you are dreaming and to exert some level of control over your dreams.
The Shamanic Journey is one of the earliest forms of inner work. It is a way the subconscious can be approached directly. This kind of internally guided meditation brings many symbols and typologies of our beliefs to the surface.
Automatic writing is another tool that can reveal the shadow self. It allows the subconscious freedom to express itself through our handwriting.
A repeating question is a tool that can be used along with other spiritual technologies. It’s a favorite for those who study the Enneagram. You can use it on your own, but it works best with two people. It’s a simple process. Your partner asks you the same question over and over. You find a different answer for the same question. This allows us to drill down below the superficial to intrinsic values. So it makes the repeating question a versatile inner work tool.
The Emotional Check Process
Last but not least, on our list of “spiritual shadow work tools” is the emotional check process. This is an essential tool to regain or maintain your emotional equilibrium. If you are caught up in your emotions, you lose the capacity to fully engage the mind’s critical thinking centers.
Fear and anger are primitive responses that trigger our fight, flight, or freeze mode. This pumps adrenalin into the system so we can react to danger. But adrenaline is toxic for the brain’s higher thinking centers, so it takes these centers off-line. You can’t use common sense or critical thinking skills when this happens. So the emotional check helps us shut down these responses to think clearly.
We hope you found this article helpful, maybe even thought-provoking. You will find more interesting posts on our blog page. Use the search option on the blog page to find articles by key terms, topics, or category.
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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia