Lessons From the Shadows
By Angel Shadow
"Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's
conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. One does not become enlightened by
imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." —Jung
For most people, a shadow is easy to visualize. You're walking down the street on a sunny day, and it follows you, mimicking your every move. You raise your arm and it copies you. You lift your leg, it will lift its leg. Shadows are fun to play with. You can chase them, try to hide from them and control their every move. But there's another type of personal shadow that most people try to avoid. This shadow is more than a reflection on the ground beside you. This is the shadow that lives inside. It only comes out to play when it wants to, and rather than you being the one in control, it wants to dictate your every move, thought, and emotional reaction. Your inner shadow-self is a trickster and it loves to take control and tell you how to live your life. Instead of avoiding it or trying to keep it hidden deep inside, the shadow needs to be brought out and dealt with. It doesn't like confrontation with itself. Looking in the mirror is not one of its strong suits.
So what does the inner shadow-self want? Why does it do the things it does? How does it control you and make you live and react in ways that sometimes surprise you? How many times have you reacted to a situation and later asked yourself, "Where did that come from?" Or have to explain yourself by saying, "I don't know what came over me! I usually don't act that way." But if you're honest with yourself, you will notice that you have, many times, reacted in the same manner. The shadow likes routine. It likes to keep things the way they are and when you try to change its programming, it will put up a fight.
There are a number of methods you can use to bring your shadow-self out into the open so you can get a good look at what's really controlling you...
- Don't Avoid It
Don't be afraid of your shadow-self. It's a part of you. Whether you want to believe it or not, you created it. Many will argue that the circumstances of life created the inner shadow-self, but since you are always in control of your own emotional reactions, you are the one who created and currently feeds your shadow. The shadow likes to live in the past. That is where it gets its emotional feeding and that is where you get your emotional reactions. Until you begin reacting in a different manner to emotional situations, your shadow will enjoy playing out the same scenario over and over again. It thinks it's doing you a favor. But if your shadow is still working under negative influences, it's only hindering your personal growth. There is a healthy inner shadow-self and an unhealthy inner shadow-self. Learn to recognize the difference. You'll be able to tell by the way it makes you feel. Pay attention to your emotional reactions.
- Make Peace With Your Past
Yeah, I know, easier said than done. But when you can make peace with your past, you can reprogram your inner shadow to react in a different way. You no longer have to be afraid of what it's feeding you, because you are literally making peace with that shadow part of yourself that requires healing. This will not happen overnight, so give yourself some time to heal. Sometimes baby steps are necessary to peel off all the layers and see what's there. I know it's hard, but keep peeling. As you peel each painful layer, come to terms with it. Confront it. Let it know it no longer has any control over you. Let it know that you control this area of thinking and you no longer wish to react as you did in the past. Remember, it will put up a fight, just stay with it. Be patient and loving with your shadow, after all, it's a part of you. Become friends with it. When you stop fighting it (fighting yourself) you begin to heal.
- Identify Emotional Reactions
This is especially important for the emotional reactions to past experiences, because this is where your shadow gets its programming. Find the link in your past to your present way of thinking and the patterns its created. Look at situations where you always react the same way. This will help you identify where you need to make changes.
- Let Go of Expectations
What kind of expectations did you have in the past? This includes yourself as well as others. Were those expectations met? If not, how did that affect you? Did it create trust issues? Did it lower your self-esteem? How can you pick yourself up now, so those negative past experiences no longer have that control over you? How can you change your expectations of yourself and others and bring it to a healthy level? Your shadow has expectations too, so make sure you give it a solid foundation based on what's real. There will be times in your life where YOU will have to depend on YOU. That's part of the plan. You can't learn if everyone else does the work for you. Ask yourself how and why you express love and commitment the way you do. What are your expectations there? How do you EXPECT people to love you? When does commitment become a ball and chain?
- Quit Acting Impulsively
How often do you act without thinking? When you do this, you're acting on a programmed response. You didn't even have to think about it; it simply happened. How have those actions served you in the past? Did you benefit from them? How can you change that so you reprogram yourself to think before you act? Start telling yourself you're not going to make any decisions without stopping and thinking for at least 30 seconds. If you're angry, this will give you time to cool off. If you're scared, it will give you time to rationalize your fears. Start allowing yourself time to think things through. There are very few circumstances in life that require an immediate decision, although your shadow enjoys making you feel differently.
- Don't Dwell on Past Mistakes and Regrets
Instead of dwelling on mistakes and regrets from the past, reflect on them. Allow them to pass through your mind and incorporate the lesson into your present and future. What did you learn from them and are you still stuck in the same cycle of negative behavioral patterns? Everyone makes mistakes and has regret about the way they handled a situation. Just don't carry that guilt with you. Forgive yourself and move forward, taking the lesson with you so you don't repeat it. Your shadow doesn't like it when it can't rely on past mistakes to bully you.
- Walk Away From the Past So You Can Move Into the Future
You won't be able to walk away from a painful past if you aren't willing to let go and move into the future. What do you need to walk away from? How are you chaining yourself to your own negative programmed responses? What's holding you back, other than yourself? It's alright to look at a situation in your life and decide to move away from it. You have the free will to make any decisions you want in life...it is, after all, your life. Have the courage to do what's best for you, without allowing your shadow-self to make the decisions.
- Deal With Abandonment, Vulnerability and Rejection Issues
Everyone has dealt with issues of abandonment and rejection. No one is immune to it. At some point in your life, it will present itself. Realize that you are not alone and that it may be a blessing that a certain situation did not work out. Do not allow it to undermine your self-esteem. It's alright to feel vulnerable, just don't allow it to take over your life. Look at situations from the past that have caused this way of thinking and heal them. You are stronger than you think as long as you don't fall into victim mode...and the shadow loves to be in victim mode.
- Build Your Self-Esteem
Don't judge yourself based on someone else's opinion and stop blaming others for how you feel. You're responsible for your own emotional reactions. That doesn't mean situations won't upset you, but you can control how you react to them. Eliminate self-doubt and build your self-esteem so it functions at a healthy level. Only you know your true heart, so don't allow someone else to tell you how to feel. Your shadow will latch onto this and use it against you.
- Prepare For Change
Identify ways that you can prepare yourself for the changes you want to make. How can you bring your inner shadow-self forward and give it voice? If you are willing to give it a voice, you have to be willing to listen to what it has to say. That's the important part. Your shadows are trying to speak to you everyday, you just aren't listening. If you were, the changes you need would already be taking place. Allow your shadow to speak and heal itself. Again, this is a part of you. So think of it as giving yourself a voice. Start a shadow journal. Allow yourself to write anything in this journal that assists in your healing. No one has to see it but you.
- Project Into the Future
Where do you want to be five years from now? How can you make changes in your programmed responses to take you there? Imagine what it will be like and live it as though it's happening right now. This is how you will change the programming. Start acting now. Pretend if you have to. Imagine you're playing a role in a movie and you have to ACT like a character that has exactly what you're working toward. How does this character act? What do they do to make the part realistic? How do they react to things? By pretending, you're actually moving toward the person you want to be because your mind doesn't know you're acting. It will respond to what you feed it emotionally. It doesn't know how to do anything else. That's how people win Oscars. So clear a spot on your shelf. What do you want to become? What kind of emotional projection will it take to get yourself there? Your shadow's a good actor, so bring it along. Just make sure it isn't dictating all the lines.
- "Who Am I" Exercise
When I was in Priestess training, we did an exercise called, "Who Am I?" Out of everything I learned, this lesson sticks with me the most. It's intense and you will have to dig deep. This is not an easy exercise, but you will learn things about yourself that you never realized were there. Issues and feelings that have been bottled up will be released, allowing you to take a good look at your shadow and how it controls your thinking and daily responses.
You will need a partner who's willing to sit with you for 30 minutes. This should be someone who will not judge you based on what you say. They are there to support you and assist in your healing. Choose someone you can be comfortable with, because you may break down and cry. This is good, it means you're releasing.
Choose a place where you and your partner can sit for a full half-hour and be comfortable. Face each other and hold hands. Many individuals aren't comfortable with holding hands, but during this exercise it's important to maintain human contact. You also need to keep constant eye contact. This isn't easy either, but try to hold it and use your partner for support. Your partner will start you off by asking you, "Who are you?" You will simply answer the question. At first, this is going to seem easy, but when you finish with your first set of thoughts and pause, your partner needs to ask it again. "Who are you?" After the first few minutes, this question will become difficult to answer.
Remember to allow anything that comes into your mind to be released. You may find yourself wanting to say things that you aren't comfortable with. Say them anyway.
Every time you pause, your partner needs to repeat the question. Once in a while, they can ask, "What flows through you?" instead. This may help get you back on track and move your energy in another direction. It may help open your mind to another area that needs releasing. But they need to come back to the "Who are you?" question. Continue this for a full 30 minutes. It will seem like an eternity and you will be physically and emotionally exhausted when you are done. You may experience some intense dreaming that night as well, as your mind continues to release issues you've been holding onto. Remember, it's alright to cry, so if you feel tears coming, don't hold them back. Allow the release.
Because you're holding hands and maintaining eye contact during this exercise, your partner will most likely experience an emotional heaviness afterward. This is normal, as you've spent the last half-hour passing your energy to them. Make sure you choose someone who understands this and has the ability to release "your" stuff and not hold onto it. This is important!
Learning from your shadow takes a conscious effort. You have to become aware of every thought and reaction that flows through you. This is exhausting work, but if you want to heal the shadow parts of yourself, it's worth it. Your shadow-self will kick and scream, saying it doesn't want to change. It will mess with your self-esteem and try to keep you locked in your programmed, victim mode. It's up to you to move away from that and write a new script. You're the writer, director, actor, editor and producer of your life's work. So allow yourself the best possible lighting and environment. Only you know how you can truly shine!
Remember to clear a spot on that shelf!
My ancestry is Irish and Cherokee Indian and I have a gypsy spirit that refuses to be fenced in. I am definitely not a conformist. Much of my life was spent under the control of others. I have now found my own personal freedom, based on my own personal truth and nothing could be more liberating.