If you haven’t watched this TED talk yet, then I recommend that you do it when you have a chance (lockdown should give you time, right?)

Eleanor Longden has challenged accepted ideas of mental illness—particularly schizophrenia. Her story of hearing voices, being pathologised, descending into insanity, and finally befriending her voices, is a cautionary tale about denying parts of ourselves. Her talk, and her excellent book, Learning from the Voices in my Head (affiliate link), reveal that her voices were not maladaptive, insane, or dangerous. In her words, they were “a sane reaction to insane circumstances.”

FACING THE SHADOW

Last week we explored the idea that we are all composites of multiple selves. It’s impossible to talk about multiple selves without considering what psychologist Carl Jung famously called our shadow.

In short, the shadow consists of those parts of ourselves (or those selves) that we disown, reject, or suppress. It is often seen as the dark side of the self, but it doesn’t have to be negative. Anything we cannot or do not include in our sense of ourselves can become part of our shadow.

Most of us tend to want to surgically remove our shadow. But that only drives it underground where its influence continues, all the more problematic because it is now invisible to us. Even though the shadow (or parts of it) may not be negative in themselves, like Eleanor Longden’s voices, it becomes increasingly destructive as it remains unseen and fragmented from our known selves.

Most of us tend to want to surgically remove our shadow. But that only drives it underground where its influence continues, all the more problematic because it is now invisible to us. Click To Tweet

Spiritually, an unintegrated shadow often manifests in self-righteous religiosity, legalism, judgement, exclusivity, spiritual arrogance, hypocrisy, and exceptionalism. Richard Rohr teaches that non-dual (integral/integrated) consciousness can only be found through great suffering or great love, Perhaps it is only those two things that have the power to bring our shadow into the light where we can wrestle with it, befriend it, and learn to integrate it into the self. Usually only those two things have the power to motivate us to do shadow work.

Perhaps it is only great suffering or great love that have the power to bring our shadow into the light where we can wrestle with it, befriend it, and learn to integrate it into the self. Click To Tweet

BEFRIENDING THE SHADOW

How then do we do shadow work when we’ve finally come to see our need of it? Here are a few suggestions to start you off:

  • Listen to your anger. Anger that is sudden, irrational, or out-of-proportion, often points to hidden sensitivities and trigger points.
  • Listen to your critic. Our harshest criticisms of others are often rooted in projection—rejecting in others the things we won’t face ourselves. Alternatively, our criticism can be turned inward as a subconscious attempt to defend against the shadow.
  • Listen to your longing and jealousy. The things for which we feel an unexplained longing or jealousy can often be signs of what lies hidden within us. A large bed with cosy blankets could actually be a longing for safety, comfort, or nurturing.
  • Listen to your inner child: Often the things that feed our souls as children get suppressed in the demands of adulthood. But the child remains, and makes its needs felt in unguarded moments of inordinate happiness or playfulness, and inconsolable weeping or grief.

At its best a spiritual practice gently challenges us to search within and find the shadow. When we take the time to listen to and befriend our shadow, we discover that its not the demon we have believed it to be. Spiritual practice then shows us how to lead the shadow into the light—one part at a time—and integrate it into our other more acceptable selves. The wholeness and liberation that results from this healing journey can be thoroughly intoxicating, irresistibly creative, and wonderfully enlivening!

At its best a spiritual practice gently challenges us to search within and find the shadow. When we take the time to listen to and befriend our shadow, we discover that its not the demon we have believed it to be. Click To Tweet
  • What is your response to the challenge of shadow work?
  • Where do you struggle and where do you find hope in the possibility of doing this work?
  • What questions or insights can you share with others?

Leave a comment below and let’s keep talking.

Over to you!

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