Ever since I learned that I could see my shadow in the personality of others I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of personal faults I’ve had to confront. It’s so easy to see the faults of others and equally as easy to be clueless about my own. And to know this I’ve become acutely aware that others are seeing my faults in the everywhere and everyday of my life. It’s embarrassing! And if I’m reproached (as all too often happens for my comfort) I can spiral downward for days.
My dreams too show me those pesky little dark spots in my personality but it’s easier to see them and deal with them when they’re coming out of me. Dreams are part of the inner judge of my being. But as I do the “shadow work” with my darker dream images the number of issues begin to mount up and become overwhelming.
It’s like the myth of Hercules and the Augean Stables where one of his first tasks is to clean up in one day the cattle stables that have collected dung for decades. It can be downright discouraging.
I’ve also noticed that these shadow aspects show up most often when dealing with people of the same sex i.e. other men. For example, aggressive, domineering, pompous, and arrogant personalities will raise the short hairs on the back of my neck and I find myself rejecting these men before I’ve even gotten to know them. This same sex quality of the presence of the shadow is found within our dreams as well in that the shadows tend to be of the same sex as the dreamer.
Most recently the # me too movement has made me more sensitive to my own unconscious prejudices. All my life I’ve prided myself in my respectful treatment of women or all people really. Yet a man came up to me the other day as I was announcing the beginning of a lecture on the female aspect of religion and told me a sexual story about his adolescent years in high school that absolutely appalled me. His use of certain words and crude use of innuendo made me most uncomfortable. Not withstanding the inappropriateness of his communication I noticed that his comments mirrored some of my own hidden thoughts that I purposely keep to myself. His shadow was to some extent my own! Oh dear, another piece of dung to shovel.
The shadow also shows up in decisions I’ve made about my own qualities and talents. These come in the form of marveling over the talents and creativity I see in certain artists, poets, actors, writers, and entertainers of all kinds. It’s envy that I feel as in, “I wish I were that creative”. But if I can see their creativity and can appreciate it then at some level it exists within me. So why do I reject this and stuff it into my shadow world? More dung.
Because I judge that I have too much dung in the stables of my unconscious mind I have also decided that I don’t deserve pleasure and find that I deny myself even more and thus create more dung.
This constant confrontation with my shadow stuff is exhausting. And just because I’ve spotted where the crap lies doesn’t seem to help with the clean up. I mean, where do I shovel it to?
And that’s the point of shadow work. There’s no need to shovel it anywhere because if you do it’s still there i.e. shoveling is just rearranging the piles.
So how does one learn to accept their shadow let alone love it? Some of these shadows are grounded in beliefs that come from your childhood. They are constructions from decisions we’ve made about life and who we are. They are often the wounds suffered from childhood that can be healed if dealt with openly, compassionately, and lovingly. In short, what has been constructed can be deconstructed not through forceful shoveling or denial of the dung spread throughout but through loving action.
Mostly the shadow is an unrecognized inner dialog and belief system that’s negative in nature and the shifting of which to something more positive can help these aspects become more useful. Sometimes just writing a letter that will never be sent that includes your feelings about your darker aspects and negative feelings about yourself can help. Remember no feeling is ever wrong. Some of your beliefs and thoughts are just flat-out wrong but never your feelings.
Bringing these things out into the open through the process of identifying and writing them down can be a great first step in the cleaning up of the stink of your unconscious stables.
For those of you who might want to do further shadow work these links may prove useful: