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Whatever we’re afraid to look at in ourselves secretly owns us.
We can’t live empowered lives if we’re turning away from who we are and only able to acknowledge certain parts of our experience.
Our shadows contain important information for us.
The magician reaches into the dark space of a top hat to pull out a rabbit. We are tasked with the same challenge in our healing. Our work is to reach into the dark parts of our psyche to retrieve what lives there, pull it into the light, and make sense of it.
We’re often afraid of our ugly side. We take 45 selfies to weed out the one we find acceptable. We reinforce the idea that we’re okay, that we’re beautiful even in our pain, that we’re moving toward the light—that this is the point of healing.
But what if the point of healing is not to eradicate our pain or overcome the parts of ourselves, our stories, that we dislike?
What if the point of healing is to open to our shadow self and integrate her? Make her a place at the table? Hear her out and take her into consideration?
Carl Jung, one of the master shadow workers of all time, once said: “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.”
Jung is highlighting the difference between SEEING our darkness and IDENTIFYING with it. These are not the same! One is empowered and the other is extremely disempowered.
If I believe I AM my shadow side, I am more prone to defending it or rejecting it. It will be intolerable to me.
If I understand my shadow side in a less personal, implicated way, I can see it as just another aspect of my complex self. I can work with it because I’m less tangled up in it. I can go deeper into the dark cave of it because I’m not giving it the power to devour me.
I have the flashlight of my own awareness.
When the aim of our healing work is to understand ourselves, we can move into the process with an abundance of love and curiosity. When the aim of our work is to tame or amputate or fix ourselves, we will resist the process and create more pain.
I can tell right from the get-go when I’m working with a new client in my coaching practice which side of this equation they’re coming from. Are they open and curious or shut down and seeking dominion over their woundings?
We are here to work WITH life, not against it.
We are here to work with resistance. To work with darkness and shadow. Integration means acceptance without conditionality. It means making room within ourselves to accommodate the wholeness of who we are.
We make room by letting go of old ways which don’t serve the vision for our lives. We let go of the old ways by focusing our attention on new ways. The more we are willing to bring the light of our awareness and self-acceptance into the darkness of our shadows the more expanded and empowered our experience of ourselves will be.
This is true freedom; the wish below every wish.
As we work with our shadows, as we get to know and accept the parts of ourselves we’ve previously rejected, they can become less dark and scary and unmanageable. We can begin to relate to them as the poet Ocean Vuong describes:
“I considered the stars, the smattering of blue-white phosphorescence, and wondered how anyone could call the night dark.”