For years I avoided doing shadow work because I was afraid that, by focusing on the so called darker parts of my personality, I would cause them to expand. After all, energy flows where attention goes.
Then I opened my mind to new possibilities, and decided to host a shadow work retreat. In the weeks leading up to it, I was anxious about how the attendees would respond. Every meditation and exercise was designed with the intention to bring all of the unconscious shadows to the light of conscious awareness. The retreat was beautiful, and my worries that attendees would have intense breakdowns or go crazy were completely unfounded. Actually, it was a turning point in the spiritual journey for the attendees and for myself.
It turns out that shadow work, when done correctly and with care, is an incredibly effective way of shedding those layers of darkness and allowing the light of the true self to shine through. Also, there are different ways of doing Shadow Work, it can be a gentle and loving process.
Intend to be very sensitive to and aware of when your energy shifts into a darker place. You can set this intention once, right now if you like. Simply say to yourself, “I intend to be very sensitive to and aware of when my energy shifts into a darker place.”
Often, especially when someone is really feeling triggered, there can be this tendency to be blind to the emotion. If you’re not recognizing when a negative emotion comes up, you may not be able to process the emotion fully.
Open up to whatever you’re feeling. Resist the temptation to do something about the darker emotion. Do not distract yourself with eating or Netflix, don’t vent to a friend or do anything to make the feeling go away. Instead, relax your body and embrace the dark emotion. I like to actually say to whatever feeling is arising, “Thank you for being here”.
Listen any wisdom that the emotion might share. Simply ask, “What do I need to know right now?” All emotions are only messages. For example, anger might be a signal that a boundary is being crossed and it might help you to say no.
By this time you might be feeling a little better, but it’s a good idea to process the emotions all the way through.
Surrender. Hand the emotion over to God. If you find surrender to be difficult, something that I like to have retreat attendees try is to pretend that they are actually handing over whatever it is that they want to surrender, like a package. Imagine that the emotion is released into the perfect hands of God.
At this point, it’s important that you not only release the emotion, but also all of the stories, blame, opinions and preferences with it. For example, I like to say something like, “I surrender this anger, and all of the thoughts that come with it”. This feels really wonderful, when you are truly ready for it. The key is to be uninterested in hanging on to the dark emotion, and everything that comes with it. Once you are no longer interested in revenge, or being right, or being the victim, then it’s time to invite something new in.
It’s great to invite in the opposite feeling. If you’ve surrendered anger, invite in peace, if you’ve surrendered grief, invite in gratitude. I like to relax my body, breathe in deeply and simply repeat to myself, “I invite peace”, “I invite peace”. It can be difficult to go through this entire process in the middle of the day while you’re at work, or when you’re having dinner with your family. You can still do some immediate processing while in the midst of the triggering situation. It’s imperative that you don’t react at this point. Give yourself a minute or two to get into a better place through do an abbreviated version of the shadow work process.
Open up to whatever emotion comes up. Relax and let it be there. Then, as you exhale slowly and with control, say to yourself, “I surrender this emotion and all of the negative thoughts that come with it”. Do this until you start to feel a little better. Then, say to yourself as you inhale slowly, “I invite in peace, or joy, or love”.
The main challenge with surrendering the dark emotions and inviting in some new ones, is that you will want to hold on to some story, like “I am right (I am better than)” or “He’s making me late for work again (I'm a powerless victim)”. The actual emotion that you’re feeling passes very quickly, it’s the story that sticks around and reignites the emotion over and over again. It’s essential that you release the story as well.
You can also set aside time each day to do this work. I love this method because it’s like preventative medicine. Give yourself 5-10 minutes to do each of the five steps, but instead of responding to a triggering emotion, ask for the emotion to come up. You can say, “I intend to feel any anger that is within me right now”. Then process it.
That’s all. I now love shadow work and I believe that it is absolutely essential for helping one to become more conscious and just to live a more peaceful and joyful life. I’d love to hear your experiences with shadow work, and I’d love to know if you have any topics that you’d like me to talk about, so please comment below.
See you next time!