Shadow work art by Paige Strabala

SHADOW WORK 101: WHAT, WHY AND HOW

The time for shadow work is now.

Now clock - the time to do shadow work is now.

It’s hard to keep running from your problems when you’re on house arrest. If you like, think of this quarantine as that – a collective time out, the planet telling us to go to our rooms and think about what we’ve done. Or, you can think of it as a mass-scale (forced) staycation – a retreat – a time carved out of your hectic life to sit with yourself and, if you’re up for it, do some shadow work. 

Of course, sitting with ourselves is exactly what we try to avoid in our culture. Now that we have all the time in the world, how we use it is becoming that much clearer.

There are two main stories being told: one is to get busy, write a book, learn a language, launch a business. That’s the more positive expression of our go, go, go culture. The more negative side of our inability to sit still shows up as numbing and avoidance – think all the memes you see about boozing, snacking, Netflixing and losing track of what day it is. Not exactly productive if we’re trying to level up as a collective. 

Thoughts while working from home - from avoidance to shadow work.
Via @betches.

So, what would be a productive use of this time? 

As we’re well aware, the Coronavirus situation is bringing up a lot of our individual and collective fears and anxieties. We might be cooped up with our families, a surefire way to stir up alllll the triggers. But solitude will also do the trick. No matter where you are and who you’re with, when you spend more time in stillness, old pains and traumas will begin to rise to the surface. That’s why there’s never been a better time to do some shadow work. 

What is shadow work? 

Essentially, it’s working with your shadow: any subconscious thoughts, emotions, patterns and energies. Anything we’ve blocked off or pushed away from our everyday awareness becomes a part of our shadow. For obvious reasons, this can be a scary place to look, especially when you start. But the more you do shadow work, the more your deepest fears and most painful traumas dissolve into what they really are – mere shadows. 

Shadow work is similar to healing trauma or working with mental health. The only difference is that with shadow work, there’s an added dimension that may or may not be there with other approaches to healing – spirituality or consciousness. If you’re working on healing your past traumas by going to therapy, for example, your goal might be to become a happier, healthier and more stable human. A totally valid goal – but confined to the psychological dimension. You’re working to create a more stable, balanced and healthy psyche, or ego, but you’re not explicitly trying to transcend it – yet. But if you’re engaging in shadow work, you also hold the intention of growing spiritually through the work – using your trauma to expand your consciousness. In a nutshell, all shadow work involves healing trauma, but not all healing is shadow work.

That’s not to say that one is better than the other – they’re just different. In some cases, we might start by working with our trauma on the psychological level, then gradually, it leads us beyond. It’s hard to have big ideas about the universe when you’re trapped in a prison of pain. Of course, it’s also possible to get caught up in the game of therapy, addicted to splitting the hairs of our trauma. Our egos like to identify with our victimhood. People only level up when they’re truly ready – not a judgement, just an observation. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you might be!

Why do it? 

TL;DR: If you want to level up, you have do do your shadow work.

Whether you’re looking to become enlightened, start a company, or move out of mom’s basement, you’re going to have to do some shadow work.

As the spiritual teacher Osho wrote in Emotional Wellness, don’t worry about becoming enlightened – first, you need to become whole. Through trauma, parts of our being become blocked off, so our energy cannot flow freely. If you want to become more spiritual – which really just means expanding your awareness – you have to look inside yourself – and see all of it.

If your goals right now are to improve your life, you’re still going to need to do shadow work. It’s our subconscious psychic patterns that keep us stuck in loops that we want to get out of, like toxic relationships or a lack of money.

By choosing to engage with our shadow sides consciously and purposefully, we can change the story about our trauma. Maybe you think of your traumas and triggers as weaknesses that you try to bury or smooth over in daily life. If so, who can blame you? Our shadow side includes all of the things – patterns, beliefs, reactions and emotions – that keep you from functioning at the machine-like caliber our society demands of us every day. 

We push away our shadows for fear of revealing ourselves as weak, incapable or vulnerable. The truth, however, is that working with, and through, our shadow is the path to true strength, true power. 

For example, when an offhand comment at work hits on a sensitive spot, you might feel slighted, insecure or withdrawn for the rest of the day. Your energy becomes contracted, so when it’s time for a big presentation, your message doesn’t resonate as clearly as you had hoped. 

Each day, we carry around these invisible, sensitive spots accumulated from childhood – and even before, if you get down with reincarnation. The default strategy for dealing with this pain is avoidance – we gravitate towards people who soothe our insecurities and don’t tread on our triggers too much. 

Those who do, we usually dislike. That’s why paying attention to the people you don’t like – whether it’s fratty guys or snowflake libs – can be such a powerful tool of self-awareness. That you don’t like about them usually points to something you don’t accept, some area of reality that you shut yourself off to, in the world and in yourself. 

Once we begin to accept, heal and integrate these parts of us – our shadow – we’re on our way to becoming the whole, healthy and happy humans that we already are – we just don’t see it yet.

How to do shadow work 

There are countless ways to do shadow work – we’ll be diving into them deeper over the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned. It’s really a pick your poison, choose your own adventure sort of activity – anything that brings conscious attention to your shadow side can work.

As a collective, we’re already doing some major shadow work. Think of all of the hidden pain that’s been surfacing, from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter. Everyone who has been traumatized by the white, patriarchal society is finding their voice – and using it – just scroll through Twitter.

Via @screaming_into_the_void

Often, we see this expressed as rage and blame directed at the perpetrators. This is completely understandable – a necessary step for our collective healing. But screaming into the void will only get us so far. Once everything that has been repressed comes to light, at some point, we will have to transcend these negative emotions and rise to a higher frequency. Unfortunately, the anger only keep us trapped in an us-vs.-them, victim mentality. Easier said than done, of course. It’s a process.

To help heal our society, the best thing that we can each do right now is to heal ourselves. On that note… here are a couple small exercises you can do right now.

1) Dance yourself clean

Via @ryan.heffington.

Open up your saved songs on Spotify and set an intention that the songs that come up will guide you to the areas of your shadow where you have work to do. Hit shuffle play. Pay close attention to the memories, feelings, and even the physical sensations that come up with each song. (You can skip through the Mozart and binaural beats, of course, unless your boyfriend showed you those). Move, cry, journal, or do whatever your intuition moves you to do, but keep your full awareness on the sensations. This seriously works. 

2) Just keep scrolling

If you’re currently in a codependent relationship with your phone, don’t worry; you can still do some shadow work! Just scroll through your social feed like you do anyway, but pay close attention to your gut reactions to posts. A lot of the time, this is literally a physical sensation you get in your gut, the seat of our lower intuition. What kind of energy do you feel in your body in reaction to each post? What thoughts and emotions arise? Pause, sit still and breathe for a few moments. Allow your intuition to speak to you. What can you learn? Dig deep – not mentally, but intuitively. Keep a journal nearby and write down what comes through. Tuning into our intuition takes practice, so don’t worry if all that’s coming through is I hate that bleached blonde bitch who stole my middle school crush. Keep playing with it. 

POP QUIZ! 

What do those two methods have in common? 

A: Pay close attention. That’s the key to all of this. 

Where your attention goes, your energy flows.

It seems backwards for many of us, but it’s not about trying to fight the shadows or even change them. Just noticing the pattern, the pain – fully and completely – is enough.

Ok, now you’ve dipped your toe in the shadow work pool. Now what? 

Full disclosure: this might hurt

Before we dive deeper, there are a few things you should know. First, the good news: once we stop running from our shadows, turn around and face them, they eventually dissolve.

But it probably won’t be an instantaneous, miraculous healing. Thought programming that has been running your entire life will take some time to fully dissipate. Feelings that have been repressed will demand to be felt. The longer you’ve been avoiding something, the more pressure will build up around it, the more the shock will reverberate when you finally release it. 

Via @sighswoon.

Yes, it will hurt. But only for a while, and not as badly as you fear. In any case, it’s less painful than staying trapped in a cocoon of negativity. Some days, it might feel like you’re not making any progress. Try not to have any expectations around it. It’s normal to think, I should be better by now, what’s wrong with me? but this is just another form of self-judgement. Accepting yourself the way you are right now, as radical as that seems, is the way through.

Keep facing the pain and resisting the temptation to turn away. You’ll soon find out that you’re much stronger and braver than you think. Breathe and move through it. On the other end is freedom. 

Working with healers: things to consider

For a guide and a hand to hold during this process, you might be drawn to working with a healer, especially in the beginning. Healers can help in some big ways: their presence will ground you, make you feel safe, and if needed, reassure you that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

There are also some potential pitfalls. For one thing, working with a healer could subtly reinforces the idea that you need someone else, someone outside of you, to heal you. A true healer will make it clear that they can’t actually do your shadow work for you – you do all the work – but this is still something to keep in mind. You absolutely can do this work on your work – the healer is just there to guide you through it.

Via @traumaawarecare.

Now, it’s time to choose a healer. Luckily, today we have so many options, both IRL and online. Since you’ll be sharing energy in a big way, focus on picking someone you feel drawn to.

Allow your intuition to guide you here; don’t get caught up in big names or how many followers someone has. Just trust your gut.

Don’t stress about picking the “wrong” healer – no Reiki master is going to Amazon Prime your soul to the Devil. At worst, you just won’t vibe very well, and the healing won’t be as effective as it could.

By working with a healer, you might also – and this is so important – bypass an added, unnecessary layer of fear: confusion about what’s happening to you. This can often arise when we brush up against our shadows unintentionally. It happens often to people on the brink of a consciousness leveling-up (or spiritual awakening, if you like). Think suddenly sobbing during a massage and having no idea why, or feeling sudden rage in the middle of a college seminar. For obvious reasons, can be unsettling. You might feel like you’re losing your shit. 

When shadow work meets mental health 

One other way to avoid unnecessary pain is to make sure you have a strong, conscious community to help you with your healing. 

Via @wellnessofficial.

Any time you start transforming your consciousness – because that’s what this is, really – you could get into some hairy territory. It’s no man’s land out there – in a beautiful way, but in a sometimes scary way, too. In the Bhagavad Gita, the classic Indian spiritual text, Arjuna, a spiritual seeker, becomes terrified when Krishna, the Divine in human form, reveals himself in his full, infinitely beautiful and infinitely terrible form. 

Like Arjuna, when you begin opening up, you might feel like you’re losing your balance – or your mind – but only for a time. 

As you first step into the arena of shadow work, you could experience some destabilizing psychic symptoms like anxiety or depression. This is actually super common in people going through a consciousness shift; many people step onto this path after an experience of intense suffering. There could be some confusion around whether your experience falls into the spiritual or mental health camp – although, of course, mind / body / spirit is inseparable.

It could also happen that, seemingly out of nowhere, you find yourself reeling. Shit is hitting the fan, and you didn’t ask for any of it. This is even scarier – if some horrific tragedy didn’t just descend, then you have no excuse – you’re just crazy. Because the mainstream culture and psychiatric community has been slow to develop a framework for conceptualizing consciousness shifts, there’s little support to be found – unless you’re trying to get medicated, which might relieve symptoms in the short term but will dull your consciousness in the long term (listen to E17) . What looks like psychosis might actually be an awakening. (Shoutout to all the woke therapists out there – the planet needs you!). Unless you’re lucky enough to have a conscious community around you, talking to people about your experiences could leave you feeling even more shaken and isolated. 

That’s why it’s so important to find support while you do any shadow work. If you’re reading this, you’re already on the right track! These days, there are also so many support and integration groups available, both IRL and online. Even finding books, podcasts or videos that acknowledge and explain your experiences can make all the difference. 

Via @morganharpernichols.

We’re working on compiling resources for all your healing needs and spiritual crises, but here are a few places to start:

  1. Spiritual Emergence Network: “provides individuals that are experiencing psychospiritual difficulties a specialized mental health referral and support service.” (Note: we haven’t personally reached out, but they claim to answer most questions within 24 hours). 
  2. Spiritual Awakening Group: “We are all about respect here, and making this a place where members can come together to discuss spiritual topics, ask questions, share their knowledge and grow on their journey. This is a safe place to be yourself, receive or offer support, help keep the vibrations high, and meet new people who are on the same journey of awakening that you’re on.” There is an application, but ours was approved within a few hours. 
  3. Wellness Official: “We make wellness and healing accessible for everyone. With this in mind, we’ve curated workshops, remote sessions and content with practitioners from around the world that we know and love.” Founded by Millana Snow.

You could also just take to Google and search for some integration circles near you. Usually created as support systems for those who use plant medicines to heal (a quick and dirty way to do your shadow work!), they’re usually a great place to find conscious communities to support your healing. 

You can also reach out to us on social media with any questions, comments or concerns. We’ll do our best to offer guidance and support or point you in the right direction for your specific situation. We are here to support YOU! 

The other side of shadow work: stepping into your light 

Via @butfirstcrystals

All this isn’t to dwell on the negative or scare you away from shadow work, but it’s important to be open. This stage of the path tends to be glossed over – it’s understandable; it’s our culture. We don’t like pain, and we’re scared of sitting with darkness for too long. We all want to skip to the happy ending, celebrate the end result, the sexy after picture. Even in spiritual circles, shadow work can sometimes be pushed away in favor of love and light. We have some shadow work to do around shadow work! 

To wrap it up, since everyone loves a good metaphor…

Imagine a big, scary dog chasing you. For years, you’ve been running from it. You’ve never really seen it, apart from a little glimpse out of the corner of your eye. But you’ve been told by people you trust and love that it will tear you apart if it ever catches you. After ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years, you’re getting pretty fucking tired of running. You’d like to sit down and chill for a bit, find a nice park bench, maybe get a bagel. But you still have a little problem – the dog. 

Now, someone is telling you that the only way you can get away from this dog forever is to turn around and hug it.

Via @wellnessofficial.

The first time you do this, you’re going to be terrified. The dog will sense your fear and bite you in the face. It’s going hurt and bleed for a while. But once you calm down and really look at the dog, you realize that it’s smaller, tamer, and not quite as ferocious as you imagined.

You turn around again, but this time, maybe you’re just jogging. The dog is still there, but you get in the habit of turning around and facing it. Once you two get to know each other a bit, it doesn’t snarl and bite as much. After a while, you befriend the dog, who starts licking your face and scaring off creepy strangers. You walk side by side. The dog hasn’t changed, but it doesn’t chase you around anymore; you’re the boss now. This is called making friends with your shadow.

This transformation takes time, but it’s real, possible, and even inevitable – even if right now, you have a whole pack of wolves on your heels.

Once you get used to the process, you will transcend your fear of facing your shadow. You’ll be able to release trauma and mental conditioning with less pain, less time and less drama.

Shadow work becomes shadow play. 

Via @philocalymai.

TL;DR:

  • Shadow work is an ongoing process of releasing trauma to level up your life 
  • As a collective, we’ve never had a better opportunity to do shadow work 
  • Shadow work can be painful, scary and confusing, so it’s important to have support 
  • Shadow work leads towards greater consciousness, higher vibrations, more joy, love, inner peace and freedom 

Sharing is caring! 

Got a shadow work tool that has helped you? A wonderful healer? A support group? A book? If it resonates with you, it’ll probably resonate with others, too. By sharing it, YOU can contribute to the collective healing of the planet. Please, don’t keep your goodies to yourself – write us a message, drop a comment below or DM @thisisprojectbloom on IG! We’ll share your messages with the collective. 

1 thought on “SHADOW WORK 101: WHAT, WHY AND HOW”

  1. So thoughtful and true. Have myself felt scared not realizing that it was progress in the right direction until reaching the destination.

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