How To Do Shadow Work. For when you're ready to change your life.
As promised in my post about Shadow Work, here is a tutorial on How To Do Shadow Work. Learning how to do Shadow Work is less about perfecting a specific technique and more about staying open and being willing to feel, explore and experience whatever it is you encounter in the process. There is no one perfect way for learning how to do Shadow Work, but there are two things to keep in mind while you're exploring. Effective Shadow Work requires:
- An open mind - you don't know what you're going to discover. If you go in already thinking you know what's going to happen then you close yourself off from possibilities.
- A willingness to feel your feelings and be uncomfortable. You don't have to LIKE your feelings you just have to be wiling to HAVE them.
It's pretty amazing how easy it is to trick ourselves into thinking we are doing these things when we are actually totally NOT doing them.
How to do Shadow Work: Sitting with your feelings.
This is the approach that I use the most often. There are hundreds of posts on my blog where I share my stories of sitting with my uncomfortable feelings: fears, self-doubt, inner critics, etc. Sitting with your feelings means making space for yourself to feel how you actually feel, to explore that feeling and find out more about it. This tends to be the opposite approach from what most of us are taught about how to handle feelings. So it's uncomfortable and it feels awkward. So, if you feel like you're doing it wrong, you are probably doing it right. Unfortunately, if you feel confident and sure that you're doing it right, you are probably doing it wrong. This is the nature of Shadow Work.
It takes practice and patience to get to a place of actually being open to feeling your feelings.
In Shadow Work, your reaction to your feeling tends you get in the way of feeling your actual feeling. For example: You dream of being a best-selling author. You are afraid that you're not good enough to do this. Your inner critic reacts to that fear with a "Why bother? No one cares?" story and you get caught up in your feelings about that story. But the "Why bother? No one cares?" story is NOT your actual feeling. So being with that story just makes more space for your Inner Critic to put on a show for you. And it feels uncomfortable and scary so you think you're feeling your feelings but you're not. You're staying in this untrue story about your feelings. Your feelings are fear of not being good enough. Sitting with this fear would feel terrifying in comparison to sitting with the "Why bother? No one cares?" story.
As you sit with the feeling without trying to do anything with it, you actually move through it.
And on the other side of that terror there is something else. A deeper understanding of yourself and your dream. Once you sit with that fear and move through it, you start to see that this fear comes out of the fact that you're not writing regularly! So of course your writing isn't up to par with what it needs to be to be a bestseller. No need for a song and dance about "Why bother? No one cares", what you need to do is get to work. Create a writing schedule and stick to it. Referring back to that map I shared in the What Is Shadow Work post, this is where you work through the Shadow and are able to reach the guidance of your True Self. This is the magic of Shadow Work. In my example you had to first be with all of the uncomfortable feelings that your Inner Critic throws you way and then you have to face that unimaginable terror of feeling your actual feeling. This is a simplified example, you may have layers and layers of feelings and reactions and stories. If sitting with your feelings doesn't feel like a good choice for you, there is another approach I like to use too:
How to do Shadow Work: Noticing and exploring your weird/embarrassing/unsavoury behaviours.
Our shadows can make themselves known to our conscious selves through our behaviour. Do you do things you wish you wouldn't do? These can be smaller infractions, like gossiping or eating too much cake or big problematic things like drinking and driving. When you do things you wish you wouldn't do - that's your shadow at work. So noticing that behaviour is an opportunity to learn more about your shadow. You can ask yourself why you do this and what it is that you're getting out of it even though you wish you weren't doing it. You can get to know the part of you who wants to do this and find out where they're coming from.
This one can be easier to see when you look at other people.
The homophobic who is actually a closeted homosexual. The Hollywood star who looks like she has it all and then is caught shoplifting. When you deny your shadow self you end up giving it more power. Like it has to fight back somehow. In Debbie Ford's movie The Shadow Effect she illustrates this perfectly by showing people in a pool holding down beachballs. It takes a lot of energy to keep that beach ball underwater. And eventually it's going to just pop up anyway and likely hit someone in the face in the process. These behaviours that you do that you're not proud of - those are your beach balls flying free. Once you learn how to do Shadow Work you end up being more free to stop yourself from doing these things.
These two approaches I just shared aren't really techniques for how to do Shadow Work.
They are ways in. And once you're in, Shadow Work means bravely and honestly facing what you find. Exploring by feeling your way. You don't have to solve anything. You don't have to discover the gift or perform a healing. If fact it's best if you're not trying to make those things happen, and focus solely on exploring and feeling your way. The solutions, gifts and healing are already there - on the other side of the thing you least want to face.
So you know you've successfully done your Shadow Work when you find them.
Want to actually DO Shadow Work, step-by-step, with my and my friend and colleague Chris Zydel?
Chris runs Creative Juices Arts and has over forty years of experience as a creativity mentor. She has a master's degree in Depth Psychology and The Art of Counseling. She is an astrologer and has certifications in expressive arts, process painting, hypnotherapy and various kinds of bodywork. Chris is amazing. She is who I want to be when I grow up and I could not be more thrilled to be teaching with her.
Chris and I are leading a 1 day online workshop on Shadow Work called Gifts Of The Shadow: Wild Creative Momentum on Dec 4.
I'm going to be in California at Chris' place where we'll stream live together for this in-depth one day class. Details and registration for this class are here.