Embracing The Shadow: Seeing the Unseen on the Spiritual Path

In Jungian philosophy we can read about the concept of the shadow as the parts of ourselves we’re ashamed of or unaware of. These parts tend to be our negative parts, and as such we tend to reject them or see them in others but not ourselves.

For some of us, it can even be our gifts that remain in the shadow, and we act out of low self-esteem or self-doubt, never embracing the beauty of who we are or our abilities in the world.

In the world of meditation and yoga, we seek to unite with our highest self, a self that is fully accepting and understanding of our dual nature - “good” and “bad”, “honest” and “dishonest,” “motivated” and “lazy.” We seek to be creative participants in the world, using the gifts we were born with and allowing others to participate, too.

The meeting point of these two philosophies becomes crucial once one has made an attempt to improve one’s self through such yogic practices as asana and meditation.

Without the integration and understanding of the shadow, we may strive to perform a posture with ease, meet the tightness in our shoulders, and push on none the less until we injure ourselves. We strive to sit regularly for 30 minutes a day, meet the resistance in our minds, and give up because we think it ought to be easier.

If there does exist a shadow, then, what to do about it?

What might it mean to “get to know our shadow” and even integrate it into our understanding of ourselves.

If we’ve buried this shadow so deeply into our unconscious, how do we start to unearth it in a safe and manageable way?

The first step is to “notice what we don’t notice.”

Make a list now. Go back over your morning make a list of what may have happened, what you may have said, that you had no idea happened, or no idea you said.

Becoming the editor, as such, can help shed light onto the places where we have been unconscious, and thus help us get to know our shadow. It can seem like a tedious exercise, because it is, but also because our shadow is so conditioned to be unconscious that it will resist coming into the light. Like an introvert pushed to give a public talk, or a gremlin asked to crawl out onto the beach and get a tan.

This self inquiry practice, asking ourselves to “notice what i don’t notice” is essential as we ourselves need to become aware of the shadow. We are the only ones who are with ourselves all day.

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However, the second step, once we’ve done the self-inquiry, is to inquire with someone we trust, who is willing to be honest, and give us feedback about even the second layer of the shadow - the part we are even unwilling to admit to ourselves when we ask “what am I not noticing?"

The practice involves specifically asking three people we trust, who have no agenda of changing us, especially not changing us for their own benefit, “What is it about me that you notice, that I may not notice? “What are my gifts?” “Where can you see me suffering?” “Is there anything I do that seems unconscious?”

The person must be someone who has a mindfulness practice of some sort, and it’s best not to ask your partner, your best friend, or your family members. It’s almost impossible for them to answer objectively (ie without an agenda). The sangha, or your spiritual / yoga community is the perfect place to do this work.

To “safely” receive this feedback, practice listening and then letting it be. For the course of 40 days after receiving the feedback, we have no intention of changing it.

We practice seeing it, loving it, even offering a puja, a worship to it like we would to a Goddess.

This doesn’t mean amplifying the behavior. It doesn’t mean talking to anyone else about it. It doesn’t mean self-pity.

After the 40 days of recognizing it and not suppressing it, there can come a deep sense of humility. That we, like everyone else, are flawed. We are human. We have light and dark inside us at all times.

And so instead of trying to make the small self more perfect (less “Shadowy”), we surrender to the Divine and start living completely for the divine.

To learn more about this idea of surrendering completely to the Divine, check out "The Sunlit Path" by The Mother. 

Every moment can become a soft action in a impermanent world.

And every time we meet a point of suffering, we slow down, we check in, and ask “Am I understanding my true nature, that of Divine spirit, or am I trying to shape my ego or my world into something more perfect?”

It's a profound question I highly recommend you ask yourself. And keep asking yourself - over and over and over again.