Philosopher Ken Wilber frequently says that if we don’t take some action to help heal our shadow, it will rise up and bite us on the rear at the worst time. Any personal development plan we implement should include some action that gets at our shadow side. We all have one. If you think you don’t, then you’re kidding yourself.
The past few weeks my life experience has led me to interacting with a number of people who have been dealing with that proverbial “bite on the butt”. I’ve experienced individuals whose shadow has led them into the worlds of overeating, sexual addiction, narcissism as well as other forms of addiction and inappropriate behavior.
You can’t help bump into the stuff and not think about your own life and your own shadow and what you might be doing to work with it.
What do we mean by the shadow in a psychological sense? It is the dark side of our being. It is that aspect of our thoughts and actions which we most wish to hide from others. It is some part of our self which we wish was not there. We deny it, suppress it and frequently despise it. We project it onto others and loath them for it. Consider the fundamentalist minister preaching against gays who turns out to be gay.
Carl Jung considered the shadow that part of our unconscious mind where we repressed our weaknesses, shortcomings and base instincts. Yet he also saw it as a wellspring of creativity. Instead of burying our shadow, we should dance with it. We should acknowledge the feelings and where they come from and then use them for our growth. Healing the shadow doesn’t mean getting rid of it. Healing the shadow means embracing it’s gifts and melding them into our life.
Our conscious awareness is only a small part of our consciousness. Behind this level is a vast array of consciousness driving our actions of which we are unaware. We are spiritual beings but we are also physical beings.
Humanity has evolved in its consciousness to a point where it not only has self-awareness but also gains glimmers of its divinity. However, this higher consciousness sits upon a physical structure built by evolutionary processes which contains within it its own “intelligence”. Our body contains consciousness below our level of conscious awareness which is continuously making choices and guiding our actions.
The cells in our body go about their business without any of our thinking about them. Our autonomic nervous system controls our heart rate, perspiration, body temperature, digestion and so on without our conscious involvement. Hardwired into our bodies is the knowledge necessary to maintain our survival. Eating, drinking, procreation, avoiding pain and experiencing pleasure are hardwired within us.
Then we are born on Earth and move through experiences. We attempt continuously to fulfill our desires, yet sometimes our attempts are thwarted by life – our parents and society telling us what is appropriate and what is not. Some desires get buried in unconscious memories.
So here you are – a conscious individual moving through life making choices, yet generally unaware that below the surface are base hardwired needs calling for fulfillment yet buried and frequently twisted out of their original shape by life experiences. These unconscious patterns pop up forcing you into thinking and acting in ways that consciously you would prefer not to. You’re embarrassed, disappointed in yourself and swear you’ll do better next time. But if you don’t stop and look at your shadow and dance with it a while, most likely it will keep popping up inappropriately over and over and over.
Psychologist Robin Robertson writes, “the shadow that appears in our life at such a point doesn’t just take a position equal and opposite to our outer personality, it takes a counterbalancing position around a center that portrays the person we are intended to be. This is all very mysterious. It seems best to accept that we contain within us access to a higher power which demands that we make our best effort to fulfill our unique destiny.”
Robertson is telling us that in a sense, our shadow is a self correcting process leading us back onto our path. Somehow or another our life has sidetracked us from our sense of wholeness and living our life purpose. Our shadow pops up not to specifically embarrass us, but to heal us. The embarrassment or shame or other negative emotion that arises out of our experiencing the outcome of our shadow side is a necessary tool serving to redirect us.
We contain within us access to an infinite intelligence. This intelligence plays out below our awareness in the wisdom of our bodies hardwired for our survival. This intelligence plays out in our conscious awareness where we experience life and make choices all with full self knowledge. This intelligence also plays out at a level beyond our conscious awareness – often called a “supra consciousness”– where there is a melding of all intelligence.
It is this infinite intelligence which set up our evolutionary system for us to “evolve through”. It is this infinite intelligence which instills us with our divine purpose to which we are called. It is this infinite intelligence which created “the shadow” to assist us when we get off purpose.
So where is your shadow? Is it in overeating, preoccupation with sex, overuse of drugs, denying your power, trying to control others, playing it small, a narcissistic feeling of being better than everyone else… or some other inappropriate behavior? Paramahansa Yogananda writes, “if you are in the grip of any abuse of the senses – and this means any one of them – continuously affirm your freedom: “I am not enslaved by this habit, my love for God is supreme, greater than for anything else.'”
Seek to identify your shadow. Dance with it – find out what gave rise to it – meditate, journal, and if necessary, get the assistance of a counselor or mentor. But above all – quit burying it, quit denying it. Seek its gifts before it seeks your rear. Know that it’s a gift whose goal is to bring you back to wholeness, back to your purpose, back to spirit.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!