Practices for Conscious Living
1: The Shadow
An Invitation to Dynamic Wholeness
- Chapter 2: Compassion and
Living with an Open Heart
- Chapter 3: Getting Grounded
Nurturing Yourself as Bodymind
- Chapter 4: Practicing Mindfulness
- Chapter 5: Gratitude and
Engaging a Prosperous Life
- Chapter 6: Oneness and
The Interplay of Collective Consciousness
- Chapter 7: Creating Possibility
Dance of Intention and Synchronicity
- Chapter 8: Opening to Your
Saying Yes to All You Can Be
- Chapter 9: Intuition and
Affirmation, Prayer, Guides, and Other
- Chapter 10: Living Consciously
Putting It All Together
takes a lifetime to find our way home. We all suffer from
homesickness, a longing to return to the cosmic household
we have never left.
this book took form, I realized it was going to require a
level of personal sharing that I hadnāt felt compelled to
do in my previous writing. Sacred Practices draws on
my own "journey home" to a more solid sense of self
ö a journey that has been colored, from the earliest time
I can remember, by an awareness of spiritual realms.
The book could as easily
have been called Lessons My Grandmother Taught Me,
as it reflects many of the assumptions and themes I learned
at my grandmotherās knee. She was a rather proper, Victorian
woman who also happened to be a healer, a clairvoyant, and
a Theosophist, with a deep belief in, and experience of, multiple
dimensions of reality.
Over the years, I have come
to appreciate the impact my early experience has had on how
I understand and function in the world. As a young adult,
I turned my back on my grandmotherās teachings, but I couldnāt
shut out my own perceptions and experiences of a world where
visible and invisible dimensions constantly interact. Discovering
books written for the public on the subject of quantum physics
ö with descriptions of a reality that reflected the one I
had inhabited as a child ö began to give me a way to reconnect
to, and translate, some of what my grandmother taught me.
This effort has culminated in a practical and evolving worldview
focused on the marriage of spiritual and material realities.
My hunger for spiritual
instruction has led me to read many books and explore many
approaches to the sacred. All are reflected in these pages,
but now they have become so intertwined ö such a complex fabric
of ideas and assumptions ö that I no longer know what came
from where. My background as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist
adds a perspective that supports a belief in change: that
it is possible for all of us to move in new directions and
to deepen the richness of daily experience. Fundamental to
my worldview is a belief that reality is more fluid than we
perceive with our five senses, that there is a dynamic, creative
interplay between seen and unseen dimensions of reality. Within
this context, we are all co-creators of the life we
Spiritual approaches around
the world and throughout history have taught us how to enter
unseen worlds and draw on them for inspiration and guidance.
These traditions offer various means by which we may find
a sense of meaning and purpose, regardless of which particular
set of beliefs we follow. If the sacred practices you engage
support and deepen your sense of wholeness and well-being,
you have discovered a treasure beyond words. If these same
practices allow you to contribute positively to your world,
In choosing which
elements of my worldview to share on our journey together,
I felt like a prospector panning for gold nuggets in a mountain
of experiences and ideas. Eventually, I recognized a pattern
of assumptions and repeating themes. Because these assumptions
and themes weave their way throughout the book, I want to
describe them here to make what is invisible in my thinking
visible and clearly defined in words.
Think of mud pies and fingerpainting
and the pleasure you may have had as a child when you had
permission to play in the goo, to make as big a mess as your
creative moment inspired. Then, imagine the primordial ooze
from which life on this planet emerged ö the slime and muck
becoming a womb for unbridled creativity.
Basically, physical reality
is an organic, messy, dynamic, and creative art form, comprised
of unexpected shapes, sizes, and colors originating in an
unseen and unknown source. At nonphysical levels of reality,
human consciousness, too, has its own kind of messiness. It
is filled with mixed feelings and beliefs: hopes and fears,
love and hate, triumph and despair. It is also a wellspring
of creativity, encompassing a variety and range of sentiency
and thought. Consciousness also expresses its creativity within
all other species with whom we cohabit the earth, increasing
the complexity of elements in the constantly evolving art
form that is our reality.
Is there an underlying intelligence
behind all that emerges from the primal chaos? Who is the
artist playing in all the goo? On a small scale, could it
be that we humans, as individuals, somehow interact with each
other and physical reality in ways that have an effect on
what gets created in the world at large? This inquiry arises
from one of the assumptions I bring to this journey, which
is well captured in the familiar saying, "If you think
you can do something ö or think you canāt ö
youāre right." This quotation encompasses my first assumption
about reality: We experience what we expect.
Sometimes called self-fulfilling
prophecies, these beliefs, fears, and assumptions about who
we are and how the world operates combine to shape our perception
of the quality and nature of our daily experience. In Sacred
Practices, we will explore how we can become conscious
co-creators of our reality, rather than remaining passive
recipients of what our unexamined expectations reflect back
to us. It is important to note that there is a difference
between seeing ourselves as co-creators and believing that
we personally create every single thing that happens to us.
Reality is too big and too complex for that. What we may be
able to do, though, is learn to cooperate with the events,
challenges, and experiences that come our way in a manner
that enhances our quality of life. By looking at practices
that deal with creating intentions, making conscious choices,
living mindfully, and working with affirmations and rituals,
we will create a storehouse of concrete tools with which to
shape our expectations ö and our personal reality.
- Life Is Like a Kaleidoscope
My second assumption has been
demonstrated by quantum physics and can be visualized by the
kaleidoscope: no matter how fixed or unchanging the world
may seem, we actually live within a context of infinite
probabilities. We assume that reality is characterized
by qualities of certainty and predictability, but, in fact,
it is more like a kaleidoscope, which, when turned, shifts
into new, unanticipated patterns. I use the image of the kaleidoscope
from time to time because it so beautifully conveys in material
form the tremendous array of possibilities that exist in what
we imagine to be a fixed, predictable world.
What is exciting about the
idea of probabilities and a fluid rather than fixed reality
is that it means we donāt have to settle for how things
are at present. Instead we have the power to turn the
kaleidoscope of our lives by consciously making choices about
the quality of life we want to have. In this way, we set in
motion new possibilities. Weāll explore a number of ways to
do just that in the chapters that follow.
- Weāre All in This Together
One of the teachings of my grandmotherās
legacy is that each of us is but one cell in an unimaginably
large organism. This early learning shapes a third basic assumption:
each of us, as individuals, is part of one life that is
expressing itself in an infinite variety of forms and consciousnesses.
Just as the individual cells in our bodies depend on the
well-being of our total organism ö our species, every other
life form, the earth itself.
From this assumption emerges
a companion idea that we each contribute to, and draw from,
a collective consciousness comprised of the thoughts, feelings,
expectations, impulses, beliefs, and wisdom of every one of
us, past and present. To my delight, a number of years ago
I discovered that there now is some research to support this
idea, which we will explore in a later chapter.
I believe that we are never
truly alone on our journey through life ö however lonely we
may feel at times ö because we have constant access to the
combined experience of our species throughout all time.
- Thereās More to Reality
Than Meets the Eye
Because of my grandmotherās
emphasis on recognizing and interacting with invisible realms
of reality, my world has always consisted of at least six
senses. A final ö and pervasive ö assumption I bring to this
book is one that Iāve already mentioned: reality consists
of both visible and invisible dimensions that interact in
Early on, I learned to be
cautious about these "extra senses" when out in
the world. My grandmother was concerned with what people would
think, and she constantly warned me about the dangers of sharing
what I learned from her with others. Were she alive today,
I think she would be heartened by the emergence of popular
books on spirituality, near-death experiences, miracles, and
angels. She would discover first-hand that her experience
of the world no longer needs to be hidden.
In later chapters we will
explore how to develop your "sixth sense" and look
at the benefits and uses of intuition to enhance the quality
of daily life. We will also look at how to access inspiration
and a greater sense of connection with spiritual dimensions
- Life Is Sacred and Has
There has not been a day in
my life when I havenāt felt a deep sense of meaning and purpose.
For this reason, no matter how hard the struggles, how sharp
the pain, how discouraging the moment, I have always had the
belief that my life has meaning. This is the foundation to
which I return, a place to lick my wounds, to rest and begin
Experiencing a sense of
purpose in life gives us a home base from which to draw nourishment,
support, and encouragement and from which to venture forth.
It is the place within which we connect to the sacred.
For me, what is sacred is
that unnameable, indescribable source of life and consciousness
that pervades every particle of reality, visible and invisible.
As we explore the sacred and the practices that acknowledge
and honor it, allow yourself to make sense of this journey
within the context of your own understanding. It is my belief
that the diversity of religious and spiritual traditions emerges
from the underlying impulse of the sacred in the first place,
so whatever your tradition may be, you are celebrating the
sacred in powerful and meaningful ways.
As a therapist, the theme of
wholeness is important in my work with people. Wholeness ö
in a person or in the world at large ö leaves out nothing.
It encompasses light and shadow, that which is beautiful
and that which is not, the sacred and the profane,
the loved and the hated.
From studies on ecology
we now know that we ignore the interconnectedness - the inherent
wholeness ö in the natural world at our own peril. This danger
exists as well within individuals, communities, and cultures.
To deny or disown any aspect of the whole of reality leads
to the potential for destruction of the environment, the extinction
of other species, wars, abuse, and social injustice on individual
and collective levels. To affirm the existence and necessity
of contrasting, even contradictory, elements in ourselves
and our world leads to greater equilibrium and well-being.
The journey toward psychological
wholeness is a deep, underlying urge to express the totality
of our being. This is a theme we will return to again and
again. When we can acknowledge our potential for both good
and bad, we create the possibility of a greater degree
of choice about how we want to be. By experiencing our whole
selves, we not only promote a greater sense of self-acceptance
and well-being, we also increase our capacity to tolerate
and respect differences and diversity in others.
- Living in the Present
Moment Means Really Being Alive
A major theme that pervades
just about every page of this book is the importance of learning
to live in the present moment. Called mindfulness in
Buddhist practice, being aware of what we are thinking, feeling,
sensing, and doing right here, right now, offers us a means
to be active participants in the reality we create.
If we are not awake, we
cannot make choices. When our attention is anywhere and everywhere
except on what weāre doing and experiencing right now, we
lose an opportunity to make the moment-to-moment choices that
create a life we enjoy living. Instead we often end up immersed
in frustration, boredom, or some other kind of discomfort.
To become more mindful is one of the most valuable gifts you
can give yourself in your journey toward greater psychological
- Suffering Is an Inevitable
Part of Life
A final theme ö and one that
may at first sound more morbid than it actually is ö involves
the recognition that suffering is an inevitable part of everyoneās
life; it is impossible to escape experiencing some kind of
suffering sometime in life. We share a capacity to suffer
with all creatures. No sentient life form is exempt.
When we are living consciously,
we recognize that suffering isnāt a signal that something
is wrong, but rather a reminder to awaken to the source of
the suffering and discover what may be done to ease it. When
we canāt ease it, suffering becomes a call to draw on practices
that allow us to move through it with the least pain, the
least wear and tear. We can at least be present with ourselves,
experiencing what life demands at this moment.
Recognizing that suffering
is part of life allows us to develop increasing compassion
and lovingkindness toward ourselves and others. Whenever we
suffer, we recognize that we are participating in a universal
experience. To embrace the reality of suffering allows us
to stare it straight in the eye; we no longer have a need
to fend it off or hide from it. Perhaps, because of this,
we gain the freedom to choose to help ease suffering whenever
and wherever we come upon it.
It Down to Earth
All the exciting possibilities
inherent in a multidimensional, quantum view of the world
won'ā mean much to us if they don't affect and improve the
quality of daily life. To help ground these possibilities
in everyday ways of being, each chapter contains numerous
experiments ö things we can do to translate new perspectives
into action ö and guided meditations that offer an opportunity
to embody the possibilities.
The experiments are arranged
in a way that builds and deepens awareness of the theme being
explored. Some are quite simple, others more complex. With
each, you are invited to engage in activities that will add
directly to your understanding and experience. There is a
power in doing that cannot be felt through words alone.
Some of the guided meditations
are brief, while others are quite long. Whenever you feel
it would help, you might tape-record the meditations so you
wonāt need to refer back to the written version during your
experience. In each, draw on as many of your senses as you
can engage comfortably. The more alive your experience, the
more vivid your understanding will be of what the journey
seeks to share.
Many of these experiments
and guided meditations emerge from my own experience. Others
are derived from a variety of spiritual and religious traditions.
All are informed by the deep well of wisdom directly
available to all of us, intuitively, from our collective consciousness.
First and foremost, these
sacred practices are offered as practical ways of being
and doing in the world today, right now. An added benefit
is that they also enhance an underlying sense of aliveness,
of spiritual and psychological vitality ö the fruits of a
life lived with greater awareness, ease, and equanimity.
Each chapter develops ideas
that continue throughout. We begin where the world began ö
in the primordial much and goo. For us humans, that means
the realm of the disowned self. From there, we expand into
an array of explorations, including the domain of bodymind,
the power of gratitude and generosity, mindfulness practices,
and so on, culminating with a review of rituals and practices
that allow you to create sacred space wherever you find yourself.
For this reason, I recommend that you first read the book
from front to back; then, as you discover themes that resonate
for you in the present moment, you can concentrate on the
chapters and exercises that best support your current journey.
Most of the chapters contain
examples of how people have applied these practices in their
daily lives. All the examples, except my own, are composites
and draw from the experiences and stories of relatives, friends,
colleagues, clients, and workshop participants. Formulating
composites is like writing a novel. It allows me creative
license, even as it protects the privacy of people I care
about. When my friends think they recognize themselves, I
say, "Great!" The fact that the examples feel so
familiar says something about the quality of our shared consciousness
and universal experience.
At the end of the book is
a list of suggested readings for each chapter. Youāll find
some books listed for more than one chapter; others will apply
specifically to a given subject. As with all reading lists,
this one will be limited and out of date by the time it appears
in print! When choosing inspirational resources, perhaps the
best method is to go to your favorite bookstore and notice
what jumps off the shelf into your hands.
So, We Begin . . .
For the journey, I invite you
to pack an open mind, a healthy dose of curiosity, and a willingness
to suspend disbelief as we explore living consciously ö what
it encompasses and the unique gifts it holds for each of us
ö and allow the sacred to accompany us every step of the way.
Even as you travel within the boundaries of your own psychological
landscape, remember that you are never alone. Instead, at
all times, we each journey alone together.
An Invitation to Dynamic Wholeness
To honor and accept oneās
shadow is a profound spiritual
discipline. It is whole-making and thus holy
and the most
important experience of a lifetime.
Robert A Johnson
of the most powerful journeys we can take together is through
a land of shadows, wherein lurk the disowned, unacceptable
parts of ourselves. This landscape can be a frightening place
to visit, or it can become a source of discovery and deepening
into greater psychological wholeness and vitality ö and a
more skillful capacity to live consciously. Itās up to each
person: if we allow ourselves to become willing explorers
of the terrain of human fallibility, we can experience a rich
and satisfying journey. If we are attached to an image of
ourselves that allows no faults to show, looking at our shadow
side can be a distinctly uncomfortable experience.
For me, the content of this
chapter is both the most exhilarating and challenging to convey.
It is difficult and uncomfortable, in many ways, to look at
disowned parts of ourselves. But such a process provides a
powerful means of achieving a greater sense of wholeness and
self-acceptance. I can only tell you that it has been one
of the most profound parts of my own journey. Here, we ask
ourselves to tolerate our own "messiness," to become
comfortable with the knowledge that we are inherently imperfect
beings, that we are frail, greedy, selfish creatures ö even
as we are magnificent and beautiful expressions of the sacred
in action. Repeatedly, I have observed people ö myself included
ö blossom as they develop a lighter, more forgiving relationship
with their own fallibility. Somehow, it seems, our willingness
to know ourselves as whole people, warts and all, stimulates
a capacity to be more comfortable in our own skins and to
express ourselves more openly, spontaneously, and congruently.
And, so, we begin our journey
home by deepening our awareness of the most hidden aspects
of ourselves that comprise our shadow. For each of
us, the shadow consists of disowned aspects of our personalities
ö positive as well as negative ö that had to be hidden when
we were young: those elements of our natural self-expression
that were disapproved of, punished, humiliated, or otherwise
judged as unacceptable by the important people in our lives.
Disowning parts of the self
is an unconscious, self-protective mechanism that allows us
to fit in as we grow up. The shadow doesnāt exist only for
people who come from troubled families or for individuals
with particular kinds of psychological problems. The psychological
dynamics that create the shadow provide a necessary adaptation
to our interpersonal world. We all participate in creating
shadow selves that contain whatever qualities we were not
allowed to express openly.
When we donāt acknowledge
our own wholeness ö when we continue to push away parts of
ourselves that are a source of shame, fear, or anger ö these
parts erupt unexpectedly and create all manner of difficulty.
For example, we may unconsciously make enemies of those who
act as the representatives of the very characteristics we
canāt tolerate in ourselves. We create a world of "us
versus them," in which we spend an inordinate amount
of time trying to get other people to change. In fact,
if we would only stop and look in a mirror, we would discover
the source of much of our discomfort and displeasure staring
back at us.
The shadow is not just a
garbage can filled with ugliness and unsavory characteristics,
however. It also contains all manner of human potential
and creativity ö for both good and ill. Itās a treasure
chest filled with aspects of personal power, talent, resourcefulness,
and other useful and positive attributes that, for whatever
reasons, were not tolerated or celebrated when we were young.
The shadow also contains
more than disowned attributes, be they positive or
negative. It holds all the known elements of our personalities
that are outside conscious awareness most of the time. Think
of the movement of sunlight around the planet. In the same
way that it canāt be daytime all around the world at the same
moment, we canāt be totally self-aware at any given time.
Half the world is in darkness when the other half is in daylight,
just as parts of ourselves are in shadow while others are
in conscious awareness. What counts is that we develop the
capacity to allow our awareness to move as naturally as sunlight,
to illuminate and acknowledge any aspect that rises to the
Since much of the shadow
is unlovely, when I work with people to uncover disowned aspects
of themselves, many initially find the work unsettling. Even
so, what excites and inspires me about the process are those
times when I experience these same people coming alive with
an increased sense of self-acceptance and personal power.
For this reason, even though the shadow contains elements
that may be downright undesirable or unfriendly, acknowledging
and accepting them as part of our inevitable wholeness is
There are important reasons
for connecting with the shadow side of ourselves before moving
on to explore "lighter" and more expansive attributes
of the spiritual side of being. Itās been my experience that
burrowing down into the shadow offers a natural, spontaneous
way to move into a more expansive, lighter sense of self,
just as an inherent urge for equilibrium constantly moves
us toward wholeness. Itās as though the deeper we go, the
more open and transparent we become.
On the other hand, when
we seek expansive states without including our shadow aspects,
an equal tendency toward internal balance plunges us spontaneously
into the muck and mire to bring us back into wholeness. By
beginning with the shadow, we consciously choose when
and how we want to engage aspects of ourselves that are a
source of discomfort, even as we open to more expansive, compassionate,
and accepting states of being.
I have a deeply personal
reason for honoring shadow work. My experience of my grandmother
was that she sought the light at the expense of acknowledging
the darker aspects of her being. As a result, her need to
control and overpower those around her often was acted out
on me and other family members. My grandmother has no conscious
notion that she could act as a tyrant. Her self-image allowed
awareness only of those aspects of her personality that reflected
her role as healer and spiritual teacher.
Beauty of Light and Shadow Combined
Wholeness requires us to discover
the contribution and value of both light and shadow. Everywhere
we turn, we find evidence of the constructive and creative
interplay of these two elements. When the artist draws or
paints, she uses shading to create depth and complexity. The
writer depends on the conflict between good and evil, or suffering
and joy, to drive his stories. In a concrete and tangible
way, without the presence of both light and shadow, we couldnāt
read the words on this page.
In nature, sunlight without
shade can burn us; shade with no sunlight can create a chill.
Light plays in the shadows of a forest, dappling the ground
and bringing tree trunks, branches, and leaves into bold relief
against the darker background of the shade created by the
trees. The serene, often dramatic, beauty of a forest emerges
in the lay of light and shadow. With only light, a forest
would appear flat, like the artistās drawing without shading.
With only shadow, there wouldnāt be much to see.
In human experience, we
learn the delicious gift of happiness even more powerfully
when we have also tasted sorrow. Eating a beautiful meal is
even more satisfying when we come to it hungry. Friendship
becomes more precious when we can recall times weāve been
alone. As these examples demonstrate, all light or all dark,
all one thing or the other, reveals only half a picture. To
be whole means, of necessity, to embrace both.
Power of Perception
The shadow becomes dangerous
ö within and between individuals, and collectively in society
ö when we insist on pushing out of conscious awareness those
aspects of ourselves we just canāt bear to own. When this
happens, the disowned contents travel in one of two possible
directions. We run the risk of expressing disowned parts of
ourselves unconsciously and indirectly ö as my grandmother
did ö when we say something cruel without realizing it, or
when we deny weāre angry and, say, eat candy instead of acknowledging
our true feelings. The second, and potentially more destructive,
possibility is one I mentioned earlier, and it bears repeating:
when we project our disowned parts onto others and make
them into the enemy, we assign to them what we refuse to see
Projection operates in interpersonal
relationships, at work, and on a larger scale, within communities
and between groups and nations. When we canāt bear to know
that we feel vulnerable or helpless about a situation, for
example, we run the risk of projecting that intolerable feeling
of helplessness onto others and then vilifying or attacking
them. At unconscious levels, the attack is an attempt to destroy
in them the very thing we canāt acknowledge or experience
Think of a co-worker or
friend who drives you up a wall. Your reaction may stem from
the fact that you think she dresses inappropriately. With
a feeling of righteous indignation, you want to tell her to
get her act together and dress in a more subdued or business-like
manner. After doing some shadow work on your feelings, you
may discover that your co-worker or friend mirrors a daily
battle you had with your parents about how you had to dress
before you were allowed to go to school. Rather than being
fully aware of how humiliated or angry you felt when they
wouldnāt let you wear what was in style, you may have pushed
those feelings into the shadow. Now, decades later, they are
activated by this personās ability to wear the kinds of clothes
you wanted to wear but couldnāt.
One a collective level,
people of color have historically been the recipients of shadow
projections from Western European cultures. Many white people
experience an underlying distrust and fear of people of color.
These reactions reflect an inherent fear of the unfamiliar
parts of themselves rather than a valid response to genuinely
negative qualities attributed to "the other."
The pay-off for projecting
shadow parts is that, if we succeed in assigning negative
traits and characteristics to someone else, we feel more comfortable
in two ways: we access a soothing feeling of self-righteousness
ö weāre better than someone else, and we donāt have to think
about how we might possess the hated characteristics
as part of our own inevitable human makeup.
Someone once said that whatever
any human being is capable of being or doing is also within
the capacity of each and every one of us. This is a discomfiting
thought for a lot of people, because most of us donāt want
to know that we have the capacity to hate, kill, rape, torture,
or steal. Take a moment to think about the vilest, most despicable
behavior you can imagine. Whatās it like to know that the
capacity to behave in that way exists in you, too ö that it
is part and parcel of being human? When you move into an experience
of psychological wholeness, you can tolerate knowing this
about yourself because you also know that you have the choice
as to whether you would ever act on this inherent human
The same is true on the
positive side of things. Think of a person you admire in a
heartfelt way, someone you feel is the kind of person youād
like to be. Itās important to know that you also have, as
your own potential, the capacity to actualize the qualities
you so admire in the other. You just havenāt allowed these
qualities to come alive in yourself yet.
There are real benefits
in discovering your own projections. If, for example, you
are someone who has had to disown your desire to be first
in line, the first person served, the most important person
at a meeting, owning this part might help you overcome an
inappropriate tendency to put yourself last, even as you resent
doing so. Acknowledging your wish to be first allows you to
have the choice to ask for what you want, rather than forcing
you to be indignant when other people get what they
Or, if you can acknowledge
your disowned fear, for example, rather than projecting it
onto others by getting angry at people who are afraid to try
new things, you create an opportunity to learn how to manage
your fear more effectively. As long as the fear is out
there, in the other, you are helpless to deal with how
the unconscious power of your projection shapes the quality
and tone of your daily life.
The other side of projection
is "god-making" ö idealization. In addition to projecting
negative qualities onto people, each of us also has the capacity
to see in another the disowned power, love, and talent we
cannot own in ourselves. For example, I recall a friendās
description of an affair she had that began as if it were
a dream come true and ultimately ended up a bitter disappointment.
When she met the man in question, my friend experienced him
as someone who was strong and reliable, a person she could
turn to for love, comfort, and security. She assumed he had
plenty of money and that he was a "solid citizen."
Much to her dismay, she eventually discovered that he was
quite irresponsible and that he turned to her to get his
needs met without giving much in return. As she explored what
had attracted her to this man, my friend realized that she
had projected her own strength, reliability, and competency
onto him. She didnāt know she could experience in herself
the very qualities she believed she could get only from a
My friendās experience isnāt
at all unusual. Many of us project positive disowned parts
of ourselves into other people and then think it is only through
being connected to them that we can have good feelings. We
hand over power to people without realizing that the power
resides in us as well. We lose ourselves through this kind
of projection and never recognize, let alone actualize, our
own deep potential.
Aspects of Your Own Shadow
Itās not too hard to discover
telltale signs of your shadow, once you get the hang of it.
Shadow projections elicit powerfully intense reactions, usually
accompanied by a strong feeling of self-righteousness or justification
for how you feel.
When I was younger ö thank
goodness, it was some time ago ö I always had at least one
friend whom no one else could stand. This person was invariably
difficult to get along with, had an abrasive personality,
and was generally unlikable. People often asked me why I was
friendly with these kinds of people, and I had no good answer.
It was only as I began to explore my disowned self that I
discovered the service these friends provided: they expressed
the nastiness and unfriendliness that lived in me, as part
of my shadow.
Having grown up in a family
were being good was a prerequisite to being safe, I learned
early on to hide angry and unreasonable responses, even from
myself. As I matured and went through therapy, I became increasingly
able to tolerate ö and value ö these parts of me. Slowly,
over time, they were transformed into adult resources: into
the ability to stand up for myself and disagree with people
in a more open, direct way. Now I no longer need friends who
"carry" my disowned self. Not only am I more comfortable
in my own skin, but I also feel more at east with other people.
A friend of mine discovered
a disowned part of herself in relation to her work. Coming
from a family that had strongly valued education, my friend
was told from the earliest time she can remember that she
would grow up and go to college. All through school, she took
college preparatory courses and set her mind on a career as
a professor. She followed through and succeeded. She got a
job at a good school and began to climb the professional ladder
towards tenure and a full professorship.
Throughout her schooling,
and then in her academic position, my friend experienced a
particular kind of impatience with students and colleagues
who took time off to ö as she called is ö "play."
She realized that her reaction was irrational. Simply put,
she felt she was better than these people because she worked
all the time. She was at school early and stayed late. She
published. She went to conferences. She read journals. What
she didnāt realize was that the students and colleagues who
knew how to take some time off and enjoy life mirrored a disowned
part of herself that she couldnāt bear to acknowledge. If
she had consciously felt how much she longed to be an artist,
and how much she liked to be outdoors in nature, she would
never have been able to fulfill her familyās expectations.
As she connected with the
disowned artist in herself, my friend began to shift her emphasis
at work. Even with the sadness she felt at the lost years
of spending time doing something she didnāt care a lot about,
she experienced an underlying excitement and energy around
reclaiming a part of herself that yearned for expression.
She didnāt leave her work. It was so well-established at this
point that it provided a regular and reliable source of income.
Instead she created more time off and used it to develop her
artistic skills. If she hadnāt discovered her disowned artist,
she would have continued to drive herself mercilessly in a
job that didnāt fully express her creative urges, and she
would have continued to experience contempt for those who
honored their need for creativity.
The shadow has so much power
only because it is completely outside conscious awareness
ö and therefore gets "its way" ö until we take the
time to pay attention to it. In fact, its sole "job"
is to remain outside consciousness. In the exercises and guided
meditations that follow, you re invited to access different
aspects of your shadow. First, youāll have an opportunity
to explore parts of yourself that most people would consider
unacceptable, unsavory, undesirable. Youāll identify these
parts in several ways. In the experiment, you will look for
qualities, reactions, thoughts, and feelings that represent
aspects of your shadow. In the guided meditation, you will
then have a chance to experience these aspects symbolically,
represented as objects, people, animals, colors, or a "felt-sense."
As you move through the experiment and guided meditation,
give yourself permission to be curious and open-minded about
what you discover. Keep in mind that the more you know about
your whole self ö the more you acknowledge and accept the
totality of your being ö the more comfortable you will be
in the world and the safer you are for others to be around.
It is the unacknowledged and unconscious aspects of the shadow
that slip out sideways and cause unexpected and unanticipated
problems with others. Also, remember that becoming conscious
of the disowned parts of yourself allows you a greater choice
in how you want to be.
In the second set of exercises,
youāll explore your "golden shadow," that realm
of disowned resources, talents, power, and abilities that
had to be pushed out of awareness, for whatever reasons. It
may surprise you to discover that it is often more difficult
to reclaim your golden shadow parts than it is to acknowledge
your unsavory characteristics. This is because your family,
school, peer group, or religion probably didnāt celebrate
or approve of your particular talents ö or self-pride of any
kind, for that matter. When you explore the golden shadow,
allow yourself to bring the same curiosity, open-mindedness,
and willingness to be whole that you bring to work with the
darker side of yourself.
I recall a workshop participant
who discovered a golden shadow part that represented a degree
of competence she hadnāt previously imagined she had available.
When she first experienced this part of herself, she was exhilarated.
Soon, though, mixed feelings arose. As she explored her discomfort,
she realized that to become more competent in managing her
daily life she would have to shift her relationship with her
father. No longer would she be his "little girl."
She hadnāt realized that she was worried about taking this
part of herself away from him. As she explored her response
further, she realized that it didnāt have anything to do with
the present day. It was an old, unexamined response that no
longer had meaning for her.
For a friend of mine, connecting
with the golden shadow was an equally powerful experience.
At first, he thought he had revealed a negative part of himself,
because the qualities conveyed a sense of disowned entitlement.
This was a person who always presented the image of being
a "nice guy," someone who accommodated others and
rarely stood up for himself. Represented symbolically as a
Zorro figure, this emerging part knew exactly what he wanted.
My friendās mixed feelings ranged from excitement to a fearful
conviction that no one would like him if he became more assertive.
As part of the journey of integrating a conscious awareness
of his natural feelings of entitlement, my friend also had
to resolve his insecurities around not being liked. It turned
out to be a rich and satisfying journey for him, which is
a response many people have to discovering aspects of their
As you identify shadow parts
and get to know them consciously, it is useful to track the
shifting body states that accompany the process. For example,
if you were to become aware of a previously unacknowledged
part of you that was deeply suspicious, you might notice a
sudden tension throughout your body that wasnāt present before.
Connecting with disowned feelings of playfulness, on the other
hand, might be accompanied by a feeling of expansion in your
chest or excitement in your stomach. Sadness might bring a
sensation of heaviness in your heart, whereas anger or fear
might create a gripping sensation in your gut.
These physical responses
are different for each of us. Tracking them as they come and
go offers yet one more way to become familiar with the qualities
and responses in those parts of ourselves we have pushed outside
Whichever aspects of the
disowned self you address, be aware that your goal is not
to bring all the qualities in your shadow into active
expression in your life. Rather, it is to experience psychological
wholeness and self-acceptance in a real and dynamic sense.
It is also important to stress that the point of reclaiming
aspects of your disowned self isnāt to extend carte blanche
acceptance to everyone or to behaviors that truly are destructive
or unacceptable to you. In reality, there are people
who do things that hurt others, that arenāt helpful, that
are evil. There really are characteristics that you
will not want to express or support in the world. Instead,
as I mentioned above, an important outcome of doing shadow
work is developing a greater ability to choose how and who
you want to be ö and be with.
Experiment #1: Identifying
This experiment invites you
to dive right in and begin to become increasingly conscious
of shadow parts of yourself.
- Make a list of people you
absolutely cannot stand. They may be family members, friends,
neighbors, people at work, famous people ö anyone who causes
a strong, knee-jerk reaction in you.
- Now list the qualities you
dislike in them. You may describe them as evil, greedy,
insensitive, lazy, dishonest ö or whatever it is about them
that sends you up a wall. Also note what it is about the
quality that is so upsetting to you. Take some time
to describe it.
- For the guided meditation
that follows, choose one quality you would like to explore,
and imagine that the quality describes something about yourself.
Notice how you feel about it. If youāre like most people,
your first response is likely to be, "Iām not like
- Let yourself become aware
of the judgments you have about this quality and notice
the strength of your need to convince yourself it couldnāt
possibly illustrate something about you. Wonder a
bit about how you would feel if it were possible
that this quality describes a part of yourself. Be honest
with yourself. This exercise is just between you and you.
There is nothing to lose. What you have to gain is a wholeness
that brings a greater sense of self-acceptance and well-being.
- Finally, wonder how this quality,
once accepted and understood, might be transformed into
an unexpected and valuable resource, or into a greater
awareness of impulses and responses you want to know
about but not express.
Discovering Disowned Parts
To begin this meditative journey,
settle yourself comfortably and be sure to invite mixed feelings
to come along. Itās natural to have them when dealing with
shadow aspects, and you donāt want to leave out any part of
yourself. As you settle in, give yourself a few moments to
focus on your breathing. Pay particular attention to the way
in which your body settles even more when you follow the exhalation
all the way to the bottom of the breath.
Allow yourself to become
aware of the still point that exists between one breath and
the next. There is no need for strain or struggle. Just notice
the still point without demanding that it be either expansive
Now allow your body to continue
to find its own level of comfort as your mind moves into your
shadow journey. Imagine that you are walking along a path
in a landscape that feels safe and supportive to you. It is
a place where the sounds, smells, colors, and shapes all come
together to convey a sense of being in the right place at
this moment in time. If no imagery comes to mind, ask yourself
what you would sense if you could be aware of moving along
a path. Thereās no need to see where you are; itās enough
to sense it.
Up ahead is one of the cages
in which you have stored disowned parts of yourself. In this
particular cage, there is a symbolic representation of the
shadow aspect youāve chosen to explore. It may appear as an
object, a person, an animal, some other kind of creature,
anything at all. Be sure to allow yourself simply to discover
what is in the cage, without any preconceptions or demands
that it be this or that. If you happen to find that the cage
is empty, emptiness itself is a quality and can represent
an aspect of your shadow self.
What are your first impressions
of the shadow part in the cage? Notice the shape, color, and
qualities that come into your awareness, without editing or
pushing away anything that comes spontaneously. Trust your
unconscious to give you whatever impressions you need this
time. Notice your reactions and responses to this part of
yourself. Be sure to allow any mixed feelings you might have.
Is curiosity one of the feelings you discover?
For just a moment, allow
yourself to become the part of you that is in the cage so
that you can experience it from the inside. As this part,
what is the first thing you notice about yourself? How do
you feel about what you discover? Whatās it like to experience
this part of yourself? Spend a few minutes exploring your
awareness as this part.
Now move outside the cage.
What do you feel? Can you imagine the resource that this shadow
part might hold for you? What if it were to provide you with
the opposite quality of what you experienced when you first
discovered it? For example, if it represented fear, might
it become a source of courage?
Take a few moments to review
your experience. You may want to think about what it would
be like if you were to unlock the cage, if you havenāt already,
and allow yourself to get to know this part better over time.
Remember, thereās no rush. If you want to keep the cage locked,
thatās fine, too. Just keep in mind that whatever has been
locked away in the cage is part of your being, that you are
less than whole ö and have less than your full energy available
ö as long as it is disowned.
When youāre ready, begin
to come back, knowing that you can return as many times as
youād like to get to know this part better. You may be surprised
to discover that, even after one visit, a new and positive
energy or capacity related to this part becomes more available
to you, or that you feel more open, or stronger, in some new
Once youāre back, take a
few moments to wiggle your fingers and toes, to make sure
youāre all the way back. Then allow yourself some time to
write down your experience.
Identifying Golden Shadow Parts
This experiment builds on the
one you did on the darker side of the shadow by asking you
to explore the disowned parts of yourself that are desirable
qualities and talents.
- Take a few moments to think
of people you really admire. List their qualities, what
it is about them that moves you the most. Now consider that
these qualities may actually reflect disowned parts of yourself.
- Once you have identified these
golden shadow qualities, ask yourself what family rules
you will break as you bring these qualities more actively
into your life. Notice, especially, any fears you have about
the reaction of people close to you if you were to actualize
these golden shadow qualities.
Accessing Your Golden
Follow the same format as the
meditation for the darker side of the shadow, only this time
choose a golden shadow quality you have projected onto someone.
Allow the cage to contain whatever quality arises as you search
for something that you know is a positive aspect of your being.
Projecting Disowned Parts into Partners
Projection of disowned shadow
parts really gets cooking in intimate relationships and family
interactions. The people with whom we are most closely connected
often receive our most powerful projections. In working with
couples, I repeatedly see the ways in which disowned parts
of the self are put into the other person ö at which point
the unconscious goal of the relationship becomes an ongoing
effort to change the other by exorcising and eliminating the
characteristics partners canāt own in themselves.
A classic example of how
projection works in an intimate relationship was provided
by a couple who had been together for only a short time. They
had gotten married after a brief courtship and hadnāt really
had an opportunity to get to know each other very well before
they began living together. Early on, the husband discovered
that his wife was more timid than he had realized. He found
that, whenever he wanted to take her on a skiing trip, or
scuba diving, she didnāt show the kind of enthusiasm he wanted
her to have. Instead she often expressed fear and hesitation
about going on the excursions he so enthusiastically planned.
he allowed her the benefit of the doubt. Love conquers all,
and his rose-colored glasses allowed him to overlook his growing
irritation at her lack of delight at his recreational suggestions.
Eventually, though, he grew increasingly angry at what he
called her "unreasonable fear." He experienced her
as a "wimp" and just wanted her to "get her
act together" and come with him without comment.
It was only as he got in
touch with his own disallowed fear that his reaction began
to clarify. It turned out that, as a child, he had fallen
into a lake and nearly drowned. Because of his fatherās attitude
about the accident ö that it wasnāt any big deal and he should
jump right in again and ignore his fear ö my clientās initial
response of terror got shoved into his shadow self. From that
time on, whenever he met someone who expressed fear, he felt
impatient with the other person ö just as his father had with
him. He couldnāt understand their fear and, more importantly,
didnāt want to be around it.
After working on reclaiming
his natural reaction to almost drowning, his irritation with
his wife lessened and, eventually, he stopped pressuring her.
Between them, they worked out vacations that allowed him to
do the things he loved and gave her the option to participate
or not, depending on how she felt at any given time. He no
longer had to push her fear away because he didnāt have to
push away his own. In addition, he began to acknowledge and
experience more of his own fear and, over time, became less
enamored of some of the riskier activities he had so hotly
pursued early in his marriage.
#3: Identifying Disowned Parts
Projected Into Loved Ones
In this experiment, allow yourself
to review your relationships with family members, your significant
other, and close friends.
- To begin, look for areas where
you find yourself reacting intensely to any of these loved
ones. Identify what it is they do that elicits your impatience,
contempt, anger, hatred, fear, or sense of helplessness.
Ask yourself the following question: if only they would
change ___________ or become ____________ [fill in the
blanks yourself], then I ö or the situation ö would
- Reflect on the descriptions
you put in the blanks and then do the guided meditation
on discovering disowned parts to find out if you have projected
part of yourself into the other person. Chances are that
any quality that evokes an intense reaction in you points
to a reflection of a disowned part of yourself.
in the Community
We seek to kill off in the other
what we cannot acknowledge in ourselves. The potential destructiveness
of unconscious shadow projections operating on the collective
level of communities and nations is truly stunning. Even a
cursory look at the condition of world politics at this point
in human history is enough to take my breath away when I pay
attention to how many people are fighting one another over
political ideologies, borders, ethnic differences, and religious
beliefs, and how many people around the world are homeless
and starving. I canāt help thinking that the human species
as a whole is having a shadow crisis, a veritable orgy of
projection of disowned parts.
As hard as it may be to
do so, it is important for each of us to ask what part we
play, as individuals, in this collective need to blame others
for being different from ourselves. While there is no way
one person can make a powerful impact on such a general and
pervasive expression of human activity and consciousness,
it is possible for each one of us to do our own work
with the intention of taking at least some of the shadow pressure
off the current world crisis.
In the experiment that follows,
I invite you to become aware of your individual contribution
to collective shadowboxing and offer you an opportunity to
explore how you might reclaim whatever part of yourself you
have put into the fray.
#4: Reclaiming Generalized
- In this experiment, think
of groups of people you dislike or even detest. Identify
their characteristics and what it is about them that makes
you feel self-righteous, angry, afraid, jealous, indignant,
contemptuous, or whatever. Then, take those characteristics,
one by one, into guided meditation #1 or 2.
- Over time, as you work with
these upsetting characteristics in the guided meditation,
notice any parallel changes you become aware of in your
real-life interactions with people from these groups. Pay
particular attention to those times when you no longer find
yourself experiencing the kind of discomfort, judgment,
or other negative responses you might have had before you
took a look at your own issues.
Yourself as a Kaleidoscope
As I mentioned in the Introduction,
one of my favorite metaphors for representing the intricacy
of psychological wholeness is the kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope
I have in my office has many pieces of lightly colored glass.
Only now and then do a few pieces of purple or orange glass
appear. As clients turn the tube, pattern after pattern emerges,
each different from the one before. Once in a while, the purple
or orange pieces appear and change the quality of the patterns
For me, the important meaning
of the kaleidoscope as a metaphor for wholeness is that at
no time are new pieces added. Every change in pattern and
color happens as a result of a shift of pieces that already
exist, that already are part of the whole. Pieces that were
hidden suddenly come into view and add their quality to the
overall pattern. When that happens, other pieces fade into
the background, their qualities less distinctive, with less
impact on the pattern that emerges.
Itās the same with shadow
work. As we allow ourselves to see the disowned parts of ourselves
reflected in the kaleidoscope that is our being, we donāt
add anything that hasnāt been part of us all along. All we
do is shift what has been foreground and background. We bring
characteristics and elements of our personalities that were
in the background more directly into self-expression. Even
when we choose not to act on aspects of our shadow self, our
new consciousness of the qualities adds depth and character
to our personality.
In the guided meditation
that follows, you are invited to imagine yourself as a kaleidoscope
and to acknowledge the fact that all the pieces of
your whole self are required to create who you are at any
given moment. Simply because some of them donāt show doesnāt
mean they donāt add their part to your self-expression, if
only behind the scenes.
On Being A Kaleidoscope
For this meditation, if you
have access to an actual kaleidoscope, take a few minutes
to look at it. Turn the tube and notice the shifting patterns
that arise from exactly the same pieces of glass as they are
rearranged over and over again. You will experience the metaphor
more powerfully if itās real to you.
Take a few moments to settle
yourself comfortably in a place where you will be undisturbed
for about ten minutes or so. Focus your attention on the still
point between one breath and the next, on the gap between
your last exhalation and the next inhalation. Thereās nothing
else to do. Simply invite your awareness to notice the gap
and explore what itās like to linger there.
Next, bring to mind a
kaleidoscope youāve seen, or one that comes into your imagination
now. Simply allow it to come to mind. If an image doesnāt
appear, notice what you sense, what comes if you ask yourself,
"If I could be aware of a kaleidoscope right now, what
would I notice?"
Put the eyepiece to your
inner eye and notice the pattern inside the kaleidoscope.
Simply become aware of the pattern you discover there. In
your imagination, turn the kaleidoscope now and notice how
the pattern changes. Keep turning it and notice the ever-changing
patterns as the pieces of glass shift.
Remind yourself that
nothing new is added when you change the pattern. All the
pieces of glass remain the same ö they just change position.
Bring to mind your own
complex self ö all the parts of yourself that constantly shift
and change as life presents you with opportunities and challenges.
As you acknowledge and reclaim your disowned self, you donāt
add anything new. You simply become aware of what has been
there all along.
Take a moment to remind
yourself that an experience of psychological wholeness simply
means that you allow yourself to be aware of all your characteristics
and qualities. It doesnāt mean you have to express them or
show them to everyone. Recall that the kaleidoscope draws
on all the pieces as the pattern shifts and changes. Take
a moment to ponder what it means to you to allow all the aspects
of your being to be available to you, all the time, whenever
you need to access them.
When youāre ready, reorient
yourself to the outer world, to your everyday consciousness.
Bring with you whatever sense you may have of the importance
that each part within you plays in creating an experience
eof wholeness and connection with yourself.
Shadow Side of Spirituality
In a world characterized by
wholeness, every aspect of life has its hidden side.
Spirituality is no exception. I recall a Buddhist meditation
teacher who, after many years of meditation practice, discovered
the benefits of psychotherapy. He talked about the tremendous
help he received when he combined the two approaches as part
of an overall process of centering and deepening his consciousness.
What he learned was the undeniable fact that to enhance a
sense of wholeness, every aspect of our experience needs to
For many of us, spiritual
beliefs and practices enhance a daily sense of connection
to something larger than ourselves. Whether we believe in
an organized religion, find our place within a biological
whole, or create our own spiritual approach, spirituality
can be a powerful source of comfort.
Unfortunately ö and not
surprisingly ö it also can become a hiding place. Shadow issues
emerge in our spiritual lives in a number of powerful ways.
For example, we may use our spiritual beliefs to entrench
or justify a sense of "us versus them," whereby
we project our disowned self onto others with the added element
of religious or spiritual conviction. If your belief system
promotes an idea of "us versus them," it is worth
asking yourself how you can increase your awareness of the
ways in which you may be using your beliefs to hide from aspects
of your shadow self.
Some of us find deep solace
in our spiritual beliefs and practices, and this is a beneficial
and life-enhancing experience. The shadow side of seeking
solace, though, emerges when we refuse to deal with discomfort
or conflict and escape instead into a "spiritual outlook."
For example, in my work with couples, I occasionally find
someone who retreats into religion or spirituality when there
has been an argument. People have different ways of expressing
this kind of protective response, and one of the most common
is by going off to meditate or pray, or by refusing to talk
about difficult or charged issues and putting on a cheerful
face instead. This kind of response allows the person to avoid
the sometimes painful process of working through disagreements,
which not only leaves the partner hanging but also prevents
communication and intimacy.
You can tell the shadow
is present when you use this kind of strategy and have the
experience of feeling perfectly justified ö in fact, self-righteous
ö about your actions. You really believe it is beneath you
to get angry or to express your "negative" feelings.
As was true with my grandmother, chances are that your unconscious
goal is to push out of awareness any anger, fear, or other
intense emotion in order to maintain a state of calm. The
problem is that this strategy is like trying to put the lid
back on the proverbial can of worms.
The stillness and calm of
meditation offers a respite, a place to settle and just be
for a while. But meditation, too, has its shadow side when
it is used as a way to hide from the tasks and responsibilities
of daily life. In fact, expanded states of consciousness of
all kinds can become hiding places ö or the compulsive focus
of an addictive response. I have known people who tend toward
addictive behaviors ö overeating, compulsive shopping, overworking
ö who create a meditation practice that takes over their lives.
They overdo it, sitting for hours at a time. Thatās fine when
theyāre at a retreat. Itās a problem when the rest of their
life suffers because they spend every spare moment in an altered
state of consciousness.
The sense of connection
that emerges when we tap into expansive states of consciousness
offers a profoundly nourishing experience that is further
enhanced when we have a sense of receiving spiritual inspiration
or divine guidance. These experiences can convey a feeling
of never truly being alone, of having somewhere to turn when
we are in need. The shadow side ö and thereās a powerful one
here ö is the belief of being special, superior to other people,
because of the guidance or inspiration that is received.
When we fall into this trap
ö which actually is a natural development as we mature spiritually
ö we are usually unaware of the humbling fact that expanded
states of consciousness bring a universal experience
of being special, loved, and valued. Instead of understanding
that we have personally experienced a universally available
state, we draw on the feeling of being special to add further
fuel to a sense of "us versus them." Now, we
can be the good, worthy, valued one and, conveniently enough,
the others ö the recipients of our shadow projections ö can
Another area where the shadow
emerges with potentially disastrous results is in the special
relationship that arises with spiritual teachers or religious
leaders. Under normal circumstances, these relationships offer
invaluable support and guidance. When disowned aspects of
the golden shadow relate to our own sense of personal power,
though, we may find a feeling of empowerment and security
only in relation to someone else. Our association with
the spiritual teacher or religious figure then becomes the
source of feelings of power and connection. It is all too
easy to relinquish good judgment when we disown our own sense
of personal power. One of the worst examples of what can happen
when people project their disowned power onto another person
is Jonestown, Guyana, where 900 people died at Jim Jonesās
I recall a workshop participant
who had a spiritual teacher whom she deeply loved. It was
only in the presence of her teacher that this woman found
comfort and any sense of wholeness at all. During one of the
exercises on reclaiming the disowned self, she found a part
of herself that seemed to overflow with feelings of love.
As the exercise progressed, she discovered that she could
experience, in herself, some of the feelings she had thought
possible only in relation to her teacher.
It is equally important
to keep in mind that shadow parts can become resources
once they are brought into conscious awareness. For example,
spiritual pride ö acting out of a sense of superiority over
others ö has the potential to become a healthy sense of spiritual
A relative of mine had a
long history of following spiritual teachers. He experienced
fervent devotion with each, only to become disillusioned and
disappointed when each teacher revealed inevitable flaws.
Over time, the spiritual pride which my relative had invested
in his teachers became conscious. He realized he was seeking
in them a sense of empowerment and connection that he didnāt
believe he could attain on his own. Once this awareness was
available to him, he began to explore his own spiritual power
and capacities. Eventually, he found within himself the sense
of belonging he had always sought from others.
Have you noticed that there
is simply no place you can go without bringing your shadow
along? Thatās why the goal isnāt to get rid of it. What you
do want to achieve is the ability to recognize and acknowledge
it, knowing that the awareness you develop means you donāt
have to live your shadow.
#5: Identifying Disowned Aspects
Of Your Spiritual Self
This experiment draws on the
others that have invited you to identify disowned aspects
- To begin, identify spiritual
leaders you have known or read about who have a particularly
powerful impact on you, whether positive or negative. You
may also want to include friends or co-workers who express
their spirituality in a way that has a notable impact on
- Pay attention to those people
whom you feel have qualities you believe you could never
experience in yourself and explore the possibility that
they reflect a disowned part of yourself. Ask yourself if
there were any childhood experiences or unspoken family
"rules" that conveyed disapproval of these qualities.
- Then ask yourself what it
would be like to express those qualities in your own life.
You might want to return to the Golden Shadow Meditation
with this issue in mind.
Whatever you choose to do, remember
that the journey into wholeness invites you into a level of
self-acceptance that is transforming. When you know and embrace
your whole self, both you and the world are safer for it.
When you allow yourself to know your spiritual strengths as
well as your vulnerabilities, the journey becomes more comfortable
for you and those who travel with you.
Meditation #4: The Spiritual Shadow
Settle in comfortably now
before taking a journey into the shadow realm of spirituality.
Spend a few moments simply noticing your breathing. Give yourself
permission to travel with each exhalation to the bottom of
the breath. Spend a few moments there, at the bottom of the
breath, connecting with "home base."
Now, take a moment to
imagine that you are on a journey in a beautiful place. It
may be an actual place youāve seen before, or a place in your
imagination that is beautiful in some way that has particular
meaning to you right now. Notice that, somewhere in this beautiful
place, you discover a mirror. It is a special mirror, focused
on your spiritual development. It has the capacity to reflect
two sides of you. On one side of the mirror is the aspect
of yourself that is giving, loving, nurturing ö all the positive
qualities you can imagine about yourself. On the other side
of the mirror are reflections of your spiritual pride, feelings
of separateness or being better than other people ö or any
of the other potentially negative aspects of the shadow side
Allow the mirror to turn
so that the reflection of the shadow side of your spirituality
is facing you. Simply be open and aware. There is nothing
to do, nothing to change. Just notice what you discover reflected
in the mirror. The reflection may be a symbol, an image, a
word, a color, a person, an animal, or anything at all that
has meaning for you.
What is your first reaction
to what is reflected in the mirror? Just notice whatever comes.
- What qualities are predominant
in the reflection?
- What associations, thoughts,
feelings, or sensations do you have in response to what
is reflected there?
Give yourself a moment now
to become the reflection in the mirror so that you
can experience it from the inside. There is a part of your
mind that knows how to do this automatically and perfectly.
Just move your awareness inside the reflection now and notice
what comes to you.
- What is your first impression?
- Does any part of your body
draw your attention through either discomfort, comfort,
or some other sensation?
- Notice any sensations in
your body that werenāt there a moment ago. Are you calmer
or more centered? Do you hold your body in a new way?
- What feelings, thoughts,
state of mind, or perspective accompany your experience
of being the reflection?
Take a few moments now just
to be with your experience. Remember that you are bringing
part of yourself into conscious awareness. It is part of your
wholeness and you need to know about it. Be sure to allow
yourself to be fully aware of any mixed feelings you may have.
Imagine that this shadow
aspect of yourself has qualities that would make it a useful
resource. You may not even be able to imagine, just now, what
those might be. Just let yourself remain open to the possibility.
Now allow the mirror
to turn to the positive side and experience the resource that
is reflected there, the translation of the shadow part into
- What is your first impression?
- What feelings, thoughts,
states of mind, or perspective accompany your experience
of being this resourceful reflection?
- What sensations do you
notice? Are you calmer? Do you feel steadier or more solidly
centered in your body? Do you feel more expansive or powerful?
Spend a few moments exploring
whatever has come into your experience. Be sure to allow mixed
feelings and curiosity to accompany you every step of the
way. Now, go back to the shadow side of the reflection and
notice that you may be able to hold both reflections in your
mind at once: the shadow side and the resource side. There
is nothing else to do at this point. Just allow yourself to
return to that beautiful place where you began.
- Take a few moments to review
your experience of the two reflections and how you felt
- How might your life and
relationships be different if you were to shift from shadow
- What might you have to
lose if you were to transform this shadow part?
Remember that you can return
to this journey any time to look at as many shadow aspects
of your spiritual journey as you want to discover and resolve.
And, most important of all, remember that the journey into
wholeness invites you into awarenesses that can make it safer
for you to be in the world and that empower you to feel more
centered and grounded.
One more aspect of the shadow
requires our attention: the aspect of consciousness that is
collective in nature. I the realm of collective consciousness,
where w4e are both individual and part of a larger whole,
at some level we participate in everything that happens in
our world. When we, as a species, refuse to look at our individual
and collective shadow issues, they break through on a large
scale and affect us in powerful ways.
For example, notice how
many wars are being waged around the planet at any given time.
Skirmishes and conflicts abound around the entire globe so
that as a war is resolved in one part of the world, another
begins somewhere else. Itās worth pondering what is going
on in human consciousness that seems to require conflict to
erupt somewhere all the time.
There are some people who
say that we, as a species, unconsciously enlist individuals
to express our collective shadow issues for us. If this were
true, then those people who cause injury to others, who act
in antisocial ways, who spearhead movements or activities
that pit one group against another, may actually function
in service to the rest of us by expressing aspects of the
shadow we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves.
This notion may sound crazy,
but imagine what would happen if you believed it were true.
What would it be like for you if the person who robs you,
or the serial killer who threatens whole communities, were
viewed as an expression of your own disowned rage and sadism?
What would you experience if you thought that the person who
asks you to dislike another group of people because they are
"inferior," "less intelligent," "aggressive,"
or any other description, were viewed as representing part
of your own fear of difference?
A story comes to mind of
a man who viciously attacked a woman in Central Park in broad
daylight. He went on to kill another woman and seriously injure
two more before he was stopped. The reason he gave for his
behavior was that his girlfriend had left him and he hated
I remember thinking at the
time how this man represented, for me, an externalization
of an unacknowledged vulnerability and rage that exists in
many of us. His actions both frightened and saddened me. As
a woman, I was reminded how precarious my lot can be in the
face of a manās uncontrolled rage. As an individual within
a collective context, my conviction was reinforced that this
manās behavior reflected something present in both men and
women whose pain and vulnerability have been disowned, pushed
into the shadow, and then projected onto others who are less
powerful. Seeking to destroy their own vulnerability, these
wounded people vent their rage on the very same helplessness
they cannot face in themselves. Even as I write, I know that
"these people" are all of us ö "they"
are you and me as well.
To recognize how an individual
may express our personal shadow issues in these collective
ways doesnāt take away that individualās responsibility for
his or her actions, nor does it lessen the outrage at inhuman
behavior. The point of this perspective is to emphasize the
hard-to-grasp truth that doing our own individual shadow work
has profound implications that extend far beyond our field
of personal vision. For this reason, it seems to me that,
as individuals, we must reclaim our whole selves in
order to help heal our world, our relationships with our own
species and with other forms of life that share our planet
with us. As each of us becomes whole and is willing to experience
both light and shadow, our collective humanity may have less
need to express the shadow on a mass scale.
so . . .
At the beginning of our exploration
of the shadow, I mentioned the metaphor of how light and shadow
give depth and beauty to nature. Always, it is the combination
of both that creates a context of wholeness. Increasingly,
you can notice the play of light and shadow in all arenas
of life. For example, pay attention to the people you care
about, or those with whom you spend time when at work. Become
aware of those who remind you of light, those who remind you
of shadow, and those in whom you notice some of both. Let
these people become mirrors for you, even as you recognize
that part of yourself will always be in shadow and part in
light. Remember that there is no way to be fully conscious
of your whole self at any one moment. The creative solution
is to be able to move through both light and shadow with openness
and a willingness to be self-aware on an ongoing basis.
Living consciously from
an experience of wholeness leaves out nothing and invites
every element to be present. Total shadow can be threatening
and frightening, while total light can be overwhelming or
downright uninteresting. In the blend of the two you discover
something much richer.
Allowing yourself and your
life to be as rich and deep as possible requires that you
adopt an attitude of self-acceptance, a recognition of your
inevitable frailty and imperfection, and that of others. In
the next chapter, weāll explore natural companions to shadow
work ö compassion and lovingkindness.