The shadow escapes from the body like an animal we had been sheltering.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the growth cycle that every single one of us goes through as a part of the human experience. In the circles I’m in we talk about things like self-care, personal development, leadership and growth tools often, and I’ve personally been into the more unusual, unorthodox and mystical approaches to those ideas for years and years.
Here’s a few workshops, programs, modalities, etc. I had tried out by the time my 30th birthday rolled around:
Sankofa Pattern Awareness: A teaching that centers around digging into our family tree and our past to uncover and reprogram patterned behavior. I studied this one in my early 20’s, visiting a retreat house in the Poconos four times one winter to dissect my family tree and to connect the dots between ancestral behaviors and behavioral patterns in my current life.
Colorcode Personality Science / Aura Color Reading: This is a study of your natural personality traits, what motivates you and how your behaviors impact the relationships in your life. I read the book Life Colors when it came out in 2000 and have had an interest in aura colors since. I’ve had my aura colors read several times in person as well, and those readings say a lot about your natural tendencies.
Chakra Balancing: I started working for an Ayurvedic beauty brand when I was 24, I had my first balancing session that same year. The chakras are located in the central channel of the energetic spine - this process focuses on restoring a harmonious flow of energy across the body system.
Chakra Cleansing: The cleansing works on a specific energetic clog - it’s like drano for your energetic body. This process is often performed with crystals, tuning forks and reiki and takes the balancing a step further.
Triune Brain Model Learning: This comes from “split brain” research - it’s a study that breaks the brain into 3 distinct systems - one is responsible for primal activities, one for emotions, and one for rational thinking. Learning this model came from another retreat style experience - the whole program was four weekends long. The learning model encourages looking at the relationship between structure and function in the human brain and how these 3 systems collectively create our human experience. When you hear someone say “I’m operating from my reptilian brain” they’re referencing this model.
The Amen Solution Brain Based Diet: An approach to eating to increase health, immunity and encourage healthy body weight while, at the same time, enhancing and improving mood, stress response and memory. Dr. Daniel Amen, who’s highly regarded by Gwyneth and Goop, wrote a book about this method; I saw him speak in person and adopted the eating approach for about a year after that.
Macrobiotic Zen Eating: An approach to eating developed according to the philosophies and eating practices of Zen Buddhism that promotes spiritual awakening by balancing the yin and yang of food and the cooking experience. While working for the aforementioned Ayurvedic beauty brand, a macrobiotic lunch was served daily in an old Victorian house down the way from the office. (That house had previously served as a morgue, or so the rumors went, and it’s where I had my first interaction with spirits from another plane…. and that’s another post completely).
Fierce Leadership Development: I studied this one as I became a senior executive for that beauty brand: the training focuses on conversation models, developing empathy and recognizing that emotional connection and relationship building is the key to success in any area of life.
4Mat Learning Cycle Model: A learning and communication tool, developed from a holistic perspective and based on essential human differences regarding how we perceive, process, understand and pass on information. When I began speaking at events and teaching workshops myself I learned to use this model to craft presentations that appeal to all types of learners.
Honestly, I could go on and on if I factored in all of the modalities I’ve given at least a long look at - however, you get the general idea of it. I’ve also studied and tried things you’re probably more familiar with ranging from Astrology, Crystal Healing, Reiki, the Law of Attraction and Numerology to Stephen Covey, Myers Briggs, and Intentional Coaching, for example.
So After All Of This What’s Next? Where Does the Shadow Come In?
In the last few years I’ve become pretty dialed in to the types of programs I feel expand me the most. Here’s a few I’ve been through most recently; I’m not going to go into these in depth, I could devote an entire post to each, and will, but email me or send me a DM if you want to know more right now about how any of these has transformed my mindset:
the Landmark Forum & Advanced Course
each of the courses in the To Be Magnetic Manifestation Program
Human Design Readings (I’ve read a ton, had several readings and I start a training course with the International Human Design School next week)
Astrocartography (I did some training on this earlier this year via Steven Forrest)
Plus: I’ve gotten serious about my yoga (yin, hatha, kundalini and vinyasa) and meditation practice too, which started four summers ago when I lived in walking distance to the largest Buddhist Stupa in the West.
Next up, I’m seeing a holistic therapist to begin EMDR treatment.
If you’re sitting here going - what in the f*ck is all of this - that’s completely, 100% fair. I said that about each of these things at one point too.
However, here’s what I can tell you after spending the last 10+ years doing this type of work - you don’t need to wade through all of the stuff I have (although I’m not discouraging it either) to understand this:
the biggest moments of awareness and transformation begin when we start to own our own shit.
Yep, I’m going to say that again.
WE MUST, ABOVE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE: OWN OUR SHIT.
Period, the end.
I don’t care how much gratitude you’re expressing, how many mantras you’re saying, or visualizations you’re practicing - and trust me, I do all of those things too - you are making your life a million times harder if you’re not owning your shit.
The Shadow is Our Dark Side
This post is the first in this series I’m writing about shadow work, and after all of the trainings, workshops, scientific deep dives, one-on-one sessions and online courses (and more!) to study those systems I mention above, the thing that came up time and time again was the need to work on my shadow.
What does that mean exactly? If you took some psych classes in college or listen to wellness podcasts perhaps you recall this: in Jungian psychology, the "shadow” refers to the unconscious aspects of our personality.
More simply stated: the shadow is our “dark side.” It’s the emotions and behaviors that we likely wish or sometimes deny that we have. It’s things like:
it’s ‘bad’ behaviors like binging, cheating, stealing and lying.
When we deny that we have these feelings or demonstrate these behaviors they get relegated into our dark side. When we tell ourselves stories about ourselves that involve pity, blame and shame - that’s the stuff that gets packed deep inside - that’s our shadow.
The most important qualities that I’ve worked to cultivate in myself to help me in this shadow work process:
grace, softness and patience with oneself.
This process requires the opposite of what we’ve all been programmed to do when faced with tough situations: it’ll feel natural to tense up, get defensive, and get angry - instead, consider compassion, acceptance, and self love.
Acknowledgement Of Your Shadow Self
The first step in this process is the acknowledgement that you in fact have a shadow self.
Here’s some questions to help you begin:
What am I most afraid of finding out about myself?
What's the worst, most horrific lie I've ever told myself?
What's the biggest lie I've ever told someone else?
What’s the worst thing I’ve ever done? (Consider something that if someone found out you think you’d be ruined.)
What am I most ashamed of in myself?
Simply becoming aware of your shadow is how this process begins. See yourself for who you truly are: the good (of course) but also the bad and the ugly. For me, the acknowledgement happened when in one of the aforementioned seminars I was asked to make a list of all the bullshit stuff I’d done in my life.
Man, that list was ugly, and reading back through it I couldn’t believe the stuff on that list was in fact, me. But here’s the thing about uncovering your shadow: once you begin to accept that this stuff is all a part of what makes you up, you can start to create a brand new reality.
Re-read the answers to your questions above, did that give you a place to begin? Another way of looking at it is to consider the places in your life in which you’ve considered yourself a victim.
The World Happens Because of Us
Being a victim simply means that we approach life from a place where our world happens around us, or outside of us, not because of us. It’s giving someone or something else power over you. Often this begins when we’re incredibly young. We learn to do things to take care of our basic needs, it’s instinctual.
Here’s an example of one of my shadow self behaviors and how I employed victim thinking (and I promise, this isn’t easy to share, and doing so helps me to continue this work):
When I was 15 I shoplifted.
Not just once or twice, but a friend and I had a fairly regular practice one summer of going to the mall and coming home with clothing we acquired with the ol’ 5 finger discount. Dude - everything in my life pointed to me being a goody two shoes, and on the outside I was: but my shadow self did some pretty f’d up shit.
Here’s how I justified: I told myself I was a victim of the judgement that comes with having a single mother. I told myself that because she had a limited financial ability, there was no way she could support her teenage daughter in keeping up with her country club friends. I justified that I “needed” that stuff to fit in. I justified that I couldn’t “belong” if I didn’t do this thing.
Logically, I knew this was incredibly wrong, perhaps I was even mildly aware that belonging began with me belonging to myself first. But, my shadow self saw my mother struggle, and heard her say she would need to get a second job for me to have the “in crowd” clothing and so my thinking was: well, rather than asking for things from my mom I’ll get them for myself - and the way I chose to do that was by stealing.
My shadow self was very good at pretending that this sort of behavior was status quo.
Here’s a few words that show up when I consider this shadow self:
Recognizing that there’s a bit of that deep within me - creating an awareness that I am capable of damaging and desperate behavior, of creating chaos, of making trouble and being a bit crazy is where awareness begins.
If you weren’t honest with yourself when you answered those questions above the first time, go back and try again. In the spirit of patience and grace, do it again tomorrow - and the next day. There’s no rush in this process of shadow work. It starts with getting okay with knowing that there’s all spectrums of human behavior with each of us.
If you’re interested in some further reading on this topic, here’s a few books I recommend.
The big first step is ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. That’s what I hope you take away from this today.
I’ll be back again next week with what I consider to be Phase 2 of this work.
Have thoughts on this process, or tried any of the programs I mentioned above? Share in the comments or send me a DM via instagram.
*opening quote: Gilles Deleuze