I have been reflecting on shadow work a lot lately. The shadow is that part of ourselves that we often keep hidden. It was especially prompted by Naomi’s images and thoughts in her post “Black and White (or not).” The world is shades of gray as our shadows often seem to be.
Physically, our shadows take on the colors of what they are cast on. We stand ‘here,’ the shadow projects ‘there,’ and our shadow is integrated with rock or grass or concrete or sofa–with the barest connection with our embodied self. Sometimes our shadows hang on to us by the barest toe. Sometimes we are connected fully.
The shadow is something darker, hidden, taking on different tones and different shapes than our embodied selves. But ultimately, it is a projection of our own self. What we don’t want to see in ourselves, we push into our shadow.
One of the most valuable lessons I had in seminary was a discussion of the Johari Window. It is really pretty simple! There are four ways to be known in the world (each one pane of a four paned window):
- Things we know about ourselves that nobody else knows
- Things others know about us that we don’t know
- Things we know and others know
- Things nobody knows
Our job is to shrink the part of our window that is “things nobody knows.”
γνῶθι σεαυτόν – Know Thyself, on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
I’d like to offer a meditation on accepting the shadow self. Please only do this if you feel safe.
Find a comfortable place. If you are sitting, ground your feet restfully, but firmly. If you are laying, sink down towards the earth. Let the earth buoy you and hold you through this exercise.
You may close your eyes if that is comfortable for you or you may keep them open. If your eyes are open, let your gaze fall gently onto a nearby spot—not particularly noticing anything about the spot, but just accepting the spot as your companion.
Let your gaze turn inward. Take an inventory. Do you feel anxious? Excited? Relaxed? Where is the energy stirring? Is your mind whirring? Or is it in your solar plexus? Or lower? What energy are you bringing to your meditation in your body? Greet the energy and invite it into your journey.
Pause and acknowledge the sacredness of joining with your energy. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Continue your inventory. Moving beyond the physical. What are all the great things you see about yourself? Your creativity? Your love? Your compassion? Mercy? Analysis? Quietness? Strength? Acceptance? Meticulousness? Acknowledge these beautiful and wonderful things and give thanks to them. Breathe in. Breathe out. Now, let them go. They will still be with you. Consider them your backbone. Holding you firmly in place, but behind you.
Reconsider your connectedness to the earth. Let her energy support you while sinking in. Reconsider your gifts—the great things about you. Let them provide structure to your body. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Before you, now, is an empty room. Just you and the energy you have brought with you. The energy from your body. The energy from the earth. The support from your gifts. A formidable group.
See the shadow.
How are you connected to the shadow? Fingertip? Toes? Fully? Check in with yourself and stop here if that feels right to you.
What contrasting energy is pulsing in the shadow? Is it a mirror of your own body’s energy? Or is it different? What is the shadow projecting onto you? Does it make you seem tall? Or small? What color does the shadow take on? What is it drawing from its surroundings? Check in with yourself and stop here if that feels right to you.
Open a dialogue with your shadow. Something like, “I see you. I know you are part of me. What do you have to teach me today?”
Listen to your shadow. Breathe in, breathe out. Check in with yourself and stop here if that feels right to you. This will be different for everybody.
If you feel brave, offer your shadow love. Compassion. Acceptance. Acknowledgement. What does that feel like? Check in with your body and see where your energy is stirring. Is your heart chakra pulsing? Or maybe your shadow has some energy swirling? Check in with yourself and stop here if that feels right to you.
Seeing your shadow, connecting, dialoguing, loving—continue to offer love and imagine love emanating towards your shadow from your energy, from the energy of the earth, and from the gifts that you bring that stabilize you. Imagine the love pouring out everywhere as light. Light as soft as a glowing sunset or as strong as a summer’s day. Whatever light is needed. As the light increases, the shadow steps closer and makes one more connection with you. Maybe just a pinky. Check in with yourself and stop here if that feels right to you.
Now, it is time to close the dialogue with the shadow.
Offer your loving kindness to the shadow. Bring your hands together over your heart chakra in a prayer position. Let your inner gaze fall gently on your shadow. Breathe in, breathe out. As you gaze at your shadow, offer Namaste.
Bring the inner light down to an inner, restful darkness. Let your shadow leave your full awareness, knowing you are that much more connected and that you will be back.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Feel your gifts that strengthened you. Thank them for being with you. Bid your gifts Namaste.
Feel the earth that supported you. Thank the earth for providing support. Bid the earth Namaste.
Feel the energy in your body that journeyed with you. Thank yourself for being present. Bring to yourself, Namaste.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Shalom and Amen,
© 2013, post & photo, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved
TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.