If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the "House of the Gathering." Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.
Carl Jung in Psychology and Religion (1938).
In response to yesterday's post about the need to do shadow work, one of my readers asks about how one actually does such work. It's a good question. Jung, himself, is not particularly accessible to laypersons. So where to begin? A number of years ago, several friends and I worked through Dark Moon Mysteries by Timothy Roderick and I found it a good place to start.
While I am definitely not a psychoanalyst (and don't pretend to be giving psychological advice), I have spent -- and will spend, until I die -- a good amount of time doing shadow work. Shadows, by their nature, have this conflicting desire to stay hidden and, yet, to make themselves known. So catching one in action, shining a light on it, and inviting it to come openly to the table to share what it knows, is, in my practice, at least, a big part of the work. Once aware that there's a shadow in action, most Witches and magical workers are pretty good at figuring out ways to trance, journal, do directed dreaming, do Tarot work, dance with, paint, do spell work with, and generally tease the energy bound up in a shadow out into a space where that energy can become available for productive uses.
I've found two pretty reliable clues that I've got a shadow issue. When something always bugs me inordinately, the reason is almost always bound up in a shadow. For example, having to deal with customer "service" of any sort tends to drive me completely crazy. (Comcast, I'm looking at you. But I'm also looking at the IT folks at work, the receptionist at the dishwasher-repair shop, the person who invented "Press 1 if you want to . . . .", and, well, you know.) Lots of people get frustrated when dealing with this stuff, but they don't get almost hysterical and obsess about it. I do. All that excessive-to-the-actual-cause energy is coming from somewhere. In my case, I think it comes from a shadow issue bound up with feeling that I may be powerless and that I won't be able to get the help that I need. There've certainly been incidents in my life that I can point to that seem likely to have caused more suffering over this issue than I was able to effectively process at the time, which is often what causes a shadow.
My experience is that it's often a lot easier to sense when someone else has a shadow issue than it is to identify our own. But sometimes learning to see when others may be tripping over their own shadows can help me to realize how to look for my own. When I see someone who gets really worked up over some issue in ways that don't make sense, I wonder if there aren't shadow issues involved. The classic case is someone who gets hysterical over gay marriage. It's odd; other people getting married would seem to hardly impact you. What is it that makes you get so upset about it? What need gets served by trying to control that aspect of others' lives? What is it about sex, marriage, family, homosexuality, etc. that triggers such a strong over-reaction? Because none of the "reasons" offered -- it will destroy "traditional" marriage, it's bad for "the children," it will lead to polygamy, incest, etc. -- make any sense.
And that's the second sign, to me, that I'm probably dealing with one of my shadows: when the "reasons" that I give myself for why I just can't [do X, get over issue Y, face problem Z] simply don't make much sense, when I step back and cross examine them like the lawyer I am.
How do you do shadow work? What resources have you found useful? Do you agree with Vaughan-Lee about the need for shadow work?
Picture found here.