Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shadows of Shadows

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.


Thalia said...

Well I know what works for me. That is finding something that like you said 'inordinately bugs' me, then narrowing it down to a single word, one that really pushes my buttons. Words like oh, anger, motivation, discipline, authority, that sort of thing. Things I push away, or think there is no good at all to. A big part of the trick is recognizing the very specific kind of reaction shadow stuff will set off.

I've found that they don't really want to remain hidden, not really. Also, and this is absolutely key for me as someone who has dealt with so much anxiety and fear in my life, I have learned that the initial fear is not really based in much at all. Over and over and over in my experience, and I always come back to this, pieces of my shadow, because they are ultimately pieces of myself, are on my own side. We are allies, always. And they always, always, want to be friends if just given the chance. It has never been for me about battling demons, for there are no demons within me. I am on my own side.

Now there are some things it is proper to reject, like persistent negative doubts, or internalized sexism, or 'the predator' within as it's been labelled, but those are different. Mostly because there is nothing under the fear when you get down to it. Shadows do have substance if you can get to the 'reality' of them.

I am very lucky in that I am a very very visual person and have trained myself to the knack of being able to really envision, or vision, I suppose, things. What I do is (with my Guide) go some place within, usually some place that ends up underground and dark, fancy that, and ask to meet whatever piece I want to integrate. And usually, a woman (same sex as I) will come forward. And then I interact with her and give her what she needs, usually some form of freedom. It comes down, very much, to having compassion for that piece of me that I have rejected, and to start to make it right for her.

Anyway, that's what I do. Definitely works for me, very well.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

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.

I think you nailed one of my own shadow-generators there, too.

Terri in Joburg

Marya said...

Loved this post Hecate -- I must put something up about it.

AmethJera said...

I throughly enjoyed your thoughtfully written blog!
Many years ago I was involved in a series of workshops presented by the Centerpoint Foundation that focused on Jungian psychology and specifically taught shadow work. What an eye opener...I learned some very effective dream interpretation skills as well and was introduced to a symbol system called Star+Gate that's essentially a type of tarot which allows you to work through personal issues and narrow specific points down to one word. The process is enjoyable (although the card deck is extreamly expensive now and beyond most people's budget.)

Makarios said...

"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."

Well, of course there are. As Jung pointed out in the first sentence of the quotation at the beginning of your post, the way that most people deal with their shadow is to project it onto others, or onto "The Other." They can't deal with what they unconsciously know is part of themselves, so it must be that person (or those people) over there.

But, as Jung also noted, "whatever is wrong in the world is in himself." This is the reason that we not infrequently see the God-botherers who are always harping about sexual morality becoming involved in scandals of various kinds. Projection of one's own shadow onto others (protesting too much) can work only so far and for so long. It's like a washtub full of laundry. If you push down on one part, something else comes to the surface in another.

As far as I can see, virtually all types of fanaticism are a form of shadow projection--a way of compensating (which quickly becomes overcompensating) for self-doubt.

"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."

Exactly. Shadow projection works in the way that it does because it is unconscious. Bring it to consciousness and you've already won more than half the battle.