Embracing Your Shadow to Release Joy

“That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” (Carl Jung)

Psychologist Carl Jung introduced the concept of the Shadow in the early 20th century and it still is a vibrant part of the science of healing today. In our most recent Goddess Talk, a group of women and myself shared stories about our shadow selves, and how they’d been hidden or used in the past.

What is the Shadow?

It’s been described as the dark side of your personality, or the side we hide from others.

“The shadow goes by many familiar names: the disowned self, the lower self, the dark twin or brother in bible and myth, the double, repressed self, alter ego, id. When we come face-to-face with our darker side, we use metaphors to describe these shadow encounters: meeting our demons, wrestling with the devil, descent to the underworld, dark night of the soul, midlife crisis.” (Connie Zweig, Meeting the Shadow)

It’s what presents as loathe to people we dislike.
“The Shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.” (CJ Jung)

Jung explains that as humans we are “less good than [we imagine ourselves or want] to be.” We are all carrying a shadow self and the less embodied it is in our consciousness, the more problematic it becomes. The more we loathe someone, the more we’re simply having a reaction in seeing the worst part of ourselves in this person. In other words, we’re projecting our BS our repressed or suppressed self onto someone else.

It plays an important role to the maintenance of a patriarchal society.

For women and gender non-conforming men, this issue becomes even more interesting. Living within a patriarchal society lends to a suppression of a one's true self, needs, and desires if they do not conform with traditional gender roles. As the true self gets pushed deeper, who we are splits into what we show to the world and what we suppress in ourselves. False beliefs, which are reinforced by images on social media, destroy our inner life while we try to satiate our needs by feeding our ego selves. This is one of the reasons why social media can be so damaging and why creating a genderized culture can be so dangerous.

But the awesome part is…

Embracing the Shadow is the gateway to freedom.

When we peel back the layers to get to know our Shadow we are doing the work of coming into union with all the layers of the Self. I will discuss the koshas in another post, but for now, I’m sure you can agree that there is more to you than just the external part of you that you feed and fuel with water. Koshas are the various layers of ourselves — the subtle body. Although we are constantly judging ourselves by that external sheath, how it looks, what it likes, what it desires on a superficial level, there is SO much more to us. By doing the work to get to those deeper layers of the self, we can resolve mind grooves or samskaras that have been hidden in the Shadow to step into true freedom and joy. I believe that that path is through compassionate movement and meditation.

In yoga asana (movement) styles that focus on turning inward and silencing the mind (Yin Yoga & Restorative Yoga), and ESPECIALLY in Yoga Nidra, a guided mediation style, we are more able to cultivate the observer to be able to see all of our faults, flaws, all of the junk, all of the crap that we want to hide, and to see that it’s all a part of who we are. The only way to truly reduce the occurrences of the shadow coming out as reaction, which WILL come out, it’s just a matter of time (usually when tired, inebriated, angry, or hungry), is to know that it’s there. Then, we can work on those aspects of ourselves and use them to see when we’re triggered and to acknowledge how we feel about the situation or person causing the reaction. This creates an embodiment of both aspects of the personality, which is stepping into this important shadow work.

There is so much more to say on this topic—these are just some highlights. I’ll be continuing to lead shadow work during New Moon Yoga Nidra sessions. Please find the schedule of opportunities here.