Sunday, May 24, 2009
Reflections on Shadow Work
For some reason, the text was wonky (another expression from down unda!) in the last post. If you couldn't read it, here it is again.
My Thoughts on Work with our Shadows
Shadow work takes a lifetime and is never done.
Holiness is not rigidity or perfection, but a profound acceptance of God’s loving embrace of our whole selves, including our shadows. So growth is more a matter of transcending and including our old patterns, habits, and previously disowned characteristics, rather than ever leaving them entirely behind us.
The more close we come to God, paradoxically, the more aware we are of our shadows. This is the experience of many saints and holy people throughout history. Imagine God’s love as a spotlight on a rose… the brighter the light, the more distinct the shadow becomes. This, however, need not lead us into neurosis, but rather, to humility, gratitude, and a profound compassion for others.
Shadow work suggests that a purity that is not also earthy is suspect. Consider that the word “humility” shares the same roots as “humus,” “humor,” and “human.”
Shadow work should seldom be undertaken alone, but is well supported by a skillful counselor, a mature spiritual director, a wise friend.
Shadow work is not linear, concrete, or predictable, but requires that we live with ambiguity- exploring dreams, symbols, and experiences filled with mystery.
Shadow work is often facilitated when we have loving friends who can share their perspectives gently and honestly. How poorly served we can be if our so called friends only offer us compliments?
Shadow work helps us to recognize the way that we project aspects of ourselves on others, and in turn, helps us to see how people project both “bad” and “good” qualities on us. As a result, it can help us avoid taking things so personally. This is also why it is the people who do truly know us can hurt us so deeply. So be kind to one another.
For people with a low self-esteem, it is often the case that shadow characteristics include hidden gifts, strengths, and so called “enviable” qualities found in others. For people with exaggerated self-esteem, it is often the case that shadow characteristics include essential vulnerabilities such as sensitivity to others, the feeling of one’s own emotional need, and the capacity to depend in a healthy way on others.
Because shadow work is so delicate, it is important to be aware of our motives for doing it in the first place. If our motive is not to respond in a more loving way to the infinite love of God for us as we are, then our motive may be an egoistic desire for perfection. Let our motive be that of love.
Each of our shadows has a story to tell and a gift to offer us if we are willing to pay attention. So pay attention!