Why We Can’t Ignore Shadow Work
The farther we move along the path of our spiritual growth, the more our unhealed wounds, unacknowledged fears, and ego-attachments rear their ugly heads. These are the thought-forms, emotional reactions and behavior patterns that interfere with our ability to continue confidently on our path toward self-actualization. Shadow work is the broad term that describes the spiritual practices that support us in healing and transforming these fears so that we are once again free to pursue the path of our highest good.
SEE ALSO: Religious Vs Spiritual
Our life’s purpose is to become self-actualized. Through the process of self-actualization, we are empowered to discover, nurture, cultivate and become empowered in our unique giftedness. We are called to find meaning and purpose in our lives through the sharing of these gifts, for the sake of our own fulfillment, and in service to the betterment of the world. Our soul is driven to pursue this path of self-actualization and it is through restlessness and longing that we are driven.
Somewhere around the time of our first Saturn return, we begin to awaken to the calling of our Soul, and again with renewed vigor at midlife. We become dissatisfied with life as we know it, longing for something that is more fulfilling and which gives our life a sense of meaning and purpose. We are awakened through restlessness, boredom, dissatisfaction, impatience and an insatiable yearning for that which we cannot yet describe.
As we pursue this inner longing, we are led to resources and tools to support us in our spiritual growth. In this process of spiritual growth, we seek to uncover the answer to three questions:
Who am I?
Whose am I?
What are my gifts and how am I called to use them?
It is through our spiritual practices that we find the answer to these questions. Any activity that supports us in remembering peace, love and joy can be considered a spiritual practice when approached as such. Meditation, prayer, mindfulness, contemplation, movement, rigorous physical exercise, being in nature, creative expression, the search for knowledge, our interpersonal relationships, and lovemaking can all be vehicles through which we come in contact with our Soul – our highest truth and the path toward self-actualization. It is also through these practices that we come in contact with our shadow.
The shadow is made up of our unacknowledged fears, ego attachments and unhealed wounds. It is within the shadow that we carry the pain of every rejection, criticism, condemnation, betrayal, disappointment, failure, loss, trauma, and every self-defense mechanism we ever built around this pain. It is in the shadow where our fears reside, along with the part of us that seeks approval from or power over others. It is also within the shadow that we carry our self-rejection – every experience or aspect of ourselves that has been set aside as imperfect, ugly, shameful, and condemnable. The shadow contains all that we have hidden from ourselves and attempted to hide from the world.
What We Resist Persists
There is great wisdom in the Buddhist adage, “What we resist will persist.” This is especially true of the shadow. Ignoring our fears, unhealed wounds, ego attachments and self-rejection allowed us the illusion of safety, or at the very least, control. Safety and control, however, are simply illusions. Ignoring our past hurts did not save us from future wounding. In fact, ignoring those hurts likely caused us to become more vulnerable.
No matter how much we push these fears and unhealed wounds away, the more they tend to find their way out through passive aggressive behaviors, negative and disproportionate reactions, self-numbing and self-harming behaviors. As we move along the path of our spiritual growth, we find that the more we try to resist what we placed in the shadows, the more it seeks to be known.
This is where shadow work proves beneficial and ultimately empowering. Shadow work is the courageous process of confronting the ghosts of our past and bringing them to the light. Engaging in shadow work, we take the time to identify and be present to every fear, unhealed wound and ego-attachment that might try to hinder us on our path of spiritual growth. We allow ourselves to be present to the hurt, the pain, the fear, the anger, and every emotion in between as we allow those “demons” to be healed and transformed. As we allow ourselves to be present, we are freed from these fears and are empowered to continue in the way of our truth.
Some practices that support us in our shadow work include Mindfulness, Tonglen and Ho’oponopono.
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