Photography by Steoville
The shaman walks the invisible spaces with only her own heart and wit as navigational tools. Intricate initiations are designed to bring the shaman toe to toe with our own inner demons to conquer the fears which lie inside us all. When we sit with them long enough, they dissolve, but only if we are willing to reclaim the power we gave them.
Malidoma Some is a well-known African shaman. One of his initiations requires that he find his way out of a literal black hole. Those who can escape will have untold power and healing abilities. Those who fail will not wake, their bodies going into a coma and the soul forever lost in the void.
When I heard of this initiation, I was ecstatic, hungry for such a challenge. There’s no better gift than to explore the primeval void of our own minds. Sadistic? Not even close, for I know the organismic lightness that lies on the other side of confronting fear.
This is the delight of Shadow Work.
TRACKING THE SHADOW
Our shadow aspects want to hide, lovey. The brain, in its function, tries to protect us from the things which cause us harm. It’s simple biology.
So how, then, do we track that which in its very nature is evasive?
The discarded aspect of self will usually hide under uncomfortable emotions. It’s common for us to ignore the discomfort or to dose it with pleasure—TV, food, sex, drugs, anything that makes the bad feeling stop.
The formula is to keep digging ’til you feel something that feels unsafe within yourself. When you corner it, make peace anyway you can. Talk to it, hug it, engage it; the goal is integration so that it becomes an ally.
SITTING WITH THE ICK
I usually to feel a tinge of discomfort (shame is my go-to) and know there is something which demands my attention. I’m a devotee of my shadow and will relentlessly pursue that which makes me squirm, even when I want to run.
In a recent showdown with my shadow, I was feeling unhappy with my behavior in a new romance. It’s easy to blame or get caught in a loop of self-condemnation, so instead I chose to sit with the icky feeling in the pit of my stomach.
A pattern arose…As far back as I had crushes, I’d chased boys, craving their affections. I could see in every instance, my desire for love was in the hopes to be seen and honored—and most of the time, they didn’t. Humiliation ran through me on this realization. I felt stupid, desperate, and immature. And yet, the shadow had shown itself—and that’s where Shadow Work begins.
Having faced that which I don’t like in myself, I began to hunt her down. In each memory of me chasing, I apologized to the boy, took back my power and thanked him for the teaching.
Two hours of Depeche Mode and a heavy sobbing session later, a warm sapphire light began to glow from my second chakra. She had a specific frequency and a name, as well. She explained she was a denied aspect of me, a piece of my power so long suppressed she had never been given the chance to emerge, always energetically overshadowed by a boy. In the clearing, I regained a piece of my sacred feminine self and integrated a shadow aspect which plagued me!
This is the gift of Shadow Work: when we can be present with the self-loathing, we can embrace ourselves even more and find the hidden gem within.
We all have our own unique path to healing; do what works best for you. Here are a few keys if you’re unsure where to start.
Seek out the Discomfort
Many times a day, we’ll encounter this unpleasant feeling within—and we’re quite accustomed to ignoring it. Make notes of where these feelings arise and use them as the to-do list for your own healing. If you don’t encounter anything, sit in silence for 30 minutes. Something will certainly come to the surface.
Write until your hands cramp. If you’re the type who likes to journal, it’s an easy way to unravel the knots of self-hate, shame, and blame. You must go deep and keep digging, even when you think you’ve got it pegged.
Not all “dark” forces can go with namaste blessings sent into the white light. True heavy-head demons dwell within us and must be exorcised accordingly. Tool music and a punching bag, breaking things, kicking the shit out of a soccer ball are all perfectly acceptable. Purge it ’til you’re exhausted and give it no space to live within you anymore.
When we can face the shadow, giving it a name can disrupt its intensity. I have a client who battles depression. In a recent session, she was so bothered by the stigma of the word that we weren’t able to heal and release it. I began to call it Ed. As in “Fuck off, Ed” each time her depression triggers arose. We were able to laugh through it and uproot it from her body with finality.
Yup, this one will likely be present in every other process, as well; it’s the indicator that you’re getting to the juicy stuff. The tears show where the hurt hides. Keep pursuing it even if you don’t know why the tears are there.
Sometimes, honey, we’re just too exhausted to fight any longer. This is when the woo-woo of spiritual work can be a boon. Call in your God, your angels, your ancestors, and ask them for help. Surrender your tender heart to the love of an invisible army of support and know you’ve done all you can.
Whether working with a gifted therapist, a healer, or a friend, having someone hold space for us as we dig out these shadow aspects is hugely beneficial, albeit a ‘lil more difficult to perch in full truth.
In your hunt for these shadow aspects, you’ll have to be brutally honest with yourself and the world around you. For some, this is the hardest part—to see within ourselves what we’ve spent our lives denying.
I have a trick: I call myself out anytime I want to hide. Rather than judging, over-thinking, and feeling embarrassed later, I’ll call out my behavior immediately and publicly. Sure, it may seem like my filter is broken or non-existent, but it’s a tried-and-true way to release the nagging shadow within.
We live in a world more infinitely complex than we can comprehend. When we have the courage to fearlessly navigate our inner landscape, we’re free to create a reality filled with peace, harmony, love, and bliss.