In today’s fast-paced world — a lot of emphasis is being put on the need to reach our potential.
Learn 21st century skills. Find a purpose. Innovate. These are the mantras of the future of school and the future of work.
While attending to our potential is important, there is something else that is just as valuable but tends to get not as much emphasis. That’s the importance of doing shadow work. Facing up to all that we are — both our light and shadows — is vital if we want our leading-edge work to hold.
What is the shadow?
”The shadow, a concept brought to light by famed Swiss psychologist Carl Jung — is the part of ourselves we don’t want to look at — qualities we deem unattractive, try to push away, overlook, sugar-coat or hide under the surface.” — Ashley Turner
Our shadow can be thought of as the conscious and unconscious aspects of our lives we’d like to pretend didn’t exist. Our unhealthy habits. Our emotional baggage. Our suppressed and traumatic experiences. Our inner conflicts. The things that trigger us in ways we don’t want to be triggered. Any part of ourselves that we unconsciously repress or deny.
Every one of us has a shadow, that when triggered, leads to destructive patterns and shadow crashes in our own lives and even the lives of others.
In contrast, our shadow can be thought of as the interconnected opposite of our strengths. Our healthy habits. Our positive psychology. Our emotional vitality that brings us more fully alive and enables us to flourish.
Why shadow work matters
“The irony (and beauty) is — you can turn this energy into fuel to fire for your passion and creativity. The energy you used to hold up a false self or hide out is now available to redirect.” — Ashley Turner
While it can be tempting to avoid and hide from our darker sides, there is great value in facing and accepting our shadow.
That’s because we are whole people and holistically attending to both our shadow and our strengths is how we develop in a healthy, integrated, whole person way.
When our shadow is left unattended, it tends to show up unconsciously when we least want it to, meaning we use up our valuable creative energy to hide or manage it. In turn, this holds us back from more fully becoming ourselves.
When our shadow is attended to, it liberates our creative energy and elevates our potential for living a life of greater wisdom and wellbeing.
How to do shadow work
“By doing shadow work, we shed light on the dark and become the light instead of pretending.” — Suzanne Heyn
Shadow work can be done in a wide variety of ways, including reflection, meditation or journaling.
There is no right way to do this vulnerable work, the key thing is you use a practice that enables you to be profoundly honest with your shadow, explore it with perspective and transcend it in a generative way.
One practice we particularly like is the 3–2–1 shadow process developed by Diane Hamilton. Its called the 3–2–1 Process because it “uses shifts in perspective as a way of identifying and integrating shadow material. 3–2–1 refers to 3rd-person, 2nd-person, and 1st-person”. This practice has 3 parts.
- Face it — Locate the shadow within your mind and body. Don’t judge it, just be mindful of it and look at it from every angle in the 3rd person.
- Talk with it — Ask your shadow, why are you here in the 2nd person. What do you want to do with me?
- Be it — Switch roles, become your shadow (1st person). Speak back to yourself by embodying your shadow.
We are whole people living in whole contexts. Opening up to the gifts of being whole — both our light and our shadow — is vital to living life rich with wellbeing and wholeness.