A couple years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about shadow work, and it came to me to dedicate some space in my altar room for my shadow. As soon as I arrived home that day I got to work.
I decided on the exact place I felt it should be. I choose one of the top spaces within a built-in shelf containing my other altars and shrines. I specifically placed it higher up to support the idea of not hiding or lowering my shadow. In fact, to shift the narrative and balance things out, I ensured that it was no lower than the majority of altars I had for other energies or deities I honor.
I found a picture of me that I really loved that would be a good representation of my shadow. It was a watercolor rendition someone else created that I found aesthetically beautiful, and that had a unique feel and energy compared to other images of me. The visual of it allowed for my consciousness to have some flexibility in terms of the construction and perception of my shadow and contained many elements that fit synchronistically with what I was feeling.
I adorned the space with various items that reminded me of the concept of shadow in general, were related to my shadow specifically, and made me think of transformation, beauty, and other states and concepts I desired when it came to doing this particular work.
Each day after that for a specific amount of time, I prayed for and spoke to my shadow, as I did any other energies and beings within and outside of me.
Doing this practice was profound. I had created a material representation and ritual to support the idea that my shadow is beautiful. My shadow is seen. My shadow is sacred and just as worthy of being adored and praised as not only other parts of me, but also of other beings I am connected to. I was creating space and clearing a path for my shadow aspects to be embraced and thus healed.
Acceptance and integration of our shadow is absolutely necessary.
Making the shadow a part…No…realizing that it has always been a part, regardless of how I’ve felt about it was revolutionary. The discombobulation we experience as a result of negating any aspect of ourselves on any level is felt on ALL levels. Yet at multiple points throughout the trajectories of our lives, we are encouraged to ignore, discount, suppress, or change our shadow aspects. Hell, we’re taught and allow ourselves to be convinced that we need to change a lot of things about ourselves.
And really, many of us don’t even know much about our shadow. Some of us imagine our shadow to be something other than what it is. Some of us think that certain elements of our being are the shadow when perhaps they are not. I have found that the concept of Shadow elicits ideas of what is taboo, secretive, degenerate, unsavory, repulsive, etc. And while that may be true in some cases (depending on one’s perspective, preference, or conditioning really), this is not always the case.
It hadn’t been until I was an adult in my mid/late 20’s that I came in contact with the metaphorical and spiritual notion of shadow. My sistar and I had developed a close relationship with Diana Wilden, a gifted seer and astrologist who was also adept in the practice of discerning and communicating with one’s animal guides/totems, amongst other work. Shadow Guide was one of members of one’s team she touched upon when giving readings; and mine, according to the tradition in which she was trained, was Coyote. Key/medicine terms she provided for this creature were:
Wisdom & Folly * Ability to laugh at one's self
Intelligence * Guile & Innocence * Shape-shifting
Family * Use of Voice & Song * Playfulness
Upon seeing those words for the first time, nothing “negative” or scary came to mind. Even considering them over time and now—as I’ve held onto the understanding Diana assisted me in developing about Coyote, and cultivated knowledge from additional studies and through my spiritual practices—no fear or anxiety is evoked. Reading her poignant words and spot on insight, I have been able to become clear on why in fact these aspects were included as part of my shadow.
In her definition she speaks of shadow being “a sum total of many parts including fear, anger, repressed drives and needs, past pain that has not yet been healed, resolved and integrated, as well as our early childhood conditioning.” My world was shifted as I filtered the memories of my youth through the description she gave. Inspired by her guidance along with that of other teachers and companions, I have done much work over the last 10 or so years to uninstall my mind, dissolve my personal history, and remember my nature…who I really am. Looking at my relationship with those key terms (and/or perhaps their opposites),with Coyote, with my Shadow, has revealed and healed so much for me and continues to do so. I am becoming more of who I am every moment of every day. And because I am so dedicated to the path of self discovery and following my joy and excitement, I have found that Existence brings me exactly what and who I need in order to deepen my understanding of myself. The synchronicity in and of Life is so magical.
A few months ago I sat with Ayahuasca…Grandmother. I am not one who usually partakes in this or related forms of plant medicine; though I highly respect them as teachers and know of the transformation they guide many through when utilized properly and with respect. Yet, she had been calling me for the past year. I realized that there were specific lessons she was showing up to teach me. So I listened and answered when the perfect opportunity arose. While researching and preparing for my journey, shadow kept coming up. And I became convinced that I would see my shadow. In considering what I would possibly encounter during any visions, my mind conjured up some sort of frightening being—maybe not as grotesque as a creature in a horror film, but one that would be disturbing for me to be with. You see, I was still holding onto negative beliefs about shadow and about myself.
But I was ready to see it. In light of all I had done to consider fear as an ally and to recognize my power, I imagined that I could face whatever met me with the knowledge that I am held and protected. And when the medicine began working its way through my system, you know what came through as my shadow? The hideous version of me I had been anticipating?
…Attachment to sadness…sorrow…
As I sat and opened myself to whatever it was that I needed to see…that I had to release…I began weeping. Silently but uncontrollably. The energy these tears carried brought about the feeling that I was crying not only for myself, but also for the world(s) at large…all of the sadness, pain, suffering of everyone and everything.
…There was so much…
I literally felt as though the salty streams were flowing into a basin in my heart, and that it would flood my entire body at any point. I probably could or would have cried forever. Then I heard (or more so felt) a voice command “Stop it.” And almost immediately the water stopped and I sat up. Done. No more crying. And within a few minutes, a warm golden vision (or more so feeling) of love and beauty spread throughout my entire being. Serene tears of pure and unadulterated happiness now took over. In all of my life I had never cried out of sheer joy.
The year or so prior to my sit was one in which I had begun remembering the depth and degree to which I feel. I had disconnected from this part of myself for so long. I numbed it as a form of protection in light of the chaos, upheaval, and trauma I experienced during portions of my childhood, adolescence, and to some degree adulthood. Yet another aspect—the shadow my higher self needed me to see and chose Ayahuasca to help me do so—was the tendency, when I did feel, to cling to sadness. Not just (or always) my own, but that of specific people that came into my life or that of the collective/mass consensus at various times.
Though many people would often see me as powerful person and have other positive and flattering ideas about me (often putting me on a pedestal), they were not always aware of the sorrow I was holding onto. Only a few people saw or knew. This emotion—sometimes purely that, sometimes masked anger or resentment—had been a subtle undertone in many of my thoughts, interactions, and reactions for a long time. And wallowing in the darkness of all of that was preventing me from fully stepping into the radiance I had been shown…the bliss that was mine. It was time to stop it indeed. I was being encouraged to forgive, heal, and integrate. I needed to be balanced and come back into my natural state of joy.
Ultimately, when the pain of past traumas have been embraced, healed and resolved, then we may look upon our Shadow Totem in a new light, understanding that all along, he/she is merely a reflection cast from our own unresolved issues, lessons and pain. With understanding, healing and integration, the Shadow is no longer a separate and dark entity that relentlessly pursues us. Then, we may come to see that where our footsteps fall, no fractured shadow is cast, for there is only the light of understanding. —Diana Wilden
Just because you don’t see your shadow doesn’t mean it’s not there. And just because you ignore your shadow, doesn’t make it disappear. In fact, it becomes stronger, more relentless, and will find any way it can to be seen, heard, felt. You will kill parts of you by not acknowledging it.
So why not surrender and give it light. Say hello. Love it up. In doing so, you will allow your being to be more complete and thus more powerful.