The world has taught us from the beginning of time that one extreme element cannot exist without the other.
There’s hot and cold, up and down, high and low, action and reaction. And as there is light, there is also shadow. Learning how to do shadow work teaches us how to enjoy both the black-and-white aspects of life.
We grow up hoping for a better future, but in reality, we are casting shadows on our experiences. We got to a point where we feared the darker aspects of our being so much that they ended up controlling us.
Now, let’s explore the light and shadow of this work, which will, in turn, brighten up your life for good.
What Is Your Inner Shadow?
The shadow is our dark side. “Dark” doesn’t mean negative or evil, but yet to be illuminated. What we see as seemingly harmful could be potentially enlightening.
The famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the concept of “shadow” in the Western world.
What he noticed as a repeating pattern was the reference to a dark entity lying in our unconscious mind. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? But hang in there; the truth isn’t as terrifying as you may expect it to be.
Jung concluded that the shadow side consists of all the hidden parts of our conscious mind. All that has been split off from who we think we are—our shame, fears, and wounds—but also our divine spirit, blinding beauty, and hidden talents.
The latest research in psychotherapy revealed that beyond our Self (the essence of who we are), we are born with many other parts. Have you ever felt like there’s a part of you that wants to do something while another part may desire the opposite?
The purpose of these parts is to help us experience life with courage, compassion, connection, and love. If you’ve ever seen the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, there goes a metaphorical depiction of your internal family system.
These parts of our psyche always have positive intentions, but the problems occur when they start carrying burdens of the past, due to traumatic events. They will create a shadow side to control you until you dare to look at them again.
In other words, they will be waiting for you (the Self) in the unconscious mind to help them heal their pain. The great news is that you’re gonna show up as the savior and be the hero of your own life.
To live a wholesome life, one must learn how to do shadow work to heal all hidden aspects that have been locked up in the unconscious prison of the mind.
How is the shadow born?
As we can all imagine, children are born with the ability to enjoy life and its magic. Curiosity, spontaneity, courage, and kindness come easily to them, as this is the true nature of human beings.
But what happens in the meantime?
The main psychological causes of forming the shadow self include:
- Experiences of injury and assault
- Unvalidated emotions
- Facing the death of family members, divorce, or abuse
- Womb trauma transmitted from their mother before birth
- Unprocessed trauma inherited from past generations
However, these pivotal experiences don’t always have to be tragic to affect the child’s psyche.
Take, for example, a little girl whose sensitivity and gentleness help her be creative, express herself artistically, and empathize with other children.
At some moment in time, maybe someone accused her of being too emotional and encouraged her to act out “stronger.” Therefore, she represses her sensible qualities along with all the positive traits of her personality, as one cannot exist without the other.
Later on in life, she might find it difficult to connect with others, be vulnerable, and access her creativity. She might indeed seem a strong person, but she won’t probably understand why her life feels so painful and unaligned inside.
How Can I Recognize My Shadow?
Although acting out from a so-called “hidden” place of your mind, the shadow comes out in the forms of unwanted aspects such as:
- Low self-esteem
- Self-loathing thoughts and emotions
- Self-defense mechanisms such as explosive reactions, criticism, or narcissistic behaviors
- Eating disorders
- Difficulty in being vulnerable and connecting authentically
- Apathy and depression
A common tendency to deal with our dark side is to reject it. But oftentimes little do we know that this is where projection comes into action.
Projection is a psychological phenomenon that implies judging or being triggered by personality traits of others that you subconsciously recognize within yourself. The easiest way to detect if you’re projecting or not is to watch out for your triggers.
For example, if you judge someone who becomes angry when people disagree with them, chances are that a hidden part of you feels repressed anger.
Let’s say you could also get triggered by a person who always forgets the things you share with them. In this situation, you should ask yourself to whom you might have the same behavior.
We are looking not only at the person’s negatives but also at our own little black hearts.— Ken Wilber, trainer of Mindvalley’s Integral Life Quest
What Is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is simply becoming aware of the aspects that you pushed down into your unconscious mind, so you can help them heal. It’s like turning on the lights in the basement and seeing there was no terrifying monster to be scared of this whole time.
The basement is now the unconscious part of your psyche. Can you imagine how liberating it feels to walk freely throughout your entire house?
The shadow side can refer to parts of your personality that you may see as troublesome. But the good news is that through the process of working with your shadow, you will undoubtedly uncover golden facets of yourself as well.
A 2013 study showed that clients in therapy who started working on accepting “problematic parts” instead of trying to change them, experienced an actual transformation of both themselves and the people around them.
Although it might seem demanding in the beginning, anyone can learn how to do shadow work. Working through traumatic experiences can indeed require guidance from a professional, but you can still start building a foundation to connect with your whole self.
This work will not only accelerate your personal growth, but it will also create integrity and wholesomeness within. And that is exactly what shadow work is all about.
How to Do Shadow Work: Tips from Mindvalley Spirituality Teachers Ken Wilber, Jade Shaw, and Charlie Morley
You can read hundreds of books on theories about what the shadow is, presenting distinct angles to look at it. However, to have a profound effect on the quality of your life, the next essential step is diving deep into how to do the shadow work.
Starting this process can get way easier when you have the right guidance throughout this journey of self-discovery. Let us take you through the best practices for starting and advancing on your path.
3 best practices on how to do shadow work for beginners
1. Observe your triggers
As mentioned earlier, your triggers are symbols of what lies within your unconscious self. The simplest thing you can do to bring awareness to your shadow is to notice when an external event triggers an emotional reaction within.
To make it as easy as possible, as you begin this process, there’s nothing more you have to do. Simply observing and being present with what creates an emotional response inside yourself will make room between your true self and your shadow.
Therefore, with practice, you’ll notice how it’s not going to control you anymore, as you now have the space to choose how you respond with awareness.
2. Start a shadow work journal
After you get used to being the conscious awareness that observes your triggers, you can slowly start writing them down in a journal.
Repetitive patterns of behaviors and situations will show up in your writings once you implement this habit into your routine. You will have a permanent record of your progress as you continue to work with your shadow.
3. Practice a daily meditation of acceptance
A simple practice to integrate your shadow is meditating with the energy of love and acceptance.
The only thing you have to do is close your eyes, take a deep breath, and instead of shutting down the voices in your head, you can simply say “yes” to any thought, image, or emotion that emerges from your subconscious.
In this practice, you focus on creating space for any parts of yourself that show up. You could also say things such as “I see you. I love you. I offer you space to be.”
3 best practices to power up your shadow work process
After you integrated the beginning practices and they have positively impacted your life, you can start taking on more structured and advanced shadow work exercises.
Although the beginning of a new thinking model seems like a rocky path, you’ll soon notice yourself to be more excited about how to progress on this self-discovery adventure.
1. Implement the 3-2-1 process created by Mindvalley philosopher Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a globally celebrated leader in psychology, philosophy, and religion. He is the creator of Integral Life Theory: an all-inclusive framework of living that applies across various fields, such as psychotherapy, business, medicine, and sustainability.
The 3-2-1 process represents a simple guide on how to work with your shadow:
- Locate the shadow—third person: see what you judge in others, what triggers you, and what you reject.
- Talk to it—second person: start having a dialogue with the shadow part that you identified. You can ask why it comes into your life, what it wants to show you, or what it needs from you.
- Be it—first person: just for this exercise, embody the shadow aspect that you discovered. Imagine for a few moments how it feels in your body, what it says, and when it wants to show up.
The psychodynamic fact is that we deeply hate any quality in another person, only if we hated and despised that quality in ourselves.— Ken Wilber, trainer of Mindvalley’s Integral Life Quest
That’s not to say that these people don’t have their negative traits, but you unconsciously project your own shadow material as well.
2. Integrate the shadow through astral journeys taught by Mindvalley trainer Jade Shaw
Jade Shaw is an internationally recognized expert in the art of astral projection and altered states of consciousness. After having an out-of-body experience that changed her life, she dedicated her work to exploring the realms beyond our material world.
What she encourages the most for practicing shadow work is “the soul retrieval technique.” Through astral projections, one can learn to meet different unconscious aspects of their dark side. Once you face these fractured qualities of your soul, the reintegration process can begin.
One exercise she firmly recommends is the Ho’ponopono mantra, which you can voice either in the astral dimension or in the awakened state. All you have to do when you encounter a shadow aspect is to say the words: “I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”
This exercise can ensure a new connection between your true self and the forgotten parts of your mind.
Learn more about astral projection:
- Is Astral Projection Real? Here’s What You Should Know
- 3 Common Fears of Having an Out-of-Body Experience
3. Shadow work in lucid dreaming guided by Mindvalley trainer Charlie Morley
Charlie Morley is a leading authority and expert in lucid dreaming. As a best-selling author and teacher, he is the only person to date to have presented lucid dreaming in highly renowned institutes, such as the United States Congress, Cambridge, Oxford, and the British Ministry of Defence.
The shadow is the energy that fuels the fire of awakening.— Charlie Morley, trainer of Mindvalley’s Experience Lucid Dreaming Quest
According to him, learning to dive into the state of lucid dreaming to meet your shadow can equal six years of therapy in one lucid dream experience.
When you meet aspects of your dark side in this context, what Charlie recommends is a three-step process where you meet your shadow, befriend it, and then embrace it with love.
As symbols fuel the dimension of dreams, you can imagine hugging one of your dark sides when you meet it. This symbol of the hug would tell your unconscious mind that one part of your shadow was made conscious.
Learn more about lucid dreaming:
- The Complete Guide to Lucid Dreaming – How to Lucid Dream in 4 Simple Steps
- The Benefits of Lucid Dreaming, According to Science
5 shadow work prompts to start the healing process
If you wondered how to start a shadow work journal, here are some prompts to give you some guidance. You could start journaling on the following questions:
- When and why do I get triggered the most?
- Which feelings do I reject most of the time?
- What do I judge in others?
- What do I admire in others?
- Which moments of my childhood had the biggest impact on my development?
Let your answers flow naturally when you ask yourself these questions. There are no right or wrong answers, only repressed aspects that could come up to the surface. Welcome them.
3 Benefits of Shadow Work
Congratulations on learning the fundamentals of how to do shadow work. Now that you know the details of the process, you can enjoy your cherished rewards.
Shadow work provides you with the necessary set of skills to pour more love into what you’ve seen as shameful, undesirable, and even revolting. Everything that you are is welcome and there’s no reason to be afraid of anything inside you because it’s still you.
1. Embrace your impressive sense of creativity
Once you bring to light the rejected traits of your psyche, the so-called “golden shadow” (your hidden potential) will start shining simultaneously.
You will be able to experience intense creative states of being and hidden talents might materialize into your reality. Be open to receiving anything that comes your way and let the magic happen.
2. Experience authentic connections with others
As you get more aware of your triggers and projections, your ability to connect to the people around you will change drastically.
This happens as a result of clearing away judgments that might have interfered with your relationships. Through shadow work, you liberate blockages and become free to experience the genuine connections you’ve always desired.
3. Invite an overall feeling of wholesomeness and integrity
It’s no surprise that after accepting all fractured parts of yourself, you’ll start feeling a sense of inner fullness and completion.
Similar to how the whole Universe is a living system based on duality, your inner world functions with the same principles. As nothing can be taken out of the Universe, because there’s no other place to go, your hidden sides cannot be pushed out of your internal system.
They can mostly be ignored until they’ll make themselves be seen again in one way or another.
Step Into Your Greatness
With shadow and light, we slowly learn that there are no bad parts inside our psyche. They might act out to be integrated, but the intention behind will always be a positive one.
If you’re ready to explore the infinite possibilities of loving yourself more and more, here, at Mindvalley, you can find suitable guidance for your needs.
Imagine going into a quest with no idea how this would change my life. I knew there were lots of shadows and I needed to work on myself, BUT did not take the time to do so. Plus I did not know how to. Thank you Ken for your heartfelt teaching. There is no doubt that I will do this quest again as the learning is priceless!— Nolan Pillay, transformational coach from South Africa on The Integral Life Quest
So step into your power while you discover your shadow self. Your true self—the greatest of them all.