Shadow Work Process
Shadow work can be accomplished through any number of exercises and experiences. Whenever we feel “bad” we are being presented with an opportunity to engage in shadow work. Our depression, anxiety, anger, fear, and guilt are signs that we are operating on faulty unconscious programs that are no longer serving us. By recognizing the signs of our shadow and engaging with ourselves constructively, we begin exploring what happened to us and why we do what we do. These insights help us in developing new strategies to improve our thinking and our vibration.
Shadow work strategies are different for different people and for different emotions. For intense emotions that are not overwhelming, most shadow work strategies focus attention on the discomfort we’re feeling, take us through a series of visualizing, movement, or vocalizing steps and help us address the core issue causing our upset.
The emotional retrieval process that follows is useful when the emotions we are feeling are not violent or dangerous to ourselves or others. Should we experience such extreme symptoms it would be wise to consult with a trusted expert on mental, emotional and physical health.
This is not a one size fits all process as each person and each unique emotion will respond differently to each method. Modify and/or replace this process with a more effective one as necessary for optimum results.
Addressing past traumas can be emotionally exhausting, brutal work. Before we even begin it’s wise to have a safe space to retreat to when we feel overwhelmed and it’s time to heal. Some of us have never actually experienced a genuinely safe, private space before. It can be difficult to connect with the idea of a sanctuary space if we’ve never known one. Ideally we would book two weeks at a sacred site and immerse ourselves in the rest and relaxation that we so richly deserve. However, most of us, especially we who need this security the most, don’t have the resources necessary for such luxuries. In our case the process begins with a meditation that guides us through the creation of a divine sanctuary space inside our mind. The advantages of generating our own sanctuary are that it is always available to us and that we can imagine it to be anywhere, anything, any when. As long as it’s honestly comforting and nurturing for us, it will serve our purposes.
Unfortunately, for some of us establishing a truly safe place, even in our own minds, is extremely difficult to do. If we find ourselves getting stuck, lost or afraid we need to be gentle with ourselves, stopping the meditation if need be. Acknowledge every feeling that comes up as valid and worthy. There’s no reason not to stop, wait, change positions, change locations, take a walk, cry it out, phone a friend, take a nap, whatever feels most appealing before trying the meditation again. If the process causes overwhelming feelings of not being safe or spontaneous new memories of not feeling safe, please consider connecting with a trusted person who has the skills to address serious emotional trauma.
The following meditation should be played as we relax comfortably with our eyes closed. For many of us, this will be the most enjoyable part of our shadow work. Enjoy!
Once we’ve established a safe space for nurturing ourselves, we are free to spend as much time there as we like. Whenever we need a break from the daily world, we can visit our sanctuary and recharge ourselves.
Shadow work is emotional. That makes it important to have a safe place to visit as we begin exploring our past traumas and spiritual wounds.
Please don’t skip step one, OK?
Especially if it’s difficult.
Once our sanctuary space is established we begin to practice an ongoing emotional awareness that eventually becomes our second nature. We learn to pay constant attention to what we are feeling, all the time, for the rest of our lives. When we start to feel “bad”, we practice recognizing those feelings and treating them like treasures that lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our emotional landscape.
Some of us are good at knowing what we feel and why, but we rarely sit quietly to simply embrace and appreciate our feelings instead of talking about them or acting on them. It takes discipline to focus on our emotions without letting them sweep us away. Practicing this new skill often begins with us being struck by such a strong feeling that we have to stop and embrace it. If we don’t want to wait for an emotion to show up, we can take 10-15 minutes out of our day to do a conscious scan of our emotional body. Either way we begin by identifying the FEELING in the body. Not the words associated with the feeling or ideas on how to resolve the feeling, just the physical, concrete feelings in the body.
“It feels like a pressure in my throat. I can feel the heaviness in my shoulders. It’s warm and I want to cry.”
“My knee is so tight, like a wound up spring. There’s kind of a dull throbbing that runs down my calf.”
“My left eyebrow itches and there’s a buzzing in my left ear.”
Pay close attention to these feelings as they change and move about the body. The critical part is to stay present and accepting towards all of the feelings encountered. Any sensation could be linked to a trauma and a nurturing attitude is the most conducive to identifying and processing each trauma.
“I feel an ache in my heart. That’s good, that’s fine, I’m OK. I’m here with it. Now my breath is slowing down, it’s harder to breathe. It’s all right. I’m safe. It’s OK to feel this now.”
Sometimes traumas spontaneously generate a memory that we can visit, if we choose to. If it feels important, we should probably go with it.
Trauma patterns often repeat in our lives, so before diving too deeply into any memory, we should spend a few seconds checking to make sure that we’re working with the earliest memory associated with our current feeling. Addressing the earliest possible event in the sequence allows us to better clear the entire pattern. Once we recall the earliest related memory we can access, we allow ourselves to relive it in as much detail as possible, through the eyes of our younger self. We should not stop at simply seeing the memory, but rather feel it again as much as possible. We pay close attention to the details, all the while reminding ourselves that we are safe now. Acknowledging the pain we felt in the past and the pain we still feel. We can do anything that feels right to express our feelings (assuming we’re not hurting ourselves or others); sing a song, throw a pillow, let the tears flow, howl at the moon.
Some feel that memory work is required, that we need to relive our traumas to process them fully. However, many of us get powerful results using intention and creativity in place of a memory. A few of our memories may really want us to engage with them, but it’s generally not necessary. No doctor needs to know exactly how a bone was broken to set it back in place.
Stopping to recognize and engage with our feelings may feel awkward and artificial at first, but in time it becomes second nature and the feelings that arise become more and more obvious and important to us as we learn to finally engage with them.
Our most profound and deeply ingrained traumas tend to happen to us long before we learn our first language. Pre-verbal memories are stored in our minds and bodies as emotions and physical feelings instead of “thoughts” and “ideas”. Often when these old traumas are triggered, we experience incomprehensible rushes of raw emotion that have nothing to do with our current circumstances. We behave “irrationally” because we’ve connected with something we learned and accepted in our lives before we had the mental tools or language and reason to process the situation. It’s part of being human.
Ancient cultures believed that trauma could fracture the soul, leaving pieces “lost” in the spirit worlds and in need of retrieval. Modern teachers will tell us that trauma shocks the body and leaves our damaged emotions “frozen” in our muscles. Skeptics may only believe that our pre-verbal traumas cause irrational behaviors. No matter how you imagine the damage, it’s clear that we all suffer from some form of imbalance that we will need to resolve in order to heal, move forward and make our lives easier.
There are several fancy and complicated ways to achieve this, but working from our placebo effect perspective, we only need to employ those complicated methods if we believe that we do. It’s much easier if we simply choose to believe that all we need to do is hold a strong intention for processing and integration. The emotional retrieval process is merely a framework that we are free to add to from our own experiences. It should evolve for us as we work with it.
It starts with a feeling.
If memories surface, we allow them to play out and remain constantly supportive and gentle with ourselves.
“It’s safe. I’m safe. This feeling is coming from some other me in some other time. I love you. I’m here now. Everything is good and I’m remembering the past. I’m safe. We’re safe. I love you.”
We can now place ourselves (or our divine selves) into the memory as a new character in our old story – our very own adult self who genuinely loves and cares for little us. The integration of our present day self into the memory should be as detailed and luxurious as possible.
We are here to slay our own personal dragons, to confront the beast. We are free to tell ourselves epic tales of our superpowers and grant ourselves the divine blessings of any number of gods and saints. Tell the story the way that it should have been told, tie up the loose ends, punish the bad guys, reward the heroes, nurture yourself in every conceivable way that you could possibly be loved. Spare no expense here, the sky’s the limit. There’s no benefit in rushing through this process, any work left undone will just pop up to be dealt with later on anyway, we might as well spend the time to fully explore and complete it now, while we’re already here.
As we complete our new hero’s tale, every child self memory is asked at least twice how the tale should end so we can meet all of our needs. Depending on our traumas this bit can get a little violent, but anything goes here as long as it empowers and inspires us to a higher emotional frequency. Some requests may feel odd or disturbing but, as long as they remain imaginary, they can be powerfully healing as well.
“It’s safe. I’m safe. This feeling is coming from some other me in some other time. I love you. I’m here for you. It’s safe now. Come join me.”
When we call for the return of our lost, stuck, frozen or otherwise unavailable traumatized energy, we may feel bodily sensations or see something. There might be sounds, even voices, or a sense of being joined by our younger self/selves. There may be multiple memories to integrate so remain open and accepting of whatever comes, reassuring both the sensations and ourselves that we are safe, it is safe to heal and we are ready to help all our confused thoughts and fractured parts come and work together.
The physical and emotional sensations of pulling our selves together can last for several minutes, so we need to be patient and accepting as we draw our memories and fragments of our past selves back together. This is no time for haste or coercion, we must wait and integrate for as long as it takes, until there is zero hesitation left and all of our inner voices are ready to move on.
Back to the Sanctuary
Leaving no part of ourselves behind, we lock the memory behind us and head back to our safe haven where our divine self waits to nurture and tend to every last lost and healing part of us. We drink from the healing waters, spend time making our past selves feel safe, whole and loved and, when we are ready, we can bring all of our selves, divine self included, to the safest spot and ask if we are ready to integrate.
If the answer is no, we must respect that and leave our separated selves to live and play in our sanctuary space until they feel whole enough to join us. No matter what happens, we remind ourselves that it’s all right. Healing is an ongoing process that lasts a lifetime. There’s no need to rush it.
We offer thanks to our divine self, our past self and our ordinary, everyday, amazing self and bring ourselves back to waking consciousness. The next time we feel something that needs addressing, we repeat steps 2-4.
These four steps are not everything that could be said about working with the shadow side, but plenty of other people have written much more comprehensive books on the topic, we tend to find them entering our lives as the magick dictates. As always, take what works for you and leave the rest.