A lot of blogs and books discuss shadow work, but don’t actually tell you what it is. What a tease! It’s like telling someone about the wonders of chocolate, but not actually having any chocolate. Well that’s just dumb. So let’s talk about shadow work.
Shadow work is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the spiritual act of going inward, picking apart some of the less than pleasant aspects about your personality or your history or your views about yourself, and then putting yourself back together in a more authentic and wiser way. Sometimes this happens in the context of a ritual or a shamanic experience. Most of the time, shadow work happens quite naturally. If you are the kind of person who is inclined to look inward in any capacity, then you are already doing shadow work. The goal for shadow work is acceptance (of yourself, of your past, of your decisions, etc.) and transformation into the person you want to be.
Shadow work is not an easy process, because let’s be real. People like to hold onto our issues and troubles as a sense of security or identity. But the shit in our lives really does hold us back. It keeps us from being our best possible self. For example for the past couple of years I have been working towards having one specific career in libraries. I thought it would be the only job that would make me happy. But after over a year of job searching, I had to do a ton of shadow work to realize that what I was actually looking for was a career in which I felt fulfilled and happy. Which doesn’t need to happen in a library. And now I have a job I really love doing something I never expected. That realization that I was looking for qualities in a job as opposed to a specific career came from some intense introspection and shadow work.
There are two types of shadow work: intentional and unintentional. Intentional shadow work is directed to one particular issue or trauma. Samhain rituals are a good example of shadow work directed to the loss of a loved one or coming to terms with the circle of life. Unintentional shadow work happens naturally or during the course of daily rituals or self care. What some people call “ah-ha” moments or moments of clarity are examples of unintentional shadow work. Another example is working out personal issues by journaling. The key to both methods is being deep and being real.
With all of that said, shadow work is not always appropriate. Largely, there are times where you are forced into shadow work–after a death, during moments of severe depression, after any sort of trauma. Since you are already healing and are in the thick of an emotionally charged situation, engaging in further shadow work is like adding fuel to the fire. So don’t do it. In fact if you are going through any of these situations, I would highly recommend checking in with a mental health professional before engaging in any intentional shadow work as a precaution.
When it comes to techniques for shadow work, here are a few examples:
- Meditation: I find that guided meditations are especially good for shadow work. Look for keywords like “inner child,” “inner work,” “mirror,” and “releasing blocks.”
- Journaling: I have had more “ah-ha” moments about my shit from keeping a journal than attending any shadow work rituals. The key is to focus on how you feel rather than what happened in your day.
- Consulting a High Priet/ess or Elder: If you feel uncomfortable about doing shadow work on your own especially if it’s the first time you’re intentionally engaged in shadow work, then tap into the community for some help.
- Seeing a Therapist: If you have severe trauma in your past and want to work through it through shadow work, find a therapist that will assist you with your journey.
- Unplug: There are so many ways we distract ourselves from dealing with our problems. Turn off the TV, your laptop, and your phone and enjoy listening to yourself.
After engaging in shadow work, there is a wee bit of self care you need to do to lift your spirits. Whatever you do to cheer yourself up–exercise, talk to friends, binge watch Parks and Rec–, take time to enjoy life.
Ultimately the goal of shadow work is to create your best life through self awareness and self acceptance. You are letting go of the past and of limiting believes and letting yourself be the awesome, Goddess-loving badass you really are.
© Ariadne Woods