Seeing Your Shadow



On February 2nd, in many towns across America, a  groundhog will emerge from his burrow. If it is cloudy, that will seem to imply that spring has come early; if it is sunny, so goes the legend, the groundhog will see its shadow and go back into the burrow for another six weeks of winter.

What is it about seeing our shadow that makes us want to burrow away, to pull up the blankets and slip back into sleep?

In energy medicine, as well as in Jungian psychology, the shadow is everything of which we are not fully conscious or which we don’t recognize as being part of ourselves. We simply don’t want to know about the least desirable aspects of ourselves.

What’s the problem with keeping the nastier side of ourselves out of sight? Well, for one thing, what happens is that you can wind up projecting your own deficiencies onto others. You may believe your co-worker is stealing from the company, while in fact your jealous shadow side is always looking for ways to steal the praise that co-worker receives for doing her work well. In other words, your personal faults turn into a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.

Conspiracy theorists, and TV shows like The X-Files, are always talking about the “shadow government”—the private individuals who are really controlling what happens in the world rather than the elected officials. They are the ones carrying out black budget projects and covert operations. You can think of your own shadow that way. The face you show the world, the person you have elected to be seen as, is friendly and cheerful and good, while your shadow is governing the fact that you are always sandbagging your relationships one way or another.

Part of the inner work of healing ourselves has to do with making peace with those parts of ourselves that we don’t want anyone else to see—the parts Christianity calls the seven deadly sins, Buddhists call the negative emanations of mind, and Moslems call the nafs, our lower selves. It takes energy to deny and block our shadow side—energy that could be used in far more constructive ways in our quest for becoming fully integrated, healthy and happy individuals.

The first part of making peace with the shadow is to become aware of it. You recognize that everything has its shadow side. Benevolent Mother Nature, the goddess Gaia, whips out her deadly shadow side in hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, floods, and volcanic eruptions. Societies and cultures also have their shadow side. The technological boom that has given us our favorite devices—computers, smart phones, tablets, televisions—has lessened our direct face-to-face relationships. Have you ever seen a group of teens sitting together all looking at their phones instead of talking to each other? As Albert Einstein put it: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction.” That day may have come.

Many of the people whose public image we admire have dark secrets or terrible home lives. Imagine how many women have swooned over handsome men only to be shocked when they came out of the closet of homosexuality. Think of the spiritual teachers whose teachings helped many connect to the richness of their inner lives but whose private lives included sex with students or favoring those who contributed big sums of money. Or the adulation we give sports heroes who turn out to be doping.

Even deeply spiritual people often go through a “dark night of the soul” when they can be overcome with terrifying feelings of depression and doubt. It’s all part of the process of being a fully integrated human being in our less-than-perfect world.

But the shadow side isn’t all darkness. Our shadow is also, as Jung put it, the “seat of creativity.” It may show up in dreams and visions that reveal the depth and complexity of your inner life—the rich mixture of dark and light that artists throughout the ages have called upon to create their masterpieces. It’s the deep darkness in which the seeds of your perfection take root and grow, like the lotus with its roots planted in the mud and its beautiful flower shining in the light of day.

When you learn to make friends with your shadow, make sure to look not only at its darker components—the ones you wish you didn’t have—but also at your untapped talents and powers. Reclaim them all, and accept who you are—the whole package: good and bad, dark and light, negative and positive, yin and yang. There is no way to reach Oneness without accepting all of yourself.

So when the groundhog comes out of his burrow this year, may he not be frightened by his shadow and retreat for six more weeks, but welcome Spring, shadow and all!

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