[Self Discovery] Embrace Your Authentic Spirit Through Shadow Work

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 51

To be on a constant quest of self discovery is the most human thing there is, and it seems like for the past year and a half we’ve all been thrust into the soul searching world of personal development – whether we’ve wanted it or not. With the societally imposed downtime that COVID and quarantine have given literally all of us, it’s been the perfect occasion to dive deep and discover your unique truths. In my personal quest to appreciate, understand and evolve – I’ve found that it’s not always easy to love myself completely, in my entirety; for all my cracks and flaws, all of my shadows, have given me moments of pause, potentially even moments of discomfort.

In my darkest times, it felt disheartening; as if I didn’t know myself as well as I thought I did. A walk of emotional shame from an expectation hangover, where I was picking up bread crumbs to skeletons in my mental closet that I wasn’t prepared to deal with. It wasn’t until I fully committed myself to shadow work that I understood how fundamental it is to not only address the places within me that contain resistance, and parts of me that have been hurt in the past – but how I can hold space for those memories, observe them from a birds eye view, and then create a kinetic, positive feedback cycle to replace my old thought patterns.

Shadow work has helped me overcome my imposter syndrome, and catalyze a newfound growth in self confidence. But more than that, shadow work has helped me love myself in my entirety – and that’s something I haven’t had in a good, long time. So, let’s dive in and understand what it’s is all about, and maybe (hopefully!) shadow work can help you as much as it’s helped me.


“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” 

Nietzsche

So, what exactly is shadow work? It’s a hot topic, a buzzword you’ve probably heard tossed around more times than ever in the past year – especially if you’ve dabbled in yoga, meditation or the transformation communities.

If you’re familiar with the philosophy of yin and yang, then the principles of shadow work will feel like a lightbulb moment; a modicum of thinking that we’re now able to put a name on. We all, as individuals, have an ego, a side of ourselves that we consciously display to the world, as well as ourselves. It’s the side of us that we’ve been constantly mastering our whole lives – building it up, and tearing it down wherever we’ve seen fit. As true as we can be to ourselves, there are things that we repress, resent and shudder away from that are true to who we are; there are facets of our personalities that we brush under a rug or hide in a closet in the corner of our mind. That is what creates the ego – the shadow of the ego is, in a way, the entire contents of that closet. It’s what happens when you take your demons out and acknowledge them as a gestation of your being just as much as the events or memories worn proudly on the sleeve of your soul.

The shadow self, then, contains all the parts of us that the ego eclipses; parts that go unseen to the conscious, or awakened, mind. It’s our unexplored; our uncharted waters and undiscovered emotional depths. Stemming from Jungian psychology, the shadow encompasses traits, feelings and emotions that are ‘unknown’ to an individual either through active or passive repression. If we are balls of clay, and society is molding our ego into the personality we externally display – our shadow side is the culmination of all those chisels into our soul. Negative experiences, expectations, interactions – if we are unable to deal with them as they are when they occur, they build up into our shadow self bit by bit.

“There is nothing scarier than facing the deepest realms of ourself, but there is also nothing more rewarding than that”


To commit to ‘shadow work’, then, is to do the mental and emotional ‘homework’ to bring your shadows into the light and out of the darkness; by acknowledging yourself as a dynamic presence, one that truly does contain multitudes, you’ll be infinitely closer to loving every fiber of your being as you authentically are. You’ll discover incredible personal growth because you’ll be able to see yourself for all that you are to the point that scars of the past will become tattoos and stories to muse over. While doing the work, it’s important that you really hold space for yourself and your growth as you re-experience dissonant events with new eyes – and remember, the point is to uncover discomfort, so be kind to yourself along your path into the light.

There are some fabulous creators out there who have done wonders to create templates and journal prompts for this very task, here are a few of my favorites:

[Unrefined Prose] 50 Shadow Work Journal Prompts to Help You Realize Your True Potential

[Seeking Serotonin] 31 Days of Shadow Work Journal Prompts For Healing, Self-Awareness & Growth

[Scott Jeffery] A Definitive Guide to Jungian Shadow Work: Shadow Work Exercises

My personal recommendation is to get a journal for shadow work and self reflection; it’s a calming and cathartic way to compartmentalize, and put to bed some feedback cycles and habits that I’ve held onto and the perfect litmus test for my temporal dexterity. But for all it’s worth, you could grab scrap paper or type it into the notes application on your phone. The important part here is that you do the work, not how you do the work.

I’m in much more of a mental flow state once after getting my mindset right – that includes yoga, breathwork, meditation or some combination of the three. For you, it might be as simple as right after your shower or after a good workout. If I have time in the morning before work, I’ll try and sneak follow it up with a gratitude prompt; but, if there isn’t an open chunk of time for my mental gymnastics, then I’ll use this as a wind down activity late at night as I’m getting ready for bed.


Have you had a chance to delve into shadow work before? What are some tricks or tips that have helped you embrace the totality of your being and process your past trauma? Drop me a line in the comments, looking forward to reading what y’all have found to be personally useful.

“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”

— Carl Jung

The Shadow: what you do behind your own back |Jungian Analysis

Wednesday Watercooler

Oh man, it’s been quite a while since I’ve done a ‘Wednesday Watercooler’ piece but as they say – there’s no time like the present, and the present has some ridiculous things going down!  First things first though, since we always do an entertaining manifest destiny through these here interwebz I thought it would be a nice little change to turn things inwards and do some self exploration for a bit!

A few weeks ago, one of my good friends posted a survey on Facebook about discovering your ‘Philosophical Archetype‘ – after I breezed through the 40 or so questions, I got my answer and it’s so perfectly fitting. I scored as the ‘Absurd Hero’, a throwback to Albert Camus’ ‘Myth of Sisyphus‘ and the idea of Absurdism, which by the way I totally ascribe to: it’s the dichomatic idea that as humans we ascribe to searching for a greater meaning of life though we cannot find it.  The Absurd Hero, in turn, finds humor and happiness in the absurd situations that life throws at them.  Me in a nutshell? You best believe it!  Another fun one to get your eyes on is the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, commonly abbreviated by MBPT. I scored as an ENFP – Extrovert/iNtuitive/Feeling/PercievingI took it again to double check and yup – still as true as ever! Some of our personality traits include, but are definitely not limited to: outgoing, easily talked into doing silly things, spontaneous, pleasure seeking, irresponsible, physically affectionate,  likely to have or want a tattoo, adventurous, unprepared,  prone to losing things, seductive, easily distracted, open, revealing, comfortable in unfamiliar situations, attracted to strange things, unconventional, energetic, impulsive, empathetic, loving. Head on over and take your Myers Briggs / Jung Personality test hereand now, on to the good stuff!

Dory Just Keeps Swimming

In case you were hiding under a rock yesterday when Mashable broke the news before my own company did, Disney and Pixar are pairing up one mo’gain to bring you the long anticipated, highly awaited sequel to Finding Nemo – Finding Dory!

Scheduled to hit theaters in November of 2015, the movie will feature role reprisals by our friends in the tank, Merlin, Nemo and how could you think of having this sequel without the lovely Ellen DeGeneres!

Sea Lions Get Down, Too

Even though some humans have two left feet, almost all of us can inherently find the rhythm; birds, too, can bob their beaks to the beat – well now there’s a new species to add to this animal party. A study out of UC Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Laboratory with a sea lion has proven for the first time that a non-human mammal can keep the rhythmic beat of a tune.  After teaching Ronan to bounce to the beat with click training, the scientists introduced new jams into the mix to test their theory and voila – welcome to the get down, Ronan! Check her out jammin’ to the Backstreet Boys and Earth, Wind and Fire!  And the final verdict – we now have proof that vocal mimicry isn’t necessary in order for one to keep the beat; comparative psychology, eat your heart out.

 

The Cell Phone is Having a Mid Life Crisis

Next time you reach into your pocket to check Instagram, or see if your best friend had a good date last night – think about this one: the mobile phone is forty years old this week!  On 4/3/73 in Motrorola’s New York division, Martin Cooper completed the first cell phone call – and it’s all been downhill for humanity from there 😉  As of 2013, there are at least 6.5 billion cell phone users – and I have to give some kudos to UK’s The Guardian for my favorite fact: By the end of 2011, there were 78 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people in the developing world. In the developed world there were 122 subscriptions per 100. Meaning every fifth person you meet has two phones and is probably a crystal meth dealer/having an affair.

Obama Gets Mindful

Don’t get me wrong, I love science, astronomy and the spectacle that is the universe – but it’s also good to know that I’m not the only one who wants to shift the focus from our surroundings to what’s going on inside those beautiful, big brains of ours.  Yesterday in an announcement at the White House, President Obama announced a brand spankin’ new scientific campaign set at understanding and analyzing the human brain.  With a $100 million proposed budget in hand, he’ll be reaching out to some of the top research institutes in the country, as well as private labs and non-profit efforts.  The goal of the study is to discover how interactions between neurons form the human psyche; the results would have a global benefit.

 

Feeding the Black Holes

Now that my brain has been satiated with news for the day, let’s look to the galaxy and beyond – there’s something absolutely nutty happening with black holes right now.  In one universe, Galaxy NGC 4845 – a black hole is currently devouring a planet. NBD. And finally, that little antimatter detector at the International Space Station is getting some interesting data: it’s tasted its first bit of dark matter; exciting!

Stop Motion Chalk Tetris 

I’m not a huge fan of stop motion, but even I have to admit that this is rad! H/T to The Colossal:

[So This Is Growing Up] Are There Expenses in Never Land?

When I was little, maybe 3 or 4 – my dad’s father would take the liberty of filling my head with silly puns and hilariously awful jokes.  You know the kind: instantly invoke eye rolls, knee slaps, and sighs .  One of his favorites to tell was about a man, roughly my dad’s age.

There was a young businessman that worked day in and day out; he didn’t have many friends so he decided to adopt a dog for companionship.  One day, he took his dog to the dog park to get some playtime in and a young girl ran up to them.

Oh, he’s adorable! she squealed. Thanks, he replied getting back to his newspaper. What’s his name? His name is Tax.  She laughed, Tax?? You’re weird, why’d you pick that name?

His reply – Because when I call him, in-come-Tax!

At the time, I just thought gramps was being silly – what the hell does tax mean?! My grandfather, bless his mathematically inclined heart, passed away shortly after this and my dad became the punny one in the family.  So I would hear it every other year – it would grace the table at Thanksgiving, maybe make an appearance at a birthday party or four, and then come around for the holidays when the family was all around.

Between my academics and athletic endeavors, I basically had little to no free time – but when I did, I did what most teenage girls do: stimulate the economy. I’ve always had an urge to buy glitzy makeup, upgrade my wardrobe and collect high tech toys.  Unfortunately, there was one minor issue: money. My parents detested the idea of holding down a job during the school year because according to them – school was my jobEverything changed the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of high school.  For the first time, I wasn’t on swim team, I wasn’t playing basketball and I wasn’t taking summer school for shits or giggles – I was free!  So, I decided it was time to be a bigger kid and earn my keep and my parents, in concurrent fashion, thought it was time to teach me about bills, paychecks and taxes.

At the end of the conversation, my dad turned to me to tell me a joke. “It’s an old one from your grandpa Harry.” He mused excitedly,  “I don’t think you’ll remember it.  Okay, so – a businessman decides he wants to buy a dog….”  For the first time, I got it. By the end of the joke I’d managed to simultaneously roll my eyes, cackle and slap my knee at the same time. It’s one of those horrible kind of jokes that the masses groan at; but do you want know what’s worse?  Doing your expenses for the first time.

First things first, let’s get some facts out of the way.  Yes: I am (almost) 28, my parents are smart and taught me how to balance a checkbook, I can add and subtract without using my fingers and I’m fairly organized; the keyword there being fairly. The problem with most of my generation, including myself, is that we’re in no mood or rush to get up, get out and get ours; we care more about things that fall into our laps and less about things we truly need to work for. Don’t get me wrong, putting in a valiant effort and then reaping in the rewards – whether it’s self-confidence, admiration, respect or a raise – is amazing.  But so is doing absolutely jack shit to get the same result. Meet my generation.

Yes, yes – this is a grotesque, overreaching, insidious generalization; unfortunately, for you the technical term for this condition has been around for roughly 2000 years.  The original term coined by Ovid was “Puer Aeternus” – which translates into eternal boy.   Psychiatrist Carl Jung took this idea and ran with it, developing it as an innate behavior model, or archetype, in the then newly founded  field of analytical psychology. Out of these, what’s now known as  Peter Pan Syndrome developed.  Granted, Peter Pan Syndrome is something ascribed mainly to men in their 20’s through 50’s – but I’m a firm believer in gender equality and am fairly positive Women have their own equally common ‘Wendy complex‘.

For a good number of people, the idea of economic and emotional autonomy is nerve wracking.  The financial climate of this country is currently, well, horrendous – unemployment rates are up, graduating classes are large and there’s a fierce amount of competition in the work place; the unfortunate fact of the matter is that it’s driving many people to move back home.  The problem with being back home, is psychologically it is easier to revert back to older, younger and more immature ways of both thinking and behaving.  On the flip side, are the people who have moved out, gotten a job but because of monetary instability are still somewhat reliant on their family.  So almost either way you spin it, we still haven’t been forced to grow up – yet.

Lately I’ve been hounding myself into it – thankfully, maturity doesn’t have to happen right away and it certainly doesn’t have to be all at once.  But little by little, piece by piece – I’m finally generating these proactive urges to get my life together and get on with all of it.

The first step for independence was figuring out my expenses.  Each time I’d sit down and try to do my expenses these three thoughts would cross my mind: (1) This is so important, I can’t believe I’ve never done this before and I can’t wait to see what happens; (2) I spend a lot of money on things that aren’t part of my long term, bigger picture – what the hell?; (3) Oh my god, I’m a hot mess and my brain hurts – this experiment is over!  Right around that time I pound a beer, go on my porch and lament about forcing myself to become older and wiser.

I don’t know what got into me last night, but I printed off my last banking statements and started highlighting, sifting and sorting through the wreckage.  Then I had a few unsettling epiphanies…

  • The price of one lunch at the Whole Foods deli is about the same as I pay for most of my fruits, vegetables and herbs for the week from Cochran Produce.
  • For every two nice beers I buy out on the town, I could buy a six-pack for my kitchen.
  • Each meal that I’ve had delivered from Nakkara (and let me tell you, they make the best Peking Duck Rolls ever) is equivalent in  price to my juices, meats and dairy products for the week from Trader Joes
  • My lunches when I go into work are actually cheaper than my lunches when I work from home.
  • Last, least and most unfortunately: concerts, DJ sets and shows are expensive.

Like most people I know, I’m learning the hard way: I’m learning how to make smarter, economically conservative decisions; I’m figuring out sooner than later that I can’t exactly afford to maintain this seemingly lush life that I’ve been living; and finally, I’m learning to be conservative with my time, money and energy.

My college friends and I have been lamenting lately that we can’t party like we used to; but I think it’s more than that – we’re not willing to sacrifice our current stability for things that were fun once upon a time.  We’ve lived, we’ve learned, and we’re not trying to backtrack.  We have 9-5 jobs that pay the rent and our bills; we have a firm understanding of our position within society and aren’t willing to sacrifice it to remake mistakes, regardless of how fun they were.