Your unconscious shadow attitudes, inescapably, become the lenses through which you look at life. Refusing to “own” a shadow tendency just makes you less conscious that it is distorting your perspective. Because inevitably, when you can’t see something in yourself, you project the quality onto someone else, either judging or admiring the quality in them.
This is just one reason why shadow work can be so revelatory, and so life changing. Just learning to recognize your shadow can transform your relationship to other people and yourself. You’ll have an easier time accepting constructive feedback once you’ve recognized that it’s your perfection-obsessed inner critic who’s beating you up, and not the person who’s trying to give you a useful critique. Even more important, when you do your shadow work, you’ll find that it can dissolve many of your negative feelings about yourself—feelings like shame and unworthiness, or the sneaking suspicion that you’re not the person you pretend to be. It also becomes easier to notice and let go of unconscious behavior patterns like being deceitful with your coworkers, blowing up at your mother, or choosing romantic partners who tend to take advantage of you. Shadow work, if you do it authentically, lets you begin to unpick the threads of your negative samskaras.
Often, people who have engaged in shadow work exhibit a high degree of balance, tolerance, and self-acceptance. They tend to have high integrity, in the sense that they don’t say one thing and do another. Their ethics are not undercut by their unconscious impulses, emotionally charged projections, or negative habit patterns.
As you, too, begin to acknowledge your disowned traits and do your shadow work, you’ll catch glimpses of what genuine inner balance feels like. For instance, when you find yourself feeling envious of a friend’s success, instead of resenting them, you will be able to use the feeling of envy to look to how you can step up to your own potential. Or you’ll no longer feel so much resistance to getting on the mat, because having seen into your inner rebel, you’ll be able to negotiate a practice schedule that is free-form enough so the rebel feels less restricted.
Sally Kempton is active in the leadership of the Center for world Spirituality and also participates in our Wisdom Council.
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