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To be happy you must integrate your Shadow!
What is the Shadow and why is it critical to your happiness and awakening?
“You are rarely upset for the reasons you think.” Anonymous
In this article I explain what the “Shadow” is and why integrating your Shadow is critical to both your happiness and your awakening.
Many people know about their unconscious Shadow, also called the pain-body. Most of those who have been in therapy as well as those who have read books by Eckhart Tolle are familiar with the way the Shadow works and how it can mess up our lives. But even those who know what it is and how it functions, rarely know why it is so critical to our happiness, our relationships, and our awakening. Nor do they know how to surface and integrate it.
You have likely seen your Shadow
You have probably experienced your Shadow at some point in your life. Maybe you felt a strong emotion toward a person, such as distrust, that seemed to come out of nowhere. You might have experienced a terrifying memory out of the blue, that shook your foundation. Maybe you got overly upset about something mundane but had no idea where it came from.
A great example is when a couple is arguing over something that, to an outsider, seems trivial. Neither person fully realizes why they are getting so upset. They don’t see that there is something below the surface that is upsetting them. It could be a supressed memory or a hidden childhood fear. Once they recognize that their Shadow is activated, they can better understand why they are upset and then integrate it so it’s less likely to get activated in the future.
It is a key to awakening
As for awakening, many mystics see the Shadow or pain-body as even more important than psychologists. They see the clearing of the Shadow, including our fear-based programming and limiting beliefs, as critical to our ability to wake up and self-actualize. The work of integrating the Shadow enables each person to become truly sovereign, live an authentic life and play out their unique role on this planet. Transpersonal psychologist, John Welwood suggests that we need to do both psychological and spiritual work in order to wake up,
“So its not enough to have a spiritual realization. It is also essential to deconstruct the subconscious emotional and mental patterns that are held in the body and the mind, and that prevent people from fully embodying a larger way of being in their lives.”
Indeed, there is a specific term applied to those who engage in spiritual seeking without doing the more difficult inner work. It is called “spiritual bypassing.”
What is the Shadow?
In simple terms, the Shadow is a hidden aspect in your psyche that can prevent you from living fully if not addressed. As Bill Plotkin says, although is helpful, it can also impede our blossoming,
“The Shadow helps ensure our survival, but it also impedes our blossoming, often rendering our life into a series of so many dull days for want of imaginative possibilities and visionary resources trapped and held in the long bag that we drag behind us.”
Typically, the Shadow is seen as a bundle of unconscious memories buried in our subconscious. It impacts our lives every single day, without our awareness. It influences our behaviour, often causing unwanted reactions and disrupts our feelings. The Shadow contains memories but also ideas, assumptions, beliefs, and fears, that can both help us and hinder us.
One of the main ways in which our Shadow or pain-body shows up is by surfacing at the most inappropriate times – often causing us to shut down or freak out.
For example, you might be at a dinner party and leave abruptly when someone makes a joke about your ears. You might fall into days of depression when you get fired from your job. You might love dating, but avoid commitment without understanding why.
In each of these situations there may well be a hidden Shadow. You may be harbouring out-dated fears and beliefs that are causing you to behave this way. By surfacing and integrating your Shadow you can free yourself from most of this.
The Shadow is helpful
The Shadow is part of our extensive collection of memories. We each store our memories in our bodies, brains, neurons and cells. As we go about our lives, we record most of our experiences and place them in our memory banks. Some are positive others negative. Some are big. Some are small.
These memories are a critical aspect and foundation of our human behaviour. They allow us to recall past events and anticipate future events, thus enabling us to predict and prevent harm. They help us function in daily life as we navigate new people and new situations.
As we react to life, and make sense of what is happening, we don’t just take snap shots of what is occurring, we also form assumptions, beliefs and fears. Moment by moment we place all of this it in our memory so that we can access it later, not just to get by, but to assist when we are waking up and becoming whole, as suggested by Bill Plotkin says,
“Your Shadow contains values, perspectives, and capacities needed to round out and complete your adult personality. It contains personal power you’ll need when you befriend or wrestle with the inner and outer demons and angels encountered in the process of growing whole, and it holds the powers you’ll need in order to embody the singular Soul gift you carry for the world.“
Although most of our memories support us, some undermine us. Most can be accessed by our minds, but many are so supressed or buried that they are completely invisible to us. The ones that are completely below our consciousness are called the Shadow or the pain-body – referring to the pain they tend to hold.
It is like a laundry bag
The easiest way to think about the Shadow or the pain-body is to think of it as a hidden laundry bag for your memories and emotions. You might imagine it located in your body, brain, neurons, or gut. This bag contains your hidden beliefs, ideas and fears that you have gathered over your lifetime from all your personal experiences, socialization and programming.
But unlike your regular memory storage, Shadow memories are hidden deep in the subconscious, far below our awareness. This Shadow also has a voice that tells you how to respond and react. So, for example, if you were bitten by a dog when you were a toddler, your laundry bag might tell you, without using any words, that dogs are dangerous. Even if you do not remember getting bitten, you might have a morbid fear of dogs.
The generational Shadow
To complicate matters, the laundry bag not only contains memories, beliefs, and fears from this life, but also contains energy-based memories from your ancestors. You may have inherited energetic knots through your DNA and biology. For example, many women have a very deep fear of rape and violence, that might have been passed along over the generations. As Adyashanti says,
“The notion of generational suffering is based on the fact that each of us comes from a generational line, which goes as far back in time as we can imagine, back even to the original human beings, our original ancestors themselves. We’re actually the outcome of a long chain of many. “
These memories do not just sit around and wait, they actually inform us day-in and day-out. They tell us what is scary and what is safe, what is good and what is bad. Although we don’t hear a voice directly, it gets injected into our thoughts, behaviours and reactions to every situation.
“This “pain-body” is an energy field within you that sporadically takes over you because it needs to experience more emotional pain for it to feed on and replenish itself. It will try to control your thinking and make it deeply negative.” Eckhart Tolle
The good news is that you can integrate your Shadow day-by-day. Indeed, the Shadow can be regularly “cleared” in situations and particularly in close relationships. However, although integrating your Shadow is a necessary and beneficial thing, it can also me painful, as described here by Pema Chodron (When Things Fall Apart),
“The more we relate with each other, the more quickly we discover where we are blocked, where we are unkind, afraid, shut down. Seeing this is helpful, but it is also painful.“
In my next entries I talk about:
Where did the Shadow come from?
Why is the Shadow so hard to surface?
The five main harms of the Shadow.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book: “Wake he F Up.” Thanks for joining me on the journey! This substack is completely supported by you the readers. The best way to support me is to buy my books, invite me to speak or become a subscriber here.