Shadow work is some of the most important work we can do as individuals on the path to healing and wholeness.
For those of you who have practiced emotional healing, with myself or another practitioner, have experienced the transformative process of shedding light in dark areas. Some of what we do in emotional healing is shadow work.
So what is shadow work and why is it important?
Shadow work is the ability to heal aspects of ourselves that we are not consciously aware of. The reason shadow work is so important is that it brings awareness to belief systems, emotions, experiences, and generational thought patterns that affect our everyday decisions and outcomes. Shadow work can be compared to shining a flashlight into a dark cave: we are shining awareness (light) on information or systems of thought that were previously shrouded in darkness. By doing so, we can more clearly discern if we are holding onto truth or falsehood - or said another way - whether our beliefs serve our greater good or keep us from it.
UNDERSTANDING THE MIND
To understand shadow work it’s important to understand the mind. Let’s use the classic iceberg analogy for this:
Imagine an iceberg, a great shard of ice sitting above the surface of the water. This represents our conscious mind. It is our active decision-making faculty and comprises less than 10% of our cognitive capacity. This is everything we can actively see - what we are aware of in the present moment.
Now if we were to look beneath the surface of the water, we would see that this iceberg is much bigger below: a mountain of ice, representing roughly 90% of our cognitive capacity. This is our subconscious mind. It holds all of our beliefs, experiences, familial thought patterns, and genetic information below the surface of our awareness.
It’s now we might realize that this iceberg sits in the ocean. The ocean might be considered the collective unconscious, representing the combined cognitive information of all humanity. Just as an iceberg is influenced by the water in which it is held, the collective unconscious impacts our individual thoughts, feelings and emotions.
The iceberg is both an aspect of the collective, and independent of it. So we are both influenced by the collective and, likewise, we influence the collective consciousness of humanity.
Using this analogy, we can see that when we are doing shadow work, we are working with the 90% subconscious aspect of ourselves. This is how we can help to heal not only our individual subconscious thoughts, but also the thoughts of our family, ancestry, and larger human family.
When I say “shadow work” folks often become nervous.
The truth is that shadow work is simply bringing subconscious information to the surface, into our awareness, so that we can address and heal any negative influence it might have on our thoughts and beliefs.
I personally feel that shadow work is a necessary and powerful tool for personal growth of any kind. It can be accomplished in any way that allows us to access information held beyond our active awareness: through meditation, emotional healing, chakra work, hypnosis, and other modalities that allow us to bypass the conscious and access information below the surface of our awareness.
SHADOW WORK, UNCOVERED
Let’s learn the power of shadow work through something we can all relate to: abundance.
A common theme with my clients is healing our emotions and beliefs around lack and limitation. Imagine someone, who we’ll call Jan, that has a desire to create more income, wealth, or abundance in her life. Let’s say she is active in personal growth and development. Perhaps she has written down her financial goals and has been saying affirmations around money. We can say that Jan is doing a really good job making strides to a better financial future. It is important to know that Jan is using her active conscious mind, the 10% of the iceberg above water, to make movement to her goal.
Let’s say Jan has made some progress. She has increased her monthly income, but still feels like she has to exert a lot of willpower to “make it happen.” Jan decides to look at this through the lens of emotional healing, to see if there are any subconscious beliefs or thought systems that need to be healed around money.
Through emotional healing, Jan might bring forward experiences and decisions that have shaped her perspective around abundance. Perhaps she grew up in the Midwest where there was an underlying currant of “needing to work hard to get what you want” (collective unconscious and subconscious influences). Let’s also say that Jan’s father grew up in the depression, where unaddressed feelings of lack and limitation were passed down to Jan generationally. This set the stage for Jan to build more evidence to support both of these generational and cultural belief systems.
Let’s also say that at 13 Jan started a babysitting business. Jan was making a healthy stream of income for herself at this age, and she really enjoyed doing it. Perhaps, during the course of an emotional healing session, a memory comes forward about a time when Jan was babysitting that went poorly. Here is her story: There was a family where the children refused to sleep and Jan could never get the dinner cleaned up, between 3 unruly kids. By the time the parents are home, she is exhausted. Before handing her babysitting wages, the mother says a few harsh words to young Jan. Depleted and forlorn, Jan takes the money feeling awful about the evening. It’s not just the experience, but at that moment, Jan decides that making money never really was meant to feel good. Maybe her Dad was right - "life is about putting your head down and doing with what little you have."
Jan, now 65, still carries the residual feelings of that young entrepreneurial experience within her. Trivial as it may seem, her subconscious mind has paired the idea of “hard work,” “pain,” and “exhaustion,” with abundance. And though her active mind has set goals and made strides, the subconscious part of Jan holds negative beliefs about herself and her ability to create abundance. Remember, the subconscious is more than 90% of our cognitive power.
By helping Jan to access the subconscious beliefs, we can shed the light of awareness onto them, releasing what no longer serves her.
In our desire to do good work in the world and experience greater outcomes, let us not look solely to that which we can see. Instead, let us be able to shine a flashlight into the darkness and bring forward all aspects of ourselves yet to be seen.