What is the Shadow?
The Shadow lives in the depths of our subconscious. It’s hard to know it’s in there unless you go looking for it and you’re ready to see what you don’t necessarily want to see about yourself. My understanding of the Shadow comes from neuroscience & Partswork, and my personal spiritual experience.
Partswork, or Internal Family Systems, was developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1980’s and I was introduced to it through my Nature Connected Coaching training at the Earth-Based Institute in Colorado. Shadow Parts are the disowned Parts of ourselves. They are often formed to protect us from some pain or hurt we experienced. After getting acquainted with and working with my own Parts over the years, I’ve cultivated a deeper relationship with my own Shadow. My Shadow is a mixed bag of Parts developed through childhood programming, societal voices or perceived pressures to be successful in a certain way, generational traumas inherited through genetics and family legacy stories, straight-up fear, as well as needs such as love and inclusion. A loving way to describe Shadow Parts would be to say they are “less-optimally-functioning Parts,” but that’s a mouthful and not nearly as mysterious-sounding as “Shadoooooowwww….”
Some of my Shadow Parts were formed out of fear and they sought to protect me. In conversations with my Shadow Parts, they mostly seek safety and acceptance and acknowledgement. I first encountered my Shadow Parts while being coached through Partswork sessions. Once I recognized and acknowledged my Parts, what their role is, and what they need, I was better able to begin the healing and integration process. From here, I’ve been working on “scaling up” to address generational and collective traumas. What Parts of myself were carried over from my ancestral lineage? Holy hole in a doughnut, Batman!...is there some fascinating stuff in there. War trauma, concentration camp trauma, scarcity, economic collapse, safety of family & friends, isolation from family & friends, food shortages, death, disease.
From a neuroscience perspective, Parts are neural pathways within the brain that get activated by events or people that trigger them. I once worked for a person whose unintegrated Parts triggered my unintegrated Parts and it felt like I was interacting with the worst version of myself. Every day at work, I could feel certain neural networks getting activated, as I watched my agitated thoughts and felt sick to my stomach before work everyday. I saw from that shocking experience what can happen to a person if the Shadow Parts constantly run the show, left to run amok over decades, if I were to operate solely out of fear and trying to protect my ego for the rest of my life. I saw who I could become if I didn’t reconcile my relationship with my Shadow Parts such as The Perfectionist, The Controller, The Wounded Child, The Know-It-All, The Center of Attention, The Invisible Smallness, The Scarcity Part, The Angry One, The Blamer & Shamer, The Slave Part, The Crossed-Boundary Fusebomb, The Fear of Being Judged Part, The Inner Critic, to name a few. Each one of these Parts consists of a neural network connected to memories, events, people, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When we get triggered by something, that neural network literally gets activated, sending electrical impulses through our nervous system which corresponds to changes in our body posture, thoughts, language, words we use, and choices we make.
My Shadow often operates out of fear, as a means to protect myself...more specifically as a means to protect my ego. There is nothing wrong with having an ego. It keeps us safe. Stop trying to kill off your egos, you well-intentioned people! [I love you very much] Give your ego what it needs to feel safe. Give your Parts what they need to feel safe. Tell yourself everything’s going to be okay. Tell your Parts it's all going to be okay.
“You’ve survived 100% of your worst days so far, you’ve got this.” - unknown
My spiritual perspective regarding the Shadow comes from experiencing several “Dark Nights of the Soul.” During these periods of self-inquiry and questions of purpose and “Who Am I, Really?” many of my Shadow Parts seemed to reveal themselves all at once, and the only way to temper them was to surrender myself to the discomfort and feelings of despair and anger and loneliness and confusion. And when all my energy, my life force was pinched off and I had no idea how or when this discomfort would end, I would finally ask for guidance. I had to get down to the bare bones of myself. When there was nothing left and it was just me versus me, asking for guidance opened a connection to the wisest, most ancient, most compassionate, most loving “thing” out there. Was it something within myself, or something “out there”? Call it Source, call it God, call it Higher Self, Inner Being, Soul...I won’t claim I fully understand the depths of what it encompasses.
Once I was familiar with my Parts, I was stoked to get acquainted with so many wise Parts of myself that arrived when I asked for help. Hello Beauty, Grasshopper, Storyteller, Writer, Cosmic Nature Witch, Humble Light Warrior. With the love and support of something greater within me and working through me, I was able to see all my Parts with compassion instead of suppressing or hiding them. I’m still a work in progress, but now when my Shadow Parts flare up, I know how to love and acknowledge them, and transmute them into integrated, more optimally-functioning Parts.
We must love our Shadow.
There is no way to hate away Parts of ourselves.
We’re all being asked to face our Shadow right now.
Coronavirus is more than a virus.
Coronavirus is our Collective Shadow.
Our individual Shadows form the Collective Shadow.
We are being confronted with things that are most uncomfortable and unsettling to humans.
Scarcity...fear...unknown...death...abruptness...out of our control...surreal...is this really happening?
Am I going to be okay?
How will this affect me?
How will this affect my friends & loved ones?
Are they going to be okay?
Is humanity going to be okay?
When will this end?
Take a deep breath.
Remember that all things pass.
What Does Fear Feel Like?
I just watched 3 minutes of the news. I acknowledged the gravity of what the world is experiencing. Schools, businesses, libraries, restaurants...closed. Many people are without work until this blows over. We don’t know when this will blow over.
Death, disease, isolation, financial strain, uncertainty, unknown.
I close my eyes...tapping into the collective fear, and yours, and my own.
“Where are you…?”
“Where are you…?”
Then I feel it...there in the pit of my stomach. I can feel stomach acid building, a hot cauldron of swirling chemicals that feels hot and uncomfortable. The heat and acidic feeling spreads, upwards into my chest and even further into my head. My heart begins to race. Now adrenaline is pumping through my system, reaching my arms and feet, making them tingle and get warm. My body is ready for flight or fight. I’m breathing shallow now. It’s hard to take full breaths. My shoulders are tense and raised up high toward my ears. My pre-frontal cortex goes offline, and my reptilian survival brain gears up for responding to the threat. My thoughts are convoluted, foggy, I’m not sure what I need. The heat in my body is building and building.
“Okay, that’s enough,” I tell myself.
I let go of the news I just watched, although I know it’s finding a cozy space somewhere in the depths of my subconscious now. It will pop up at some other time I conjure up fear. The words and images we consume don’t ever really go away...they enter into our powerful computer of a brain.
It’s time to work with Fear.
I take a few deep breaths.
I say in my mind:
“I feel you, Fear.”
“I acknowledge you.”
“Thank you for trying to keep me safe.”
I feel my shoulders relax. I take a deep breath. My breathing deepens.
“I’m okay. Everything’s going to be okay.” Oxygen fills the forlorn crevasses of my lungs.
My nervous system resets.
I feel a sense of calm.
“It’s going to be okay.”
If I pause just long enough, I will hear a faint whisper in my mind, the sometimes-LOUD, sometimes-tiny voice of Fear that says, “...Is it?”
Here I face a choice.
Feed the fear, or acknowledge it and move on.
Today, I choose to acknowledge it and move on.
I have to look it right in the eyes, and say:
I see you Fear, I walk with you, and your presence is thanked. I have a need for stability and safety and the known. In you I feel chaos, and unsafe, and the unknown. Now I’m going to go play my favorite tunes, read the books I’ve been meaning to, cook a family dinner with my roomies and watch movies and create and draw and meditate and realize how insanely grateful I am that I have food on my table, a bed to sleep on, technology at my fingertips, nature nature all around me, and a healthy relationship with my Shadow and Fear.
So I ask you…
“What lies lurking within your subconscious?”
“What lurks within our collective subconscious?”
“What are you afraid of?”
“What is that fear teaching you?”
So What? Now What?
...Just between you and me, this isn’t about running out of toilet paper...
This is about safety, where we are faced with real threats to our sense of safety and wellbeing.
We are being emotionally squeezed, and we can all feel the immensity of this, and the transformation out of this, and the things that weren’t working will be re-created.
This is about fear, and scarcity, and grappling with our sense of control. Maybe buying toilet paper makes you feel like you have something within your control, in a world where we are growing accustomed to feeling powerless.
Take back your power.
Work collaboratively with your mind.
Use your mind to work with you, instead of against you.
Cultivate a deep relationship with yourself.
Cultivate a deep relationship with nature.
Cultivate a deep relationship with your ancestors.
Get curious about your family legacy story.
Get curious about our societal wounds. (We live on lands stolen from the native americans. Slavery happened, not that long ago. Women are continually exploited and assaulted. Men lack rites of passage and healthy masculine role modeling. Our political and financial infrastructures do not function the way they were intended to.)
Acknowledge your Parts.
Acknowledge Fear and then put energy elsewhere.
Heal your trauma.
To heal your trauma is to heal across space and time, reaching back through generations.
To heal oneself is to heal the collective.
To heal the collective is to take back our power.