Making Peace with the Shadows

September 21st, 2010

We often think people have hurt us when what has really happened is that they’ve reminded us of an old wound that never fully healed. Then, because we think the other person is the cause of our pain, we waste a whole lot of time and energy waiting for them to fix the problem; waiting for forgiveness, waiting for revenge, waiting for change, waiting for superman…..

When we don’t get what we think we want, we make enemies for life, and avoid the real pain. Waiting for an apology is like chasing your tail, or more accurately hiding from your own shadow. The real pain lurks behind the shadows. The pain is too tough to face, so we suppress it and direct our frustration at other people, making them the problem. Carl Jung said the shadow is “that which we think we are not.” We are intolerant of qualities in others that we have not fully embraced in ourselves.

In ancient cultures, there were many superstitious beliefs about shadows. It was believed that there were healing powers in the shadow of a great person. If you could just walk in their shadow, some of their greatness might rub off. Now we use the phrase “Walking in someone’s shadow” to describe the often frustrating experience of following in the footsteps of an older sibling or your predecessor in a job.  It comes with the sense of not measuring up, when in reality its not their shadow that’s the issue but the shadow of your own insecurity.

The shadow speaks of hidden qualities. Shadows are powerful, if the light of awareness shines on them and they become part of a conscious self reflection.  Goethe said, “There is strong shadow where there is much light.This is empowering when you turn it around. There is much light where there is strong shadow. So dive into the shadow and look for the light.

Easier said than done of course. It can be uncomfortable, like looking in a crazy mirror at a carnival and seeing your distorted self image. But there are practical ways of integrating the shadow and learning to love what you see in the mirror.

Byron Katie offers some pointed questions to do this healing work.

1) What is my story?

2) Is it true?

3) Do I gain anything from believing this story?

4) Do I gain anything from dropping this story?

5) What is this story telling me about myself?

Katie calls this reframing process a turn around. It sheds light on your story, asks what you gain from keeping the story alive and who you would be without the story.

Next time you find yourself pointing a finger at someone or something, follow the three fingers pointing back at you. You just might discover that you can turn around some of the stories by exposing the fear lurking in your shadows. When your shadows are touched by the light of awareness, they become doorways through which you can enter into peace and your peace radiates to all around you. You begin to see the raw beauty in all people and all things.

Shakti Gawain wrote, “If we truly want inner peace and world peace, we must do the difficult but fascinating work of owning and appreciating all aspects of who we are—truly making peace with ourselves.  Real consciousness involves holding both sides of any polarity, not identifying with one. Exploring and embracing our darkness is the only way we can truly live in the light.”

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  1. Carl Van Krimpen says:

    Thanks, Ian, for the reminder.  I learned of my shadow (and made peace with it) several years ago.  At first it wasn’t easy, but then, I guess on second “go-round” I seem to have “got it”, and then it was no big deal.

  2. ian says:

    hi Carl. The shadows get smaller once we look at them directly and without judgment, don’t they?

  3. [...] Soulseeds » Blog Archive » Making Peace with the Shadows [...]

  4. Linda says:

    Thanks for covering this so well. Recognising and releasing an outdated story is worthwhile because it makes room to write a new one.

  5. ian says:

    Well said Linda. Thank you