Our dark side was called our personal “shadow” by Carl Jung. It’s everything about ourselves we do not know, or refuse to know: egotism, forbidden sexual desires, violent urges, unpopular proclivities. But it also includes positive, untapped potential, those qualities we admire in others but can’t see in ourselves.
The challenge is in accepting ourselves all the way to the bottom, admitting and holding, rather than denying and burying our arrogance, our self-centeredness, our will to coerce others, our shame, and any other dark truths we think we can’t face. By hiding objectionable personality traits, we lose the chance to rework and move through them. Befriending the Shadow makes fear an ally. It enables us to live more authentically.
In his book Shadow Dance, David Richo, a psychotherapist, shows how to use active mindfulness to work with our shadow side when it manifests in personal life, family interaction, religion, and the world around us.
Richo formerly practiced as a Catholic priest, but I think the “feel” of the book is more mystical. His learning is truly ecumenical–he draws on his readings of the poets, Greek and other mythologies, Hinduism, Zen, and his experience of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the path into the dark parts of our human nature. He sees the shadow as containing great power and beauty, if we can only stop avoiding the teachings contained within it.
The book contains essays which lead you down the path of doing “shadow work,” with each essay followed by a section of journal exercises and topics to think about. These “to do” sections help the reader to work with the ideas in the book, rather than just read about them. Not all the exercises will appeal to everyone, but there is such a wide range offered in each section that there is surely something for every reader.
I use this book for a class I teach in Shadow Work, and there are lots of tears in every class. Looking inward and facing personal demons is hard work. If you approach the exercises in the book with honesty, you will be exhausted every session. You will also be enlightened, awakened and liberated.
Does one’s shadow work ever end? Should you ever stop questioning your own reasons for behavior—or the motivations and behavior of people around you? Between severing my old coven ties last year, Reclaiming Witchcamp, Samhain, Krampus at Yule, and some deep personal examination of my political and moral beliefs, I lived in Shadow Land for most of 2016. After listening to so many people saying, “F-off and good riddance” to the old year, it appears I was not the only one struggling with the dark side of life, and my own possible contributions.
Based on my New Year’s tarot spread, it looks like Shadow will be coming to visit a few more times in 2017. Thankfully, I now feel I’m ready to embrace my darker shadow side, and her opportunities for growth.
Note: If you start this book and decide it’s too much too soon, take a look at Richo’s earlier works, such as How to Be an Adult in Relationships.
Sandy Wright moved to Arizona 17 years ago and fell in love with the southwest desert, including its Native American influences. After a trip to Sedona, the germ of a novel was born.
“I love to take ordinary characters and put them in extraordinary situations that change their view of the world.”
Her first novel, Song of the Ancients, introduces witchcraft and shamanism seen through the eyes of an ordinary woman. Readers interested in witchcraft—or just a dark, eerie tale—will enjoy this paranormal suspense, written by a real-life Wiccan High Priestess.
Song of the Ancients is available on Amazon in print and ebook.