Shadow work: an exercise to give space to your hidden pain

Shadow work: an exercise to give space to your hidden pain

Everyone has parts of themselves that he or she would rather not face. We hide those parts and do everything we can not to identify with them. But sometimes you have no other choice. Then something or someone in you triggers that old pain. Matt Licata, spiritual master and author of Space to Heal, gives an exercise in this article to give space to your shadow side and let go of a little heaviness.

Shadow work

Many people have become familiar with the concept of ‘the shadow’ and how important it is to include ‘shadow work’ in any comprehensive path of spirituality and healing. As long as there is a physical body, there will be a shadow around it.

The increased awareness of the shadow dynamics is a positive development, but, like all psychological and spiritual concepts, it still requires that we approach the situation with an open mind, depth, and nuance, and are willing to even shadow the concept of the shadow explore and take nothing at face value.

What is your shadow side?

In short, the shadow is that aspect of personality that we all have (yes, including gurus and “masters,” including you) and that contains parts of us that we don’t like, that don’t fit with how we want to be seen. , and that contradicts the public persona we like to show to others.

Shadow work: an exercise to give space to your hidden pain

He refers to subtle (or less subtle) narcissism, selfishness, power-hungry, addictive, unkind, and violent parts of the psyche that we have suppressed and that will put everything into gear just not to be brought into consciousness.

Anger and spirituality

For example, many spiritual people believe that we should not be angry and that the mere appearance of anger clearly proves that we have failed, done something wrong, or are not half as spiritual as we think we are. Maybe Dad got mad when you got angry as a young child, or Mom got scared and withdrew from us, or our spiritual teacher or community made us feel ashamed because we “got mad.”

Whatever the reason, we’ve concluded that there is something fundamentally wrong with the feeling of anger; it just doesn’t fit our image of an educated person, and so we put it in the shadows where we don’t have to experience it directly.

Of course, this doesn’t change the underlying anger except that it gets more energy in the unconscious, from which it eventually has to emerge, usually in a less than ideal way where we project it onto others and thereby generate a lot of struggle, pain, and confusion.

When fear and anger arise

It is clear that if our intention is to get to know ourselves as deeply as possible, and we want to meet our unwanted experiences with curiosity and warmth, we need to build a relationship with the shadow, and we do that in the first place by shedding light on how it manifests itself and how to pay attention to it.

From this perspective, the shadow is not a concrete entity within us that we must find and fight. We don’t really see ‘it’, we mainly see the reflections. In the example described above, where we have “shadowed” our natural human experience of anger, we may feel quite a bit of fear when anger rises within us; we prepare to immobilize our defenses so that the anger will remain buried, or we transfer it into another. ‘No way, I’m really not mad. But he is so angry. He is so full of anger! You can just feel it.’

The good news is that we can learn to work with this fear and dig up what may lie beneath it. We can follow the trail back and find that flooded feeling into which we have poured so much psychic energy for all those years (decades).

Shadow work: an exercise to give space to your hidden pain

Awareness of your intense emotions

If we want to discover the wisdom and creativity hidden in our most intense emotions, we must give a home to the unwanted parts of ourselves so that they can come back and be given attention with more awareness, perspective, space, and compassion.

According to some, we have an ethical responsibility to work with the shadow, because otherwise, we are sure to project, move and even discharge it onto others and the world, which will only lead to more unhealthy aggression, violence, and suffering for ourselves and others.

Exercise to explore your shadow side

What qualities in others (positive or negative) have the mysterious ability to throw me off balance, and trigger an avalanche of charged feelings, images, tendencies, and sensations? What makes my mind run wild and my mind becomes totally heated and disturbed, trapped and claustrophobic or furious and activated, in a way that seems rather exaggerated? Of course, we can look for this in an actual exchange with someone else, which would be the most powerful (and difficult) way to explore this material, but it can also be done through meditation, imagination, and visualization.


For example, consider a person who evokes these kinds of reactions in you – someone who provokes anger, annoyance, hatred, or aggression in you. Or more positively, someone who might excite you, or who you long to get closer to and who you really want, or whom you idealize or have placed on a pedestal. Those reactions appear rather extravagant or otherwise do not seem to fit in with reality.

For a moment, don’t interpret what might happen, or try to understand or analyze what is going on. Let the “external” person go and see if you can open up to an “internal other” who is now coming up to be known, held, and eager to come back in. Scan your body and feel what sensations the overall situation and atmosphere gives, and use your breath to stay close to yourself. Offer a home to which those who were lost can return.

Shadow work: an exercise to give space to your hidden pain

What activated this person in you? What especially needs attention and loving awareness now that you are activated? What quality or aspect of yourself have you fallen out of a relationship with and is now offering a doorway for you to reunite with it?

When you make contact with this material within yourself, do it slowly and be as curious as you can be about what wants to be met. Let it make itself known through all layers of experience, including thoughts, underlying beliefs, feelings, emotions, sensations, memories, images, and tendencies to do something. Stay far enough away that you maintain perspective, but not so far that you lose close contact.

Give refuge to the material and figures where they may dance and speak to you and tell you what they need and why they have come. Enter into an active dialogue and do some self-examination, then rest. Let the visualization dissolve back into the open space from which it came.


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