They say “happiness is a choice.”
Most of the time, that’s the choice I make. I’m exuberant, energetic, bubbly, and bright. It’s a default I enjoy—the connection, openness, and opportunity that comes with it serve as fuel for my life.
Daily, I choose joy, lightness, and ease. It’s a mantra for me—something I actively cultivate.
This outlook serves me well in my personal journey to be a light in this world. But sometimes this choice comes with a cost: other layers of self, other modes of being in this world, often get underrepresented, under-expressed.
So, sometimes I make a different choice (and sometimes, this isn’t a choice at all, but an unavoidable force) to engage with my shadow. By shadow, I don’t mean the negative emotions that sometimes arise in response to life events, I mean the deeper patterns of self-limiting beliefs. According to Jungian analyst Aniela Jaffe, the shadow is the “sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life.”
Sometimes I can’t see the ways in which underlying patterns of shadow hold me back in fully embodying the outlook I try to embrace every day.
Every time I make the effort to engage with these subconscious patterns, I learn something new about myself. I find new edges to hone my process of growth. In my quest to be a light, I am reminded that darkness makes the light brighter, and that I must journey with my own darkness in order to be of any help or guidance to anyone else.
Only this first hand experience can cultivate any genuine compassion.
So how can we delve into shadow work in a safe, held way? Personally, I am a somatic processor—I don’t have to consciously verbalize my thoughts or feelings in order to incorporate the lessons. So I crafted a ceremony to create the container I needed to pursue this line of inquiry.
Give it a try, customizing in the appropriate ways that allow it to feel authentic for you.
A Ceremonial Dance with Shadow.
For me, any self-work endeavor begins with a strong cup of pure cacao—a physiological and metaphorical heart opener. I mix coconut milk, a couple tablespoons of cacao powder, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Adding a bit of ground hawthorn berry may also encourage that heart connection.
Next, set up the space. Choosing the right music is a key piece of this for me; I find the violin to be one of the most heart-focused instruments I know. I highly recommend Dixon’s Violin as an excellent backdrop for going in deep. From here, depending on your preferences, lighting several candles and incense can help create a safe container, where each of your senses is engaged with intention. I clear a large floor space in my apartment, sweep the wood floor, and remove any hazards.
From here, start the playlist and lay back on the floor, perhaps taking a constructive rest pose by bringing my knees together and my feet wide. This allows the psoas muscle to passively lengthen, a deep signal to the body that you are safe.
Take a few deep breaths, and begin to invite in the shadow. Maybe that’s a simple statement to yourself, maybe you just begin to feel into what lurks below the surface. Every pattern of self-doubt, self-judgment, self-limiting belief—let yourself feel it all. Where do you feel the presence of shadow in your body?
Allow yourself to be held by the earth beneath you. How can you surrender every ounce of your weight to the firm floor? Allow your breath to deepen, allow your entire body to breathe.
Begin to notice any resistance. Where in your physical body do you feel tension? Where in your breath do you feel restriction? Let yourself move into a non-verbal, feeling mode—no need to clearly articulate these—what can you do to just feel?
Without forcing or controlling, allow your body to move, easing any of that bracing or resistance. Maybe these movements start small—a lift of an arm or a leg. Let the pace of the music guide you. What can you do to just allow movement to happen? Let go of self-judgment or uncertainty; there is no wrong way to move your body.
Periodically, blow out a candle, inviting yourself deeper into shadow, deeper into inquiry. Release any of those walls and boundaries we put up to block out these parts of ourselves. How can you invite it in? How can you truly, deeply, thoroughly feel what there is to feel? However, be sure to honor your limits, respect your boundaries, and don’t push yourself further than what you have the support to cope with.
Keep moving, Allow movement to happen. Every so often, stop. Rest back onto the floor, and notice any resistance. Repeat—move, stop, breathe—and allow.
Allow the patterns of shadow we hold in our physical bodies begin to ease and dissipate. If thoughts surface and it’s helpful to name what you’re experiencing, move into that, perhaps by finding a journal or a friend to process with. When you feel a sense of “expressed,” find a moment of quiet gratitude toward self for walking this path, toward the pillars of support that hold you up, to the earth beneath you for the steadiness that allows you to surrender.
Set the intention of allowing—of surrendering and releasing resistance—in order to move freely. How can this apply to other activities in your life?
Share your experience here and any ways you personalized this practice.
Author: Leah Van Winkle
Image: Craig Whitehead/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina