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I like to describe our “shadows” as limiting beliefs and mindsets that we aren’t aware of that still affect our behaviour, decision-making, as well as our physical and mental health.
We developed this shadow as part of growing up and learning what was and was not acceptable to our “tribe,” friends, family, and people we interacted with as we learned how to survive. The shadow self is the “personality” or motivation behind our actions (you know, the ones we take and then think later, “Why did I do that or say that?”).
The good news is, while our shadow and our ego may have formed as a coping mechanism for surviving in the tribe, they don’t have to remain our main operating system. We can switch our operating system from the ego-shadow drama into a state of integration, or what is also called christ consciousness, universal oneness, light consciousness, or myriad other different names, but that all focus on the interconnection of all beings and energy.
Spiritual awakening is the process of shifting out of the old ego-shadow paradigm by deprogramming and reprogramming our consciousness (the part of us that experiences the world) so that it can run higher levels of energy. Part of this is done on behalf of source (i.e. our spirit guides, gods and goddesses, fairies, and so on, that give us guidance and intuitive hits), but an essential part of it is done from the ground up, meaning by clearing the shadows that keep us from perceiving those higher energies clearly.
We can only perceive source to the level that our consciousness is free of shadow. We know we are running our energy through shadow when we feel anxious or unsure about our purpose, when we keep repeating the same pattern or cycle in our lives even though we know it isn’t in our best interest, when things keep going wrong for no reason or we keep hitting setbacks, and when there is a general feeling of stuckness, being uninspired, maybe even bored.
So much shadow has accumulated that it gunks up the channel between us and source. Any messages sent between us and source seem muddled at best or lost at worst. It can get so clogged and unclear that we start to believe we don’t know what our purpose is or where to even begin; we literally can’t see it from shadow.
Our shadow can manifest as physical issues as well, such as aches and pains, immunity issues (getting sick a lot, being prone to infections), and digestive issues. “Shift crisis” or when we experience negative physical symptoms in response to spiritual growth or a shift in consciousness is caused by released shadow energy being dumped into our system and worked out in the 3D physical reality because it was not consciously directed or used.
I used to crash after a spiritual shift, and I thought that was just “how it was” until I started alchemizing the energy that was being released from my shadow, thus releasing it from the “trapped” state of shadow and guiding it consciously to reintegration.
For a long time, I thought I knew what I was doing on my spiritual path because I was aware of the shadow and I had been doing my shadow work. But as I was led deeper into the labyrinth of the divine feminine path, I noticed that I was still craving a more intense connection to the divine.
Nothing else would satisfy, and yet, I kept coming up against walls. I would doubt all the messages I received from source; I would doubt that spell-casting or self-care actually did anything because I was still facing hardship even after stopping drinking, drug abuse, self-harm, dating abusive partners—but I still felt so horrible.
So while my outward behavior improved, internally, I was still prone to bouts of depression and anxiety attacks, and I felt like I was only getting to experience just a taste of the magic of life. That was not enough. I knew that managing my emotions and curating my life to avoid any chance of being triggered was just not feasible or enjoyable.
Our shadows are programmings powered by the beliefs we have about ourselves and how life works that has been processed into our consciousness with a critical error so that our consciousness can’t run the program correctly, much like a computer program that no longer runs smoothly but glitches and crashes: we hit a high-intensity emotion and shut down, numb out, or project it onto others. Our awareness is the tool we use to spot the corrupted coding and correct it. Sometimes it is as simple as making a decision; sometimes it requires more digging—but it is worth it.
For example, when I was younger, I was bullied for my weight. I rejected the popularity game early on because I had been rejected, but I did not see it as a good thing back then. Instead, I developed this creed—unconsciously: they may be able to call me fat, but they will never be able to call me dumb, and I held a grudge.
From that point on, whenever someone would make fun of me, I took a page from Shakespeare’s book and insulted them so eloquently and poetically that there was only confusion in response. I learned how to make people feel foolish with the very tool they were trying to use to make me feel useless. It was a victory and the planting of a new belief: my intelligence is my savior.
By the time I got to college, I had these two beliefs (among others) floating around my unconsciousness. One, they may call me fat, but they will not call me dumb, and two, my intelligence is my savior. So imagine how triggered I was as a high school student who felt like she had mastered the art of writing (everything), getting her first paper back from her advanced English class. I was devastated. How dare this professor tell me I didn’t prove my point or explain myself and mark up this perfectly written essay with her suggestions?
I have been doing this for years, and I was a master. Did I know I was triggered then? No. I thought I just needed to prove myself more (a behavior and desire born from shadow because my worth is intrinsic, but I believed it was tied to how much “value” it was assigned in the form of a grade).
When I graduated college and “didn’t know what to do” with my life, it brought me face-to-face with both of those limiting beliefs: if I don’t know what to do, am I really intelligent? And if I am not intelligent, then am I safe? And if I am not safe, am I really just this fat, vulnerable, fearful thing that really doesn’t know anything? I crumbled in the face of those questions because I hadn’t unpacked all the shadowy, dense emotions surrounding the issues that triggered me. I couldn’t see them at all and instead only saw the effects of placing my power outside of myself and trying to fill the void it left.
After working through and unpacking that dense energy, I realize that safety, security, and value are something I provide for myself, and my intelligence is just a function of the mind, not a savior. Our unconscious beliefs may have been formed before we had the awareness to even put words to them and can manifest in different ways. Shadow work allows us to see the problems as symptoms that point to where the deeper healing needs to be done.
So where do you begin? I get this question a lot. Our shadows aren’t something that are obvious to us even though they might show up like a neon sign to someone else. The first step on a serious shadow-working journey is to find a container that can hold the intricacies and energetics of the shadow. You need to find a shadow work coach. Within that space, the coach or mentor acts as a mirror for you to see what you cannot. Imagine trying to put on your makeup without any reflection. You can do it, but it will be sloppy.
But where can you begin right now? Think about an issue that keeps coming up for you that may seem insignificant to others, but it really bothers you. Write out your truest feelings about the whole situation and the people involved. Go ahead and get judgmental, get critical, get mean. Write it all out. When you reread it, it may be cringey because you gave yourself permission to write things that are “bad”—but do it.
Then ask yourself, what is the overall feeling you get? If you imagined someone else telling you about this situation, does it feel like an irresponsible child doing the complaining? Does it sound like “Debbie Downer” where nothing is good enough? Is it more of a pity party, or do you just want more information (and more and more without ever taking action)?
Identifying the overall feeling of a situation and what energy we have in relation to it also identifies what shadow is manipulating our own behavior and what it is telling us to do.
The shadows that are most likely to be running our consciousness are: the child, the victim, the prostitute, and the saboteur. These archetypal energies are explored in depth by Carl Jung and Caroline Myss. Each one has a specific agenda and set of tools it uses to get us to keep our focus on the outside situation, on managing our reactions or emotions, and blaming others. This is the shadow’s defense mechanism. It keeps us feeling like we are constantly battling an outside force so that we feel like we don’t have a chance to pause to actually see the shadow at work (and integrate it).
Each member of the “shadow council” also has an exact opposite in the light council. The light council is responsible for our spiritual gifts, intuition, positive synchronicities, and the magic of our life. They are (in the same order as their shadow council members): the sovereign, the warrior, the lover, and the magician. These are the voices of the light council that will guide us toward growth, spiritual evolution, and integration.
Identifying which shadow council member is stirring up the most grumbling in our consciousness when we face internal struggle allows us to know which light council member’s energy has been blocked, or is being improperly processed and showing up in our life as difficulty, stress, emotional ups and downs, and falling short of our goals.