As a shamanic writer, when I talk about shadows, I don’t usually mean the shapes created by sunlight filtering through leaves, or the finger shapes held up by kids with a flashlight at a slumber party.
I’m referring to the parts of ourselves who have been so long in darkness, they’ve forgotten what light—and love—feels like. They’re what we sweep under the rug, lock in the basement, bury outside in the backyard, or even strap bricks to and drop in the river. We do this because we are ashamed of these aspects of ourselves, repressing them as far as we can into the depths of our subconscious mind—so much so, that we forget they exist.
That is until they surface—which is what happens when you commit to healing yourself.
I discovered this many years ago when I began my shamanic healing practice. At the time, I was certain I was doing my healing work for the right reason: to help people. But as I got deeper into the work, I was alarmed to discover that hidden layers of me had a different set of agendas, from secret thoughts about being magically powerful and wildly successful to being loved and accepted by all my peers. I was unconsciously but powerfully driven by needs I had never acknowledged within myself.
Once my shadow aspects began revealing themselves, there seemed to be no end to their need. In fact, I thought that the rest of my life would be dedicated exclusively to discovering new ways in which they could sabotage my happiness. I grew resentful of them, angry that they could hold so much power over my life, and I felt that nothing I did seemed to, well, heal me.
Of course, that was because I was starving them of the thing they most desperately needed: love.
At the time, the only kind of love I knew about was romantic love, which I believed myself to be good at. After all, I was fantastic at intuiting—and then fulfilling—my romantic partners’ every desire, including the deepest ones they didn’t even know they had.
What I didn’t see at the time was how I was using these relationships to avoid looking at my own deepest, unmet desires. I was so entangled in other people’s stuff, with my natural needs continuously going unmet, that my shadow aspects had shouted loudly for me to get the message:
We need your love!
When I finally understood that, I was still so blind to real love that it took many years of compassion meditation (also known as Maitri) to begin to open my heart to these parts of myself. I began to have more moments of open-heartedness toward these parts of myself, more acceptance of their behavior, and more compassion for their pain. I began to see them as wounded children, ones who had been deprived of love for so long that they had a low threshold of tolerance for real love.
It is a process I have been devoted to ever since.
These days, my shadow selves are still active, but most of the time, they no longer need to shout to be heard, for I recognize their distress signals earlier. I also now have a much more buoyant heart, so I don’t feel judgmental or overwhelmed by their needs anymore. These days, when I hear them asking for help, I go inward by focusing on my breath and asking my body what it needs.
As it turns out, the answer is always love.