Despite human beings having spent many millennia attempting to understand and categorise the world, there are still many simple ‘facts’ that we don’t know. Is light a wave or a particle? Even the most cutting edge physicists don’t know the answer to this question. This kind of paradox is part of nature and part of life. When we look inside ourselves we also find many paradoxes, and paradox is something we work with often in Shadow Work. To be a mature Human we need to become comfortable with paradox. I am one and many: the sole master of myself, yet I am also made of many different parts, often with conflicting ideas and beliefs. I love and care for those closest to me and yet I show them my worst sides. I am confident and successful, yet my sense of self collapses when my child criticises me…. Carl Jung, who did extensive work exploring the human shadow in the 19th century, notes one of the main paradoxes of the shadow as this – that our ego – the parts of ourselves we want to be known by in the world, and our shadow – the parts of ourselves we don’t want people to know about, come from the same place, and that they are entirely equal. They are all legitimate and valuable aspects of our being. The two balance each other, and one cannot exist without the other.
If I ignore my shadow, I ignore half of myself. Yet, my upbringing taught me that I must be ‘good’, that I must bring forth the parts of myself that the world wants and is prepared to reward and enjoy. I want to bring my best to the world. So what do I do with the parts of myself the world does not want? In order to be the best person I can be I need to hide parts of myself from the world, yet, to be a whole, integrated human being, without ‘shadowy’ behaviours, I must embrace and get to know the whole of myself – including my shadow side – what a paradox!
Mystical traditions through the ages all ask of us one thing; that we know ourselves. They ask that I honestly know myself. It is not often recognised that this requires us to know our ‘dark’ sides as well as our ‘good’ selves, but this is exactly what it requires.
We may think we know ourselves, yet in fact, we only know the parts ourselves we are conscious of. As a young person we think that this is all of us. We deny our ‘bad’ aspects even to ourselves, and they are pushed in to our unconscious. As adults we come to realise that a lot of our behaviour is influenced by our unconscious. We become aware that we’re not totally in control of our own behaviour. It is estimated that if our unconscious is represented by an area, it could be seen as extending to the size of four football fields. In our ordinary life the area of ourselves we are conscious of is the size of a circle of light around our feet.
We are conscious, of the world outside us, as we see it. But what about the world within us?
Robert A. Johnson states : “ To own one’s own shadow is to reach a holy place – an inner centre- not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life”.
This is the purpose of Shadow Work. To know, engage with, and embrace our true humanity. In Shadow Work sessions, either one to one or in a group, we provide a space where participants can get to know themselves, engage with themselves as they truly are, and embrace and include the new parts they have discovered and bought to light.
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