Do you have a part of you that just creeps you out? An aspect to your personality that you’d rather nobody knew about – even yourself? Do you have a persistent dysfunctional pattern that you keep thinking you’re over – until it pops up again? Of course you do. We all do. And it’s often referred to as our “shadow”. Just like everyone’s body makes a dark reflection on a sunny day, all of us have a dark element to our selves. For most of us this is not news, but the idea that you should actually explore this element of your self might be. And it’s no surprise that our shadows tend to come out around the people we love & trust the most. The people we least want to hurt. The ones whose shadows are spilling out over us in return. In service to them and to ourselves, the icky sticky work of befriending our shadow is a worth endeavor.
I’ve learned to recognize my own shadow by my desire to run away, hide my head, and look at anything else but that. In fact, I feel a resistance to even writing this post. But the problem with running away & pretending it doesn’t exist is that it doesn’t do any good. No matter how much we run, hide, or pretend, our shadow will catch up with us. In fact, it is unlikely to ever go away completely. So like it or not, our shadow side is a constant companion. Sometimes silent & unobtrusive, other times impossible to ignore, our shadow has the most hold over us when we shame ourselves for its existence.
The yogic prescription would be to shower your shadow with the opposite: acceptance. Not acceptance of the dysfunctional behavior that your shadow may ignite, but acceptance of the wounds and flaws that it exposes. Acceptance of our selves as whole, flawed, imperfect beings struggling & triumphing in a complicated world. Acceptance is an aspect of Samtosha. (Samtosha is the second aspect of Niyama which is in turn the second limb of yoga. Find out more about my upcoming series on the first two limbs, yama & niyama). More commonly translated as contentment, Samtosha challenges us to fall in love with the world exactly as it is and ourselves exactly as we already are.
In order to befriend your shadow, you may have to turn the tables and stalk it as a hunter stalks its’ prey. If you decide to hunt your shadow down, chances are you won’t have to look very hard. It’s hiding behind minor annoyances, subtle hurts, and tiny anxieties. The first step is to simply notice these as small ripples from a bigger disturbance. Soon you may be able to pinpoint exactly what larger aspect of your shadow they came from. As you notice the daily effects of your shadow in your life, practice observing them without judgement. Once you are able to do this, add a dose of compassion. Watch yourself and your reactions the way you would a beloved child. Eventually you may even be able to appreciate the rich complexity that your shadow adds to your life. The journey will never be over, but when you stalk your shadow as much as it stalks you, it can almost become a game between friends.