It’s early February and time for the honored tradition of pulling a groundhog out of his hole to see if we will have an early spring or six more weeks of winter. If the groundhog sees his shadow, he scurries back into his burrow to hide out for another six weeks.
But we don’t always have the luxury of hiding out from our shadows, those darker aspects of our personalities we’d rather deny than confront.
Shadow selves are those hidden, often socially unacceptable, behaviors and desires that lurk in our subconscious. But, scary as it can be to face the darker side of our personalities, facing them can be rewarding. If our shadows are not brought into our conscious awareness, they can sabotage our relationships, jobs and personal goals.
For example, if you’ve found yourself asking why something keeps happening to you again and again, or wondering if other people hate their job the way you hate yours, or you are still attracted to the same kind of dysfunctional person that you broke up with six months ago. All of these could be indications you are avoiding the lessons your shadow self wants to teach you.
The movie Groundhog Day
is a wonderful illustration of that Buddhist precept which says we will continue to get the same lesson, over and over again, until we finally find the courage and motivation to change.
Facing our shadow selves is fearsome. But, not acknowledging your shadow self can be one of the biggest obstacles to realizing our fullest human potential.
The only thing scarier than facing the dark corners of the mind is looking in the mirror. Yikes!
But you don’t have to run scared from those monsters in the shadows. You can ease your fragile ego into your darker corners with the practice of conscious mirroring.
Conscious mirroring means you acknowledge that your jealousy, anger or sadness toward someone else is actually a reflection of yourself.
When you feel dark thoughts about another person’s success, that is the perfect time to ask yourself what it is you are lacking in your own life and what you think is keeping you from having it.
According to many psychological theories, that which we judge or fear in others often is a reflection of where we need to work on our own issues.
Because the shadow self is what sabotages our relationships, jobs and personal goals, they can keep us in denial if not fully acknowledged. Denial keeps us stuck in negative patterns of self doubt and blaming others for our limitations.
You don’t have to be a trembling rodent in the face of your shadows. Once you stop resisting the idea that you have a shadow side, and can embrace your imperfections, shadows can be a handy tool for self development.
Whenever you find yourself feeling jealous of another person’s life, thinking you must settle for less than others enjoy, or blaming others for your own shortcomings, these shadow-self exercises can help see you through the darkness.
Not all dreams are sweet. Sometimes our nightmares have something to show us in their symbolism, recurrent themes or even the settings in which they take place. Keeping a journal will help you identify any shadows in your waking life that are showing up in your sleep and which may be holding you back.
Just as in dream journaling, it is most effective to jot down images and thoughts about your dreams as soon as you wake. With ‘nightmare’ journaling, before going to sleep, ask your subconscious to reveal as many parts of your shadow self in your dream state as you feel ready to face.
Our subconscious is highly suggestible and merely asking for its advice often yields dramatic results. So don’t dismiss anything. Even obvious or silly dream images and themes can point you to a deeper truth about your life.
Keep your journal for at least one week so you can see what patterns emerge. It is helpful to note what issues, events and feelings are happening during your day so you can compare your dream activity with your waking life.
Once you’ve identified common nightmare themes, you’ll have brought your shadow self into the light of day where you can transform them into more positive aspects of yourself.
List of Enemies
This exercise is especially fun because you can let your bad self out without repercussions.
Make a list of all the people you secretly despise. Go ahead, you can’t hurt anyone’s feelings, because you’re going to burn this list when you are finished with the exercise.
Let your inner three-year old out! Be as immature, mean and petty as your shadow self wants to be.
Next, list out the reasons you feel this way about the person. Write out all the attributes that you dislike about your ‘enemy.’
Now it gets a little tricky. Next to your list of negative attributes, put it in writing what situation or person these negative attributes remind you of. A friend who never lets you get a word in edgewise during conversation, for example, could really represent an overbearing parent in your past.
Keep going down your list. Soon you may see a pattern develop where most of the people in your life or the situations you attract have a similar theme. Maybe you draw in people around whom you feel powerless.
Do you seek friends who are outside your economic circles then secretly put them down for being materialistic or acting superior? That could be your impoverished mirror image talking.
Keep going. When you’ve completed your list of grievances and you feel like your shadow self received a full hearing, your next step is to cross out or cut away the names associated with your complaints.
Read your list over again, meditating on the feelings they bring up for you. Jealousy, fear, anger are common feelings.
Next, assign an anti-shadow trait to each feeling. Replace jealousy with admiration, for example. Do this for every negative feeling you’ve written down. Practice imagining yourself being seen and accepted, mirrored, in the light of these more positive traits.
When you’ve completed your meditation, burn your paper in a fireplace or other fire safe place.
After you’ve completed these exercises, take time to reflect, and congratulate yourself for your courage. Most people spend their entire lives in the shadows, asleep to their potential light within. Your willingness to face yourself will awaken your true spirit in surprising and rewarding ways!