Written by: Chris Solaczek
Something is off in modern spiritual circles. It’s almost as if people's strides and conversations were smothered in manuka honey, tea tree oil, and pixie dust.
It’s all third eye and no guts.
To be "conscious" means to be privy to archangels, spirit guides, Mercury retrograde and the perennial illusion of duality and separateness.
Oftentimes the paths of spirituality and enlightenment can lead to intensified suppression of, or "processing" away, the darker aspects of one's own nature – our arrogance, vanity, greed, intolerance, violence, and perversion.
In this vein, to be spiritual and awake means to associate oneself with all that is shimmering and pure, and to divorce oneself from all that is dark, raw, animalistic, and brutal.
But this darkness is an integral part of who we are. Pop-spirituality, religion, and moralism are apt to shrink our senses of self to exclude it, so we form a false axis in our consciousness that’s repelled from the negative and into the positive, away from darker depths and into bright open sky.
This narrative immediately splits us in two and reduces us to partial human beings. We are animals. We are nature. While we righteously condemn that which we perceive as negative in the world outside of us, we fail to acknowledge it within ourselves. This is the essence of projection (which we’ll touch on in a moment).
What is the shadow?
“Shadow” is a term popularized by Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychoanalyst and student of Sigmund Freud. It’s a symbolic representation of all our supposedly "negative" aspects that are unconsciously rejected and hidden from view.
Usually, it's with the covert initiative of concealing something that you don't want to identify with. You present yourself as something else, something more "right" and desirable. You may do it for yourself, religion, family, friends, or the watchful eyes of society at large.
The idea is that you can never be truly at the helm of your life and relationships, or fully actualize your potential, unless you grasp your shadow side.
Because, though the shadow lurks outside your conscious awareness, it still actively shapes your perceptions, thoughts, and behaviours whether you like it or not.
If your entire psyche were a hockey rink, your scope of conscious awareness would be the ring at center ice.
The vast majority of what makes up your psychology, and dictates the action in that center ring, lies outside of it. This invisible landscape is what is referred to as the "unconscious mind".
Oftentimes, it’s the puppet master that tugs our strings and calls the shots from behind the curtain. These subliminal initiatives are woven so tightly into the fabric of your psyche that they’re difficult to witness in action. Instead, they show up as keen rationalizations, attractions and repulsions, or projections.
This direction behind the scenes is what Jung was referring to when he famously said:
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
In order to truly "wake up", we have to summon the courage to cast the dusty beam of our flashlights into these crypts of the unconscious to reveal both the silver and skeletons that influence our motions above ground.
Your shadow will keep you firmly pinned in your comfort zone. Fears of rejection, pain and failure will sedate you into a lifetime of settling. You’ll never fully step into the work, dreams, and relationships you’re capable of.
Your shadow side is notoriously tough to access because the mind establishes a thick buffer to protect you from confronting it. The journey through that buffer implies crossing into the realm of taboo, savagery, and ugliness. Piercing through this protective layer of cognitive dissonance is deeply uncomfortable.
But if you've chosen to take the red pill over the blue, it's the only path worth taking.
Projections: Flickers of Your Dark Side
One of the easiest ways to tell that material in your shadow has been activated is emotional charge. General rule of thumb: if someone makes a comment, or does something that makes your stomach twist, or sparks a sharp, fiery annoyance, it's a good sign that there is some aspect of yourself to take a closer look at.
(Again: general rule of thumb. If someone sucker punches you or steals your laptop, you’ve got some rational anger on your hands.)
These moments where we’re triggered are the ones where we want to privately or outwardly attack another person for being selfish, coarse, crude, careless, tactless, rageful, etc. What we deny in ourselves is usually what we most strongly vilify in others.
This person might even be expressing a degree of freedom and boldness through their offhand comments that you wish you had, but at some level you know you’re holding yourself back from unleashing.
Projection is often responsible for dismantling romantic relationships. Most people never learned to bring keen awareness to their shadow, dig into the truth behind their reactions and judgments, and communicate it all. So, relationships become passive aggressive, shit-slinging disasters.
Marcus Aurelius was on to this many centuries before Jung when he said, "Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”
Embracing our full spectrum is the maturation process into sovereign adulthood, but most of us live our lives like Peter Pan -- constantly wrestling with our shadows and struggling to contain them as they wreak havoc and sabotage our lives and relationships in unpredictable ways.
Peter Pan is the archetypal peur auternus - the eternal child, or “flying boy”. He favours the bright open sky.
The modus operandi of the flier is to avoid confronting the harshness and responsibilities of reality. So they flee confrontation within themselves and with others by constantly projecting, using drugs, or ascending into the mind and lofty new-age spiritual ideals.
The payoff is the existential relief and delusional freedom that comes with a childlike innocence and position of victimhood.
Floating With Your Shadow
Because the float tank is quiet and naturally induces an altered state, it’s an ideal environment to encounter parts of us that we usually can’t see.
With your experience filtered down to somatic sensation and the theatre of your imagination, the gap between stimulus and response is softened and widened. After some time, the rigid contours of the self dissolve and give way to a more expansive, inclusive, yet removed and objective state of awareness.
We come to a more removed, birds-eye-view of our psychological and emotional activity.
With our usual buffers diminished, we contact and dialogue with greater parts of our mind – everything that lies outside of center ice. We become acutely sensitive to the whispers of our deeper selves that are usually eclipsed by the racket and bustle of the city.
In this process alone, it’s common to have spontaneous insights into your personality and operating system. You’ll see recent or distant behaviours with sudden clarity, as well as the subconscious influences behind them and the ways you want to change.
In this task, you’ll have an advantage if you believe there is an organizing intelligence that strives toward health, integration, expression and fulfillment behind the fury of details that comprise the egocentric experience.
From that place, it’s possible to engage with “higher” intelligence; to pose questions or state intentions with your conscious mind and have them answered by the unconscious through symbols, sensations, or explicit dialogue.
On your next float, try an experiment. Once you’ve spent some time settling into the tank, focus on one of the following:
1. Weekly Replay
· Let your mind comb through your interactions from the last week. What charged, uncomfortable moments does your attention snag on? What is the specific tonal feeling to that interaction? (i.e. shame, loneliness, anger, etc.)
· Once you’ve isolated that feeling, take it a step further by asking, “What do these situational dynamics remind me of? When in the past have I felt this way? How do I deal with it?” This can lead to the discovery of long-standing sensitivities and cognitive biases that were developed much earlier in life.
· With this awareness, watch for future moments where your mind will seek evidence and weave stories to make you feel this way again and activate unhealthy coping strategies.
· What/Who am I avoiding? Why?
· What part of myself isn’t serving me anymore?
· What am I angry about?
3. Gestalt Dialogue
This is a type of a dialogue where you hold a person, emotion, symbol, etc., in mind and speak to it. After a few minutes, you switch perspectives and speak to yourself as that object/person. This often has profoundly surprising results.
A) Your Shadow
· Personify your shadow side. Let it appear before you in your mind’s eye. It could be a person, an animal, or an inanimate object.
· Speak to it. Say whatever occurs to you to in the moment.
· Take a pause and swap sides. Now speak to yourself. Feel free to reply to what was said initially, or simply express whatever occurs to you in the moment.
· One round is often valuable enough. But carry the dialogue on as long as you see fit.
B) Your Nemesis
· Picture someone that really bugs you. Just like the last one, hold them in your mind’s eye and speak to them.
· Take a pause and swap sides. Speak to yourself as that person. People find this tends to bring greater understanding of both themselves and the person they’re feeling bothered by.
There is no shortage of opportunity and means to connect with our shadows. And it’s not short-term work. Once you start, it will be something you engage in for the rest of your life. But it’s well worth it.
The deeper we can accept the full spectrum of our nature and the more attention we can bring to our mental process, the more relaxed and whole we will ultimately feel.
Our perceptions will be crisper. Our relationships will be cleaner. And our lives will be more sustainably vibrant.