A YOGI CHA BLOG
Shadow work – lost in the parallel universe of the Self Help section at the book store
Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞
I like the image of my body being the book of me. Pages after pages with experiences that have traced the path to where I am today. We take for granted that who we are is someone that we know. That if asked “who are you?” We would be able to reply a certain number of words and that is the person that responds to the name we have been accustomed to associate with.
In itself, there is nothing strange or wrong with that. I’d say most people spend their whole life in that perception and are pretty ok with it. It’s just life.
And that is the reason we only ever really come to “self help” or “self realisation” or “spirituality” when some kind of crack in that perception happens. If it ain’t broken, there is no reason to try to fix it.
The reason there is a crack is usually linked to something happening in life that didn’t really go the way we had planned:
Losing a job, losing a loved one, a breakup of a love (or friend) relationship, loss of fundings, war, illness….
We are forced into a change of perception if we want to get out of the discomfort. There are questions popping up like “is this what I want?” Or “what is the meaning of it all?” Or even “what is my purpose here/what am I suppose to do now/ is there any use to go on living?”
If you have chosen to take the path less travelled, then you have shown to yourself that you are stronger than whatever could break you.
People’s tendencies to make fun of “self help” books is actually just the proof that they didn’t chose the path less travelled. We tend to want to make fun of whatever we try to separate ourselves from. Whatever is different to us. That we do not want to be associated with.
The more we experience things, the easier it becomes to understand them and therefore not be so afraid of.
When our perception gets cracked, we get into this situation where we have to make a choice. Continue and just accept that this is what your life will be now or change direction. It’s the first time probably of many that you find yourself facing the statement:
“you either accept the situation or your remove yourself from it”.
When we decide to remove ourselves from the situation, we choose to change our perception. It usually starts with some questioning about who we are, where we are and what to do. We look for advice from people who have been in our situation and we usually realise that many have. This is where the Self Help shelves at the bookstore fills up with somewhat scared, ashamed a little, people. We try, we think we have found answers and then we fall again. We pick ourselves up and we try again. It goes on that way for quite some time. I would even say that many of us stay there forever. Lost in the parallel universe of the Self Help section at the book store.
Honestly, we stay there because we don’t really want to move further. We easily end up going back into something similar to what we had before we broke down. And then we repeat again the same stuff. This is why so many of us feel like they keep meeting the same people or having the same issues work wise etc. Because actually, we didn’t really do THE WORK. The work of changing our perception. You see, it is rather revolutionary work and even though it isn’t as complicated as we might think, it is complexed. It is a work of de-condition and re-condition what we have always believed. It is a work of letting whatever barriers we have so strongly built up, come crumbling down. It is what we can call, a work of shining the light into the shadow side of ourselves.
The reason I started this article the way I did is because many of us will not see at all the point in shadow work. Many of us will dismiss, reject, hate even the idea of shadow work. Will call it mental masturbation, unnecessary, a way to loose oneself fully or just too much time on your hands. Because most of us stay in the self help section, feeling lost. Hoping for someone to come around and make us feel good about ourselves again. Like my sister once said “I guess we keep doing something until we don’t anymore”. We much rather accept the situation than remove ourselves from it because that means taking action. And taking action would imply that we take responsibility for ourselves which is something we know has consequences. Our parents and teachers taught us well. Freedom comes with responsibility and that comes with conditions.
We all know this: it’s easier not to do anything than to get slapped on the fingers for doing the wrong thing. But everything we do in life is a step towards freedom. All action is taken because we believe it will release tension, make us feel better, make us more free from the bondage of the present moment. So what do we do? We find ways around the situation in order to make ourselves feel better but without having to face the scary responsibility. We see this in our defence mechanisms and coping strategies. We see this in humour and in lies. In manipulation and disengagement.
How can I relieve myself from discomfort right now?
Over the years we have become very skilled at this. Consumerism is built on this.
Anything but actually looking into the cracks, to switch the flashlight on in the darkness.
It is only when we decide finally to not accept the situation but to remove ourselves from it that we can begin the work in the shadow. And when I say remove – I mean from the perception that we have had of ourselves our whole life.
From my personal experience, it came and went over several years. Things would be rather ok and then something would hit me in the face and I would have to start looking at why. Then I continued my work and thought I was so evolved, until it hit me in the face again and I realised I was still dealing with the same issues. On and off. Back and again. Moving forward and then back again.
The first time really, I guess, was when a friend suggested that I’d start seeing a therapist. Actually, we were both Psychology majors and he was already in therapy himself. But he said “maybe your friends can’t find the solution for your Charlotte. Maybe you should talk to someone else”. Another hit was, years later, when I got so ill from my yoga practice because I refused to see that I actually was hurting myself instead of healing. My body made me so sick I had to stay in bed for a couple of weeks and it was an opportunity to ponder on why I did that. Or when I started seeing someone after several years of being single, just to face the same kind of conflicts I had with my ex, almost 10 years earlier.
Every time, I learned something new about myself and more so, I learned to be more humble on what I know, where I am at and the fact that I will never really be done.
The reason that shadow work is so hard for us to take on is because it’s the parts of us that we dislike so much. And because we do, we have a lot of resistance to it. And because of that resistance, we become experts at pushing it away as soon as it manifests in its true colour. That is when we do the skill thing – we find a way to feel a little better about ourselves so we don’t have to deal with it. The shadow.
If you have read my articles before or listened to my chats or maybe even been to class or taken part of my online course, you might recognise this:
We develop addictions, we project our feelings on others and we generally keep ourselves busy.
So what is the shadow anyway, why do we call it that and does it concern everyone?
Carl Jung founded the statement of the shadow and the persona. We have both inside of us but one part is accepted and praised whereas the other is shamed and pushed far away. All the things we were taught to be and do by our parents and that they rewarded us for, is usually what we find in the Persona. The things we were told made us “bad” or “naughty” or were just shown the pointing index finger for, were tucked away in the shadow so that we could ensure acceptance of the group. Shadow is what we call unconscious as well from a Freudian perspective, part of us that the Ego, the I, doesn’t want anything to do with. This means things like sexuality, possessiveness, anger, spontaneity. Aspects of this is pushed down and then pops up in ways that we are completely unaware of. For instance, pushed down anger can show up as actions of passive aggression or violent dreams for instance. Unfortunately, as long as we keep it in the shadow and deny it, it will control us much more than if we become aware of it. So yes, we need to shine a light on the parts of ourselves that we don’t understand in order to do something about them. This is why it’s called shadow and concerns anyone living in a society with rules. So all of us.
We get interested in our shadow when we realise that some of the things we do, don’t serve us. That some actions we take, we sabotage for ourselves by taking them. That some of the thoughts we have, are limiting us to being very, very small.
The practice of shadow work begins with creating awareness around this. We create the awareness by observing ourselves. Yes, observing ourselves.
How do we observe ourselves?
Like with someone else. We notice what we do, say and think. We note what we pay attention to and what we seem to focus on. We become aware of what we are making situations mean to us and therefore how we deal with them. We become aware of the narrative.
As we become aware of ourselves, we have slow down our actions. We take note of an urge lets say, and we don’t do anything. We do not react. Instead we have the conversation with the narrative of what we are making it mean and why.
The Self Image Project is part of shadow work and has for purpose to create a clearer view on why you do what you do and how the mind works.
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