The Art of Allowing Our Shadows
By Aeray Lumm
In the last article, we talked about what shadows are and how they play a role in our lives. Primarily, we focused on why “fixing, changing, or repressing” our shadows doesn’t work to bring real change, and that the path to real change lies in the art of “allowing our shadows.” In this article, we will go into more detail as to what allowing our shadows really looks like, and how exactly to do it.
When we begin working with our shadows, it takes time, and perhaps some trial and error, to find that razor’s edge that leads to real transformation. There are a lot of traps we can fall into, and it can be a confusing time. It is highly recommended when doing shadow work to find someone you can feel safe with, who can help to validate your experience and guide you through the “mire.” Some shadows dissolve immediately once we allow and accept them. Other shadows are stickier and take more time to unlock. Your journey will be influenced by your conditioning, core beliefs, community beliefs, and life experiences. You will need courage … but most of all, you need to be willing—willing to see what is true for you, willing to learn a new way, willing to let go, willing to to be patient, willing to observe, willing to allow something greater than you to “do it for you.” Willingness … is everything. If you aren’t yet ready to face your shadows, there is nothing wrong with that. Are you willing to become ready at some point? This is the first step to allowing our shadows … willingness.
The next step in allowing our shadows is to learn to observe ourselves objectively. We need to learn to have a detached awareness of “who we are” and to watch ourselves without interfering. This can take time! Once we can effectively observe ourselves, then the process of allowing can begin.
Allowing is a passive practice; it is not a “doing.” Ultimately, we want to be able to allow whatever is happening/whatever is (what you think, feel, do, and say) and to watch with curiosity instead of judgment. It’s detached non-identification with the traits or patterns arising. But this is not where we begin. We must begin where we are.
It is very difficult to immediately begin seeing and allowing shadows that we have been repressing or trying to fix for years. When we first begin the work of self-observation, we must be humble and honest enough to see where we are in our journey, and who we really are. It is important not to push past where we are. Undoing the layers of our shadow is like opening a combination lock. If we do not meet ourselves where we are, the shadows will not integrate and transform. So first we must look at our patterns of working with the shadow. We must look at the way we repress, react, try to fix, and change our shadows. The feelings we have about our shadows are hate, resentment, resistance (both toward our shadows and ourselves). We start here, by first allowing this. We must find the part of us that desperately wants the shadow to go away, and allow that. The idea is not to force ourselves past our edges, but to meet ourselves where we are. We continue to allow these patterns, but now with awareness, with our observer mind. We have been using these patterns of repression and reaction to stay “safe” for so long that if we immediately force ourselves to stop, we can find ourselves feeling scared, unsafe, confused, and potentially traumatized. It’s important to take this process slowly, just noticing your shadows when they arise, and notice what you do to cope with them. Give yourself permission to experience them. Allow the feelings to come up as well—the shame, guilt, fear, anger, confusion. In the beginning your mind may resist allowing the shadows to be there, and that is normal. It is normal for the mind “not to be ready.” We often need to keep repeating our shadows or our coping mechanisms for some time. We need to learn that “that part of us that wants to fix us” is OK too. Those parts need to be allowed before the deeper shadows can be allowed.
It is natural, when we begin working with shadows that we have been repressing for many years, to swing to the other end of the spectrum. We may begin “indulging” in these shadows, and for a time they may come heavily into our lives. This is OK and sometimes necessary. Just maintain the detached awareness and allow this experience as well.
Shadow work is not for the faint of heart, and you will likely face feelings of confusion, fear, loneliness, being overwhelmed, frustration, and perhaps depression. You may experience a sense of grief over the loss of the idealized version of yourself you have been working so hard to become. Shadow work can lead to any manner of emotional crisis. If you feel called to embark on the journey of facing your shadows and integrating them, please consider finding someone who has taken the journey to support you. This can greatly expedite your process and help keep you from getting lost and wandering the shadowlands alone.
Transforming shadows can be easy work when you understand the process, and it can be terrifying when you don’t. In all of my years of “spiritual seeking,” allowing has been the only real answer to working with shadows. It is beyond the spiritual path; it’s the path to becoming a whole, integrated human being … complete in all your emotional and spiritual human glory. It’s the path to being “bigger” beings instead of only “higher” beings—beings who are more grounded, more authentic, more here, and more alive.