What is shadow work? Simply put, our shadow represents all parts of ourselves we do not see. Sometimes, we simply are oblivious to some of our thought patterns. Other times, we deliberately choose to not see certain parts of our being which are a little less glamorous: jealousy, fear, anger, despair, etc. To work with our shadow Self means to extend a helping hand to these forgotten or dismissed pieces of our soul. Shadow work exercises are meant to help us become aware of these parts again. After all, they are part of who we are. True fulfillment only arises when the totality of our being is in harmony.
We are made of a multitude of “energy organisms,” pockets of life force capable of independent thought and will. Some are more pleasant than others. Some are joyful, others gloomy. There are many meditative practices designed to “bring light into those pockets of darkness.” Or, in a more pseudo-scientific lingo, “energize these entities to bring about a polarity change.” Some teachers will teach you to visualize a light shining through them. Others will tell you to feel love for them in order to “set their life force free.” Some will even tell you to talk to them, thank them, communicate your compassion to them. All these approaches work equally well.
However, most shadow work exercises give the wrong message to these shadow parts. To “work” on the aspect of yourself you wish to change is similar to telling it, “You are imperfect. Therefore, to be loved, you must change.” The irony is that the work itself is an attempt at infusing such disharmonious parts with love and light. The problem isn’t in the intention, it’s in the delivery. The hidden aspects of ourselves are hidden for a reason. They are fearful, unsure and hesitant to be seen. Consequently, to relentlessly focus all your awareness directly at them, no matter the loving intention, often fails.
Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that artistic expression is the most powerful exercise in terms of shadow work. If I use my despair, hopelessness and anger in a beautiful song, I am doing much more than just venting. I am actually allowing my pockets of darkness to see themselves in a new way. You see, it is one thing to give love to your darkness, but it’s another to allow your darkness to love itself. If I use the contents, the personality of a certain pocket of darkness and I make art out of it, I allow this “energy organism” to see its own beauty.
Art is the harmonizer. It utilizes disharmonious elements and rearranges their content to create something harmonious. It recycles your repulsive energy into an attractive one. Art is crucial in a society. It is a profound meditative practice. Whether it’s through painting, singing, dancing, story telling or any art form, artistic expression teaches the lonely parts of us to love themselves. And when you face a new pocket of darkness, you can always utilize art, the harmonizer, to infuse it with self-love. The difference between visualization and art is immense. The first one is often similar to forcefully shining a blinding light in the face of a hermit who never leaves his cave. The second one is about gradually giving the hermit interest to face the sun. Art allows you to create a deep relationship with all parts of yourself. It allows those hermits to feel secure in the light because every time they get out of their cave, they see the beautiful sculptures you have made in their honor.