Surviving Shadow Work Lesson Three: Living With Shadows

Learning and Community

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iracles, shadow

Today marks our final lesson in this mini-teaching on Surviving Shadow Work. You can access lesson one here and lesson two here. I want to take a moment to thank all of you for the kind emails you have sent, full of your own stories of survival and shadow work – it is such an honor to bear witness to each and every one of them.

So in our final lesson I want to touch on how we LIVE with our shadows. Once we have discovered them, seen them, found medicine for them and applied it…then what?

Go back to our first lesson and recall that the origin of the idea of shadow work started with Carl Jung. We don’t have to be Jungian scholars to understand that Jung’s ultimate vision of a happy, person with a healthily functioning psyche was one of integration, meaning that the healthy psyche was one where shadow and light, good and bad, desire and restraint, all have roles to play.

In some cases, usually in cases of severe trauma, recognizing the root cause of a shadow is a really significant act and the shadow itself – once properly treated – simply disappears.

But for most of us what we find is that we discover a shadow, find the needed medicine, treat it successfully, and then integrate it into our waking life in various ways.

For some of us that will look like relying on the right medicine and making sure it is available to us.

For others it is sufficient awareness of what situations might trigger your shadow and the subsequent avoiding of those situations.

Still for others there is a sense of peace and healing that goes hand in hand with renewed energy and activity.

The point that I really want to make here is that we all live with our shadows in different ways, but living with them is really what we are meant to do.

Even in cases where one shadow seems to have completely been illuminated (and thus disappeared) there will be more shadows…there always are. That is not a bad or good thing, just truth.

However, we can make choices in our daily lives that feed our shadows or don’t. And we can choose to look at our shadows when we are ready to or not. So many of those choices constellate around how much strength, endurance, and support you have in your life at the given point in time. For this reason attention to the things that nourish you here and now is of paramount importance.

In short, we live with our shadows best when we discover what truly sustains us at present.

So, for your final prompt I would like you to consider that: what truly sustains you and how can you bring more of that sustenance into your life?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Surviving Shadow Work Lesson Two: Focusing, Finding and Applying the Needed Medicines

Learning and Community

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lright Miracles, shadow

Today we are going to work in a very particular way with the area of shadow that you identified for yourself after reading yesterday’s lesson.

As I wrote there, the biggest challenge around engaging in shadow work is getting stuck in the psychic underworld, never ascending, never returning to life here and now.

I believe this is such a challenge for the age-old reason that any journey can be perilous – distraction. For when we plumb our depths and experience the underbelly of our thoughts, feelings, actions, and beliefs we often find much more than we bargained for.
We may have started our journey with one area of shadow in mind and find ourselves months or even years later so far off course that we couldn’t tell you what we were trying to do in the first place. In some traditions, this is referred to as being fairy-led and there are many stories that deal with the theme: from the Biblical tale of Lot’s wife to the ancient myth of Orpheus, to the classical work of Dante. In all cases, the protagonists deal with the very real possibility that in their foray into the Underworld (where our shadows reside) we run the risk of getting stuck and never ascending.

Which brings us to the question of how one avoids falling into the trap of distraction and making the actual ascent back into the world here and now. The answer is simple: stay focused, find the needed medicine, and apply it immediately.

Let’s break this down into three steps with the help of a hypothetical story. This is a true story from one of my clients who gave me permission to share, the name has been changed for obvious reasons.

Amy dreams of public speaking. She has had offers to go and speak in front of crowds and lead gatherings because her work is popular and known. But Amy does not like to be in the spotlight AT ALL. Not because she is shy – she isn’t – but because she is very comfortable with people’s eyes on her. Amy came to me to have some divination on this situation and also to do some liminal work around it – she realized that some shadowy reason was at the root of her resistance to being seen and wanted more insight on it.

We worked together and this is what she found:
Amy realized that the shadow she was dealing with concerned her dad. He would come home from work every day tired and angry and looking for someone to take it out on. Since she was very tiny Amy learned to hide, in her bedroom, among her stuffed animals, to avoid his wrath.

This brings us to Step One: Stay Focused.
Amy did not need to do a lot of work to discover the deep cause of her discomfort with the spotlight. A little divination, a little liminal work, and she knew what the situation was. At this point Amy had a choice: she could continue with the shadow work by seeking to understand WHY her father was the way he was OR she could deal with the issue at hand – her discomfort with being seen. You can see how tempting it is to take it further, to get just a little more information, but you can also see how that journey takes us farther away from the goal – which was to support Amy in public speaking and being seen by people. Amy wisely chose to deal with the issue at hand. She knew what her shadow was, now what?

Step Two: Find the Needed Medicine.
Amy had mentioned that she always hid among her stuffed animals. A little more divination and a few questions later, we had determined that one stuffed animal, in particular, a lion, had really made her feel especially safe and secure. This was ONE medicine that resonated with her situation and addressed her shadow with potency. From there it was obvious what needed to happen. We were ready to move to Step Three: Apply It Immediately.

Now we did have a moment where we had to get creative because Amy’s little lion was long gone…and a grown woman probably couldn’t take a stuff lion on stage with her! But, we did discover that there are tiny stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes, many that attach to a key chain. Amy found a lion she loved, I loaded it up magically for her, and she attached it to her key chain. She takes it everywhere with her and guess what? She also does lots of public speaking now. Amy had a successful encounter with one of her shadows because she stayed focused, found the needed medicine, and applied it immediately.

You can do this as well: go back to the shadow you wrote about in the last lesson. Think and feel into it and try to recollect what medicines supported you when it was an active force in your life. There may be several such medicines but most likely, one will stand out. Then ask yourself: how can I apply for this medicine today and immediately?

In our final lesson, we are going to talk about what happens next, after the medicine has been applied.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Tribe is Tribe

Foundations

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iracles, tribe

I was in an import store shopping for my best friend’s birthday a few weeks ago. I had found a piece of jewelry that I knew she would love and as the store owner was ringing me up I was explaining to her that my bestie is originally from Iran and that while this piece is not from her home country she would still love and appreciate it.

The store owner interrupted me though and simply said, “She’ll love it because tribe is tribe.” Tribe is tribe. She said it with all of the confidence and clarity of a woman who has spent that majority of her life among and within tribes.

Tribe is tribe.

I know that in our never-resting news cycle the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio that occurred at the beginning of the month are old news for most of us. They have left, as all mass shootings have since 2011, their fingerprints all over me though and are still fresh.

As I fielded emails from people asking if I was alright and checked on my own set of family and friends with El Paso connections, I kept hearing that woman’s voice in my head – tribe is tribe.

And I wasn’t sure why but I knew it was important. Then I took a walk down one of my favorite streets where an Acequia was full of water and running at force and I remembered. What I remembered was a psych class I took about a hundred years ago.

We were studying mental health in indigenous populations and I learned that one of the indigenous populations found in New Mexico and Arizona – the Navajo People – have a very specific way of looking at mental illness (and many physical afflictions too). The understanding is that while one person in the tribe may show symptoms of illness, be it mental or physical, the entire tribe is actually afflicted and that any healing that is worth a damn will address not just the individual who is obviously ill but the entire tribe.

I have been marked by every mass shooting since 2011 because that is the year I had my first baby. And that is the year when I found myself worrying about everything: leaving out a tiny piece of something that the baby could choke on, losing him to SIDS, speeding cars, and falling shelves, and…going into a public place where my child could be shot and killed, or I could be shot and killed leaving my baby without a mother or my husband could be shot and killed leaving my baby without a father. 2011 is when I started taking it personally.

Every time I packed lunch for my little one to take to school I would lay down a prayer that my baby and every baby child would be protected from a bullet, that today would not be a day a mass shooter came to a school, a place of worship, a place of work, or a place of fun. Now that I no longer make his lunch I pray that prayer every morning.

And because my babies are beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed, boys, I also pray that they are never the ones holding a gun aimed at someone else’s baby – because the statistics indicate that my boys fall into the category of the ones most likely to commit a mass shooting as well as most likely to commit suicide with a gun.

I don’t go into politics in my work or my writing. I remember sitting in hard-backed pews at the Baptist church and resenting the hell out of a preacher who had the audacity to tell me who to vote for. Dressing up that unique kind of tyranny in the “New Age” trappings of incense and crystals don’t make me feel any better. I believe our founders knew what they were about when they separated church and state.

However, for better or for worse, I am a spiritual teacher and writer and as such, I have a community of people who look to me for moral guidance. When the bullets start to fly I am asked to give words of comfort, clarity, and wisdom. To be clear: this is a task that I in no way feel adequate to, but it is also one that has been laid on my shoulders by nature of my work. So this is what I say: Tribe is Tribe.

And the killings and the killers are part of our tribe. There are many people in our tribe who are ill, who are hurting, and who are sick, but at the end of the day, all that really means is that our whole tribe is hurting, is ill, and is sick. Any remedy that further separates us from each other is no remedy at all and any attempt to bring some of the tribe together while leaving others out in the cold has failed before it even begins.

In 2011 I joined a special club, a tribe within a tribe, of parents who send their children to school every day praying that today won’t be the day that their child’s classroom door bursts open and guns begin shooting. We pray that today won’t be the day our babies are shot, today won’t be the day our babies are killed.

But this is not just my club, my tribe, or my problem. Tribe is tribe. This is everyone’s problem. The fact that bulletproof backpack sales have gone up 300% before the 2019-2020 school year begins is not my problem or the problem of my other parent friends, it is also my Republican uncle’s problem, my Progressive mother-in-law’s problem, and it is your problem too. Because tribe is tribe.

Every baby that dies and every person who thinks they can solve their problems with a gun pointed at someone else is everyone’s problem, the only way to address it is together, most especially together with the very ones you don’t want to deal with. You know, the difficult members of the tribe who look different and talk different, the ones that make you uncomfortable, the ones you’d rather not talk to.

You know Miracles, the inverse is also true. If one person commits to healing, to betterment, to living a life of integrity and justice and kindness then the tribe as a whole is blessed by that too. One of my favorite stories to illustrate this comes from the Jewish tradition.

It is the tale of the Tzadikim-Nistarim – the hidden righteous ones. They are 13 people who, through consistent right action, uphold the entire world and make life possible for all. My favorite part of this story is that these righteous ones are hidden even from themselves.

Meaning that it could be you, it could be me, it could be any of us. Because what one of us does touches all of us. Because tribe is tribe. And because there is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to be, but right here, with everyone else.

Here is a version of the prayer that I pray over my babies on a daily basis, feel free to work with it in your own life if it speaks to you.

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.