Integral Life Practice–Chapter 4: The Shadow Module

1.  Introduction–Design of the Integral Life Practice Book

The first three chapters deal with an introduction to the concept of Integral Life Practice and sketch some of the benefits it might provide you.  modules you can choose from, including Integral Ethics.

Chapters 4 through 7 of the Integral Life Practice book go through the Core Modules:  Shadow, Mind, Body, and Spirit; Chapter 8 goes through the optional module of Integral Ethics, and Chapters 9 and 10 go through the process of designing your own Integral Life Practice by choosing at least one practice from the four Core Modules with the option of choosing practices from the Optional Modules.

2.   What is the Shadow?

The shadow is the term used in Integral Theory to describe those aspects of our consciousness which we’ve done one or more of the following:

  • rejected
  • denied
  • hidden from ourselves
  • projected onto others
  • disowned

In the language of psychotherapy, this is what is called the “unconscious.”   Why it is important to gain conscious awareness of what is in the unconscious?   Because, if you’re not careful, it can trip you up.   Look at the following lyrics taken from the song Hotel California by the Eagles,

And in their master’s chambers

They gathered for the feast

They stab it with their steely knives

But they just can’t kill the beast

Have you ever heard of a political candidate who is accusing his opponent of behavior that more accurately describes what that candidate is doing?   In the case of a political campaign, that could be just a matter of misdirection, to take the attention of the press and the public off of the candidate’s own misdeeds.   But what if the candidate is doing this kind of attack because he refuses to recognize his own behavior, and is therefore projecting that behavior on his candidate?    He may be blind to his hypocrisy, but the other candidate would easily be able to craft attack ads which would exploit this blindness.

3.   What is the benefit?

The benefit of “shadow work”, that is, the undoing of repression and the reintegration of the psyche, is that it frees up energy that would otherwise be spend fighting internally.    One of the reasons why Shakespeare represents a quantum leap in terms of drama from his historical predecessors is that drama from the time of the Greeks represented on stage the conflict between characters but Shakespeare represented the conflict within a character.

When we stop our internal conflict, we free up the energy we used to engage in it.   Psychotherapy is a form of shadow work that involves a process of dialogue with a therapist, but there are others forms of shadow work which you can engage in on your own, and these are the subject of the next sections of the chapter.

4.  The 3-2-1 Shadow Process

To understand the 3-2-1 Process, which helps undo repressed emotions, let’s start by understanding how these emotions get suppressed in the first place.

Let’s say a child is anger at his mother or father for some reason.   This anger is an authentic emotion.   But what if the child does want to admit that he or she is angry, either because of the raw intensity of the emotion or because the child is afraid of the consequences of expressing that anger.

The child then may repress that anger, which then may get projected on others, even onto the parents themselves.   Now the child feels that he or she is surrounding by angry parents, and the child now experiences fear.   That fear is the inauthentic emotion, or the emotion based on the projection onto others, not on the original emotion originally within the child.

There is a 1st-person identification, where the child originally recognizes its own emotions, in this case, the emotion of anger.    If the child is incapable of recognizing this emotion, it splits its off and projects it onto another person, in a 2nd-person identification so that the child says “you are the angry one, not me” to the parent.   And then there is a 3rd-person identification so that the child no longer recognizes its own anger, and thinks that it is coming from the parent to the extent that it is now experiencing a different emotion, that of fear, an emotion that is transmuted or inauthentic based on this process of repressio。

Okay, how do undo the repression?   There are two ways into the shadow module.

  • Method one:  pick a dream image that is emotionally charged, an image that disturbs you for some reason.
  • Method two:  pick someone whose behavior triggers an emotionally charged response in you, someone who disturbs you for some reason.

Let’s say the child dreams of monsters trying to attack it.

Here’s how the 3-2-1 process works.    Take a journal and do the following:

3rd person mode

Describe the person or image that disturbs you.   What does it look like?   What is it doing?

2nd person mode

Talk to the person or image that disturbs you.   Ask questions such as, “who are you?  What do you want from me? ”  Allow your imagination to take a step outside of your own awareness, and have that person or image respond back to you.

1st person mode

Now for the real leap of imagination.   See the world, including yourself, from the standpoint of that person or image.   Allow yourself to see the similarities between yourself and that person or image, and then make a statement of identification:  “I really am you”.    Feel the emotions behind that person or image and fully re-own them and integrate them into your own consciousness.

To sum up these three modes:




5.  Lighter Shades of Shadow

The shadow made not necessarily be a negative emotion or repressed feeling.   It could be that you are repressing a positive of higher capability in yourself, such as the capacity for leadership.

This is something that happened to me.   For many years, I had a dream where I was drafted into the army.   Now needless to say, I am past the age at which the actually US army would accept me as a recruit.   When I did the 3-2-1 process, I realized what was going on.   I told myself that I was not disciplined because I always believed that my brothers, who were in the military, were disciplined and I, not having been in  the military, suffered in comparison with respect to discipline.    By dreaming that I was in the military, I was trying to tell myself that my self-image of not being disciplined was “out of date”, and that I was disciplined after all!   Once I recognized this self-discipline that I had projected onto my brothers and on members of the military in general, I no longer had those dreams!

6.  Transmutation of Emotions

One of the benefits of shadow work, besides the liberation of energy which is spent on fighting oneself (or shadowboxing, to use the “shadow” image), is the transmuting of emotions of drives from their inauthentic or repressed emotions to their primary, authentic forms.    The child who gets in touch with his anger, for example, is going to be able to deal with a lot more effectively than a child who projects that anger onto his parents and then reacts to that projection in fear.

Here’s an example from my own childhood.   My mother would have me do chores, and would inspect my handiwork afterwards to do if I had done them according to her standards.   For years I would be afraid of her anger at my having not done the work according to those standards, but at some point I realized that the anger wasn’t coming from her.   It was actually my own anger based on the fact that she was not pointing out those times when I did achieve them.   When I did own up to that anger, at one point I told her point blank, “if I did the job 99% correctly, all I would hear from you would be about the 1% I did wrong!”   She countered by responding, “well, it was hardly 99%, it was more like–75%.”   I was stubborn and I said, “you’re missing the point–it’s not the percentage that’s wrong, it’s the praise that’s missing!”

My mother took my criticism to heart, and afterwards better about criticizing me in a more encouraging way.   I returned the favor by responding to her “tough love” with some tough, hard work in return to show her the truth of the saying she always appreciated, which is when you are have love for a person or an organization, hard work is love made visible!

7.   Conclusion

I use the 3-2-1 process if there is a dream image that is disturbing, or if there is someone I first meet who I am either instantly attracted to or angered by for some inexplicable reason.   9 times out of 10, the result is that I am angry at them for evincing a behavior I am guilty of myself, but have refused to recognize.   Or I am attracted to them because I think they have a quality in them which I haven’t realized until then that I have in myself, or that I have in the past told myself that I don’t have, but now I recognize that I do.

It makes you a more compassionate and intuitive person, and what’s more important if you are working on a team, it helps you shore up your own weaknesses or blind spots in your personality so that you don’t end up reacting to others in an inauthentic way.   It’s okay to have negative emotions like anger, because conflict with others can achieve creative solutions as you try to get to the root of the conflict and try to resolve it.   But projecting your own internal conflict onto another person and trying to resolve it that way is a losing proposition.

I think this is why the shadow work is included as the first core module, because it is one of the ones that people tend to neglect–at their own peril!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: