Parable of the Sower: 6. Come out of the Shadow

The four modules of Integral Life Practice are:   Body, Mind, Spirit, and … Shadow.   Most people are familiar with practices that strengthen one’s body (strength training), mind (language study), and spirit (meditation), but what is shadow?

Shadow is an aspect of ourselves which we have denied or rejected, and thus project onto others.   Since it is therefore an unconscious drive or need, how do we make it conscious?   There are two ways to do this, one of which is dream analysis, using a technique called “gestalt”, where you take something that scares you in a dream, and 1) observe it, then 2) have a conversation with it, and finally 3) describe the dream from the first-person standpoint of that which scares you.

Another way to become aware of shadow, is to describe someone who “rubs you the wrong way”, someone whom you have an emotional reaction to which seems a little exaggerated or over the top.    Then observe that person and their characteristics, have an imaginary conversation with that person, and then join the conversation by taking a first-person perspective of that person talking back to you.   This is referred as the 3-2-1 process, because you are relating to the shadow figure in the third person, then in the second person, and finally in the first person.

The reason why this is important is because what bothers you about others is many times what bothers you about yourself which you fail to recognize.

Now I have to say that there is such a thing as a positive shadow image.   For example, although I am a person dedicated to finding peaceful solutions to problems through diplomacy, I still had a positive attitude towards people in the military.   For many years, I just took this as a result of the fact that my father and two of my brothers were in the military.   But I realized that the source of my positive feeling was somewhere else.    In a series of dreams I had when I was in my 40s, I found myself being drafted into the military, and I would try to explain to the people at the recruiting station that somehow there must be a mistake, because I was too old to be in the military.   Somehow, the dream would always resolve it by the people in charge giving me a job anyway, and I reconciled myself to the fact that “I’m in the army now.”

In analyzing these dreams according to the gestalt procedure outlined above, I found out what was happening.   I associated the military with discipline, and somehow I had a self-image that refused to believe that I was disciplined.   This was because my older brother and I had almost defined ourselves in terms of each other, and I saw him as the disciplined one, and he saw me as the undisciplined one.   This may have been true in relative terms when we were in high school and college, but in reality I was very disciplined, at least in the areas I cared about, like language study.   So the positive quality of being disciplined was something I refused to recognize in myself, so the dream was saying “you are disciplined after all.”  That was what was meant by my being drafted in the military and my reconciling myself to that reality despite my initial objections.

So we can have people we meet whom we admire, those people who rub us the right way rather than the wrong way, and have them be a shadow projection in the same way as people who irritate us inordinately.   Being aware of your shadow whether it is a positive or negative projection helps you deal with others honestly because you are dealing with the actual people in front of you and not the masks that you project onto them.   It helps you deal with yourself because you are dealing with the source of problems you project onto the outside world.   If you try to deal with the projections, you will fail, like that line from the song Hotel California,

“And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast”

You can only kill the beast by recognizing that you yourself are the beast.   So come out of the shadow, and recognize that the reality you face is always less scary than the one you run away from.


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