Shadow work is the process of integrating the parts of our personality that have been repressed and made unconscious, otherwise known as our “shadow self.”
Simply put, the key to integrating your shadow self as quickly and with as little existential turbulence as possible is to increase presence and body awareness. There are many techniques and modalities that you can use on your own, as well as practitioners you can see to help you increase presence and body awareness.
In this blog post I’ll be talking about those methods, modalities and practitioners that I’ve found to be the best, along with other important things you’ll need to know in order to expedite and smooth out the process of integrating your shadow self.
A mindfulness teacher of mine, Shinzen Young, says that the basic unit of creation is a simultaneous expansion and contraction.
This fundamental dichotomy shows up in the various dichotomies that we see in our world: good/bad, male/female, yes/no, yin/yang, physical/spiritual, on/off, republican/democrat, the whole digital world is built on combinations of ones and zeros, light versus dark, so on and so forth.
In the way that we speak about them, these opposing forces seem mutually exclusive, meaning that they don’t coincide with each other at all.
But in reality their boundaries are much more fluid. There’s a constant flowing exchange going on between them.
The nature of Nature is that it is constantly breaking down distinctions and building them up into something new, and then breaking them down again, and around and around.
As an integral parts of Nature our bodies and beings are being ground in this existential mill, as well.
We’re being broken down and built up anew by the fluid exchange of opposing forces in us.
These opposing, universal forces create the potential energy that compels the evolution of the universe of which we are a part.
We’re used to seeing the static version of this fundamental notion, for example, in the form of the two-dimensional yin yang symbol.
The following is a video based on the theories of a mathematician named Nassim Haramein. This video is a more accurate representation of the fluid, multi-dimensional exchange happening in us and at the core of reality.
That same torus structure can be found in the flow of the life force energy in and around our bodies.
Our natural state is one in which life force energy flows and circulates, unimpeded, organizing and informing every level of our existence from the atomic to the cellular to the spiritual.
If that flow of information goes unimpeded, we exist in a state of wholeness.
However, if anything gets in the way of that flow of information, a separation occurs in us and we become fragmented.
An eddy is created in the river of life force energy within us as a part of us is being kept unconscious and stuck, and a layer of our “shadow self” is born.
The well known, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung coined the term “shadow self” in reference to any unconscious aspect of our personality.
When we think shadow we tend to think of repressed emotions that are considered “negative” like anger, grief and fear.
But according to Jung any of our parts that have been made unconscious can be part of our shadow.
This includes things on the light end of the spectrum that we may have created some strange, averse relationship to like joy, love, fun, power, etc…
Though I don’t believe he refers specifically to the “shadow self” in his book, I would say Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, is one of the best shadow work books out there.
In his book Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about something he calls the “pain body.”
According to Tolle the pain body is a semi-autonomous entity that exists in everyone.
It is not unlike an animal whose main goal is to secure its survival.
The pain body feeds on energy that is most similar to its own frequency.
And so it feeds on the negative emotion associated with painful experiences and drama.
Like our shadow it is unconscious in us and so it can hijack our minds and thus our behavior in order to create painful situations on which it can feed.
In Buddhism enlightened folks are enlightened because they are not grasping onto the multitude of identities that get created over a life time.
We might identify as a man or a woman, a Midwesterner, a Coloradan, a doctor, a mother, a white person, a black person, privileged or not, wealthy or not, a brother or sister, etc…
These identities all carry with them a lot of thoughts and images and impressions about what the world is and who we are and who we are in relationship to the world and others.
According to Buddhism, this is all an illusion.
We get vary attached to these identities, though, and we will defend them tooth and nail along with the unproductive beliefs and behaviors that come with those identities.
That’s why they can be called our defended senses of self and why they can keep us from manifesting ourselves in the world in accordance with our divine nature.
These false senses of self or defended senses of self keep us from living our authentic selves or true selves and keep us from manifesting these truer aspects of ourselves in the world.
In Christianity people are said to have a sinful nature.
This is an all consuming part of a person that keep them separate from God and unworthy of God’s love.
Our sinful nature was said to have been passed down to all humanity through the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
As I mentioned in the beginning section of this blog post, we are energetic, as well as, physical beings.
The life force energy circulating through the various energetic pathways of our being is what creates and supports our physical bodies.
If that flow of life force energy goes unimpeded we exist in a state of wholeness.
However, if that flow of energy gets blocked, we become fragmented and separated from important parts of ourselves.
It’s our very own early nervous systems that are responsible for blocking the flow of life force energy in us.
About two to four weeks after conception the source layer of our nervous system starts to emerge.
I like to call this early version of our nervous system the primal brain.
The primal brain is concerned with survival.
It’s very sensitive to the energetic fields around us and it is constantly feeling out into them, testing our environment for safety.
Because we literally rely on the folks in our world for our survival, usually our parents, we are very eager to match what we feel in them, so we can fit in with the herd.
We sense into their relationship with things like anger, joy, fear, passion, grief, pleasure, power, love, all the things that make us human, and we match their relationship with these things.
Certainly we pick up on some of their finer points, but we also adopt the unhealthy and unproductive ways that they’ve learned to relate to themselves and their world.
This is something they learned from their parents, and they from their parents, and so on.
Out of a perceived need to fit in and survive when we’re very, very young, we match what we feel in them.
As a result we push parts of ourselves away, creating a program to disconnect from that flavor of energy in us, creating the seed of a shadow self.
When we’re older, as we start to develop our own autonomy and get into relationships and practice the art of manifesting ourselves in the world, our shadow self might start to give us trouble.
After we’ve developed mentally and emotionally, we create stories to support this survival programming and we place a limiter on the range and depth of emotion that we’ll give ourselves permission to feel.
When we think of our shadow self we tend to think of repressed negative emotions that squeeze out sideways when we get triggered.
We think of our unprocessed mommy and daddy issues that get projected on the other relationships in our lives.
We’ll talk about the more mental/emotional aspect of our shadow self later, but few people are aware that there’s a physical byproduct of a repressed shadow.
When our primal brain sequesters energy out of a perceived need for survival, it utilizes a number of physical tools to do so.
A lot of the changes related to our shadow happen around our spine and our spinal cord, the “conduit of consciousness.”
First, our primal shuts down breath to an area of our spine that it has decided is not safe to feel.
Another strategy the primal brain uses is tension.
It uses muscle tension to keep an area of our spine from moving.
If we breathe into a part of our body and move it we have to become aware of it.
But since the primal brain has decided it’s not safe to feel it shuts breath down to that area and locks it down with muscle tension.
In doing so it essentially separates us from the animating force of life and holds it in unconscious limbo until such time that we can integrate it.
If we can’t move it and we can’t breathe into it then tension gets to build and build and the nervous system has no way to do anything about it.
Eventually the muscles ability to hold tension gets overloaded and that energy is transferred into the bones of the spine causing something called bony tension.
When we get the sense from feeling into our environment that a part of ourselves is really not safe to feel, we stick that energy in bony tension.
Holding muscle tension in a part of our body changes our posture.
There’s a characteristic defense posture: the front aspects of the gut, solar plexus and heart are pinched off and the spine is held in hyper-flexion, the tailbone tucked.
Think of a dog with it’s tail between its legs.
A classic example of defense posture and an excellent example of the shadow in action is Gollum from Lord Of The Rings.
(Also, notice how prominent Gollum’s spinal bones are? That’s bony tension.)
When we change our posture part of what’s happening is we’re stretching our spinal cord.
This stretching creates something called neural tension.
When spinal tissue is being stretched it decreases its ability to conduct information, especially emotional information.
Basically, neural tension is handy strategy that we humans have developed to help us not feel.
And not feeling is handy if life is really hard somehow.
For example, have you heard of the widow’s hump?
There are people who have had to face incredible hardship.
Maybe members of their family died during war time or some other incredibly hard time, but there was no time to process that grief.
Grief gets stored in the upper lungs.
In order to repress that grief the primal brain uses the body to wall it off, resulting in this bent over posture that keeps the heart separate from the upper lungs and the grief therein.
And of course all of this tension in our bodies can lead to physical pain and discomfort of various sorts in our bodies as our bodies start to break down under the weight of the physical stress.
According to the World Health Organization low back pain causes the most missed days from work world wide, followed by neck pain, headaches and joint pain.
The tension we store in our bodies as a result of our shadow is an overlooked source of the pain that millions of people deal with on a daily basis.
If we’re using resources to maintain our shadow and keep it unconscious, those are resources we don’t get to use for healing, recovering from injury and adapting to our environment.
We might be more susceptible to getting sick.
Organ systems might not work like they’re supposed to and Our body chemistry might go awry, resulting in common ailments that people deal with, things like arthritis, digestive issues, high blood pressure, thyroid issues, etc…
Life is constantly trying to bring what’s unconscious into conscious awareness.
As we get a little older and start trying to manifest ourselves in the world, life will reflect our unconscious parts (our shadow) back to us so that we can come into relationship with it.
The surfacing of our shadow self is a major cause of the emotional issues that people have, anger, anxiety and depression, etc…, otherwise known as psychological pain.
Depending on the particular aspect of the pain we want to focus on, psychological pain could also be referred to as suffering, mental pain, emotional pain, psychic pain, social pain, existential pain, spiritual pain or soul pain.
All of these versions of psychological pain generally refer to the thoughts, behaviors and emotions that happen around the perceived inadequacies, deficiencies or shortcomings of self that are related to our shadow self.
And of course, psychological pain affects our behavior.
From procrastination to addiction, our shadow can unconsciously run our lives.
There is a part of the healing journey that is common to everyone’s healing experience, which is the part of the journey where we start to feel STUCK.
When we feel stuck in our bodies and lives, it’s often related to our shadow self coming to the surface.
The energy that has been bound up in our systems and made unconscious is squeezing to the surface to be felt and integrated.
When that happens there are still parts of us that would rather keep that information unconscious and so this internal conflict develops and we start to feel STUCK.
Many people in the Western world would seek to banish the stuckness and push it away.
But what we resist persists.
There are ways that we unconsciously repress our shadow when life squeezes it to the surface.
Certain negative behaviors come to mind like drugs, alcohol and nicotine.
Caffeine and sugar are more readily acceptable drugs, but drugs nonetheless.
There are things that we could abuse like shopping and gambling.
But then there are a whole slew of things that would otherwise be positive like work, working out, sleep, meditation and food.
If you thought it was painful before, try pushing your shadow away, that’s really going to make it suck.
The solution to the stuckness and the integration of your shadow is to go toward the stuckness–go into it.
Going toward the discomfort, the pain, the symptoms, etc… is the basis of shadow work, the key to avoiding painful resistance and the ultimate solution to the “problem.”
I’ve tried to make the case above that our shadow involves all of this bound of energy.
Shadow work is the process of integrating that energy.
The truth is that that energy has massive wisdom for our bodies and lives and our successful growth and evolution as human beings.
It’s the unconscious part that makes it insidious.
If we can integrate that energy is will compel us in the direction of our wholeness.
Carl Jung said of the shadow and shadow work, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
That “embodied” part is the key.
I got some simple instructions from Eckhart Tolle’s books years ago that altered the course of my life.
According to Tolle, the solution to healing our pain body (our shadow self) is to commit to constantly letting at least part of our attention rest on the sensations in our bodies at all times.
Similarly, Buddhists suggest mindfulness meditation as a solution to free ourselves from the illusion of our defended sense of self.
Christian mystics engaged in a process of deep contemplation (meditation) in order to reconnect with God.
Letting our attention rest in our bodies is a key to extracting the wisdom from our shadow and the key to successful shadow work.
Every second that we can let our attention rest in the sensations in our bodies, we are creating a state of presence and integrating the energy bound there.
Some of you may feel like you’re not so sure how to let your attention rest on the sensations in your body.
This is common since most adults humans spend most of their time paying attention to the thoughts that are whizzing through their heads and they have an aversion to feeling their bodies.
I suggest you close your eyes and answer this question: Do you have a body?
“Yes,” you say?
How do you know?
You can feel it, right?
The felt sense of our body is a combination of just three different kinds of sensations:
Sensations like tension or pain, hot or cold, the touch of our clothes on our skin, the pressure of the chair on our butt
Sensations like our heart beating and the rising and falling of our breathe
Sensations that come from the emotions you’re feeling at any given moment
These are all the sensations that let us know we have a body when we’re not looking.
At any given moment you should be able to find at least one of those things to bring your attention to.
As Eckhart Tolle suggested, the most powerful thing you can do for yourself is to keep at least part of your attention resting on one of those sensations at all times and in all situations.
Learning to pay attention to body sensations is most commonly achieved through the practice of mindfulness.
Basically mindfulness is developing the ability to be able to focus on what we want to focus on when we want to focus on it.
Doing so increases our ability to be present in all other areas of life.
Everything we do after having that increased level of presence will be that much more effective and satisfying.
That’s why mindfulness is a fundamental life skill, and the foundation of successful shadow work.
There are many teachers out there who can help you formalize your practice and systematize your ability to notice the sensations in your body and increase body awareness.
Shinzen Young, whom I mentioned before as one of my favorite teachers, has a Home Practice Program where you get the benefit of practicing with a group but from the comfort of your own home.
It’s an option that I highly recommend.
Life does not like unconsciousness.
It will do everything it can to bring that which is unconscious in you to the surface.
For that reason, once you’ve developed some level of mindfulness, you only need to wait until life gives you something to work with… which should be any second now.
For instance, I’m married, I have a five year old daughter and I’m running a busy private practice.
It’s only a matter of time before something comes up that will ask me to use my ability to pay attention to what’s relevant.
Have you ever noticed that when it rains it pours?
Life brings material to the surface to work with in cycles.
There will be times when life feels tight and contracted and time when it feels easy and expansive.
During the tight times life is squeezing our shadow self to the surface to be met.
These cycles of expansion and contraction tend to happen in seven year increments.
If you’re ready to turn up the heat just a little bit simply exercising, if you haven’t been, or if you have been exercising, increasing it, will stir up life force energy and bring your shadow material to the surface.
If you want to turn of heat a little more do exercise like yoga or Pilates or ecstatic dance, something that is requiring you to be more mindful while you’re moving and breathing.
Our subconscious mind does a lot of processing while we’re sleeping. Get in habit of paying attention to the themes and feelings that show up in your dreams and write them down.
Journaling is a great way to let your subconscious mind flow out onto the page.
At some point getting help from a practitioner who can help your attention rest in your body will be hugely fruitful.
There are many modalities out there that specialize in helping increase mindfulness, body awareness and help you integrate your shadow self: Spiritual massage, CranioSacral Therapy, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Chiropratic, Network Spinal Analysis and the list goes on and on.
I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the work that I do.
My work is a combination of Mindfulness Awareness Practices and Network Spinal Analysis.
I call it BioSoul Integration.
Through BioSoul Integration my mission is to help individuals create an ever-deepening connection to their bodies, their lives and their World; to help those who have felt the strong calling to embody their Soul’s purpose and to give their unique gifts on this planet.
I work mostly out of my office In Louisville, Colorado but I do have online offerings, too.
Here’s a video I did on the topic of shadow work and integrating your shadow self:
If you’re on the go and like to listen to podcasts, here is a podcast version of the video:
Some of the best money I’ve ever spent on my healing has been on therapy.
If you’re going to see a therapist I highly recommend someone who is body centered in their work, i.e. someone who combines mindfulness with an emphasis on attention to body sensations.
Lately I’ve been seeing someone who does EMDR, a brain/body oriented technique that has proven really powerful for me.
When it comes down to it, the key to integrating your shadow is to increase body awareness.
In my opinion mindfulness practices provide the most direct method to increasing body awareness.
I want to point out that our shadow is not something to “clear” or push away.
In actuality it contains all the wisdom that is needed to take you to the next stage of your development.
Integrating our shadow self is an important part of our soul’s work.
Shadow work can be uncomfortable.
There’s a certain level of discomfort inherent to any transformational process worth going through.
But the more you welcome the sensations associated with your shadow, the quicker and more smoothly the process of integrating your shadow self will unfold for you.
What do you think, after reading this blog post are you more likely to embrace your shadow and do the work that’s really going to move the needle forward on your spiritual growth?
Please leave a comment or a question below.
I promise I’ll always respond to your comment or answer your question.
I look forward to helping you express more life.
Yours In Healing,
Jay Uecker, D.C.
I've been supporting people through the ups and downs of their healing journeys for almost two decades now, mostly from my office in Louisville, Colorado. However, I do have online offerings, as well. I've worked with 90 year olds, day old babies and everyone in between. But those who seem to be most drawn to my work tend to be those who have felt the strong calling to consciously do the work of leaning into their growth and evolution as human beings. Often these people are practitioners themselves of some sort, whether professionally or otherwise. They may be yoga teachers, meditators, acupuncturists, chiropractors, energy workers, shamanic practitioners, healers, spiritual seekers and others, and they feel called to give their gifts and share what they’ve learned with others. Discovering our soul's gifts, embodying them and then serving others with them is where true life satisfaction lies. Life will keep nudging us in that direction, anyway. BioSoul Integration can help speed up the process and smooth out the rough spots created by our innocent and unconscious resistance. Take my BioSoul Integration Quiz to get started.