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Center for Action and Contemplation
Shadow Work
Shadow Work

The Gift of Self-Acceptance  

Friday, June 23, 2023

Father Richard stresses both the challenge and great gifts that come from working with our shadow self:  

I am afraid that the closer we get to the Light, the more of our shadow we see. Thus, truly holy people are always humble people. Invariably when something upsets us, and we have a strong emotional reaction out of proportion to the moment, our shadow self has just been exposed. So, watch for any overreactions or over denials. The reason that a mature or saintly person can be so peaceful, so accepting of self and others, is that there is not much left of the hidden shadow self. [1] 

Buddhist teacher Tara Brach shares a well-known and instructive myth about the Buddha and his compassionate interactions with the shadow god Mara:  

You may be familiar with images of the Buddha [Siddhartha] meditating all night long under the Bodhi tree until he experienced full liberation. The shadow god Mara (who represents the universal energies of greed, hatred, and delusion) tried everything he knew to make him fail—sending violent storms, beautiful temptresses, raging demons, and massive armies to distract him. Siddhartha met them all with an awake and compassionate presence, and as the morning star appeared in the sky, he became a Buddha, a fully realized being.  

But this was not the end of his relationship with Mara!  

In the five decades following his enlightenment, the Buddha traveled throughout northern India teaching all who were interested the path of presence, compassion, and freedom.…  

And as the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story, Mara sometimes appeared as well…. [The Buddha would] stroll over to Mara and with a firm yet gentle voice say, “I see you, Mara…. Come, let’s have tea.” And the Buddha himself would serve Mara as an honored guest.  

This is what’s possible for us. Just imagine that Mara appears in your life as a surge of fear about failure, or hurt about another’s neglect or disrespect. Now, what if your response were to pause and say, “I see you, Mara”—Recognizing. And “Let’s have tea”—Allowing. Instead of avoiding your feelings, instead of lashing out in anger or turning on yourself with self-judgment, you are responding to life with more clarity and graciousness, kindness and ease. [2] 

Richard continues:  

The gift of shadowboxing is in the seeing of the shadow and its games in ourselves, which takes away much of the shadow’s hidden power. No wonder Teresa of Ávila said that the mansion of true self-knowledge was the necessary first mansion on the spiritual journey. [3] Once we have faced our own hidden or denied self, there is not much to be anxious about anymore, because there is no fear of exposure. We are no longer afraid to be seen—by ourselves or others. The game is over—and we are free. We finally are who we are, and can be who we are, without disguise or fear. [4] 


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 132–133. 

[2] Tara Brach, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN (New York: Viking Life, 2019), 18–19. 

[3] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, First Mansion, chapter 2, part 8. 

[4] Rohr, Falling Upward, 134. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—CAC Staff, Untitled. Izzy Spitz, Untitled. CAC Staff, Untitled. Watercolor. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Even if my shadow is out of my sight, it still will make itself known. 

Story from Our Community:  

Father Rohr’s teachings about how Christians can deal with the “Shadow” self and “True” self is refreshing. When I was a child, I wanted to be “perfect,” so I hid my imperfections from the world — and from myself. Fr. Rohr helped me to discover that God dwells in the darkness too. I needed permission to explore my shadow self from a spiritual perspective. Now I am working on a deeper understanding of the fullness of how I am made. By learning to love all of me, as one creation with two natures, simultaneously graced by the Divine and Human experience, I am able to bring more of myself to every situation. Now I am living my calling with more power. Thank you. —Lonn D.  

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