Embracing Shadow and Light — Center for Action and Contemplation
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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

Embracing Shadow and Light

Shadow Work

Embracing Shadow and Light
Monday, June 14, 2021

We all identify with our persona/mask so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or hide anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not recognize it as such. Our shadow self makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means “actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.” We are all in one kind of closet or another and are even encouraged by society to play such roles. Usually everybody else can see our shadow, so it is crucial that we learn what everybody else knows about usexcept us!

Holy or whole individuals, the ones we call “saints,” are precisely the ones who have no “I” to protect or project. Their “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough. Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-adoration. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try to be loving—above all else. Love holds us tightly and safely and always. Such people have met the enemy and know that the major enemy is “me” (to borrow from the comic strip character Pogo). But they do not hate the “me” either, they just see through and beyond “me.” Shadow work literally “saves us from ourselves” (our false selves), which is the foundational meaning of salvation to begin with.

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. Christians would have been done a great service if the shadow had been distinguished from sin. Sin and shadow are not the same. We were so encouraged to avoid sin that many of us instead avoided facing our shadow, and then we ended up “sinning” even worse—while unaware besides! As Paul taught, “The angels of darkness must disguise themselves as angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The persona does not choose to see evil in itself, so it always disguises it as good. The shadow self invariably presents itself as something like prudence, common sense, and justice. It says, “I am doing this for your good,” when it is actually manifesting fear, control, manipulation, or even vengeance. Isn’t it fascinating that the name Lucifer literally means “light bearer”? The evil one always makes darkness look like light—and makes light look like darkness.

The gift of shadowboxing is in the seeing of the shadow and its games in ourselves, which takes away most of the shadow’s hidden power. No wonder that Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) said that the mansion of true self-knowledge was the necessary first mansion on the spiritual journey. Socrates said the same thing, “Know yourself!”

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 131–133, 134.

Story from Our Community:
Nonviolence starts when we learn how to love ourselves with compassion. Upon beginning shadow work and looking within myself, I was able to heal old wounds, relearn healthy boundaries and thought patterns. Complete love flows through all we say, do, think, and pray after taking steps of transformation. —Susan C.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
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