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Reve(a)ling In The Shadow

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

While looking for an image to accompany my previous blog post I stumbled upon the following essay about shadow exploration. It reflects exactly what I have been reflecting upon this year, and talks about the shadow side from two of my favourite ideology/philosopher ever: Buddhism and Carl Jung. What a treat.

By Jason Espada (

A Prelude to Talking about the Shadow

Looking at difficult emotions and held back elements in the psyche always has the potential to release a lot of energy. It’s been my experience that when an abundance of energy is released (on the way to integration, one hopes) chaotic events can unfold in the outside world. The feeling can be that these are not oneself, per se, but still we can feel that there is some relationship to the internal; and such things strange encounters, or accidents, or events involving the police, fire department and ambulances can take place.

My sense is that there is a parallel between the kind of held back, unformed energy that is released, and strange, unexpected, or out of control interactions or events. Somehow, their texture, or movement, or their character feels the same.

Once they hear about the value of shadow work, I know most people will probably ignore any preliminary warning, and just jump right in. Ok., fine. Should unpleasant events get set into motion, we can think of this as part of the learning process, instead of getting discouraged. We all need to learn our limits, and just reading or hearing is not the same as seeing for ourselves.

Shadow work in a safe container

There is a way to do safe and effective shadow work, looking into and transforming the held back elements. This involves gathering a wealth of supporting conditions. Create as much harmony, stability, goodwill and peace as you can, as a container for the

energies to be released. If there are some spiritual practices that you know work for you, set that as the foundation. If the energy should start to feel like it is overflowing, and that there is something of a chaotic character to it, then set the inner work aside for a while and increase the stabilizing elements in your life. Most of all, go slow. This will give you time to assimilate whatever comes up.

Besides that of the container, another analogy we can use is that of ‘the filament’. Our constitution has to be strong to look within ourselves and get in touch with difficult elements. Our body, mind and our emotions, or we can say, our constitution can be liked to the filament in a light bulb. Too much current, and the bulb will resist, or go out. We can tell when someone is frail, emotionally. Their voice trembles, and they avoid talking for long about anything difficult. Anger can be an escape, as well as distraction.

We all know, on some level, when we need to back off the difficult subjects in our life. We know, consciously or unconsciously when we are capable, and when we need more weight, so to speak.

The way we fortify our constitution is to be in touch with positive, nourishing things, such as art, beauty, nature, and peaceful environments and experiences. Then when we are ready, we can engage the deeper, and sometimes difficult things.

Ideally, shadow work is about more than just release. Deeper resolution is more than the discharge of energy, as valuable and necessary as that might be. We need then to be able to weather the effects of doing inner work. If we use a balanced approach as much as we can, I think we’re headed in the right direction.

The Shadow from a Buddhist Perspective

The shadow:

That which is held back, shunted away, denied, unresolved in our psyche; what opposes us in the totality of our ‘personal’ consciousness. An energetic phenomenon, that, like all other energy dynamics, has its own laws, rules, specific ways of functioning

First thoughts about the shadow

Reflexively, a self arises, right or wrong – an idea of who we are is formed, and from that we relate energetically to the world. We have wishes, wants, perceived slights, experiences of despair, shame, frustration and virtues too.

Everything that is held back, if its point of origin is still with us in some subtle way, makes up the shadow.