From an early age I noticed a phenomenon that I didn't like. I would see my parents behave one particular way with us kids and a completely different way with other adults. They would show an openness, kindness and interest in adults that we rarely received. I didn't understand why they couldn't just be that nice way with us.
Later in life, I began to see that I was doing the same thing. The closer I was to people the more unconscious I became and I would start behaving in ways that were not in line with my values. The only way I found to keep this at bay was to go away for periods of time on my own and connect with nature.
When I became aware of the term 'the shadow', coined by Carl Jung, I knew I had found a name for this blind way of being.
Our shadow is an amalgamation of all the parts of ourselves we have rejected, pushed away and buried. It is the unresolved past lodged in the body/mind; what Buddhists call karma, and far from being buried it can be pushing our buttons all day long.
The shadow can be positive and negative. We can reject beauty, creativity, tenderness and general fabulousness just as easily as jealousy, hatred, pettiness or lust. When we reject any of our inner experience it gets stuck and causes trouble. We often project our shadow on to others and spend time complaining about how awful they are or wishing we could be as wonderful as them.
It is estimated that most people spend around 85% of their day living in the shadow, on automatic pilot and not really aware of what they're doing, saying or thinking; playing old-behaviour records over and over, while the true, alive and dynamic self remains dormant and ignored.
In the shadow everything has a pattern, an inevitability, and a certain sense of safety; we go round and round in circles, nothing every gets fully resolved but we feel safe because we know what will happen next. All the mystery and curiosity of life is suppressed.
The antidote to the shadow is awareness and compassion. When we are aware of our experience we can then be compassionate towards it and watch as it turns to peace.
Regular mindfulness or vipassana meditation, psychotherapy, any awareness-based meditation practice and yoga are all ways to strengthen our presence in the here and now and let go of the past / the shadow / the judgements around so-called terrible or amazing parts of ourselves.
When we live in the present we are authentic, trustworthy and experience much joy. It is our birthright to live life this way.
When we make peace with our shadow the world is a lighter place for it.
For more information on the shadow and how to heal it see any books by Debbie Ford, particularly The Dark Side of The Light Chasers.
See Inner Haven Website for information on retreats and classes in Donegal :)