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Living with the Shadow: Self Acceptance & Loving Awareness

Shadow work can feel daunting and exhausting. At times, it feels like that is all the Spiritual community is talking about. How we can work through our shadows, defeat them, move past them... At times, it can feel like we must continuously be moving past the traits we already hide in order to be truly enlightened. On the contrary, the truth I feel, and the guidance my Spirit team gives me, shows me a way that if we are beings of light, it is inevitable that we are going to have shadows in order to be balanced. Duality will always exist. Therefore, "chronic shadow work" can put us on a hamster wheel. In truth, shadow work is just moving past self judgement, shame, and grief. The idea of moving past what we perceive as our less desirable traits is a form of self betrayal and judgement. My intention for this post is to talk about the healing opportunity of accepting one's shadow and learning to find love in it, or how to live with our shadow.

Why is there a need for shadow work?

7 of Wands (reversed), 6 of Cups

Many of us have simply never been taught to accept ourselves. If we accept ourselves, or speak highly of ourselves, we may be judged. And it is often this fear of external judgement where we beat the outer world to punch. We begin to judge ourselves. Many of us are the first of generation to even understand ancestral trauma. We are only taught by our parents as much as they know, after all. As their parents taught them. We live in a world that has brainwashed us into craving external validation, and fearing rejection and separation. From grades in school, to people pleasing because it's "the right thing to do", to only showing others our "light" for fear of rejection of our "dark". We have been conditioned to sit nice an pretty, to fit in with the expectations of others lest you wish to be outcast, rejected, abandoned. We may have been catered to a life ruled by religion, condemning our sins as bad and inhuman, demonic, what have you. Riddle me this: how can human acts are so inhuman? Isn't that, in itself, a contradiction?

We often are not taught the self awareness to even be aware and know our body, let alone our soul. Collectively speaking, between our lack of self awareness, an addiction to not being in the present moment, and the societal shame around not fitting in, we are simply not used to evaluating ourselves from a place of non-judgement. Ironically, there is not shame to be found in this. As humans, the ego mind is trained to judge. Evolutionarily speaking, we have relied on our judgement to keep us safe, to identify poisons, to evaluate whether a shelter is sufficient, to know when it is time to move on to greener pastures. What needs to be pulled into balance, and needs to be relearned, is our capacity for self acceptance. This happens when we act as our own loving observer, noticing our thoughts and understanding where a thought or judgement might come from, without further judgement or frustration. We are not going to circumvent rejection by first rejecting ourselves. That in and of itself is rejection. Furthermore, a rejection that isolates us from our truest selves, and also keeps our true light and love hidden from the world (which I think we can all agree, the world needs as much light and love as we can muster now).


How can I observe my own self judgement?

4 of Pentacles

Let us pause for a moment. Take a deep breath in, let the air fill your belly like a balloon. Hold this breath for a count of 4. And release it slowly, emptying out your balloon belly completely. Let's do this three times together. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Thank you for joining me in that. How do you feel? Feel free to continue that until you find stillness, or at very least until your shoulders and jaw are relaxed.

When we feel triggered, when we feel our heart tighten and quicken around aspects of ourselves, the exercise above brings us back to the present moment. It allows us a moment of reprieve, permission to accept what is around us from a place of stillness and breath. We often hide away our shame, and hold so tightly to keep our shadows away from view. But in truth, to observe self judgement is to give some slack. To not hide away and guard so tightly, but instead, when we feel the constrictive judgement, to consciously find our way to slack. To peace. To stillness. Nothing is running at you, nor are you (much less can you) run away from what is. We may have been trained if we don't look at it, and especially don't let others look at it, it doesn't exist. This is lunacy, and not the fun kind! Truth just is.

So when we get deep into self judgement, particularly the self judgement infused by shame or guilt or grief, we will feel the resistance. It is often our body that signals our own healing to be done. The healing we are being called to in those moments is to just relax. What would happen if you just let that be? Typically, this is where the fears climb up, and we are triggered into judging harder. Or perhaps we are judging ourselves for judging ourselves in the first place. Ah, isn't the mind a beautiful cluster of contradictions? We breathe in these moments and notice our physical resistance. We don't need to stop. This is what is called noticing with loving awareness. Realizing that we are tightening and resisting, and offering ourselves compassion. To find softness in empathizing with ourselves and admitting "This is hard" or "I don't feel strong" or "I want to hide". That, too, is ok. By allowing that amount of vulnerability, you strengthen your spirit. For you are honoring yourself.


How do I hold myself through those vulnerable moments?

Page of Cups

Often times, we can want to runaway, dissociate, distract in those moments of vulnerability. We can unintentionally adopt a feeling of permanence, believing that this feeling or emotion or experience is our new norm if we let it stay long enough. We may find our minds running through worst case scenarios, moments in the past in our childhood where we were rejected or ridiculed or punished for these traits we hide under lock and key.

But if you find the strength in the vulnerability, you eventually see the progression in the pause. By allowing stillness and not running away, your loving attention transmutes the shame into wisdom. You see the opportunity and the need for love to be here.

If a child were to come to you with the same vulnerability, how would you react? Would you scream? Yell? Reject? Shame? Of course not. And that is the chink in the armor where love can crawl in. Allow it.


Page of Swords (reversed)

In our moments of vulnerability, it is important to enter those moments with humility. With an open mindedness of reconditioning how we think of and see that scenario. Sometimes that requires forgiveness of how others may have betrayed us or blamed us in our innocence when we accidentally tripped on their trigger. In these instances, it can feel challenging to accept others and their limitations they weren't, and may still not be, aware of. In other times, it may take forgiveness of ourselves, and seeing and accepting our own limitations, and being open to asking the question: "is this limitation serving my highest and best good?" Hold the judgement - again - as best as you can, but if that comes up, allow that too. For in the judgement and restriction, we see the opportunity for acceptance and softening. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it is a practice of mindfulness to allow yourself to be held in a space of self awareness. This can require rewiring your brain, or even adopting a shift in your mindfulness routine. Perhaps you feel comforted to begin with meditation, or to find relief in movement and exercise, or to write it out so the ruminating thoughts stop bouncing around in your skull, or even just giving yourself permission to write down your judgement and walk away to cool off, only to come back to it when you are feeling more at home in your body.


Temperance

Shame, guilt, grief, self betrayal, judgement.... all these are are moments. Moments are temporary. If being vulnerable triggers you, perhaps it is helpful to create a mantra. "Just for this moment, I gift myself space." How long is your moment? Is it one second? One minute? One breath? No matter how brief, don't judge the moment you gift yourself. For moments are gifts, they are sacred, they are temporary. If you don't feel strong enough, that in itself is ok. It's ok to ask for help. It's ok to confide in someone you trust, someone who makes you feel safe, to ask a trusted confidant to hold space with you and to fortify you in a moment you wish to just crumble. Perhaps this confidant is your own angels and spirit guides. Perhaps this confidant is your Highest Self. You can pray for enlightenment, for acceptance, for healing. And see what happens. Just be open to it. What comes from this moment of surrender? Of admitting you don't know how to handle these emotions, and asking from help? Allow the Divine to alchemize the moment, and to turn this too into gold. A golden opportunity to know yourself deeper and truer. In knowing ourselves, truthfully, that gifts us peace.


King of Cups

When in doubt, a very important saying always comes in my mind when my vulnerability feels too raw. "You have feelings, feelings don't need to have you." By this, I mean that just because we may be feeling broken doesn't mean we are broken. Just because we feel hopeless, doesn't mean we are hopeless. How can we sell ourselves short like that? That is true self betrayal. Our feelings are not facts. They are just signals of our internal climate, which is created from a culmination of things. Our feelings and the intensity of our reaction can be based on anything; from trauma, to familial conditioning, to just being straight up hangry. Check in with your body and recognize the symbols, and look for familiarity in those signals. Then from there, we can tackle the emotional body.

The emotional body I like to think of as water. Imagine this vulnerability is water. How big of a body of water are we talking? If it's a puddle, we can simply step over it and find ground. We don't need to pay much mind at all, even splash around if we want excitement, and even then we find the ground. But if we perceive ourselves to be out in the ocean? We have options: sink, swim, surf.

Sink: we can stay put. We can allow give our emotions the option to take aware our air, to sink to the bottom, to make friends with the star fish. This I would equate to choosing a path where your shame is your truth, and you live with shame on the daily. I don't really recommend this, but we are all free to make our choices.

Swim: we can use our own tools to move on, in search of land. Navigating the waters and tides and aquatic life to our best ability. In this, we find strength and confidence in our own ability, and eventually land. We find a good story to share with others, of what we learned and what we'd do differently.

Surf: use the emotions as a tool, showing us where to find land. Surfing the waves and letting us to just be with our emotion, finding invigoration and adventure, finding confidence in our ability to just allow and accept. We find land eventually, as all the waves lead us to the beach.

My point is, emotions are a powerful tool to show us how we can grow and change and evolve. And shadow work can be a pivotal part of that. But our true power comes in overcoming the shame and guilt, while working with them by just noticing. When we notice, we allow. In allowing, we allow a level headed perspective to the vulnerable moments, accepting that they are not permanent, and that they may be a beautiful neon arrow pointing us back home to ourselves.


Bonus Card - Bottom of the Deck

The Fool

Rejecting our shadows is familiar, yet they still follow us. We are not Peter Pan, our shadow does not run away elsewhere. If that were the case, I doubt many of us would seek them out and reattach ourselves to them, especially with our collective avoidance conditioning. Though, maybe we should? The truth is, we are whole and perfect, warts and all. These shadows come with us for a reason. They teach us about compassion, about love, about trust that everything just works out. Because everything does eventually work out. We continue on this path of self discovery and self empowerment, and wherever we go, there our shadows are. Often when we talk about the Fool card, we say that the Fool doesn't carry much in their bindle, for they know whatever they need will find them. For the moment, the Fool trusts that they have everything they need within them. And for us, in this instance, we are the Fool. And whether we accept it or love it or hate it or however you feel about it, as there are no wrong answers to how you can and can't feel, we need our shadows. They make us whole. They round us off. We don't need to reject them, or hide them, or lose them, or ignore them. If we did, it would be pointless. They are attached to us regardless. But perhaps we have our shadows to make life more interesting. To teach us to be curious about others, and as a result, to be curious about ourselves. And that curiosity nurtures an adventurer's spirit. Ah, the beautiful adventure that is life. We can trust that if we shine our light, our shadow will appear, and by accepting this duality, we accept ourselves. And in self acceptance, we find peace and wholeness. We are peace. We are whole. It just takes an openness, a trust that this shift in perspective will only fuel your drive and empower you to trust this path you are being guided to. Do you trust where you're being guided? Hold space for this too.


Love and light, always,

Liz

at The Healing Hearth




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