Eating Our Own Shadow
by Rick Borutta
Let’s say that if you are reading this essay then at some point in your life a mirror was held up to you by another person and you were told to take a good look at yourself. So you did, and you noticed that darker side of your reflection – your shadow.
Now that you are aware that this shadow is a part of you in all that you do, what do you do with it? Turn it into gold? Perhaps. But what exactly does that mean?
Fortunately, in the ManKind Project there are men’s circles where men are supported in “shadow work,” a term coined in the late 1980’s/early 90’s by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams: Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature to recognize the projections men put on others and to take ownership of the disowned parts of themselves. After an initiation like the New Warrior Training Adventure the real work begins.
That’s right. The real work begins. An initiation is just that – a beginning. So let’s explore a few more ideas about the shadow in the lives of men.
• The shadow contains gold: This is true. Some of the messages we receive during the course of our lives encourage us to cover or “put away” the most glittery and sparkly and pure aspects of our brilliance so as to conform more closely to the families we grew up in or to the cultures to which we are exposed.
• We can own our shadows after a great deal of work, so that at some point all our shadow will be integrated: Highly unlikely. To be embodied means to cast a shadow. Imagine what it would be like to make yourself “so pure” that you had little or no shadow left? It might look like a monastic kind of life. No personality. Think of all you may have to give up in order to achieve this level of consciousness.
• We must feel guilt and shame whenever we recognize our shadow: False. Though guilt and/or shame may be present when we recognize some of our unconscious behavior, there are, in fact, many creative and powerful forces in our unconscious that come through the shadow which are an important part of who we are, and important to our personal development.
• We must avoid our shadow whenever possible: False. Our shadow can’t be avoided unless we want to remain like Peter Pan, who kept losing his. In fact, the shadow is an important entity in and of itself, that deserves respect for its function alongside the ego. That said, there may be deep, dark parts of the shadow that are encountered and are best left where they are. Through creativity, dreams and ritual space we can engage the shadow and better know ourselves.
These are just samples of the dynamic complexity in the way the human psyche functions. To go deeper in your own shadow work I invite you to check out the ManKind Project’s reading list of recommended books by men in our community.