Shadow in the light


This “3-2-1 shadow integration” process is a valuable exercise in discovering hidden and denied parts of ourselves. We often receive messages from our environment telling us about something that annoys us, disgusts us or something that keeps returning to us over and over again without any clear indication of what is really going on. If you feel like facing “it” – go ahead and try it! All you need is your honesty about the situation, a bit of acting skills and, if you choose so, a bit of writing skills.

First choose what you want to work with.
It is usually easier to begin with a difficult person to whom you are attracted or by whom you are repelled/disturbed (a boss, a parent, a friend).

You could also pick an image from your dream or a body sensation that distracts you or causes you to fixate on it (turn it in your mind over and over again).

Please note that disturbance could be either positive or negative.


A/ it makes you negatively hypersensitive, easily triggered, reactive, irritated, angry, hurt, upset. It may keep coming up as an emotional tone or mood that pervades your life

B/ it makes you positively hypersensitive, easily infatuated, possessive, obsessed, overly attracted or perhaps it becomes an on-going idealisation that influences your motivations or mood.


Observe the disturbing person/image/sensation very closely and then write on a piece of paper how does it look like/how does it feel in vivid detail using 3rd person narrative and present tense such as  “they are”, “they look”, “they smell”, etc. This is a way of detailed exploration of your experience with a clear focus on what bothers you about it. Do not minimise your disturbance. Do your best to describe your experience as fully and in as much detail as possible.

Enter a simulated dialogue with the person/image/sensation as if you were talking to somebody next to you (you /yours/etc). This is your opportunity to enter into a relationship with the disturbance. Talk directly to the person/image/sensation). You may start by asking questions like:
– Who are you/ What are you?
– Where do you come from?
– What do you want from me?
– What do you need to tell me?
– What gift are you bringing me?
Then allow the disturbance to respond back to you. Imagine realistically what they would say and actually write it down or vocalise it. Allow yourself to be surprised by what emerges in the dialogue.

Now, be the person/image/sensation. Depending on whether you chose to speak or write, express yourself in the 1st person (I / me / mine) as if you were able to see the world from the perspective of that person/image/sensation.
Allow yourself to discover not only similarities between the person/image/sensation and yourself but also how you really are one and the same.
Make a statement of identification i.e. “I am the zombie and the zombie is me”
This, by its nature, will almost always feel wrong (after all it is exactly what your psyche has been busy denying!). Try it anyway since it contains at least a kernel of truth.
Open yourself to the experience of the feeling that your psyche excluded – do it until this feeling starts resonating with you as your own. This is the process of re-owning your shadow. By engaging the shadow you integrate it (let it consciously be visible to you as yours).
If you complete this step successfully, you will experience a shift in awareness, shift in your feelings, and changes in attention/focus that was taken up by your denial. You will know that the process has worked because you will actually feel lighter, more peaceful and open. Sometimes you can also feel a bit high. It makes a new kind of participation in life possible.

XXX Practical example:

Scenario: I’m dreading going to visit my childhood best friend. I notice my sense of uneasiness about going there and my resistance to make a move and go there. My uneasiness is connected with his lifestyle.

STEP 1- FACE IT – I am horrified to see once again how my friend’s wife runs his life and how he seems to be happy about it. He’s got a super safe, dead end job and he is surely betraying himself. I am sure he’d be much more happy walking on the wild side of life once in a while. It makes me sick and it drives me nuts to be around him.

STEP 2- TALK TO IT – Start a dialogue with your friend about his lifestyle.
– “Why do you let your wife make all the decisions in your life?”
– “I don’t- I simply respect her perspective”.
– “What about your job- are you satisfied with it? It’s a dead end job to me!”
– “Hey- it’s a good, honest job- I really enjoy it.”
– ” Why don’t you form your own company and do something more advantageous?”
– “I prefer what I’ve got. It’s more secure and takes less work. What’s wrong with that?”

STEP 3 – BE IT – Become your friend and speak for him as if you were him. This is an exercise in empathy – go and see his life through his perspective.
-” I really want safety and security and a smooth, predictable life”.
– “My wife gives me a chance to have more time for myself. We understand each other very well and she knows what I want so she can decide well for both of us”
-” My job is not very challenging but that’s ok- I’m not very stressed and I have a life, don’t need to work late hours, I don’t have to compete in a hostile environment or speed to join the rat race”.

RE-OWNING YOUR SHADOW – Suddenly you might realise that you must have ignored and forgotten about your own needs for safety and security so much that your friend’s lifestyle triggered your disowned needs inside you.  Your friend, just like you, has needs for both thrills and safety/security, unpredictability and comfort. You could possibly feel more free inside after acknowledging both aspects of life- the wild side of life and the quiet side of life and a possibility to make choices re lifestyles. You could also possibly become aware of when you lost touch with your desire for safety/security in life – when your parents took charge for everything and when you had no good reason to create safety/stability for yourself.

INTEGRATIN THE SHADOW – In real life, when visiting your friend, you could stay with him for a day or so but then go to sleep in a hotel and go out in the evening to get a bit of a wild night life. In this way you could give yourself an experience of both aspects of life.

When visiting your friend you could think of your situational lack of opportunity to be independent in life and appreciate the comfort given to you by your parents. Being aware of your own circumstances might let you relax more while spending time with your friend. The feelings of dread and uneasiness would then be no longer valid when you are going to be planning to visit him at his place.

Source: Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard, Marco Morelli, “Integral Life Practice – a 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening, 2008, based on pages 50-53

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