Spirituality Isn't Rainbows and Unicorns 24/7: Notes on Shadow Work as Radical Self-Love

“You are a part of me I do not yet know.” – Valarie Kaur

Hi, beautiful souls!

I hope this December is treating you well. 2020 is going out with an astrological bang – the New Moon in Sagittarius and Solar Eclipse happening TODAY (12/14!!), and the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21 (also the Winter Solstice) are bringing in some powerful energies that are ultimately calling in a new world order.

It sounds big and scary, but it’s actually pretty wonderful. We’re being called to shed old ways of being and really ponder who we want to become in the next phase of life. What are our greatest intentions? What needs to be restructured or let go of?

The new world order in the Age of Aquarius is all about egalitarianism, the power of the people, highly creative and inspired energies, and working with rather than against mother earth. It’s all GOOD stuff, but as we know, change doesn’t come without some discomfort.

All this to say, whatever comes up for you in these final weeks of 2020 is 1. Not a coincidence and 2. Totally okay. There’s no need to panic. You are part of a greater collective shift that’s ultimately elevating us closer to our true purpose: to recognize our oneness and live from a heart-centered, loving place. Allow yourself to be with whatever comes through, and get excited to shed old layers of being, cuz it’s happening!!!

Speaking of elevating closer to our true purpose – let’s chat about shadow work.

Shadow work is a big buzzword in the spiritual community. If you’ve heard of it, you probably know that it has to do with working through the darker or hidden (shadow) aspects of yourself that don’t typically see the light of day.

But what’s the point? Why would we want to do that? If spirituality is all about light and love, living in positivity and gratitude, and seeking joy, then why would we want to focus on the negative?

Two thoughts on this: One, shadow isn’t necessarily negative! Shadow refers to any part of yourself that’s been kept under wraps, unexamined, or unacknowledged. Part of your shadow could be a secret dream or unrealized talent.

Two, shadow work is the epitome of spirituality because it essentially says to the Universe, “I refuse to bypass any part of myself. I want to experience myself fully. In doing so, I honor and revere both my imperfect humanness and my perfect divinity.

In other words, by taking a deep and honest look at our shadow aspects – no matter how uncomfortable or scary that process may be – we actually come into the fullness of our spirituality.

Spirituality isn’t about living in ignorance to negativity. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s about learning to integrate and love ALL of ourselves and others – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s about being willing to go into our depths and not leave any stone unturned. The further we go into our depths and darkness, the more love and acceptance we cultivate and ultimately, the further we can go into the light.

In this way, shadow work is a radical and courageous act of self-love.

Self-love isn’t about flowery positive affirmations or posting mirror selfies (although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those, and they can be great supplements to the deeper work). It’s about taking ownership of the truth that lives beneath the surface, the things we’d rather leave unheard and unsaid, and the darker aspects of self that we’re resisting.

And here’s the catch: it’s not the darkness that creates an obstacle between us and total self-love – it’s the resistance.

When we stop resisting our darkness and rather accept it as part of us, we become truly whole and free.

So how do we start integrating and taking ownership of our shadow? It starts with recognizing it. In order to do so, we have to get some clarity on how it shows up.

The quick and dirty tip for recognizing shadow is absorbing this single truth:

We are all mirrors of one another.

The traits and behaviors that we adore in other people reflect back to us traits in ourselves that we’ve learned to embody, love and celebrate. On the flip side, the aspects of others that frustrate, anger, or otherwise trigger us reflect traits that we’re afraid to look at in ourselves.

From this point of view, triggers are a gift. They show us our shadow aspects and guide us to take a closer look. The solution isn’t getting rid of those aspects, but rather taking ownership of them and integrating them into the wholeness of ourselves.

Spirituality that presents as rainbows and unicorns isn’t the whole picture, and never will be. It simply doesn’t work to only learn to love the “good,” socially acceptable, presentable parts of yourself and the world around you. Your soul has been through many lifetimes, realms, dimensions, and galaxies. It has traversed the Universe’s darkness just as much as it has seen the Light. One can’t exist without the other. Rather, one brings the other into being.

The other day at SoulCycle, a rider chose to pull their mask down for about 2/3 of class, despite signing an agreement at check-in stating that masks are to be worn in the studio at all times. Their choice to disregard the rules took away from my experience and made me angry and uncomfortable.

This morning in meditation, I thought of that person, and I felt anger well up within me. My first instinct was to squash that anger and replace it with white, loving light. But then I thought, “Wait. Anger is one of my shadow aspects that’s been repressed. What will happen if I let myself feel this?” And so I did. I allowed that feeling of anger in my chest to get hotter and to spread throughout my whole body. I really experienced it. And then it softened. It passed through me, and I was clean.

When I first read “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer, I thought his advice to “never, never close your heart” meant to always stay open to love and light, and to never close off into fear, anger, sadness, judgment, or another negative emotion.

Now I think he means something else. I think he means to “never, never close” off to anything that comes up. When I opened my heart and body to fully experience my anger, it had an open channel to flow through. It left my body as easily as it came in. Staying open doesn’t mean only allowing positive emotions in. It means allowing all things in, so that they can pass through, and be replaced once again by the overwhelming love that exists ceaselessly within our souls.