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Spiritual Practices: Shadow

Pollyannaism, Projections

The Basic Practice
The spiritual practice of shadow encourages us to make peace with those parts of ourselves that we find to be despicable, unworthy, and embarrassing — our anger, jealousy, pride, selfishness, violence, and other "evil deeds." In Christianity, shadow aspects show up as the seven deadly sins. Moslems talk about nafs as our lower selves, and Buddhists refer to negative emanations of mind. Societies and cultures also have dark sides.

This practice aims at wholeness by unifying the dark and the light inside and around us. Start by looking closely at yourself, especially your flaws. Take responsibility for your actions, especially those that have had unfortunate outcomes. By owning your shadow, you embrace your full humanity.

Why This Practice May Be For You
Shadow is a corrective to any tendency to make spirituality into simplistic feelings of sweetness and light; it balances Pollyanna thinking. People do terrible things to each other, sometimes because of their beliefs and in the name of their religion. Individuals, even those who are deeply spiritual, go through dark nights of the soul when depression and not-knowing take on terrifying dimensions. Nature, the source of so much inspiration, also has its shadow elements — hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, floods. By honestly acknowledging these aspects of life, we move toward a more rounded view of reality and build the foundation for personal wholeness.

The spiritual practice of shadow is also called for when we discover that we are projecting aspects of ourselves onto others — both our negative qualities and our untapped talents and powers. The latter are "golden shadows," our nobler aspects that we tend to attribute to teachers, celebrities, sports superstars, and national heroes we admire. Practicing shadow means you reclaim all your flaws and gifts, accepting yourself in all your complexity.

Resources on This Practice