"It is the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.”
~ Stephen King
Happy Summer, Friends!
Today, Sunday, June 20, is the Summer Solstice (in the northern hemisphere, Winter Solstice south of the equator). That means the sun rises earlier and sets later than it will all year. Up in Maine, that means about 16 hours of daylight!
So much room for activities.
With all this focus on growing light, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shadow. Maybe it’s because your physical shadow is supposed to be shortest at local noon on the longest day of the year?
Or, perhaps it’s because I’m listening to Russell Brand’s audiobook, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, and the 4th step in a 12-step program is very much like my personal definition of shadow work.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is a term you may hear often, but have you ever wondered what it means?
I always assumed it had something to do with acknowledging the parts of ourselves we don’t like. The things we wish were different but would rather sweep under the rug than work through because even looking at them makes us feel shame, guilt, or some other way that isn’t comfortable.
When I started researching (aka Googling) shadow work and what it is, I learned I was on the right track.
"Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."
If you’ve taken Psych 101 (or even finished a degree in the field as I did), you’re probably familiar with the concept of the shadow or have some vague memory of the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
If not, here’s a summary:
The shadow is the dark side of your personality. Like the dark side of the moon, the shadow is the unseen, unknown part of you. According to Jung, the shadow is the entirety of your unconscious mind. It’s not necessarily bad, just mysterious.
You aren’t born with a shadow, but it develops in your mind as life experiences (i.e., interactions with caregivers during childhood) make you feel like some aspect of your authentic self is wrong. So every time this happens, you take that rejected piece of yourself and stuff it away where you think no one will see it.
But the funny thing is that we see them right away when we meet others who display characteristics of our own shadow. We might even fixate on them, get furious about them, and complain about how this person rubs us the wrong way.
Why shadow work is important and how to do it
Rejecting yourself creates a fragmented identity where parts of you are good and acceptable, and other parts are to be locked away and ignored. Nothing is whole or complete.
My energy healer friend, Ray Dawn, has a mantra: Wholeness is who you are.
I didn’t really get that until I started doing shadow work myself about three years ago. I was working with a different energy healer, Amberlee, and told her that I needed help releasing “past versions of myself.”
But what I really meant was, “I notice these patterns of behavior that really suck, and I’m ready to break free from them.”
I thought she’d be able to release some clog in my subconscious, enabling me to flush out my psyche and start fresh — or at least, teach me how to do that myself.
However, the sweet bodhisattva that she is, Amberlee, set me straight. She let me know that these past versions of myself had important lessons to share. She suggested I sit quietly with each “past Lauren” and listen for 10-20 minutes or however long it took to find out what they wanted. And then journal about it.
This was hard work, and it continues to be as I still do this exercise, usually at energetically potent times like birthdays, eclipses, and even solstices.
I’m not gonna lie. It can be painful.
They say you can’t heal what you don’t feel.
The key is not to judge what you find, no matter how you learned to feel about it in the past. Instead, treat yourself like you would your best friend if they came to you needing to talk about a sensitive issue.
Hold space for yourself and see what comes up. Then, meet it with all the love and compassion you have. Shine a light on it.
If you do this work, I can guarantee you’ll be rewarded with some valuable gift — or even a treasure chest of booty — to own and integrate into your whole being.
In my experience, shadow work can feel like picking your way through a mine. I’ve explored some cold, dark, and foreboding crevasses of my subconscious mind. Places where my ego screamed at me to turn around because it’s not safe to go down there.
But that’s just my mind trying to protect me, running some old program I’m continuously working on debugging and updating.
If you’re interested in reading more about shadow work, I learned a lot from reading this piece by Life Coach Kimberly Fosu.
I’m going to leave you with another quote by Stephen King:
“If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
Both King quotes in this newsletter come from his memoir, On Writing, which I highly recommend to every writer.
I listened to this audiobook when I was still living in California and can’t help but think it influenced where I ended up in Maine. (King is a native Mainer who currently lives in nearby Bangor. Apparently, his house is the biggest tourist attraction in town.)
Now that I’m about 15,000 words into writing my first novel, I often find myself revisiting quotes from this book.
Writing fiction is its own form of shadow work. When you create characters, it becomes so clear how no one is entirely good or bad. Light and darkness exist within us all, including the monsters and the heroines of every good story.
I hope you have a wonderful Solstice! I’ll be staying up past 9 pm, dancing around a fire and gazing at the stars. ❤︎
Much love and many blessings,