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What is shadow work?- Your guide to embracing and facing your shadow self for a fulfilling life.

We all have aspects of our personalities that we keep hidden from others. Sometimes we get so good at masking that we hide it from ourselves too.
Some of these are natural human emotions such as jealousy, anger, lust, desperation and resentment that we are taught as undesirable to exhibit, addictions or trauma.
Carl Yung, the godfather of analytical psychology and shadow psychology describes the shadow as “desires and feelings that are not acceptable to society or to the conscious psyche”
Escaping these uncomfortable emotions or experiences by burying them deep within our psyche, not consciously displaying them, however, does not erase them. Just as your light (positive traits and accomplishments) shines bright and illuminates everything around you, your shadow always follows even when you are running away from it. This article is an insightful introduction to shadow work with 5 prompts for beginners at the end.

The shadow when suffocated into the abyss of the subconscious manifests itself as insecurities, outbursts, projection, self-sabotage behaviour and unhealthy relationships; setting you up for an all-around unfulfilling human experience devoid of growth.

So what is shadow work and how does it guide you through embracing and confronting your shadow for a fulfilling life?

What is shadow work?

Shadow work is the process of assimilating your shadow into your conscious personality, confronting the cause or origin of undesirable feelings and experiences with the intention of understanding and not punishing that aspect of yourself. Shadow work keeps you in touch with the embarrassing versions of yourself, equipping you with the awareness of your innermost character and the power to embrace all of you, transforming for the better.

My shadow work journey started in December 2020 amidst what felt like a never-ending depressive and anxiety-filled episode resulting from heartbreak. The pain from the unrequited love that I experienced became a catalyst for my identity exploration. In between soaking up pillows with salty tears, endless voices in my head replaying that I was never good enough to be loved anyway and me ranting to my friends, I was inclined to go within and turn the lens on me. Microscopically, I analysed every behaviour exhibited in and out of the relationship.

What made this specific ending so painful to me? What were the insecurities I projected within the relationship, and what new insecurities have I developed due to the breakup? Why do these matter? What is the origin of my actions and reactions towards him?
Where and why did I drop the ball in that relationship with myself?

The focal point of healing from the breakup shifted to understanding myself without avoiding my shortcomings and not the actions of the other person.
As I delved deeper and deeper into every question, I peeled off layers of childhood trauma, unlocking memories of my subconscious which had informed how I showed up in life.

Without knowing it then, I had embarked on a life-changing journey of self-discovery beyond my believed consciousness.

Why do you need to do shadow work?

Wouldn’t you love to get to know every aspect of yourself, hold yourself accountable with kindness and compassion, love and develop your personality for the better? And consequently silence the negative self-talk?

Everyone needs to do some shadow work periodically because it is only through experiencing the shadow that we harness our transpersonal power. The practice of uncovering your unhealed subconscious will retire the “this is just the way I am” rhetoric when confronted by the harm we cause ourselves and others.

Doing shadow work is a way of “checking yourself”- your inner dialogue and the self that is shielded from others out of shame or fear of retribution.

It is only by merging the “darkness’ and “light” that we allow ourselves to have a human experience that transcends society’s limitations on our perception of self.

How do you practice shadow work?

Shadow work need not be daunting or scary. The negative connotations of darkness and pain attached to it are mere chatter from the group of people who deem every spiritual practice which is not rooted in Abrahamic religion as evil.
Here are three ways to do shadow work and get to know your subconscious.

1. Therapy.
Yes, therapy is a form of shadow work! Therapy is objectively the safest and most supportive form of shadow work; as you have a trained professional guiding you through uncovering your subconscious. The high costs of private therapy, lack of representation, long wait times and unreliability of the free counselling provided by the NHS in the UK generally make therapy unappealing, which prompts people to embark on this journey solo.
But if you can find a great therapist that you connect with and trust, this is my recommended option for shadow work.

2. Journaling.
Want to trace your thought patterns and behaviour solo? Then journal shadow work is for you!
There is a plethora of shadow work journals out there that come with loaded questions designed to probe into your deepest psyche. But, a blank notebook, noting down the questions that arise whenever you are triggered and exploring the answers to those questions is a great starting point! As someone who processes her thoughts and emotions better through written words, I’ve found that journaling is my go-to option.

3. Meditation.
Are you a visualiser?
If yes, then guided shadow work meditations are your go-to.
A soothing voice navigates you through visualisations of feelings and actions buried deep within your subconscious, unearthing your primitive desires and confronting the ego. With meditative shadow work, visualisations can be intense and require an external support system to jolt you back to the now when breaks are needed.

So you have all the information you need, a safe space to meet yourself fully and a great support system and are ready to meet your shadow self?

Here are 5 shadow work prompts to kickstart your journey to embracing your shadow self. 

1) What are the 3 things that I am most judgemental about in others?

    i) How do each of these characteristics show up in me?

    ii) How do I feel pointing them out in myself?

Tip: don’t stop there. Explore each feeling that arises from identifying these behaviours in yourself and think about another time that you have felt that way.

2) When was the last time I felt like I was not good enough?

    i) Whose action or lack thereof prompted this feeling?

    ii) What are the value systems that I use to measure my worth?

3) When do I feel the most valued?

    i) Who has made me feel valued consistently?

    ii) How have I reciprocated this feeling and made them feel valued?

4) When have I wanted to implement a boundary but couldn’t?

     i) What was the boundary that I could not implement?

     ii) Why did I not go through with asserting this boundary?

Tip: remember that the only way to fully meet your shadow is to be honest with yourself, even when it is uncomfortable and cringy. Explore other scenarios where you have backed out of asserting the boundary which you highlighted above.

5) Who has hurt me the most in life?

    i) How did they hurt me?

    ii) How did my perception of them change before and after the hurt occurred.

Bonus question: How did my perception of myself change before and after the hurt occurred?

As you begin this practice to get to know your shadow self and transcend your ego to be your highest self, it is important to remember that healing and personal growth is a continuous journey with no final destination. So take breaks in between each shadow work session, experience your light and practically implement new strategies to embrace your shadow. New triggers will always pop up. Gradually, with more practice, confronting your shadow will be instinctive. Albeit uncomfortable and painful sometimes, the benefits of shadow work far outweigh the momentary discomfort. And your fulfilling life experience will thank you for your dedication to understanding and bettering all aspects of yourself.
Good luck shadow working using whatever method you choose!

And remember awareness without action is futile.

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Home · Spirituality

A BECKONING HOME: Unearthing my spirituality

Spirituality is a term that encompasses many practices, belief systems, rituals and a common connection to something greater, something unseen, something within. From the Hindu Yogi to the Ifa Priestess, the millennials on TikTok adorning themselves with trendy healing crystals; there are experiences of a divine attachment beyond the capacity of what the human mind can fathom.

I cannot think of a better word to summarise my spiritual reality other than home. Like, a peaceful and fruitful home; where abundance never runs dry or come with endless superficial conditions. A home that embraces me with compassion, support and clarity. A home not bound by colonial practices my ancestors were coerced into accepting through Abrahamic religions. So here is a glimpse into my never ending journey home.

“I am born from spirit, so spirituality is me”. I have uttered this statement many times over without actually grasping its full meaning, until August 2020. I am indeed born from spirit; to a mother whose tears moisturised her supple skin for 13 years at the hope of having me grow in her womb someday. To a father whose DNA is unquestionable in my appearance. For 13 years, Allah, Jesus and traditional priests were pleaded and bargained with for my soul’s release to earth.

“I am born from spirit, so spirituality is me”

It was 7 days. The villagers chanted, drummed and swayed under 7 sunsets beneath star lit skies of a remote village in Sierra Leone and gave sacrifices at 7 sunrises. The melody of their chants called on me, the rhythm of their drums guided my soul’s steps into this human journey. On the cold hard ground she slept on, my mother swallowed 7 balls of “the worst food” she has ever had – it had to be exactly 7.

A challenging 11 months 3 weeks pregnancy and an emergency caesarian later, the only surviving child that night bellowed through Mabeseneh hospital. A forced ejection from the warm comfort of her mother’s womb where the doctor said “even if she was in there for 7 years, you would not go into labour”.

Along the way, my spirit became confined by the ego. “Don’t dance to the rhythm of the drums in your head on the side walk, people will think you are crazy”. Rules, regulations, ambitions, plans; human standards limited to only that which can be seen, touched, processed by our fickle brains. My spirit suffocated.

Alone at 1am, in my bedroom in London, in the absence of an entire village chanting, drumming, swaying, I prayed and beckoned my spirit back home. The breath was revitalising.

Spirituality is me with all the stars and ancestral DNA that aligned to manifest into a person. I am home. I am the passion and sensuality of Ọṣun, folded into saccharine kisses that entrap your lips in an ever flowing river your soul unearths as its intended habitat; with a body that dissolves under your touch, pulling you into a world that your ego isn’t welcomed in. I am the personification of Ọba’s nurture and pain; that lovingly tends to your wounds after a long day of battle but when betrayed, floods everything with my emotions. I am the confidence and thunder summoned by Ṣàngó’s wrath once scorned; the calmness of Yemọja that leads the thunder away and brings you calmer rivers. I am my ancestors’ talents, traumas, lessons and blessings.

Spirituality is me existing beyond duality. The zone in between human perceptions of “good” and “bad”, black and white, up and down, happy and sad. My spiritual experience is embracing the divinity of my source; a divine experience that cannot always be seen, written about or touched. My mind and body will continue digging, bringing my spirit up for air; with the confidence to say “fuck you”, raining down eternal flame on my betrayers and the compassion to show up for other entities existing in this universe. Spirituality is the knowledge that the source of my existence never depletes, so neither does my love, good days or bad days; and I embrace all of these human experiences like the fleeting clouds they are- because life on this planet would be boring without our shadows next to us.

So my spirituality could look like a rushed 10 minutes meditation or a 30 minute yoga practice. It could be hours getting lost in the movement of my body to symphonies that penetrate my soul or hours in stillness and silence with tears soiling my pillows. It could be moments with my hands clasped and knees to the ground in prayer, or talking out loud updating every other spirit that walks with me about our day and asking for advice. Spirituality is my every breath, my every dream, day dream, blog post I write, tweet I make on Beyoncé’s internet, angry paragraphs I send when I hurt, big smiles and giggles I share when I am overjoyed; the confused days, the days filled with clarity and direction, the softness and sharpness of my tongue, my abstinence or the moans that accompany my orgasms. Spirituality is all of me.