My birthday is coming up in two weeks, so it is a good time for introspection. It is also, like any time of transition, a good chance to look at ‘where am I?’, ‘how did I get here?’, and ‘where do I want to go from here?’. An honest approach to these questions is a good basis for beginning shadow work.
I’m an introvert, so naturally, hanging out in your own head is not all there is to shadow work. Shadow work is about facing those pieces and sides of yourself that you may not want to look at, or even admit exist. It’s about bringing those things into the light, and acknowledging that they exist. It’s about facing your issues, your problems, your biases, and actually doing something about them. Yeah, that doesn’t really sound like fun. It’s not. However, it’s one of those things that you’ll be thankful for later – kind of like lancing and draining a really painful boil.
It is however, something that, hopefully, you will have someone to talk and work through with you. An experienced elder that you trust and/or a licensed therapist are great (and some would say necessary) companions on this journey, especially if you have trauma in your past, as many of us do. As someone who has faced repressed trauma and the psychological aftermath more than once, I entreat you to please have a support system in place before you begin shadow work. If you are a solitary practitioner with no spiritual or mundane support, shadow work is not a necessary component to your practice.
As I said in the beginning, there are practices that you can undertake as prerequisites for beginning shadow work or even just deepening your spiritual practice in general. I am going to talk about a few of them, as I try and kick my own spiritual butt into shape. These are things that aren’t really ‘shadow work’ per se, but are good practices for your magic that familiarize you with one of the most important tenets of my faith – “KNOW THYSELF,” and familiarize you with the skills required for deeper practice, and yes, for undertaking shadow work, if that’s what you want or need.
If you are not already keeping a journal (handwritten or digital, whatever works for you) my first suggestion is to start immediately. As someone who has a history of buying ‘perfect’ notebooks or journals or blank books, and then only writing in them a couple of times before getting distracted, don’t stress the small stuff. Honestly, you might find you write more in an average five subject spiral notebook, because you don’t worry so much about messing it up.
Three ring binders are great, too, because you can easily remove or move things around. You can get pretty dividers to mark your own sections.
My second is if you have a journal, and don’t write in it regularly, start now. I’m not being an ogre and saying that you have to journal everyday (I would so fail, so, so hard.). Try to write in it 2-3 times a week, if you can. I suggest a minimum of once a week to start.
You can write about your magical or spiritual practice. Write about something cool you learned or experienced this week. It can even be a ‘mundane’ event. As above, So below. What’s currently got your attention, and what do you think/feel about it?
This can be a hard one for some people. Leland insists that he is completely unable to meditate. I think that his experiences have led him to believe that meditation means to sit down, shut up, and think of nothing, so he’s developed a serious phobia of the concept. A moving meditation would probably be very helpful in his case, as he actually enjoys nature walks.
I’m more the traditional type, though I really like guided meditations, where I can just get lost in the rhythm and journey. I’m looking for some on-line, though I have had really mixed results so far. I do like this mix of rain and music. I guess I am a bit peculiar as I prefer women’s voices to men’s, and I like them to talk gently, but not act like they’re whispering, because that just serves to annoy me.
If you have never done meditation, you might have to experiment to figure out what you like best. Do you prefer to sit, or lie down? Do you like quiet or background noise? a nice drum beat? running water or storms? Do you have a voice or tempo preference like I described above?
If you have never meditated before, I like an exercise in progressive muscle relaxation. It’s where you start at your toes and work your way slowly up your body, first wiggling or stretching, or flexing a part of your body, and then completely relaxing it, and work your way up. This can be a complete meditation on it’s own, or can be done to release stress and to relax your body, or still your mind prior to sleep, especially if you want to undertake dream work.
Practice Self Care
What do you do when you have a bad day? How do you cope when you are mad at the world? Have you ever felt like everything was just falling down around you? How do you cope? How do you face your fears or anxieties, your anger?
The time to start working on and with your coping mechanisms is now. (Really, is that pint of ice cream the best solution you’ve got?) Honestly, self-care has levels to it, and some days, we have major limits. Approach it like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; those tiers are fluid, not fixed, and all levels of the pyramid are attainable and equally essential.
Start with the basics. Are you in a safe enough place? Are you warm enough or cool enough? Do you have enough to eat or drink? Some days, that and maybe a shower take all of the spoons someone has. Cool. You do you, boo.
Ok, next we are going to evaluate that safe place. Yes, this is all important and necessary. If you don’t feel physically and mentally safe, you aren’t going to relax and have a successful meditation. So go on; are you in a safe place? Do you feel comfortable? Are you good to relax?
Those two are requirements, the last three are more like goals. Love and belonging: is this a tough one for you? Do you have family, companions, a partner in your life? Friends you can reach out to? Do you need to work on expanding your social circle (or developing one)? Do you love yourself? Most of the time? Some of the time? Occasionally? Do you need to do some homework in this area? I know I do, though I am getting much better at it. (Occasionally, that ice cream is the best solution.)
Still with me and doing ok? Next, we tackle your self-esteem. Do you feel good about yourself? Do you feel like you are getting the recognition that you deserve for the things you do?
Lastly, we have self-actualization. Really that amounts to: Are you living your best life? Do you feel self-fulfillment? Are you seeking personal growth to better yourself? Are you drawn to new experiences openly and joyfully?
This comes back around to knowing yourself. The tippy top of the pyramid is a goal, not necessarily where you are going to be all or even most of the time. People have other people in their lives that make things messy. People have bills to pay.
So, what have you done for you lately? Are you a bath girl like me? I’ve got the muscle relaxing bath salts, nicely scented bubbles, low light, my phone for entertainment, and a ‘leave me the heck alone’ attitude to spare.
I meal prep my meals, because I work long shifts, and there is no way I want to deal with food and figure out meals between 12-hour shifts. I also make sure that my laundry is done, and I have enough scrubs and things for my entire week ahead of time.
Remember those levels – safe, comfortable, ready to work. Take care of your business, so you can get down to business spiritually. Take care of you and your shadow 🙂