I coined the term Shadow-work with Jeremiah Abrams in the 1980s, when working on the best-selling anthology Meeting the Shadow. Shadow-work refers to the continuing effort to make a conscious, creative relationship with the tricky, elusive unconscious — the blind spot that eludes us no matter where we look.
If the shadow forms, as poet Robert Bly says, when we stuff things into the long bag that we drag behind us, then Shadow-work happens when we take something out of the bag and examine it in the light of day. Then, slowly, steadily, we face it, turn it around, let it go for awhile, revisit it again, and peer deeply into it, until we can acknowledge it as a lost part of ourselves and, finally, honor its message — the gold in the dark side.
As each layer of shadow is pulled from the dark bag, as each fear is faced and each projection reclaimed, the gold shines through. And we begin to realize that the task is ongoing: the bag has no bottom.
Yet, somehow, in a compassionate embrace of the dark side of ourselves, we become bearers of the light. We open to the Other — the strange, the weak, the rejected, the unloved — and simply through including it, we transmute it. In so doing, we awaken to a larger life. We sense patterns within patterns. We begin to hear the call of the authentic, higher Self over the noise of the shadow. And we begin to be guided by it, to obey it, and to align with Life itself.
In most therapies, you deal with abstract feelings, such as depression, anxiety, grief, and out-of-control behaviors, such as addictions, procrastination, repetitive fights. But with Shadow-work, you learn how to personify these into specific, concrete figures that you can see, hear, and feel within you. In that way, it becomes much easier to make the unconscious conscious — to seduce them into awareness, recognize them when they erupt, and make a conscious relationship to them, so that they lose their grip over you.
“…at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”