How do we do this work?
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
~ David Whyte
psychotherapy, if it is discovered that a person is in need of this care, they will be referred out for that support.
The tools and practices to explore this shadow territory are many; we can learn about ourselves in all kinds of ways. Through creative and intuitive practices - dreamwork, dance, group sharing, and creative expression, to name a few - we can explore unknown, and sometimes uncomfortable and even painful, places within us. Entering these new ways of being can push us out of our comfort zones where we can grow.
In shadow work, the journey is not linear. It is literally like moving around in the dark. We travel more intuitively, slowly, with greater care; than we would in the light. The more we explore the shadow creatively and courageously, the less dense it becomes. When we open the unknown doors of our inner house, we are vulnerable, and vulnerability is not a place of weakness. When supported, vulnerability is “the birthplace of creativity and innovation” as Dr. Brene Brown says. It is essential that we have doorways – practices, pathways, and skills – to navigate this vulnerability as well as a strong community to support and celebrate with us along the journey.
We need tools and practices to navigate the shadow, and we need each other. To enter the shadow is to enter the darkness of the unknown and many of us have not learned the skills to navigate this territory. Joseph Campbell, the late mythologist, calls this the hero’s journey, where those who choose to depart the habit of their lives enter the “belly of the whale,” and return to share the wisdom they have received with their community.
Shadow work is not psychotherapy. There is a difference between this shadow work and psychotherapy. Bill Plotkin, founder of the Animas Valley Institute, writes “psychotherapy, when successful, helps us interpersonally and intrapersonally,” and strengthens the healthy ego. Without some sense of self and identity, one cannot enter the shadow in transformative ways. We must have something to hold onto in the dark, and, in this case, it is some sense of ourselves that psychotherapy can cultivate. In contrast, shadow work mentoring, “when successful, engenders initiated adults, actively engaged visionaries of cultural renaissance.” We enter the shadow grounded in what we know of ourselves, ready to learn more about the more mysterious and unknown places within. Because the Shadow Work program at Springhouse is not
Brene Brown, professor at the University of Houston, discusses the importance of vulnerability.
Doorways into the Shadow
In the universe, there are things that are known,
and things that are unknown,
and in between, there are doors.
~ William Blake