Owning the Shadow

‘Shadow Figures’ Original Mixed media by Dorothee Kölle

A Seven-Day Residential Workshop

Procrustes – a character from Greek mythology – owned a hostel on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis.  There he had a bed which he would offer to weary pilgrims.  As they slept Procrustes set to work.  If his guests proved too short for the bed, then he stretched them to fit.  If they were too tall then Procrustes amputated the excess length.  Eventually the warrior hero Theseus came by and sorted out the murderous inkeeper by ‘fitting’ him to his own bed – and there his story ends.

Why is this grisly story still relevant?  It is important because, as we grow up, we learn to listen to our own inner Procrustes and chop off parts of ourselves.  In order to feel safe, to feel accepted or to be loved we disown, cut off, those aspects of ourselves that don’t fit in with what we perceive to be the expectations that our parents, our peers or our culture have for us.

Carl Jung named these disowned, forbidden parts of ourselves as our ‘Shadow’.  The more thoroughly do we suppress our Shadow energy – even to the extent that it disappears completely from our conscious awareness – the more it begins to “sneak up” and challenge us from outside ourselves.  Now we find ourselves stalked by Shadow enemies who, strangely, play out all those aspects of ourselves that we refuse to own.

    “We have met the enemy and they is us”  

Pogo (Walt Kelly)

Not only do we project on to others the characteristics of ourselves that we deem shameful or disgusting, we can also disown and project the positive features of ourselves that we are too afraid to own.  These positive – but threatening – characteristics of ourselves are called our Golden Shadow. We can end up idealising others and missing out on those golden aspects of ourselves.

Photo by Tanya Trofymchuk on unsplash.com

In this workshop we will work to discover the connection between our own inner material and the antipathy or the idealisation that we feel towards others. 

We will create “Shadow masks” so that we can see the rejected parts of ourselves more clearly and find safe, creative ways to integrate and take charge of them in our lives.  When this is done, we can hopefully lower the barriers that we have erected and engage more creatively with those people on whom we have projected our Shadow and treated as “enemy”.

Our humour and sense of mischief – and also our creativity and spontaneity – are often bound up with our Shadow energy.  In the workshop we will explore our Shadow playfully and with humour.  It can be a great relief to release the energy of these hidden aspects of ourselves and let them be seen.

This workshop, then, has a double purpose.  The first is to help us to own our own Shadow, the negative, dark, and often violent energies within our being.

The second is to learn to talk to those onto whom we have projected these negative aspects of ourselves, to discover how to communicate with them – not as enemies, but as human beings like ourselves – a significant move towards healing the divisions in ourselves and also in society at large.

“Absolutely amazing. Got so much out of it on so many levels. I feel I’ve really expanded my sense of myself over the week. Facilitation delightful – gentle and human”

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Banner Image: Original artwork by Sheila Kelleher