Sitting with the Ick: Shadow Work in 5 Ways

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
— Carl Jung

Shadow work is a heroic way to approach personal and spiritual development. I say this because it’s not easy. It’s actually one the hardest things you could ever do...face your shadow. Shadow work thought to be a complicated topic, but it doesn't have to be. The shadow is parts of ourselves that we deny or repress that end up sneaking around affecting our lives. It can be detrimental. When we deny ourselves of the truth, we aren’t living as full of a life as we could be living. So this is why we face it, to gain more control and freedom. I’m all about freedom and by facing and sitting with the ick we can gain freedom to be who we truly desire to be.

Ick: A feeling of yuck usually present when the shadow is present. Hard to describe, but often manifest itself in physical symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, and guilt.

A lot of us are mistaken into thinking spirituality is all about love and light. We associate self-love, self-care with this love and light. We are confused in thinking that light is not about darkness too. The moon casts a shadow. The moon enlightens as it reveals our shadow. We are our ick. Facing it, sitting in it, feeling it it shines light on our free selves. This work is an act of love to ourselves and to those around us.

It’s like finding out you talk in your sleep or snore. It’s like recording yourself voice or video and seeing yourself as a stranger. It’s revealing you to you. Revealing our shadow is exciting, humiliating, and enlightening. And it’s not all unpleasant stuff we hide either. We hide good and brilliant things for fear.

Here’s an example...

One of main shadows (I plan to write more about this) is this desire to please all and to be understood. I mean we all want to be understood, but I put that above my own desires. I have had some BIG ideas that I have watered down because I haven’t seen them actualized before. I have sabotaged them unknowingly. I have even collaborated with others and put art under a group name instead of my own to hide. I hid behind community to fail safely. I didn’t know I was doing this. And I stand here on my own, under my own name running this business. I realize how I had to work through this. I still love collaborating and community. I sincerely love working with others, but my shadow side, my fear, twisted it. You may find while working with your shadow that it is ever so subtle, slightly twisted from the truth, slightly less than authentic. That’s not good enough for me anymore. I don’t think it is for you either so let’s do some work.

I do shadow work in three main ways.

Do practices to purposefully bring things up, to get my head out of the way. You will see more ways to do this below.

I have become aware of how certain situations affect my body and mental state. I am always learning more about myself by simply noticing.

I am pretty good at this one since I can be over analytical, but once you embody, notice and realize things what then? You process through things. You don’t have to fix yourself or anything like that, it’s just naming the feelings and triggers.

Here are 5 ways to do shadow work. These are just a starting place.

  1. Track your triggers. Now you don’t have to actually write these down, but notice feelings in your body consciously even for a day. Track feelings in your body when you talk to certain people, when you go certain places. This is a meditation you can truly do all day. Notice how you embody your day. I am tracking my mood along with what I eat and drink this month because I’ve been slipping in this area of care for myself. Mindfulness incorporated throughout your day will reveal a lot. Do this with curiosity and not judgement. Just see. Just feel.

  2. Journal. This may be a good way for you to write about your triggers throughout the day. I have a practice of writing 5 minutes (sometimes more) every day. Sometimes I don’t feel like it which I find interesting. Then I realize those are the days I’m avoiding feelings and it's even more important that I write. At first your journal may be boring and full of things you don’t think matter, but they do. The more you journal, the deeper you go. I would suggest having a journal ready for any of these other exercises to PROCESS what comes up.

  3. Embody it. Have you ever been on a run or done yoga and something rises up inside of you? Did you think about something you haven’t thought about in years? Noting these feelings can be a powerful way to work. Something about movement moves energy around for us to do healing internally as we heal externally. You can do this by dancing, doing yoga, running, anything. I did 40 days where all I did for spiritual practice was dance for 5 minutes a day.

  4. Tarot. You know I am way into tarot. I am into it for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that is helps me access parts of myself where our thinking brain doesn’t get in the way. On a psychological level tarot can access things hidden in our subconscious.

  5. Ritual Bath I used to hate baths. They seemed like a waste of time (obvious shadow at play there). Also have you heard people say that a bath is like sitting in your own filth? Well I guess it kind of is and that’s what shadow work is. Sitting in your own filth. I started doing baths with purpose and call them ritual baths, but they are only as special as you make them. I go into a bath I put great care into setting up. I set it up almost like an altar in my very simple bathroom. Crystals, stones, incense, essential oils, teas...all of it nurturing. Then I sit in silence and just feel. I used to not be a crier at all, but when I let myself feel it comes out. Crying is incredibly cleansing and healing. You could totally do this sitting on a meditation pillow zenned out of course, but I find the bath helps me stay in silence much longer. I find it takes a bit of time for the ick to rise up and present itself so laying in a bath for 30 minutes is easier on your body than sitting.

    I did a little walk through of how you could do shadow work in the tub while doing a good breathing practice paired with it: