“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” Carl Jung
For quite a while, I’ve been the sort of person who recognizes my inner Hitler. Seriously, I do not pretend to be little Bo Beep. I believe that I’m on most spectrums from love addiction to violence.
I also see that separation – it’s you over there that is mentally ill, not me – is the key to a culture of blame. I don’t want to be part of that. I want to be part of relationships, friendships and a society that cares deeply and takes responsibility for our own fuck ups.
Which is why I was attracted to going on a Shadow Work weekend with my partner, Asanga. Him again! I’m blessed, I know, with a partner who is equally drawn to these kinds of conscious explorations. Going with a partner meant for us both - an extraordinary opportunity to witness each other in a way that we had never done before.
What is Shadow Work? Well, it was developed over 25 years ago by Cliff Barry and Mary Allen Blandford. They integrated and correlated their work with other disciplines such as Gestalt, Voice Dialogue, Accelerated Learning, Metaphor work, Bio-Energetics, Family Systems theory, Addiction Recovery work and other personality systems such as the Myers-Briggs Type indicator and the Enneagram. They are also indebted to the pioneering work of Robert Bly, Robert Moore and Doug Gillette, David Grove, Ron Hering and Hal and Sidra Stone.
What is the Shadow? The shadow parts of ourselves are the aspects of our behaviors and feelings that we have put into a compartment labeled not acceptable, that must not show or express in everyday life. They are not all negative, there are often positive or golden parts that we are repressing.
And so one July afternoon, I find myself driving down the lanes of Warwickshire. Although I have never done Shadow Work, I have done a fair amount of group process work – from the Hoffman Process to the Path of Love to Malcolm Stern’s year Courage to Love to Pesso Boyden – so I have a certain faith in what is to come. However, I know I will be dealing with something to do with my jealousy – an aggravating old wound which lurks painfully within me – and that will mean revealing desolate parts of myself, so I am also nervous.
And guess what - a situation has arisen that very week to intensify the Rose shadow fest. It is to do with the despairing place that I visit when, for instance, Asanga flirts with my friends. Perfect material for the weekend.
The house is called Holycombe in Whichford. It is an idyllic location, useful in terms of soothing fears. There’s an assistant, lovely Jane, who helps me with my bags. I love being helped with my bags. It’s the legacy of having been a single mother. Asanga has already arrived and is sitting on the hill near the labyrinth. We live five hours apart by car. He’s in North Wales and I’m in Harlesden, London. We keep in touch via text, email and sometimes phone. And there is trickiness re communication from time to time. This week has been one of those weeks.
Meeting each other after a couple of weeks’ apart is also often challenging. We have to find a way to come together again. Somehow we manage it this time with sweetness and a tender walk around the grounds that are full of love seats, tree houses, yurts, a pond and meadow flowers…
The group are gathering – nine participants, six men and three women which is unusual – and we meet at 4pm with the facilitators, wife and husband, Nicola and John Kurk who have been teaching this work for over 20 years in that time-honoured fashion. The circle. A talking stone is passed round. We introduce ourselves and say a bit about what we’d like to happen here and what’s important to us in our lives and how we’re feeling. Oh, yeah, that bit.
“I’m Rose,” I say, “and I’m here because I want to take off some protective clothing in my relationship with Asanga, I’d like to melt more of my heart towards him. I’m a writer, I’m passionate about my walks around Unsung London. I’m a mother. I’m feeling nervous but excited. I used to be a rock n’roll journalist.”
I mention the latter because John mentions that at heart he’s still a rock n’roll guitarist, and then Nicola adds in that she’s a classical pianist, and it becomes a theme. And makes me laugh.
As for the others, I promised not to divulge anything about them as part of the confidentiality agreement, but, of course, they have come for all sorts of reasons – from marriage difficulties to wanting more confidence in relationships to dealing with past abuse.
And then it’s straight into learning about the Four Quartered Model– Cliff Barry chose four of Jung’s archetypes as the basis of this work, they are the Magician, the Sovereign, the Lover and the Warrior as an aid to self-awareness - and also creating a safe container for the group through various partnered and group exercises. It is full on for a Friday evening.
Don’t Nicola and John realize that we’re meant to be doing some quiet movement and a little light sharing for starters? No, seems not! Here we are, thrust right into the flames… Each corner of the room has an archetype in it.
Firstly, we visit the wizard’s hat and the Magician who represents taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Strategy, analyzing, perspective, they are all characteristics. I’m instantly – as the overemotional one in my family – attracted to the Magician. In personal development work, the mind often gets a bad rap, dismissed in the mad rush to find the body and feelings, but in Shadow Work, it is lauded. Hurrah. There’s all sorts of extra information, for instance, fear is the gateway emotion so facing it ushers in the Magician, and if you have an overinflated inner magician you might be hyper-vigilant, or deflated, you might be confused and therefore blinkered. The core shaming belief is – I am rotten to the core.
We do some partnered work to help create a safe group environment, which is vital for this kind of deep sharing group work. This exercise is Tell Me Who You Are. One person keeps on asking Tell Me Who You Are, and the other sits and speaks spontaneously. For two minutes. It’s an unraveling. You can be as honest and untamed as you choose. I say – “I’m a mother, I’m a lover, I’m a wild woman, I’m shy, I love poetry, I’m afraid that my partner will abandon me etc.” It’s always a privilege to hear from the other person.
And then on to the Sovereign which is that place of authority within ourselves, the one with the vision and the moral knowledge. The sparkling crown is in this corner. The Sovereign also is the heart and the service and the blessing. This queen/king figure is represented by fire and the gateway emotion is joy. The core shaming belief is I’m not good enough. The inflated Sovereign always knows best while the deflated is unsure of her/himself.
The next exercise is one where we kneel and are blessed by two of the others. I go first. They put their hands on my bowed head and I imbibe their gift gently. Then I stand and they kneel while I bless them. One of the men is in tears at the enormity of the receiving. It’s a place where we can practice giving and receiving. And nourishment of all of that. It reminds me of the six of pentacles in the Rider Waite Tarot pack where there is a gentleman with scales, and there is a person on either side, one is giving, and the other is receiving. In balance.
We do manage to fit a gorgeous evening meal in here. It’s all lightness and Nicoise salad. Perfect for this sort of emotional/spiritual work.
Last for this evening comes the Lover. Fragrant sweet peas, a bowl of exquisite chocolates, another of grapes and dazzling textiles are all in this sensual corner. Play, spontaneity, the senses, sexuality, connecting to the body and feeling. Creativity. Intuition. Relationships. This is all that Lover energy. The gateway emotion is grief, tears lead to that opening that let the melted heart in. Listen up, Rose. Surrender. Listen up, again. If overinflated, then life is a rollercoaster of emotions. And there will be addiction in there. Deflated is a lack of feeling and connection, isolation, physical self-abuse. The core shaming message is I don’t love right.
Before bed, there’s a visualization taking us from birth to the future. For me, the most important part is enjoying the lullabies that my father sings to me as he’s getting me ready for bed when I was about three. Somehow, those innocent, splendidly playful times have been cast aside by me. This time, I get time to appreciate them.
In the morning, after one of those fruity/home-made bread breakfasts, we’re back in the room and on to the Warrior after a quick sharing of how we are. The Warrior is the perfect archetype before we go into the ‘carpet work’ – basically a one hour-ish process that includes role play– because he/she is the doer, the- make-it-happen part of us. And also the gateway emotion is anger, which propels us with its dynamic force.
I identify powerfully with The Warrior. The Warrior is the rebel too. It’s about boundaries and courage. The Warrior does what needs to be done. In inflated form, they are bullies, and deflated, they are victims. I know both intimately.
Not everyone – especially of course, the British, can do anger – I can. And sometimes I can overdo it. So in the exercise – Tell Me What You’re Angry About – I’m loud and full of the outraged anger that I feel when Asanga flirts with one of my friends. The anger of betrayal and abandonment. In fact, it’s often good for me to practice containment. But in this case, it makes me feel alive and ready for the group process work.
There are nine of us and so that’s at least nine hours. We start before lunch on Saturday and then it’s go, go go. Funnily enough, fuelled by his anger at me – I criticised him on the Friday evening after the sweet reunion and as a result he slept in the car - Asanga goes first. He’s in Warrior mode. John asks if he would like me to leave the room as they don’t want partners to cause an editing or censoring of what they say. Asanga says wants me to stay. That’s what we’ve both agreed. And to be honest, we don’t edit ourselves much in our ongoing relationship. We’re not polite.
It is deeply moving to watch your partner work in this way. And informative. I could really see now how like his mother I could be, in my unpredictable anger. And that made me reflect about my own behavior. It was a privilege to be there.
I decide to wait until the next day before I do mine. Majorly because I’m someone who can get overwhelmed by my feelings, and when I’m triggered, I long for some rational perspective. So I make my mind up that I will wait and let my feelings of anger subside a little.
On Sunday, I’m ready to rock and roll just before the sumptuous lunch. I’m full of anticipation rather than nerves. I stand up and walk into the middle of the carpet. Nicola asked me – “What would you like to have happen here”
“I would like to take off some of the protective layers around my heart with regards to Asanga, I want to allow myself to melt more in love,” I say.
And what is preventing you from doing this?
“I don’t feel safe. I feel often overwhelmed with feelings of fear, despair and abandonment when Asanga flirts with my friends?”
And then we’re off into role-play and the dynamics of the process. Nicola asks me to choose someone to play that little girl part of me that is overwhelmed. I’m invited to put her in a position and also to choose some material – dark green in this case – for what energy she emanates. I ask her to crouch down on the floor and take up very little space. I’m then invited to say what she will be saying.
“I’m overwhelmed and helpless,” I say, and my little girl performer repeats this.
I’m invited to choose someone to play Asanga. I do. And then demonstrate what he would be doing physically. I demonstrate a kind of dancing looseness and his sentences are – “I’m available to everyone else but not you.” Obviously, this is my subjective perspective when I’m triggered rather than the ‘reality’.
And then, quickly it goes back to my raging father – I pick someone for him and wrap him in bright orange – and his apoplectic violent anger against me, in other words, I felt abandoned in this place as a ten year old child and so this is still a place I travel to. I felt in those days as though I was going to be killed so this father says – “I’m going to fucking kill you” as though he means it.
Just as I’m getting carried away with that violent force – as of course, I have it within me as well - Nicola invites me into my Magician energy (in other words, to use my intellect for a bigger picture and perspective) and to the Lover corner of the room for relationship.
Who else would I like to be there? I say that I’d like other parts of my father that tend to get forgotten – to be there. The tender father who sang sweet songs to me when I was three. I choose someone for him. And the inspiring father who taught me about books and debate. So someone comes out to be him.
And then there’s me, as the pre-teen who physically fights my father. Out comes another participant.
This is a key moment. Nicola asks me if I’d like to push him – ie the angry father - out of the room. I am immediately clear that I don’t need to. That I have done this already in other group work and that’s not where my focus needs to lie. It would be better spent on the positive parts of my father and getting the cherishing that I need.
She asks me what I would like to happen? I say that I would like to be held by my father, and explain that my ideal father is actually the raging one at the moment.
“Realistically, he would never hold you, so we’ll have to de-role him so that he can become your ideal father.”
Magic can happen here.
First of all, I get to hold my own overwhelmed little girl and tell her all the wonderful aspects of herself, and stroke her hair and face. It’s exquisitely tender.
“You’re gorgeous,” I murmur, “You’re a great mother, you’re beautiful.”
Nicola asks what advice I can give to this little girl. I tell her that she can call upon those positive parts of her father in times of need and abandonment, and that they will be there for her.
Finally, I get to be my own little girl and I dissolve into the willing body and arms of my ideal father. I cry and breathe deeply. I drink in this gift of nurture and relaxation. It’s such a huge, huge relief.
John calls on everyone to join me and gently touch me. Again I breathe it all in. It is divine – floating in that sea of unconditional love. Plus Asanga is there somewhere in tears himself.
I realize that Asanga can also be this ideal father to me from time to time, when I need it. He has that energy. That’s reassuring.
I get up in bliss and dance with them. That’s my way.
Finally a couple of hours later, after incredibly intense group processes, we gather again for a graceful goodbye. Our sharings of how it has been for us. Our honouring of the group and the incredibly skilled facilitators.
What have I taken away? A sense of new calm around this, the nourishment, the witnessing and the knowledge that I have been seen in these places by my partner. That is a Big Wowee…
You can find more information about Shadow Work and weekends led by Nicola and John at goldenopportunities.org.uk, shadwwork.eu and shadowwork.com