You probably started to meditate to feel less stressed, find happiness, or because of one of the many other benefits of the practice. But as you spend more time watching your thoughts, you might start to notice things about yourself that make you feel uncomfortable.
This part of you is your shadow self and meditation can help you explore this part of your psyche.
In this article, I’ll show you what the shadow self is and how you can get to be more aware of yourself using different meditation practices.
Understanding the Shadow Self
Before we start on this transformative meditation journey, let’s look at what the shadow self actually is.
Our personality and conscious thoughts merely scratch the surface of our consciousness. Beneath this conscious layer lies the vast expanse of our subconscious and unconscious minds. These hidden realms contain the intricate structure of our personality, acting as powerful forces that shape our decisions, thoughts, and emotions.
Ironically, the parts that most profoundly influence our lives often remain obscure and unknown to us.
The shadow self encompasses everything we feel ashamed of thinking and feeling, as well as our repressed impulses and desires that we have subconsciously or consciously suppressed to conform to societal norms.
Renowned psychologist Carl Jung eloquently stated, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
It was the same famed psychoanalysis that popularised the idea of a shadow self.
So if we bury and avoid these darker parts of ourselves, the worse they become.
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.“Carl Jung
Do We All Have a Shadow?
The psychologist Carl Jung suggested that everyone has what he called a ‘shadow self’. We’re all born without biases, but as we grow, different experiences make us judge ourselves.
These judgments come from everywhere: our parents, family members, teachers, and the society we live in. When we’re told what’s okay and what’s not, we push the parts of ourselves that are not okay into this ‘shadow’.
However, Jung thought that one really important thing we can do is try to accept this ‘shadow’ part of ourselves and include it in who we are, instead of always trying to ignore or reject it. He believed this was a healthy way to understand ourselves better and live more authentic lives.
The Power of Meditation in Unveiling the Shadow
Meditation serves as a powerful tool in peeling back the layers of our conscious mind and connecting with the depths of our being.
As meditation deepens, our attention naturally begins to penetrate the subconscious.
With a calmer and clearer conscious mind, we create space for awareness to explore deeper levels of our consciousness, revealing the aspects of ourselves that we have repressed or chosen to overlook.
This transformative process may introduce us to a range of experiences and emotions, including difficult emotions, hidden traumas, wild desires, negative thought patterns, and unresolved emotional processes.
Initially, these encounters may surface feelings of discomfort or anxiety, leading some beginner meditators to believe that meditation has made their minds busier or heightened their restlessness.
But, the truth is that meditation acts as a revealing mirror, reflecting the noise and anxiety that already existed within us. It settles the muddy waters, allowing the dirt that was already present to become visible.
Apart from cultivating calmness and clarity, meditation enhances our sensitivity and sharpens our attention.
This heightened state of awareness enables us to perceive aspects of ourselves that were previously hidden.
Trapped energies in our psyche gradually rise to the surface, which is a sign of progress in our meditation practice.
So as you meditate deeper, you’re not just meeting your shadow self; you’re freeing it.
Embracing the Shadow Self: A Journey of Wholeness
If you wish to continue the exploration and awareness of yourself as an individual, then you need to fully embrace and integrate your shadow self.
This involves meeting your shadow face-to-face, understanding its complexities, unlocking its secrets, and harnessing its energy.
The journey of shadow work holds immense potential for personal growth, healing, and spiritual development. It empowers us to reclaim the fragmented parts of ourselves and reintegrate them into our conscious lives.
Approaching Meditation as Shadow Work
As more and more of us are starting to meditate for different reasons, it’s important to know that meeting your shadow self isn’t for everyone.
If you are in a healthy mental state, not easily triggered by emotions or memories, then shadow work may be right for you.
But if you are using meditation a stress-relief technique, a non-pharmaceutical approach to managing depression, or a means to enhance your cognitive skills then this might not be right for you.
Meeting your shadow self can raise past traumas and cause distress if you’ve not had time to process these issues.
Customizing Your Meditation Habit
There are ways to adjust your meditation routine so it fits with your aspirations and feels right for you.
If you’re looking to cultivate your meditation habit for all its perks, without dealing with the tough parts of shadow work, or if you’re keen to jump into a journey of self-exploration and dig deep into your consciousness, read on.
Your Shadow Self And Meditation Techniques
Duration and Retreats
If you’re looking to curb the surge of challenging psychological material while still gaining from meditation, adjusting the duration of my meditation sessions could be a solution.
Reducing the length, especially if you’re normally practicing for over 30 minutes a day, could strike a balance between enjoying the benefits of meditation and minimizing potential difficulties.
It’s also suggested that you stay away from meditation retreats and keep yourself occupied with normal day-to-day activities as this can help to create a sense of stability and forestall overwhelming encounters with your shadow self.
Exploring Meditation Techniques
Not every meditation practice is equally geared toward shadow work.
Insight practices like certain forms of Vipassana and mindfulness, Yoga Nidra, and nondirective meditation, often involve more self-processing, letting your attention mingle with spontaneous thoughts and emotions that surface during meditation.
If your aim is to minimize emotional hurdles, you could opt for concentration-based practices.
Concentration-based techniques, such as Mantra meditation, Samatha (sole focus on the breath), Trataka, Chakra meditation, and Nada Yoga, help with focusing on a single object while excluding others.
By focusing your attention, these practices provide an anchor for you to come back to when you start to feel overwhelmed by your thoughts and emotions.
You should try different techniques and experiment until you uncover one that lets you enjoy the desired benefits without the weight of overwhelming emotional challenges.
If you require support during this exploration, consider guidance from an experienced meditation teacher or enrolling in a meditation course to guide you through the process.
Seeking Guidance and Support
As you embark on your meditation journey, it is key to remember that support is always available to you.
A consultation with an experienced meditation teacher can provide valuable insights and guidance tailored to your specific experiences.
Additionally, considering a meeting with a mental health professional, one who understands and applies meditation can be advantageous, particularly if you’re grappling with symptoms of trauma or significant mental health conditions.
If, despite your efforts, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or in need of assistance, it is perfectly acceptable to pause your meditation practice temporarily.
Take the time to work through any challenges or concerns before resuming your practice with a renewed sense of readiness.
Powering Through Challenging Mental States
If you find yourself prepared to allow your repressed thoughts and emotions to surface, there are two essential tools that can help you navigate and process them effectively: pranayama breathing and witnessing.
Pranayama exercises, derived from the yogic tradition, involve specific breathing techniques that modulate your breath according to predetermined patterns.
Engaging in pranayama breathing cultivates tranquility and stability in your nervous system, which becomes invaluable during stormy encounters with your shadow self.
One simple exercise to consider is the “4-7-8 Method“:
- Breathe in counting four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Breathe out for eight seconds.
Completing 12 cycles of this exercise, which takes less than four minutes, can significantly shift your mental state and provide the stability required for deeper exploration.
The practice of witnessing plays a vital role in most meditation techniques. It involves adopting an attitude of detached observation, accepting thoughts and emotions as they arise without clinging, interpreting, or reacting to them.
By cultivating equanimity (not judging your thoughts), you allow these mental patterns to surface and dissolve naturally.
View your thoughts and emotions as if you were watching a movie on the screen of your mind or hearing about someone else’s life story.
This perspective allows you to observe these impressions dispassionately.
By watching without reacting, suppressing, or creating stories around them, you weaken the reinforcement of these patterns of thought.
Facing Your Shadow
The exploration of the ‘shadow self’ through meditation is indeed an enlightening journey, offering an insight into the intricate layers of our being.
This journey can be transformative, nurturing a deeper self-awareness and, in turn, an authentic existence.
Meditation serves as an instrumental tool in this expedition, allowing us to connect with our subconscious mind, and to unveil those aspects of ourselves we’ve chosen to suppress or overlook.
It allows us to shed light on the undercurrents of our personality, those hidden elements that greatly influence our thoughts, feelings, and decisions.
Our ‘shadow self’, as theorized by Carl Jung, is an integral part of our personality, and rather than shying away from it, we ought to embrace and understand it.
This acceptance of our shadow selves is an essential step towards self-discovery and personal growth.
However, the journey to meeting and integrating our shadow self is not for everyone.
It requires a strong mental state and an understanding that certain buried emotions or traumas may resurface.
That said, tailoring our meditation practice can provide a smoother journey into our subconscious minds, balancing the benefits and the potential challenges.
Remember, support is always available during this transformative journey. Guidance from experienced meditation teachers and mental health professionals can prove invaluable, offering personalized insights and strategies for exploring your inner self.
Meditation, when practiced mindfully and diligently, can reveal the hidden aspects of our being, helping us to understand ourselves better and promoting a more authentic, fulfilling life.
Like any exploration, it is a journey that demands courage, patience, and an open mind, yet the rewards, a deeper self-awareness, and an enriched sense of self are certainly worth the effort.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, we strongly advise consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.