“If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be filled with light.” (Matthew 6:22)
There exists a profound ancient inner balancing ritual performed by the Curanderos (shamanic healers) of Peru. This balancing ritual is what they call a rite of passage that is passed down to all those who are interested in the ways of the living energies.
What happens in this ritual is detailed as the following: The Curandero works from behind his Mesa (table) which is an altar for healing ceremonies. This table is then divided into three different sections. The right side is filled with “light” elements that exist as objects such as the crucifix, feathers, flowers, photos of saints and khuyas (stones of power). The left is made up of all the dark elements of life, such as knives, weapons and any item that carries destructive energy. The middle of the table between these two opposing energy forces, is said to be where the healing happens.
The first time I was taught how to perform this ritual during my initiation, I was struck by its symbolic message of simple truth; in order for any healing to occur, our good and evil must overlap. It’s not light or darkness that creates the healing, but the meeting point where they both touch.
In reality, this idea of a meeting point between the two strongest forces of life is not limited to shamanic healers, but has been known for thousands of years. This idea was represented, for instance, by the old esoteric Christian shape known as the Mandorla (illustrated above).
The Mandorla, which means almond in Italian, is the almond shape that emerges when two circles partly overlap each other. Curiously, this shape can be found throughout historical spiritual artwork, from Gothic architecture to stained glass windows in cathedrals. Mandorlas are often described as the overlap between Heaven and Earth or Spirit and Matter, and can be defined as a place of reconciliation, transformation and incarnation.
In my previous Shadow Self article, I wrote about the importance of accepting and integrating your shadow self into your daily life. St. Augustine once shouted, “To act is to sin.” And in truth, the act of creation is an act of destruction at the same time; you’re always changing something. Light cannot be made without corresponding darkness, which is precisely why creative activities are the best ways to encounter your Shadow Self.
Here I will give a few practical examples that I also share with my students, regarding how this connection with your Shadow Self can be achieved. For more examples, check out our comprehensive Shadow Work guide.
Draw or Paint
Art is the highest form of self-expression and also a great way to allow your shadow to manifest itself. In Psychology, an effective way to better understand a child patient is to give them paper and crayons and allow them to draw whatever comes to mind.
In adults expressing our inner selves is a bit more difficult, as that shadow has been repressed a lot more deeply and for a longer period of time. However, if you allow yourself to feel any of these darker emotions, without fearing judgment from yourself while drawing or painting for example, you’ll begin to gain insight into your Shadow Self and reveal more about your obscure inner half.
One of Jung’s greatest insights was that the ego and the Shadow come from the same source, and balance each other exactly. This is quite prevalent in life, and we are all aware of the suicidal creative geniuses or the eccentric lives of artists that exist in life.
Creativity, as St. Augustine said, is the antithesis of our Shadows. Limited creativity means a limited Shadow, while great creativity comes with a heavier Shadow. Examples include the descent into madness from Nietzsche and Schumann to Van Gogh, who all possessed heavy Shadows.
Whether woodwork, clay sculpting or composing music, the act of creation provides space for your darker elements to emerge and manifest themselves through impatience, anger, frustration while also feeling fulfillment and joy at the same time. Being self-aware and using self-exploration mindfully during this experience will reap deeper insights into your darkness.
Goethe’s Faust is, in my opinion, one of the best works featuring the meeting of an Ego and his Shadow Self. His story details the life of a Professor who becomes so separated and overwhelmed by his Shadow elements that he comes to the verge of suicide, only to realize that the redemption of the ego is solely possible if the Shadow is redeemed at the same time.
Writing a story where you project your Shadow elements onto the characters is a great way to learn more about your inner darkness. If stories aren’t your thing, keeping a journal or diary every day for a few weeks where you record both good and bad emotions can shine a light on the darker elements of your nature. Reading through these emotions can help you recover the balance you need in your life, and accept both light and dark emotions within you.
Unless you consciously work on your Shadow through some of the above techniques, you’ll begin to find that your shadow is unconsciously projected onto someone or something else, so as to avoid responsibility for it.
This, however, can become another way of exploring your Shadow by becoming mindful and conscious of what it is we unconsciously choose to project our Shadows onto. What’s interesting and hard to understand is that we not only project our negative traits and elements onto others but our good ones as well. It’s as if we unconsciously refuse to embrace our noble elements because the Ego is afraid that these positive elements will change and upset our current personality structure.
When becoming consciously aware of what you’re projecting your shadow onto, you simply have to observe what it is you secretly like or don’t like. For instance, current movies and television shows reflect our deep interest in the darker aspects of ourselves. Why else would we have such fascination with this constant battle between good and evil forces? Superhero, fantasy or action films depict the Heroes vs. Villains dichotomy, while we also fall in love with charming characters that embrace their dark sides such as Dexter, The Joker or Walter White (Breaking Bad).
Often our noblest traits are projected onto the people we like, admire or fall in love with. The opposite is also true, and the most defenseless of beings can become the carriers of your projected Shadow Self. Children, for example, provide the perfect outlet to our anger, frustration and all other negative emotions. The smallest of accidents or naughty actions can be punished with disproportionately destructive wrath’s. Pet’s, unfortunately, are just as vulnerable. Projection for many of us is always easier than assimilation.
Projection, no matter whether light or dark is always something detrimental. You not only burden another person with your dark elements or pressures of idolization, but you also avoid responsibility for your Shadow and lose the opportunity of finding a state of ecstatic wholeness.
“If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be filled with light.” (Matthew 6:22) Our right eye sees one thing, our left eye sees another, but when these two eyes meet a third eye is formed, the single eye, and that shall fill you with light.
Let me know in the comments what ways you’ve managed to encounter your Shadow Self, and feel free to take our Shadow Self Test.