All throughout the history of mankind Shadow Work has played a powerful yet mysterious and occult role in helping us discover what is causing us mental illness, physical dis-ease and even insanity resulting in crimes of all kinds.
Traditionally, Shadow Work fell in the realm of the Shamans, or medicine people, as well as the priests and priestesses of the archaic periods of history. These days, Shadow Work falls more commonly in the realms of psychotherapy, with psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists setting up practices and writing books of all kinds on the topic.
However, more often than not the prescription drugs and behavioral therapy recommended and appointed to us does very little to truly cure our deepest and darkest thoughts and desires.
The question is … how can we truly accept ourselves and grow to respect and love who we are when many of us feel ourselves to be abhorrent, disgusting, irredeemably flawed and wretched people due to what we carry inside. The answer is we can’t. But we can grow to love and accept ourselves with the right guidance.
Recently I was very fortunate to go on a shamanic journey with co-writer of LonerWolf, Sol, as part of our inner work practice and discover a solution to this much forgotten and suppressed problem. Today I will share it with you in hopes that you can truly face, overcome and heal yourself from the stifling grip of the Shadow Self in order to obtain more peace in your life.
Rated “R” For Disturbing Content
Firstly, let’s define what dark and disturbing thoughts are.
Depending on who we are, our circumstances, upbringing, and cultural and religious influences, most of us have at least one form of dark and disturbing thought throughout our lives. These can include the following:
- Violence, e.g. homicide, suicide, torture or physically injuring or disabling someone.
- Cheating on one’s spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Sexual perversion, e.g. rape, molestation, sadism, necrophilia, bestiality.
- Robbery, e.g. burglary, fraud, embezzlement, etc.
- Emotional or psychological violence, e.g. manipulation, blackmail, ruining someone’s reputation, spreading rumors and lies, etc.
… and so forth.
These thoughts can be towards any person, gender or race of any age, and of any connection to you, e.g. your friends, children, lover, parents, siblings, colleagues, strangers or acquaintances. They can also be directed towards other life forms, e.g. animals or inanimate objects.
As we can see, in the realm of dark and disturbing thoughts, nothing and no one is off limits, and we will see why below.
Why Do We Have These Thoughts?
It is said that during shamanic journeying one is either guided through the underworld (the unconscious mind), the middleworld (the conscious mind), or the upperworld (the spiritual realm). In this case, I was guided through the underworld where Pan – that mythic half-man, half-goat god – appeared to me numerous times as I descended to the depths of my unconscious.
Once I discovered the long repressed thought I had avoided and forgotten due to fear, shame and shock, I understood the purpose of Pan’s presence: to face this unconscious block, to take responsibility for it, and to heal. We will discuss these topics later.
Now, it is important to explore why dark and disturbing thoughts arise in the first place.
So what’s the issue here?
Well … that is the precise problem. All throughout our lives since we were tiny infants we were distinctly taught what is “good” and what is “evil”, what is “right” and what is “wrong”, and what is “virtuous” and what a plain fat “sin” is.
We were taught that if we stepped out of line in any way we would either be punished by our parents, the authorities, or by some kind of God. We were even taught in our religious education that God/Divinity can “hear all of our thoughts” and knows the “hidden intentions of our hearts”. This was enough to make us constantly feel on edge, and ridden with guilt!
In essence, we grew up with a 24/7 surveillance system around us. If it wasn’t our parents who caught us, it was the police, and if it wasn’t the police, it was a wrathful God.
Naturally, this sensationalized the “bad”, “evil” and “sinful” acts of life, giving them an all too tempting air of mystery.
To the naturally curious and inquisitive human being, this is paramount to painting big red words on a wall that say “DON’T PRESS THIS BUTTON!” or “DON’T OPEN THIS DOOR!” Naturally, most of us will push that button and will open that door, giving in to the tempting and sensationalized air of mystery that “evil” and “sinful” acts are given.
But the aftermath is what we suffer from the most.
Once we do taste what it’s like to have a dark and disturbing thought, most of us fearfully push it out of our minds or shamefully repress it, until we build up so many of these “bad” and “evil” thoughts that we either become physically or psychologically sick … or act on them to purge the overwhelmingly tempting curiosity from our systems. This, often, is what forms the rapists, child molesters and sadists of life.
“Don’t Think of the Pink Elephant!”
Have you ever played the “Pink Elephant” game before? The funny thing about this game is that the more you try to avoid thinking about a pink elephant, the more likely the thought is to arise in your mind. Kind of ironic isn’t it?
But this game, in essence, is the premise for a psychological phenomenon known as the “Ironic Process Theory” that states that the more you suppress a thought or thoughts, the more they will appear.
This is the same for all thoughts in daily life. And the problem lies in how we perceive them.
We are taught to perceive and judge in absolutes. The reality is: there are no absolutes of “good” or “bad” in life. However, there are decisions, choices and acts that are unwise, unkind, sadistic and cruel. But to divide life into “good” or “bad”, “righteous” or “evil” is to fragment and divide the world, stealing it of its innate wholeness. Sol wrote more about this life-changing topic here.
The conclusion is, once we change our fragmented and absolutist thinking of “good” and “bad” to more realistic qualities such as “wise” and “unwise”, “kind” and “cruel”, the sensationalism will be taken out of any act of life, and thus, these acts will lose their power.
Facing and Overcoming Your Disturbing Thoughts
When we think in the fragmented, unrealistic and absolutist terms of “good” and “bad”, it is easy for us to label ourselves as either “good people” or “bad people”.
Those of us who have dark thoughts (which by the way, is most of us) tend to harbor the deep conviction that “there is something wrong with me”, or “I am a terrible person”. Sometimes, this is even enough to prompt us to act on our thoughts and become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The reality is that having a dark or disturbing thought does not make you a “bad” or evil” person.
This can be hard to believe due to our learned way of dividing the world into a simplistic “black” or “white” perspective. But in reality, life is a vast and complex spectrum of interconnected greys.
On my shamanic journey, I learned something important: we must take responsibility for whatever we think or feel, no matter how disgusting, disgraceful, or debased it is. This is imperative.
We must take responsibility by admitting to ourselves that yes we can inflict this on someone, yes we can rape that woman, brutally murder that man, molest that child, copulate with that animal, cheat that colleague, ruin that person’s present life … but we choose not to.
We must face these thoughts, whatever they may be, and go through with them in our minds. Running from them or repressing them only increases their potency and persistence.
Not only must we take responsibility by admitting that yes we do have the power and ability to go through with our thoughts, but we must also realize why we choose not to, e.g. personal and interpersonal repercussions which aren’t hard to guess at.
There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” person, but there is such a thing as a person with courage, or lack of courage, wisdom or stupidity, authenticity or pretension.
As I was taught on my shamanic journey, to face and accept responsibility for your darkness is the ultimate act of courage, one that allows you to heal and move past such psychological blocks that prevent you from growing in life.
Having dark and disturbing thoughts does not make you a horrible or worthless person. In most cases, we are attracted to the vile and atrocious things in life due to the sensationalized, absolutist way of thinking that we were taught as children.
When a person is taught “Don’t think about that!” and “Don’t push that button!” it can be compared to the Pink Elephant game, where the very act of suppressing the thought actually serves to increase its likelihood of occurring.
In the end, we must realize that there is nothing intrinsically “good” or “bad” about having such thoughts, however, we must take responsibility for them and realize that yes, we could carry them out if we wanted to … but we choose not to for many reasons. This is really what counts.
Accepting, rather than running away from or hiding such occurrences that arise within us is the best way to heal, and find more peace as well as self-love in our lives. This is essential on the spiritual path.
At your own discretion, I would love if you could share your own thoughts and experiences with Shadow Work below.