Spiritually, What is the Shadow?

Undoubtedly you've heard or read about spiritual gurus who get busted for sexually or financially abusing their followers. Drug abuse, violence, sexual abuse tend to get amplified in highly energized spiritual communities. My own teacher of Buddhism, many years ago, took his own life.

What is going on with these spiritually evolved people?

The answer lies in the shadow.

Your Shadow

The shadow, as recognized by psychoanalytic though, are the disowned parts of yourself. They are the parts of you that are present but are too painful to look at. Poet, Robert Bly, refers to the shadow as a black bag you drag behind you.

Let's say that you grow up in a household where sex is treated as taboo. As a child, you receive messages that sexual urges are naughty and good people repress them. You might suppress those urges and desires, which are a natural part of human development.

Those suppressed urges might become part of your shadow. You don't look at them, but they are still there under the surface. Without addressing them, they are going to surface - sometimes in powerfully negative ways.

The same is true for any part of your personality that you disown. 

The Negative Effect of Shadow

Some spiritual development involves releasing an enormous amount of psychic energy. But power is power. You can use a hammer to build a house, or you can hit your neighbor over the head with it.

I believe that large amounts of power, combined with an unincorporated shadow, create a recipe for disaster and abuse. Imagine giving a machine gun to a toddler. 

If you're not a guru with a following the shadow may still manifest in lots of unpleasant ways. For example, you might experience highly dysregulated emotion under stress, or certain mental illnesses. You may have addictions or sexual problems. Shame is as common as sand on the beach.

Addressing the Shadow is an Ethical Imperative

Besides the psychological relief and freedom one gains from shadow work, there is an ethical drive to make peace with the discarded aspects. As you develop spiritually and gain more personal power, you need to "clean up." The key is in re-owning the discarded parts of yourself.

Note that owning and integrating your shadow pieces doesn't mean you lose control of your urges. You lose control when you don't own them.

Shadow work has been some of the most rewarding development I've done. It's a practice I return to again and again. It is a tree which bears much fruit.