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  • Writer's pictureJill Brocklehurst

Shadow Work

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

~ Nietzsche

Around 15 years ago, it was time for me to address a panel of peers whose task it was to review my request for ordination (a tenure given to Spiritual Directors, through which they are granted lifelong license in their role). I approached this interview with confidence, bolstered by teachers who believed I ‘had it in the bag’.

The interview seemed to go well, but when I was asked to step out while the panel deliberated, time ticked by very slowly. Five minutes turned into ten, then twenty… and I sensed something was amiss… that I wasn't going to be approved after all.

Finally, the adjudicators called me back into the room to deliver their verdict: "You aren't ready," they told me.

I responded with determination, "What do I need to do to be ready?"

Their answer was clear: "You need to do some shadow work." I agreed immediately, eager to embark on this inner journey, and they assigned a peer to guide me through the process. However, what was supposed to be shadow work for me, quickly turned into me counselling my esteemed peer through their troubles instead.

After three months, I was given another chance to address the panel. My teacher had handed me the exact sentence I needed to memorize and recite in order to secure my ordination, but I had refused it. I wanted my answers to the ordination questions to reflect my authenticity.

The final session with the panel was long and gruelling. I struggled to find the right words to satisfy their expectations. Finally, after an hour, to my surprise, they burst into laughter. I had said something that had resonated with them, and I passed my ordination panel. Yet, even years later, a hint of bitterness lingers in me.

Business leader, Seth Godin, in one of his regular blog posts, stated, “Everyone knows what it is to be conscious, and we imagine that other people are also aware. That we have a voice in our heads, apparent agency and free will, a little person inside who is commenting, making decisions and in charge.”

I advocate for consciousness and deep inner work. As I uncover the attitudes and habits that shape my interactions with the world, I gain greater power to choose how I respond to Life's challenges. Without this awareness, I find myself reacting impulsively to daily events.

I have discovered that there is a deep-rooted old belief within me that whispers, "Who I am hurts people." It's this belief that drives me to engage in ceaseless acts of goodwill, attempting to drown out the pain with 'goodness.' It's why I chose to become a Spiritual Director… as a way to be of service to others and to seek safety through belonging.

I believe that everything evolves, including our understanding of spirituality, which is in constant flux. The evolution of our spirituality, however, isn't solely rooted in theory… it also comes through what we practice. It seems to me that we've transitioned from a conforming society, focused on a prescribed path to success in the world of commerce, to a humanity in need of transformation. While we may not feel ready for this transformation, we must embark upon it. And, if we fail to undertake the deep inner work required, we'll remain in a cycle of empty discourse while our planet teeters ‘on the brink’.

While engaging in conversations about the Universe's nature, or the creation of new systems and policies, can be enthralling, I believe we are being summoned to a more daunting challenge… our individual journeys of inner exploration. It's tempting to get lost in discussions about societal flaws, but perhaps these conversations serve as a distraction from the essential work that lies before us. That's why I shared my ordination story at the beginning of this article.

As I mentioned, I still carry a burden of resentment. I'm sure you sensed it from my writing. Perhaps you even exclaimed, "Ah ha, look at her!" If you did, you're right. There's a tangled mess within me that yearns to be unraveled and healed. Not for anyone else, but for my own sake… so that I can awaken my creative genius.

To achieve this, I must shed the armour I've built to shield my wounds, engage in vulnerable conversations, and thus, unleash my creativity and innovation.

If we seek a transformed world (and it's not merely a desire but a necessity), then we must embark on our individual journeys of inner healing together. Then, as we transform, so too will the world around us. It's not more theory or new policies that we need, it's the embodiment of new possibilities. However, we cannot access the creative genius within us that is required for the task, until we remove the protective barriers we have erected that are blocking the flow.

Brilliance has been known to emerge from rarified experiences like the Burning Man festival. Why? Because people gather in such environments to shed their daily protective masks and open themselves to their creative potential. The thing is, we need not travel far to access our brilliance; it resides within each of us.

To truly address the world's problems, we must move beyond intellectual discussions and confront our uncomfortable emotions, and we will need to find support and love as we unearth those stories that no longer serve us. One by one, as we practice, we can bring these stories into the light, and step into our true potential as empowered individuals in a society yearning for change.


~ Journaling and Self-Reflection: Engage in regular journaling to explore your inner thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.

Reflect on your past experiences, especially those that have left a lasting impact, or have triggered strong emotional responses.

Use your journal as a safe space to uncover any hidden stories, fears, or limiting beliefs that may be holding you back.

Challenge those narratives, and explore how they influence your actions and reactions in daily life.

(By gaining clarity on your inner landscape through journaling, you will start the process of healing and transformation).

~ Mindfulness and Meditation: Practice mindfulness and meditation to cultivate self-awareness and presence in the moment.

Mindfulness techniques can help you observe your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judgment.

Meditation, on the other hand, can provide a quiet space to explore your inner world and access your intuition.

(Regular mindfulness and meditation practices help you to stay grounded, reduce reactivity to external stimuli, and create a sense of inner peace. This inner calm is conducive to deeper ‘self’ work and inner healing).

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