Shadow Exercise

To begin this Mindfulness Exercise on Shadows, please bring kind awareness to

– why you chose this topic
– how your belly, chest, and head each feel when you reflect on this topic
– the emotions that you can associate with these visceral feelings
– the positive or negative impact of any stories you believe in regarding this topic
– the consoling/humbling/inspiring fact that many others are feeling similarly about this topic as you
– how you will feel with increased awareness around this topic
– when you can apply increased mindfulness to this topic in your day-to-day life

Most people have a hard time facing their negative side – especially those of us interested in meditation, self-development, or spirituality. We would like the world to be a gentle, loving place, and therefore try to cultivate those parts of ourselves that fit that image and suppress the ones that don't.

The problem is that reality doesn't really conform to our idea of the world. It is always, uncompromisingly whole, with a positive side and a negative side.

When we refuse to face our shadow and we just “banish” it, we find ourselves with a plethora of undesired results, among which: 1. we suppress our creativity, and 2. we make ourselves vulnerable to our unconscious side. Why? Because we don’t know our shadow intimately, so we have no way of knowing how it will appear when it comes up in the form of instinctive reactions. This is why this Shadow Exercise can be very helpful.

We think we are in control of our thoughts until they come back to control us when we less expect it – usually when we are in the grip of intense emotions. 

Looking honestly at our negative reactions, when they arise, is essential. While each of us has in themselves the entire spectrum of human emotions, some of them are more prominent than others, and will manifest at regular intervals. That’s a good clue that that’s something we need to face.

Have you noticed, for example, how two different people may see someone completely differently? Because life is basically a mirror, we’ll see on the outside characteristic that we have in us. These characteristics can be dominant (in which case we are generally aware of them) or dormant (in which case might not be), but the result is the same. Our mental patterns will create a specific image of the world for us and drive our behavior in the world.

While we have no power to change another person, we have always the power to work on ourselves and see clearly what we are made of.

A shadow faced is a shadow weakened. While it will still be there, once we are aware of it, it loses the power to knock our good judgement out of the way and take control of our reactions.

The Shadow Exercise below is a wonderful way to start exploring all those aspects of ourselves we don't like but are not conscious of.

Be aware that shadow work can be quite intense and, at times, difficult. There are things in each of us that we don’t want to see. If you want support with shadow work, look for a good Jungian therapist. They’ll give you the guidance you need.

Here is your online worksheet:

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About the Author Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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