Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side

Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side

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by David Richo

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"shadow" is the collection of negative or undesirable traits we keep hidden—the things we don't like about ourselves or are afraid to admit:
egotist, non-"PC" proclivities, forbidden sexual desires. But it also includes our positive, untapped potential—qualities we may admire in others but disavow in ourselves.


"shadow" is the collection of negative or undesirable traits we keep hidden—the things we don't like about ourselves or are afraid to admit:
egotist, non-"PC" proclivities, forbidden sexual desires. But it also includes our positive, untapped potential—qualities we may admire in others but disavow in ourselves. Befriending the shadow makes fear an ally and enables us to live more authentically. It also automatically improves our interpersonal relationships, because we are freed from the need to project our own negativity onto others, and we become more acutely aware when theirs is projected onto us.
David Richo looks for where the shadow manifests in personal life, family interaction, religion, relationship, and the world around is. He shows how to use the gentle practice of mindfulness to work with our shadow side, and he provides numerous exercises for going deeper. He is remarkably skillful at making the shadow concept not only easy to understand, but supremely practical for enhancing the quality of our lives.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Deep and spiritually challenging."—Spirituality & Health

"David Richo has written a big book, much more than a book on the shadow and its context. Shadow Dance is a poem, a paean to the psychological life, written with a great sense of culture and depth. My world has been enlarged by reading it."—Jeremiah Abrams, author of The Shadow in America and coeditor of Meeting the Shadow

"As useful a self-help book as one is likely to find."—Huston Smith

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Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.
G. Jung

Do you dare

to love what you have hated all your life? If you can entertain that paradox,
this book is for you, since it attempts to show how everything about us contains creativity and goodness no matter how bad or useless we may think it to be. Our dark side has been called our personal shadow by C. G. Jung. The shadow is everything about ourselves that we do not know or refuse to know,
both dark and light. It is the sum total of the positive and negative traits,
feelings, beliefs, and potentials we refuse to identify as our own.

The shadow is that part of us that is incompatible with who we think we are or are supposed to be. It is the realm beyond our limits, the place where we are more than we seem. The shadow is ironically humorous because the opposite of our self-image proves to be true in spite of all our tricky attempts not to believe or display it. Fear of that wider self keeps it in the dungeon, but there are ways to release the prisoner. It takes practice. This book presents it in bite-size pieces and accompanies you through the process. It shows you how to transform your inner demons and awaken your dormant divinities. It invites you to grant hospitality to all the pilgrim parts of yourself and make room for them one by one.

The challenge is in accepting ourselves all the way to the bottom: admitting and holding rather than denying and eschewing our arrogance, our self-centeredness,
our will to coerce others, and any other dark truths we cannot face about ourselves. All these constitute our negative shadow side, which can turn out to be not so much a threat as a promise: we can find the best in us in what is bad in us. We shall see how the counterpart of every negative in the human equation is something positive. Everything is meant for good, says Saint Augustine, even what is bad.

This handbook is also about accepting ourselves all the way to the top:
acknowledging and accessing the creative powers we have never believed we possessed and have never put to use. This is our darkened positive shadow side.
We may admire these glowing attributes strongly in others and deny them in ourselves, just as we strongly dislike in others what may be true but ugly about ourselves. Hope grows from welcoming our positive shadow, since hope is about believing in the potential in us for a life that is greater than the one our frightened and limited ego has designed, a wisdom larger than our thinking mind can muster, and a love that is wider than that with which we embrace our immediate circle of friends.

The gnawing sense of emptiness that sometimes arises in life might be just this:
our refusal to grant full suffrage to our shadow regions, our failure to see that we are more than we seem. We lose contact with our dark side when we deny our pettiness, our selfishness, our vindictiveness. We may also lose faith in our own bright merit and spiritual limitlessness: "I am larger, better than I thought, / I did not know I held so much goodness," wrote Walt

To think that what we are conscious of about ourselves is all there is to us puts us in danger of being run by the unconscious forces in our shadow. This is scary, since we are mostly
to see or even know the full darkness of our shadow side. It is a personality with our name on it, but it was deported long ago. This part of us was banished early in life. To gain and maintain approval, we may have had to exhibit only the personality that was acceptable to our parents. Later in life we may have persisted in that self-negating routine with other adults, our partners, and our peers. By hiding the personality traits that were considered objectionable,
we lost out on our chance to rework and move through them. Instead, they simply went underground. Qualities that required only some sanding and polishing were confined to the cellar, our unconscious, as useless or even dangerous. This was perhaps the fate of much potential for creative transformation. Given the chance, an ugly aggressiveness might have been trimmed to assertiveness,
unwelcome controlling ways might have been spruced up into efficient leadership, fear might even have become love.

At the same time, some of the great assets or talents of our personality might also have been threatening to our parents and others in our life, and then they too had to be sequestered. These higher attributes went into the attic, our untapped unconscious potential, perhaps with the promise that they might be looked at some other day, but they were soon forgotten. Our self-doubts about our skills and potential may still be in trunks gathering dust, overlooked and seemingly above our reach.

Our dark shadow can be called a cellar of our unexamined shame. Our positive shadow is an attic of our unclaimed valuables. This is the manual that takes us down into the cellar of ourselves to retrieve and capitalize on our negative shadow and up into the attic to exult in and capitalize on our positive shadow. Unlike other books on the shadow, this one concentrates not so much on the savage darkness in us as on our practical day-to-day shortcomings and faults, not only those we fail to see but also those we clearly see in ourselves.

With great optimism we grant a hearty and fearless welcome to everything about us that might have been unwelcome before. We locate a kernel of goodness in every hard and unappealing shell. We are alchemists believing that gold can come from lead, nurturant parents trusting that little rascals will become presidents,
readers suspecting that villains will become heroes, and priests believing that sinners will become saints.

It will not be by denying and canceling anything about ourselves but rather by acknowledging it, cradling it acceptingly, and then moving through it to its true fulfillment. In this friendly way, lead will have its full opportunity to be heavy, rascals to be mischievous, villains to be sinister, sinners to be miscreant. They will all be themselves, see themselves, accept themselves. Then they will notice how much of the energy in them is available for greater and higher purposes, how much potential they have for more joy and more giving. A
shift will occur and they will become the swans that ugly ducklings become when they find out who they really are. What a wonderful prospect!

dark side is perfectly normal for beings like us who include both sides of every set of opposites. There could be no light without the dark to contrast it with. Too much light creates a longing for night. It also follows that there is no dark without a corresponding light. This is the source of hope. It takes work to bring out the light. In these pages is a program to help us do that work and to accept both sides of everything about ourselves as fitting,
understandable, and immensely useful.

Jung presents the image of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus as symbols of the two sides of the shadow: one thief reviled Jesus while the other commiserated with him and asked for transformation. These are the opposing sides of our own souls. We fight the entry of the light into our lives and yet yearn for it. Wonderfully, both have a place in the uncovering of inner wholeness. The promise of paradise was instantaneous for the thief who welcomed the light. At the same time, it still remained available for the thief who turned away from it, if he would become willing to enter the purgatorial fires where his own interior darkness could be faced and integrated. Working on the dark shadow side of ourselves is just such a fiery enterprise. The chapters that follow are not fireproof but they are a friendly fire.

It is said that each of us has a twin. Psychically we are all Geminis. Every person to whom we react with strong fear, desire, repulsion, or admiration is a twin of our own inner unacknowledged life. We have qualities, both positive and negative, that appear visibly in others but are invisible in us and to us. Our practice is to be fascinated with those who upset or appeal to us and to find in them the hidden corners of ourselves. An archetype of twins exists in our psyche, one bad, one good. We have it in us to separate and even alienate one part of ourselves from another part. The challenge is to be on friendly terms with everything about ourselves. We can welcome what seems repulsive and recall what tries to get away. This will require a boundless curiosity about the foreign territories in our psyche that have always wanted annexation, always wanted to join the union of our self or rejoin after seceding. Such a consolidation of all our "parts" actually maintains their identity and amplifies their cohesiveness, as states maintain their rights though they join the union.

The shadow presents a challenge to us: to negotiate an alliance among all the opposing forces in ourselves. Every honest man has a dishonest side; every faithful woman has a faithless side. The courageous honesty required to look for such contradictions in ourselves creates character. Befriending both sides of ourselves allows our polarized tensions to emerge into consciousness. Then we begin to locate their creative possibilities. In this sense the shadow is a gift. Without it our ego might identify only with its light side and maintain an inflated view of itself, thus obscuring a dark glory that wants so much to peep out.

The shadow shapes our daily interactions and relationships much more forcefully than we imagine. Since it is a disowned and demonized energy, it is insidious and sly in its ways of hiding within our choices and behaviors. Nature is a metaphor for human nature. Under this visible world is another world. Digging is required to uncover it. It is full of caves and pits; the birds down there are bats. It takes special training to explore this underworld. We have to become psychological spelunkers, perhaps an unappealing and scary prospect. Our visible persona, the image we present to the world, feels threatened by exposure of its underpinnings. The underworld is, of course, our inner world.

Greek mythology the Minotaur was hidden in the labyrinth, a metaphor for the shadow in the unconscious. The Minotaur killed seven Athenian boys and seven
Athenian girls each year. This is an allegorical way of saying that what is hidden can destroy liveliness. The hero Theseus killed the Minotaur externally but never confronted his own inner Minotaur. In later years he drove away his son, who was then devoured by a sea monster. Thus Theseus did to his own son what the Minotaur did to the Athenian sons. We are cursed to act out the dark and desperate scenarios of the shadow as long as we keep believing it is supposed to be killed or canceled.

Like cathedrals and forests, metaphors of the psyche, we are never finished though always whole. That is wonderful news, since something complete can still be made from unfinished things. In fact, our lively energy, our life force,
depends directly on our being whole but not on our becoming perfect. The only question is, How much consciousness can we stand? We can never know all of our shadow, only a piece at a time, only what we are ready for, and we will never be ready for all of it. It can never be totally tamed or befriended, but we can relate to it and horse-trade with it. When a little more each day is a good-enough bargain for us, we are liberated from both perfectionism and inadequacy, two tough features of the shadow.

The hero's journey is an apt Western metaphor for going out and working for enlightenment. The opening poem by Changling presents a powerful Eastern model of the journey of enlightenment
our lives. Hakuin, the Japanese Zen teacher, comments that this poem is meant to describe how enlightenment comes from emptiness. We are empty of ego fear and attachment when our mind, "sky," is clear. The void of "endless wastes" that we find in ourselves when we are free of separate ego identity—"where no one goes"—is the autumnal experience of mature spiritual life. The horseman connects humankind and nature, east and west,
emptiness and fullness, light and dark. All the opposites combine. It is only this territory that enlightenment visits, swiftly, dawnward. Yet in Chinese mythology, the west is the locus of paradise and the birthplace of the gods.
Thus enlightenment begins in heaven and then makes earth a heaven too, with no oppositions left standing. Changling's poem is ultimately about the human-divine journey to the east of awakening. We will refer back to it throughout these pages.

In a Bombay temple there is an image of a three-headed Shiva. The head on one side is gentle, the one on the other side terrible. The befriending head in the center looks benign and amused as it accepts both sides of itself. The challenge is to see both sides with those same eyes of welcome rather than with aggressive wishes to destroy the darker side. To acknowledge all our powers is to evoke those powers. They then tell us how we can be more than we ever thought we could be.

Shadow traits await an audience from consciousness. They are like courtiers outside a king's chamber. Each has a suit to present. Each has a wish for satisfaction or a request to adjust an imbalance. If the king of light keeps them in the dark antechamber for too long and refuses to welcome them, they mill about, grumble,
and gossip. Then they may begin hatching desperate and even treasonous plots against him. The king has great power, but to keep it, he does well to hear from each of his courtiers and deal with each of them in turn and fairly. This is how they become supportive allies rather than seditious enemies. Each of us is a king and a courtier ready for alliance. As you read and work this book,
you begin the dialogue and receive the royal favor.

This is not a Jungian book on the shadow, nor does it adhere to Jung's vision entirely. It is more original than derivative. In short, these pages use
Jungian terms to present a new synthesis with many original applications. It will sound true if it elicits and expands the personal vision of the reader.
Traditionally, the shadow has referred only to the unconscious. I am expanding it to include the known or easily known dark side of our personality, persona,
feelings, and choices. "Dark" can be quite subjective. I define it most simply as that which interferes with others' rights or subverts our own deepest needs and wishes. The shadow in its widest connotation is thus about how we get in the way of others and of ourselves.

The practices that accompany the text also reflect an age-old wisdom that is interior and enduring in the human psyche. This is a workbook for individuals who are taking an inventory of themselves with regard to both limitlessness and limitation. It is not about the shadow of the world but about the shadow of our individual egos and how ready they are for light. Many books on spirituality recommend the letting go of ego. This book tells exactly how. Its purpose is not to inform us about the shadow but to help us taste it in bite-size chunks that surprise us by how nourishing they are.

The focus of these chapters is not a subject outside yourself. You personally are the subject. Read this not for information but for transformation. I have not written this book and then forgotten it. I am still thinking about it and am very much wanting the people who read it to benefit from it. This is my work in the world, and I accompany you as you find yours. The practices in the following pages serve as an examination of conscience by our adult spiritual consciousness. That happens as we befriend our negative shadow. Such befriending also serves to awaken our inner liveliness as we activate and articulate our positive shadow with all its riches, gifts, and potentials. Both dimensions of our soul thereby receive equal attention and grant equal favors.
They cooperate as partners in harmony. Befriending the shadow is a dance.

We are not alone on this venture. Assisting forces are collaborating all the time.
Even now, as you read these words, many saints and bodhisattvas are gathering to help you. They are attracted to the hearts of those who want to wake up and love more. They are the guardian angels who accompany us over the bridge we notice is unstable and perilous but nonetheless decide to cross.

In the darkness of anything external to me, I find . . . an interior psychic life that is my own.—
G. Jung

Meet the Author

David Richo, PhD, is a psychotherapist, teacher, writer, and workshop leader whose work emphasizes the benefits of mindfulness and loving-kindness in personal growth and emotional well-being. He is the author of numerous books, including How to Be an Adult in Relationships and The Five Things We Cannot Change. He lives in Santa Barbara and San Francisco, California.

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Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book for self-exploration and self-development. It provides a thorough explanation of the concept of the shadow in Jungian theory and introduces us to various practical exercises to explore our own shadow. Though I'm not really a Jungian, this was a very interesting book that gave me lots to think about. If you'd like a more simplistic but nevertheless absolutely excellent explanation of the psyche, try reading 'The Ever-Transcending Spirit' by Toru Sato. It is an amazing book that explains almost everything you wondered about in a concise and down to earth way! Five stars may not be enough for this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago