Inner shadow exercise

by Rachel Creager Ireland

I’ve been reading Jean Raffa’s book, Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World. Today I did an exercise for spotting one’s shadow. This wasn’t really a new concept for me, but it can be informative to put things on paper. (It’s just a coincidence that she uses the same blog template I use. She has fine taste.)

The first step is to list the five people you most dislike, and why you dislike them. (Why not do it yourself right now, before you read my results?) Of course I won’t name names.

Person 1: Judgemental of anyone he perceives to be different from himself.

Person 2: Small-minded. I can’t think of any other way to put that. She thinks her backwards-thinking little projects are important.

Person 3: Satisfied with her nice little world, and judgemental of those whose worlds are different. (She would probably take great exception to my judgement that her world is small.)

Person 4: Control freak, doesn’t mind and probably has no clue if other people have to adjust to her need to be in control.

I stopped at four. I really tried to think of a fifth, but repeatedly as I thought about what I didn’t like about people, I became aware of their vulnerabilities and their essential good will, even if I don’t like how it’s manifested, and then I became more sympathetic to them. I decided that four were enough. I’d also note that one of these people is a friend whom I like, but from whom I keep a distance.

Naturally, the point of the exercise was to recognize that the qualities held by the people I dislike are present in my own shadow. This is a lesson I’ve been through before. What I’ve learned over the years is that the traits that annoy me most deeply are ones I don’t like, or feel the need to suppress, in myself. If I force myself to sit down and have a conversation and listen to that person with my heart open, I usually end up being close friends with her or him. Clearly I haven’t done that yet with all the people above. But I can admit that I can see myself, at times, in all of the descriptions above.

Now for the second part of the exercise, as Jean says, “to reward yourself for doing the tough work of clear-seeing.” This list is of five (or four) people whom you greatly like and admire, and what you like best about them. I found this part much more fun. Surprise, it’s more enjoyable to think about people I love than to think about people I don’t like.

Person 5: Good at creating space (beautifully decorated house, unique expression of herself), but down to earth and sensitive to others and their needs.

Person 6. Hard working, persistent, stays connected to her heart/feelings. In other words, she is driven by her heart, and uses her head to get her where the heart wants to go.

Person 7: Unwavering commitment to her spiritual path. Has lost a lot because of it, but gained much more.

Person 8: Says yes to life. Open heart.

And wonder of wonders, “This time if you’re honest you’ll discover the hidden treasure in your shadow. It’s true. You’re not exactly like these people, but there’s a part of you that’s just like the parts of them you so admire.” Am I that beautiful, as luminous as the people I listed? Can it really be true? It must be.

What did you discover in your lists?