I care a lot about what people think of me. Most of us do. It’s not entirely a bad thing as it’s partly what keeps us from becoming Sociopaths.
But most of the time it can be a negative thing.
It’s not just something that keeps me from being a dick to people (most of the time at least) but something that stops be from taking action in my life. The smallest things can cause me anxiety.
Like walking through a room full of people. Calling someone, even someone I know well. Giving an answer when you’re in a group of people and you know you’re right but you’re afraid of coming across like a smug git so you don’t say anything. Giving an opinion. Keeping something you’re good at hidden from others because you’re afraid they’re going to criticize you.
This is probably why I feel a deep need to write within me. I’ve created a space between myself and others. They can leave a comment sure, but thank God for comment moderation, am I right?
Or how about making a funny comment but nobody hears it and the person next to you, who happens to be at least a little less self conscious than you makes the same joke and everyone abruptly bursts out laughing and you’re left swearing under your breath. There’s no way you didn’t hear me, Steeeve!
Essentially for me it’s all about others’ perception of me. Do they like me? Do they think I’m funny? Will they even understand my weird Northern Irish accent, something that means I am no longer permitted to order pizza over the phone?
Each of us has within us a Shadow; the part of us that we’re ashamed of. It will look different for you than it does for me, but ultimately it is the part of each of us we would love to keep hidden from the world. For me it can take different forms but it is usually some version of myself when I was a kid. I’ll think of times when I was felt to feel ashamed or embarrassed in front of other people and that usually does it. Sometimes, I’ll think of times when I felt alone, that’s another good one.
Or, I’ll think of someone who has judged me in my past and use that to visualize myself, really feeling those emotions and letting them manifest into some sort of form. Sometimes it’s a small version of me, hunching over, gazing towards the ground.
But it will be there, lurking.
This tool is used anytime we need to face someone we’re afraid of, do something that may mean being exposed publicly or say, speaking a little louder when making a joke in front of a few people, so Steve doesn’t steal the limelight again.
Anything basically, where we would keep a part of us hidden.
Then, you focus on your Shadow and create a unbreakable bond between the two of you. You ignore the audience, whoever they may be and when you feel like you are so connected with your Shadow that it’s almost like there is only one of you, you turn to the audience and silently proclaim, “Listen!”
When I started using this tool I found it incredibly difficult. I just couldn’t see how focusing on this part of myself that I was deeply ashamed of could be of any use. After all, I’d hidden it for a reason. But, like all these tools I forced myself to use it. To trust the process and to learn to let go of my ego.
When I did, something remarkable happened. Something that Phil and Barry promised would happen. My shadow became something I needed, more than that, it became something I wanted. To reconnect with and get to know and understand, befriend and care for. I didn’t want to be ashamed of my shadow. My shadow was not some abstract construction of my biggest fears or anxiety, but part of my very fabric.
It was me. It was me when I had felt the most vulnerable in my life and it wasn’t evil. It was just hurting.
A Shadowy Faith
Now, as someone who was brought with a deep Christian background as the basis of my upbringing, this was somewhat familiar. The idea of unconditionally accepting a part of me that I didn’t want anyone to know about is what a great deal of Christians strive to experience everyday. So we create support groups and come up with constructs such as accountability. We want to be free from “sin” and shame. We ask someone to call us once a day so we don’t look at porn. Or we ask someone to pray for us but we don’t want to clearly sate, what for.
None of these are at all bad in themselves.
However, as I started to use this tool, I realized that what I had done for a long part of my life was really just pretend to understand the idea that I was unconditionally accepted and loved by a Divine, higher power. All the while, I couldn’t accept myself. To do so, seemed prideful or unChristian.
There is often a disconnect between the ideas we hold in our faith and actually experiencing them in real life. We’re all for accepting someone’s faults and Forgiveness and Grace yet when it comes to ourselves especially, we’re the exception. Often not realizing, that much of this is driven by our shadow. Or rather, our misunderstood relationship with our shadow.
What reuniting with our Shadow truly does, is connect us to our whole being.
When we stop being ashamed of our Shadow things change. Your shadow changes. Your perception of yourself and others shifts. Before certain people were a danger to me because I felt like they could see through me and see the things I was most ashamed of and would therefore judge me or reject me.
But when the Shadow becomes a powerful force within you, you stop needing their acceptance because you’ve already accepted that part of you.
Now this tool can be used for more than just public speaking or speaking up when you need to. This tool can be used anytime that you have the urge or need to express yourself somehow. For me, I use the tool most often when playing soccer or writing.
Tackling Your Shadow.
I remember when I began to play soccer. I was a little behind my friends, who had been playing for a while but when I did begin I really really loved it. Like a lot. Even now, at 34, I like watching soccer but ultimately it just makes me want to go out and play. Back then, my Shadow perhaps wasn’t fully formed so I was able to play soccer without many inhibitions. I was fully able to express myself without any fear. And I was pretty good.
(Side note, even writing that last sentence was the result of connecting with my Shadow)
As you get older though, your world expands and you meet more people and people who are just as good as you, if not better. In life in general you experience times when you are made to feel inferior or weak. These all contribute to forming your Shadow but rather than rejecting those, if we were to truly connect with our shadow we find that our ability to be in the Flow is still right there. Buried perhaps in layers of shame and insecurity. But there nonetheless.
So I find my Shadow before I play soccer now and I connect with him.
For me, my shadow in this case look like me, as a skinny 9 or 10 year old, smaller than the other kids and shivering from nerves. I put my arm around him and I tell him he’s good enough to mix it with these guys. I tell him it doesn’t matter how well or badly he plays. He’s playing and that’s good enough.
I ignore the other team and even my own teammates and allow myself to be one with my Shadow. In the tool, when you get to the place where you feel completely connected with your Shadow you turn to the audience or person you have to face and inwardly and confidently demand that they “Listen!”
When I play soccer this usually become “Pass!” as I demand the ball from a teammate.
This isn’t at all because I think I am the best player on the pitch but rather I realize that I am good player and I have value to give the team and I don’t have to worry about being judged by my teammates or the opposing team.
I’m not ashamed of that part of me that may lose the ball or miss an easy goal because it’s not buried anymore.
Last night we played the best team in our division and I knew it would be a tough game where each of us would have to be at our best. So as I drove to the game, I practiced “Inner Authority” over and over again. Ignoring the other team and my teammates (my audience) in my mind and focusing solely on my shadow (the shivering, nervous, frightened skinny 9 year old me in his awesome slightly too big 1991/1992 Spurs home kit).
The great thing about these tools is that often you’ll find yourself using a couple of tools in conjunction with each other. In this case, I also used Reversal of Desire (which I described previously here) to imagine the shadow version of myself get roughed up by the opposing team (this was my cloud), shouting, “Bring it on” and “I love the pain” and finally “The Pain sets me free” as I saw myself getting through their cloud of players into a bright sunlit final third of the pitch, where I put the ball past their goalkeeper.
One of the key elements of when to use these tools has been to not just use them in the middle of whatever situation you need it for, but beforehand in preparation. There’s a lot going on when you are playing any sport and a lot to be aware of so sometimes it’s not easy to stop and pause for a second to practice the tools.
What you can do though is put yourself in a place where the effects of the tools are working away under the surface and this is why it’s critical to practice the tools before I know I’ll need them. Plus the more I use any of these tools, the more I will be able to quickly and easily use them in the middle of the situation.
Your Shadow as a Conduit for a Higher Power
The reason why this tool is so effective for sport or any creative endeavor is because we’re connecting to a higher power. As kids, we would act silly and weird but at some point we’re told that we’re not supposed to act like that. Maybe it was our family or our peers but eventually we start to bury a part of us that is crucial to all creativity.
We subdue that part that doesn’t care what people think.
This then combines with our life experiences and our Shadow is birthed. So when we finally reconnect with that part of us that has been silenced and hidden for so long, we finally reconnect with a creativity that is bigger than us and all around us.
Some call this God. Some call this Spirit. Some like the Israelites back in the day have no real name for it.
It’s that mysterious.
This was the missing link and the reason why I struggled to connect with my Shadow in the beginning. I was ashamed of it rather than seeing it as something that was essential to being alive.
This work isn’t over and I firmly believe I will be working with my various shadows for the rest of my life, but I know the more I do, the more confident I feel and the more able I am to be fully me.
Oh, and we won 9-3 in case you care.