Tonight, my husband Joe and I are hosting and facilitating Shadow Work ® for two friends whose marriage is in trouble. If I were to write a love letter to Shadow Work how would I write it. Where would my life be without it?
I grew up, like so many of us children of the post war era with parents who were pretty abysmal in dealing with emotions. My Dad passionate by constitution, a World War II vet and child of immigrants who didn’t talk much about either, had one emotional speed. Terrified, mourning, exhausted or angry all sent him into a violent rage. Fueled by a touch of alcohol the mix was explosive and left a wake of carnage. My Mom, on the other end of the spectrum was raised by polished Ivy League New Englanders, what I call with the oxy-moron intentional, Yankee Jews. There was decorum in her household, stoicism. Love and affection were expressed yes, but there was little room for and no condoning of “negative” emotions: mad, sad or scared you buried.
A pretty toxic combination these two, when the raging alcoholic was married to who later proved to be a clinical depressive. Where was the grief, rage and fear to live? Only in shadow.
Enter the sensitive, intuitive, and warrior by nature, 4th child. I watched the rage of my father and reacted with disrespect. Experienced the depression of my mother and developed disdain. Judgments galore that helped me survive as a teen, but never touched the deep well of feeling that was brewing below.
Until I met ShadowWork at the age of 32. I had career, friends, community, and joy in my life. But deep loving relationship had eluded me. I had never really let one into my protected heart. I’d had my own dark depressions by then and never really dealt with the underlying dynamics. I had softened in my judgments of my parents, but still felt guarded around them. If our original blessing is to live with a full 360 degree access to emotions, you might say I was living at about half of that. There was a lot missing.
I’d been intrigued by Jung’s concept of the Shadow in graduate school. (True I hadn’t tapped my own shadows, but I sensed there was something there.) When my colleague Bill Isaacs invited several of us to a Shadow Work workshop in that Spring of ’93, I asked what to expect. Bill a reserved Ivy leaguer and Oxford alum said, “healing I suspect.”
The understatement of the decade.
In that first Shadow Work session, I not only met some of my most well protected core shadows, I also met my soul-mate, future husband and father of my kids. Life transformation is what happened and two plus decades and hundreds of Shadow Work sessions — on the giving and receiving end — since, I’m still reaping the benefits.
I “stepped into” the role of my raging father and was blown open by how much rage was there intro-jected in me. Tapping that energy I found a Niagara waterfall of power. Freeing and ecstatically joyful at the same time. It also allowed me to shed some of my fear and judgments of my Dad. Opened me just enough to trust men as a species, to allow Joe in to my heart. And the rest – his move East and conversion to renewal Judaism, our building of home and community, our marriage and parenting of Sam and Maya, our holding each other through the death of our parents, my mental illness, his cancer. Our building of the business together and the client Sustainability community and authoring of a couple of books. As I write the list, it’s pretty astounding. And all resting on the foundation of doing our Shadow Work. Uncovering and owning dysfunctional patterns. Choosing the discipline of clean communications (not the shame-blame kind). Despite making 1000s of mistakes, choosing to come back to emotional expression, choosing to stay in relationship.
Much of it a gift of the Shadow Work skill set. Recognizing, naming, owning, and expressing what Joe calls the “Primary colors of emotion: mad, sad, glad, scared. Seeking to own and transform dysfunctional judgments of the other. Knowing that if “you spot it, you got it.” Choosing to parent from that place. And more . . . .
As we enter tonight in service of friends whose marriage, no exaggeration is in crisis, bringing our collective 46 years of practice and facilitation of thousands of people through the process, I remain in awe of its power to heal. Also in gratitude for our dance with the Mystery. How Forces of good always seem to show up in the right moment. How the outcome is always about love and heart opening, forgiveness and compassion. The irony of it: we have to go through the most painful of human emotions to get to the essence of what is best about being human. It will not be a panacea. It is not a silver bullet. If they are to stay together they will still have a ton of “work” in healing the pain of how they have hurt each other, in recognizing how each of them contributes to dysfunctional dynamics, in owning their part in that. But that work will now be in the context of softer, more open, loving hearts.
With my first writing teacher of blessed memory, Margaret Metzger in my ear, I am sorry to say that the writing above is tell not show. The only way to show you is for you to come to a Shadow Work circle. The experience – at the risk of being cliché – is beyond words.
Why do I keep coming back to the work, keep offering it to the community? Selfishly, it is a continual healing practice for me. Keeps me in the realm of the open-hearted and compassionate. Beyond that, I want to share the gift of healing with anyone else in pain. Which leaves only about 99% of us. With the intention to offer a salve to heal that pain. I am well trained in the work and – by others feedback – have grown masterful in its practice over the years. I offer this back with gratitude for the mystery and the magic of it. It simply works.
For our friends tonight, I hope and pray for them to move through the heartbreak they are now in, to come to some clarity and resolution. If to stay in their current marriage. Amen, may it be with more kindness, compassion and consciousness. If to leave the marriage, may it still have all of the above.
May we all learn a bit more about how to bring the Shadow work practice to the healing of couples in crisis. And may Joe and I, grow closer in the process of offering this loving safe space to our friends. With a dozen beloveds coming, there will no doubt be other benefits for our broader community that we can’t yet see. What will happen? “Healing I suspect.” And this part makes my heart smile with anticipation: now knowing what will occur, but knowing that whatever that is it will be magical and full of love. What better place to live than this, right here, right now?