Shadow Work

Friday, I sat myself down and took a good, hard look at my life. In the last year and a half, I have gone from being a strong, capable individual to a shredded, defeated, and mousey creature I hardly recognized when I caught my reflection in the mirror. This idea haunted me throughout the weekend, making me a shut-in instead of going out and working on my novel like I had planned. Instead of doing chores and laundry, I spent hours watching Lost Girl on Netflix and reconnecting with a friend I had not spoken to in nearly two months. Monday, I became so fed up with the realization of the horrible shell I had become that I put my foot down. I would not allow myself to go any further into this depressive rut I had been in for nearly a year (longer, if I’m completely honest with myself, though last December was when shit really hit the fan). No more would I spend hours trying to avoid the tears that always ended up falling, only to hate myself all the more. I was done, I was fed up, and shit was going to change.

Easier said than done. But damnit, I was determined.

Almost two weeks ago, I had a conversation with Satsekhem about the things I had been feeling for the coming winter. I was unhappy that the threads of my life were being tugged in a direction I felt uncomfortable with and that I was getting the impression (signs, visions, what have you) that my notion of “battling winter” was going to take a more serious turn than the poetic descriptions I had initially given it.

A few days before our conversation, I had seen a mirror. A mental image, or vision, had come to me of an oval mirror, silver and with scalloped edges. Large enough to show my entire face, but small enough to fit on the bookcase that currently serves as my altar and shrine space. It would lay there and, when I was working, I would hold it by those scalloped edges, feel them digging into my palms and causing seven kinds of discomfort. The pain, I was informed not so bluntly, was part of the sacrifice.

If you follow my tumblr escapades, you know I hate mirrors. “With a passion” is accurate, but my loathing for mirrors knows little bounds. If I were not so afraid of the possibility of garnering hundreds of years of bad luck (not that I’m unaccustomed to the experience), I would break each mirror that came across my path.

Why am I so afraid of mirrors? Why do I hate them so? There are many reasons. Some mundane, some mystical. They’re portals and portents of evil, in my opinion. I hate that they reflect me and make me face myself each morning. The thought of looking up one day and catching my reflection watching me, knowing the things I know about myself, is terrifying. Also, I dislike the way I look on most occasions; mirrors merely remind me of that discomfort and frustration.

But I was to buy a mirror, and soon. This mirror, with its silver, scalloped edges, frosted like winter waves. The one they sent me a vision of.

I’ve scoured the internet. Gone through hundreds of pages on eBay and Amazon, done numerous google searches. Perused etsy and the Target website. Nothing has shown me the same mirror I am looking for, so I will have to put in the footwork to find it.

What is the mirror for, exactly, though?

Shadow work is something I’ve written about here before, ever since I first looking into what this random phrase was that kept popping up on blogs. In the last few weeks, I’ve been deepening my research into the process, going through the numerous blog posts and guides that friends and fellow bloggers have written up regarding their own shadow work; a full list you’ll find below, after this entry. So what is shadow work?

I am, of course, by no means an expert on this concept. Having only done a few hours of research and some blind fumbling on my own since I first wrote on the term back in March, I cannot be considered having any sort of expertise in this area.

At the bare core, shadow work is dealing with the shadow-self, the archetype as proposed by Carl Jung. It is facing that emotional, primal self, the damaged and “dark” aspect of our personality. Instead of rejecting our negative, we face it and embrace it, learning from it. You face the darkest parts of you and come out changed, better in many cases, instead of letting it fester like an open wound, unattended and rotting.

Shadow Work is not a mystic process. It’s you, with yourself, sitting on the floor and just thinking, feeling, experiencing the past for a moment instead of letting it die. It forces you to give new life and energy to painful, potentially horrible things you would rather never think of again. It’s you, sobbing uncontrollably and rocking on the floor with photos from the past everywhere.

But it’s beautiful. You find that in the aftermath, after you’ve stopped shaking or clawing at the floor, something in you is calm now. You don’t realize the weight you carry until you seek to release it. Somehow it makes it so much easier than it was before to reconcile with the situation. Shadow Work can take a long time, because once you really begin to dig, to focus on one aspect you want to change, you can find strings of events all linked together screaming for you to release them. It can take minutes or hours. The state one ends up in is rather like a trance state; an ecstatic state born of pain and emotion and loss.

Duskenpath, “(LATE) Musings Monday: On Shadow Work

Dusken’s words there are true: shadow work is a long, arduous process. Jung has much the same to say: “Indeed, self-knowledge as a psycho-therapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period.” (Jung 112) It is painstaking, it is difficult, it is harsh, and it will not happen overnight. This is shadow work.

Others have gone through this process, are going through this process. Satsekhem has written numerous entries on her own shadow work experiences; you can find the on-going process of L’s shadow work over at The Rose Bell blog.

This is my battle for the on-coming season, for the winter. The tide of the war merely begins to change now, extending into the cold dark; I will be fighting for months if not years to come. My mental health has been at risk for nearly a year now and, for a time, I thought that I would never recover. It was only as I stood in the bathroom on March 13, crying as I washed my hands for the seventh time in a row, that I lay down the soap and picked up my phone to call for help. That Thursday, I started therapy, the first wave of battle against the desolate darkness that had taken residence in my mind and in my soul. The next day, I called on my gods, begging their strength as I readied myself to rise up off the battlefield that my mind had become, as I readied myself for another pass, another go at the witch-king who had consumed me, overwhelmed me, and demanded my submission.

I took the next step in my recovery yesterday, after finishing my route for the day. Having claimed another victory over my desire to sock my manager in the face, I headed out to the bakery in town to reward myself with a cupcake (and, apparently, a raspberry-lemon bar). Next door to the bakery is a salon and, after eating the pastry and putting the cupcake in my car, I walked into the salon and put my name on the list for a haircut. The lady who called me up asked me what I wanted and I told her we were going short, but not making me bald. When I walked in, my hair was past my shoulders, all curls and waves, the longest it had been in almost ten years. She pulled out a style book and turned to a page, showing me the style there. I nodded, agreed, and told her to leave out the bangs; I had worked hard to grow these damn things out and by the gods, I was not letting that hard work go to waste.

She took me to the back, washed my hair, conditioned it, and then brought me back to her station. I watched her as she opened up her small booklet of tools, selected the razor instead of the scissors, and went to work on my head. At first, it was tense. I had been debating for almost a month whether to cut my hair or grow it out, as I had when I was a kid. But as each lock fell and my head grew more and more lighter, I felt myself relax. When it was all done, she handed me a mirror and showed me the side and back of my head. I touched my shorn locks and smiled. It was better than I’d hoped and I felt lighter and happier than I had in months. I paid and took a photo of the still damp hair, sharing it with friends and family alike. And though the response was roundly negative (at least at first), I didn’t care. I felt happy and confident like I had not in months.

Step one: complete.

There is still lots to do. Mystical work to do, like the altar building, and mundane things as well, like my haircut. I have a list forming and rites to work on. Persephone will require offerings and work; after all, this is why I believe she is here, why she demanded my attentions. But it is not just her that I will be working with; the Stag Queen is who, I believe, sent me the visions of the mirror. This is a new aspect to her that I will be working with, but if my previous encounters will her prove true, not entirely unexpected.

The coming winter will be battles and war. I will return to the Pit, that swirling vortex of water deep underground with its numerous passages and alcoves of monsters that require defeating. It will require Work, real work, but such is the nature of the shadow.

Shadow Work demands you push yourself to the limit and over it, and that’s when the break and release happens. When you think you can’t take anymore of the memories or else you’ll start screaming, you do, and then the self breaks wide open and we become reborn as something better than we were.

Duskenpath, “(LATE) Musings Monday: On Shadow Work

Shadow Work Reading List

i. Guides

ii. Personal Accounts

iii. Jung

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