How Your Shadow Can Set You Free | Omega

The late Debbie Ford was a pioneering force in incorporating shadow work into modern spiritual practices right up until her death in 2013. In this interview she explains how facing and embracing your shadow can open up new pathways for your life. 

Omega: Your career has focused on helping people understand their shadows, and you’ve written that we can’t have the full experience of the light without knowing the dark. Why do you think the shadow is the gatekeeper to true freedom?

Debbie: Because the shadow holds the truth of all the authentic parts of being a human being—our vulnerability, our discontent, our unhappiness, our jealously, or some experience from the past that we haven’t digested.

You can’t be fully yourself if you have things that are hiding. The only way to invite them out of the shadow is to bring the light to them, and the light is a new perspective in which we see that everything that’s happening to us is happening to help us develop our souls. When we take these things out of the shadow, we’re free—free to be who we are most authentically, free to ask for what we need, free to find our joy and bliss, and to share our gifts.

Most people make choices every single day that are a reaction to the shadow, to something that they don’t want to be. Let’s say you don’t want to be lazy and selfish, and so you’ve become a very busy people-pleaser. You think you’re doing it so that you can be a good person; but really, you’re doing it because you don’t want to be a bad person, and you’ve deemed being lazy and selfish as bad.

Meanwhile, the gift of being lazy might be that it’s going to save you from a heart attack, because you’re going to take a nap every afternoon. The gift of being selfish may be that because you put yourself first, you have time for everybody around you; because your deep needs are being met, you can give freely to others.

Omega: What is the first step in recognizing your shadow?

Debbie: The first step is seeing what you don’t want to be, who you don’t like, and the qualities they have, not their behaviors, but the qualities inside of them that you don’t like. You can start with your family, because, of course, we can always see it in our brothers, sisters, parents, or children the qualities that upset us.

For example, my son was a procrastinator when he lived at home. It would upset me, and I would get on him about it. But the truth is, I’m a procrastinator. I have an important new project right now, but I’ll do anything not to start.

So, really, I’m trying to change it in him but it’s because I need to look at it in myself; I need to take that out of the shadow and bring light to it. I may think of all the pain procrastinating has caused me but I also look for the gift in it; which, for me, means that in the moment of procrastinating, I am feeling and thinking that not everything needs to be done right now and I can just be present for a moment. That’s a gift.

But the dark side of it is if I don’t handle it, then I’m in pain. And so if we understand that everything has a dark and a light and we’re willing to bring out the light of it, then that shadow gets healed; and that’s how we begin the process of dealing with our shadows.

Omega: Based on your own experience and your years of teaching, would you say that we’re ever really done with shadow work?

Debbie: You know, every time we grow and evolve, we find new versions of our shadows. So are we ever done? I don’t think so. But I think that once you understand shadow work, it’s actually not something you want to be done with, because every time you embrace a shadow, you open up a new pathway for your life.

Ultimately, all of the work is about learning to love one’s self, and one’s flaws, and one’s shortcomings, and one’s past; and when we accept that we can do that, that it is possible—that that is our spiritual journey here on earth—then we have a foundation for setting ourselves up to living a life beyond our wildest dreams.

© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

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