Review: ‘Owning your Own Shadow’ – Robert Johnson

I just finished the book “Owning your own shadow” by Robert A. Johnson. This should be mandatory reading for anyone wanting to learn about how to transcend their own habits and limiting beliefs and how to bring more psychic energy into their lives.

The book begins with a section on shadows that explains the role of the shadow in our psyche. In order to keep it brief: “The shadow is the unconscious part of our psyche”. The shadow is the part of our psyche that we hide from society in order to function as a cultured citizen.

In practice however we hide aspects of ourselves; desires, thoughts, feelings. We do this because we feel that these are what we ‘shouldn’t’ feel, and so we deny their existence to ourselves.
There are many reasons that this might occur in an individuals psyche. However common ones are: religious programming, traumatic experience(s), societal programming, the stories that we tell ourself according to what we perceive to be right and wrong.

When we deny a part of our psyche, it does not simply ‘go away’ The energy is merely expressed unconsciously in our lives. ‘Feelings buried alive, stay alive’ -Karol K Truman This may be in the form of an addiction, or in the form of an injury or a depression, or in the form of behaviour that we would look back on and be confused about (“That doesn’t sound like me, why did I do that”), like lashing out at a loved one, or criticising someone that you admire for something that seems important at the time, but in retrospect is merely petty and not of significant importance in perspective.

The shadow hidden is almost always projected. This may be projected onto a seeming ‘enemy’ (“I fucking hate how aggressive he is, it makes me want to punch him”) or onto a group (racism and xenophobia being examples of this).
However the shadow doesn’t only contain the darker aspects of our psyche but also very often the lighter aspects. Parts of ourselves that for whatever reason we have been unable, or unwilling to own and live out ourselves. We project these parts onto other people as idolisations (“I wish I was like him”), and hero’s.
Unless the people are dealing well with their own shadows, they will likely be unable to refuse the projection, and will take on this psychic energy and try to live up to this idolisation. 

Another version of light shadow projection is projecting all of our light aspects onto another as the act of falling in love with someone. They become our the sole source of our creativity and our muse, our inspiration for being alive and the source of all our love and joy. This is obviously unsustainable, and Johnson goes onto explain that human interactions are an inappropriate container for such an energy.

A more appropriate container

A great insight that I gleaned from this book is that the unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between a symbolic act and a real act. Therefore the energy shift that takes place is very real indeed in ones own psyche.

One could transfer this energy by giving it back to it’s source.
Grounding this energy by allowing it – through a ritual practice – to pass through you and back the source from which it came (which is greater than ones self, but yet to which one is also intimately part of and connected too) allows one to stay in touch with this energy consciously, giving thanks to it and acknowledging it’s beauty or power, whilst simultaneously letting go of it and acknowledging that it cannot be controlled, merely directed.
Practices that are great for shadow work are:

  • Art Therapy
  • Bioenergetics
  • Osho’s Dynamic Meditations
  • Punching a boxing bag expressively
  • Expressive Dancing

Any many others. The main point to remember when crafting your shadow work ritual is to remember that you are giving expressive power to the feelings, needs, and desires that naturally rise up in you that you would not be able to do regularly in your daily life.
Therefore it’s wise while practicing to allow what naturally arises in you to find expression through this ritual without denying parts of yourself that you would normally shy away from.
If you are a builder some effective shadow work project might be to do some Art Therapy. If you are an artist, some effective shadow work might be to do some Bioenergetic. In this way you are keeping psychic balance and expressing all of the parts of yourself, thus allowing you to be in full ownership of the whole you!

In this post I’m merely sharing my own experiences with Shadow work and with this book, so hopefully you’ll take something from this, but don’t take it as gospel, try it yourself if you will.

Also: Great book, definitely worth a read for basically anyone!

 


-Ben

Shadow

A man follows me around
a childlike shadow
that echoes through the school hall
and to caramel fridays

I kept it with me
Tried to put it down but it
stuck to my skin
I couldn’t bring myself to brush it off

It festers in my throat
Speaks for me when I am weary
Does things that I wouldn’t do-
-The scowls
Like Alice in Wonderland
when I followed the giant Rabbit

He had a pocket watch
I saw it in plain sight

There was nowhere to go
I saw it in his eyes

 


-Ben

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Image by Sabian Symbols

The Fray

Days and hours,
A week,
Maybe a month
I lurk in the shadows.

Look
Find facilitation,
Take feeling,
Still it never has enough of the good stuff.
Drinking beginning fluids
Still never quenching
The depths in my bones
Only a brown fog of
Something
Somewhere…

Greed…
I see greed
Pouring out of me
Through need
And want to feed
On power
On feeling
On what?
You’ve got high’s and lows inside of you
You’re full of it
Makes me queasy

So day in and day out
Burns out
It becomes a chore and my muscles become sore
Bored
Tired
Burned out
I’m inspired up to my neck
And I can’t breath anymore

Songs in my head…
Loud silence.
A vessel of violence
Touting peace.

Resuscitate my childhood…

I wait
Let my stomach empty
And detail come to me
My ears hear the brustles of the brush
The crunch of feet on the stones
I slow,
Indulge in self
Until the fray fades
Into nothing

And the tug of war’s ending
Flowing out like a sea
And a turtle carries me
Now life’s clear,
I just need to be

Laughing, Learning,
Riding the wind
Observing yearning,
No swallows,
A sentiments ending’s
Never hollow

Just following the beat
Of the feet of a heart
First
I had stop
For it to start

The Fray…

It nearly tore me apart.

 


-Ben

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Photograph by mali maeder