This is a look back on a retreat in March of 2019 on the Big Island of Hawaii as a way to process at least a bit of what happened there. I took a dive into my shadow side, the aspects of myself which have caused me discomfort. Here in this post, through photos from the retreat by Merakii Photography and words by me, I go further to talk on what shadow work means to me and how I intend to use it to increase my self-awareness.
From March 20th to March 24th I took part in a women’s retreat on the Hamakua coast on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The experience of a retreat like this one is something which everyone should try at least once in their lives. To lead a fulfilling life there must be some aspect of self-exploration and retreats give people the perfect opportunity to get to know thyself.
A brief background: I am part of a year-long program with Kristen Rud of the Mermaid Movement currently based in Temecula, California. Kristen is a powerful mentor and retreat leader who helps women facilitate massive change in their lives. The spiritual growth I have experienced while working with Kristen over the last three years has allowed me to both identify and pursue my passions. The Divine Dive is the program which began in September 2018 and it includes myself in addition to 12 other women, including Kristen. So far we have been on two retreats together, we have also completed numerous workshops and lessons to dive deeper into who we are as women and healers.
This retreat to Hawaii with the Divine Dive was the second of three total retreats with the group for the year. The first retreat was in Joshua Tree, California in January. Hawaii was different from Joshua Tree…
Hawaii prompted me to go further inward, to understand myself on a larger scale by zooming into my deepest darkness.
I was given the opportunity to go deeper into myself as we planted trees, spent time with animals, and were allowed a time of silent exploration of the land at the retreat center we called home for the week. These experiences will stay with me because in each moment I had a chance to listen to myself a little more, to hear the inner voice within me without judgment or expectation of what was done or said. I was able to observe my thoughts at great length and it was this which gave me the mental power to approach my shadow.
In Hawaii, the exercise was for each of us to spend time with our shadows. This topic in particular became a very important conversation starter. The shadow aspect of ourselves is the combination of characteristics, experiences, or values which we choose not to express in daily life. These are not necessarily “bad” or “negative” aspects, they are simply a persona we decide not to embody on a regular basis.
Yes, for several people their shadows can be selfish, jealous, or morose - but these characteristics are not necessarily bad. The concept of “good” and “bad,” or “negative” and “positive” comes into play when talking about shadow work. One gets an opportunity to redefine what these words mean in the context of personality. By no means should we shame ourselves for being who we truly are. That said, it is important to identify when or why these aspects of our true selves have the ability to cause harm or toxicity either in our lives or in the lives of those surrounding us.
It can be very difficult to approach our shadows.
For many, myself included, our shadows scare us because it may have been used in a toxic way at one point. This concept of a shadow aspect of myself arose while in Joshua Tree. It interests me because I have long struggled with the characteristics of myself which I am not keen to admit I have. This inner struggle manifested itself as diagnosed depression, anxiety, and an autoimmune disorder. Thankfully, by means of hard work and stable support, I was able to get myself well on the path of healing through years of self-discovery (which is an on-going process), learning how to use the Earth to care for my body, and wholly tapping into my physical, mental, and spiritual self.
My healing journey now involves identifying the characteristics I possess which have caused myself and others pain. In other words, I am being confronted with those subconscious biases, judgments, and thoughts which have the ability to make me a bully. I have allowed my own self to taint the way I treat others without even really knowing it.
That means, part of my shadow does need to be illuminated to be dispelled or redefined.
This is one of the amazing things about a healthy human brain, we all have the ability to identify things within our personalities which we do not want to embody. Once it is identified, we have capable cognition to redefine, rework, and change the wiring of our minds. Although not an easy thing to do for many people, it is achievable by a large portion of the population.
To start identifying our shadows there is one thing which must be understood: My shadow is many things. What is even more, my shadow is ME. While speaking about our shadows, we must all understand these are characteristics which live within us, they are not separate from us. This shadow has the ability to complement or contradict who we choose to be on a daily basis. There are ways to use the duality of our personas to balance the productive aspects of both our shadows and our light.
An article provided at the retreat by Joseph Panek brings up another important sub-note to shadows: there exists an equal light within all of us. This light is what illuminates the self we show to the world while also giving our shadow more room to spread.
While on the retreat, I had moments to think about this duality of my shadow and my light from a healthy place. I had already identified in Joshua Tree that my shadow terrified me, I did not know exactly what it consisted of and I was afraid to go further. So in the time between Joshua Tree and Hawaii, I made it a point to meditate on what and who my shadow is. I was patient with myself and understanding to be able to point out at least a few things which live in my shadow. Then in Hawaii, I learned to look deeper within myself and identified at least that:
1. My shadow is afraid of my power to manifest and create, so my shadow stops me from doing this.
2. My shadow is hot, her skin is covered in sweat, she feels full of fire.
3. My shadow is angry, fuming, steaming.
4. My shadow is writhing, sultry, craving, hungry.
5. My shadow is forcing, grinding, pushing.
6. My shadow is powerful but in a way which is rejuvenating in that it burns to rebuild, not to create from nothing.
7. My shadow is bold and raw without a filter or refinement.
After identifying these things while on retreat, I noticed I should not be afraid of who my shadow is. My shadow is me when I am not balanced or when I am fighting for something. My shadow is visceral and lives within my body at all times which means she can be appeased in some way. I had a thought before the retreat, I could use my shadow in a balanced way, I could use the duality aspect to balance the darkness and light within me. I must meditate on this further in order to truly understand how to do this, but I am happy to have at the least pinpointed where I can incorporate the productive aspects of my shadow.
In reflecting, I could now also see where my shadow has led me to false and dangerous judgments or biases.
These are judgments which I have a very tough time articulating because I am not quite sure what they are. Yet, in being unable to define them holds me back at this point. I know there is a lot more inner work to do on my shadow in order to break through the barriers I have built for myself. These are barriers which keep me from moving onto whatever the next steps are in my journey.
Thankfully, I have many more opportunities to be in a safe space to do the self-work I need. The retreat in Hawaii gave me the comfort I needed amongst friends and in a beautiful space to delve deeper into the parts of me which have triggered mental illness in the past. That being said, I also know when to seek the help of a professional counselor or therapist and I have been on the search for a great certified therapist to take me even deeper. Having battled depression and anxiety before, I know when my symptoms return and I will not be afraid to admit this deeply personal work has the ability to bring up trauma or unresolved pain. I suggest if you ever have a chance to do this self-work that you please consider working with a professional therapist in some capacity to help you work through the tougher psychological happenings.
Inner work is not easy…
But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I think the inner work is absolutely necessary if you want to lead a productive and fulfilling life. Knowing yourself gives you the ability to know what makes you feel good and what makes you feel sick or sad. It gives you an opportunity to experience life in a way which is more complete, intentional, and whole. That is why I do this work, so that I may identify why it is I want to add something to this society and feel like I have made a difference.
That is my dharma, knowing myself and loving myself in order to bring knowledge, healing, and love to others.
I am curious to know what you think of shadow work. Is it something you have done before? Do you have questions on it or how to begin the process? Let me know in the comments below!
As always, thank you for being here to witness my processing. By no means am I trying to preach anything to the readers of this blog, but I am trying to at least illuminate things I have found to be not normally addressed. So hopefully I have accomplished something by starting a dialogue.
Much love & light,
P.S. Here’s a quote for you which comes from a calendar currently sitting on my desk. I find this quote pertains to the self-awareness I speak about in this post. Perhaps it will touch a note for some as it did for me.
“It is our mind, and our mind alone, which binds or liberates us.” - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
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All photos from the retreat are by the amazing Merakii Photography, see her Instagram here: