Three Kinds of Shadow

Three Kinds of Shadow

Shadow by Shikeroku
Shadow by Shikeroku

I talk about shadow in various ways. Shadow is essentially unresolved experiences that sit in our physiology (physical, emotional, mental, etc.) and distort our current experiences.

It has a hiding quality, making it hard to recognize at first. It’s related to unresolved karma.

Recently, I heard a talk by Kimberly Lafferty, hosted by the ASI, where she discussed 3 kinds of shadow. I have no expertise in the specific model, but I thought the points were worth sharing from my perspective. The main point is that different kinds require different approaches to heal. I’ve discussed these in various articles, but this is a different framing.

The three kinds are:
– Projection
– Introjection
– Split Ego States

We might say emotional, mental, and ego-based.

In Projection, those unresolved experiences cause reactivity. But because we don’t recognize the source, we project or blame others. For example, we repeatedly blame our partner for problems and leave them. Yet we find the same issues with the next partner, and the next. What is the common factor?

Not to blame here, just recognize. We can project anything repressed, but that just hides the actual cause. Don’t try “letting it go” as that’s just a subtle denial. If instead we tap into how we’re feeling, we can settle into the charge that’s driving the reactivity. As it’s an unresolved experience, it just has to be experienced to complete. Often, that just takes seconds. We experience a brief wave of emotion and it’s done. This is the standard style of healing through allowing experience.

Within this kind are also 2 sub-types:
Golden shadows are a “positive” hiding. For example, we often project admiration onto others what is unacknowledged in ourselves. Think extremes, like being a fan-girl/boy.

We also have the darker, negative version, when we judge others most harshly for what is unresolved in ourselves.

In Introjection, we project back on ourselves. This develops in the first couple of years of life, where we’re an open sponge with those around us. All the feedback we get, we take as gospel. We can energetically adopt ancestral patterns, too.

We recognize this by the stories we tell ourselves and others. “I’m not good enough.” “I’m bad at X.” These are what I’ve called the stories or internal narratives that play like loops according to circumstances. We can also say ingrained beliefs or samskaras. They’re often very self-limiting. They’re not based on logic, so you can’t reason with them.

As we make progress on the spiritual path, we become more conscious of these narrative recordings. When they’re really seen, it can be surprising how lame, foolish, or ridiculous they are. Witnessing really helps here. Seen clearly, they’re known to be false and fall away. We let go of our belief in them.

Finally, Split Ego States. The ego has roles or personas or archetypes it uses for various scenarios. However, these roles are often in conflict.

Classically, we have the angel and devil whispering in each ear. But there are many areas for conflict, like our child vs adult needs, or warrior vs peacekeeper, and so forth.

We recognize this by the conflicting narratives running within, making choices hard. Here we heal by being in conversation, allowing each voice to be heard so they can be disentangled and seen clearly. Not by engaging them or believing them, just seeing them. Often, work on the prior kinds of shadow clears conflict on this level. She mentioned Family Systems Therapy as helpful here.

I’ve also seen the ego using conflict to distract us from seeing clearly and to keep us in its own delusion of control.

At first, our healing can seem endless. Life circumstances keep bringing additional issues to the surface, and we don’t seem to make much progress. But in time, and with a good effortless meditation, we get better at allowing. Our backlog is cleared, and a new quality of life emerges. Inner peace becomes a living reality.

Update: Here’s the talk on Youtube, if you’d like more detail.

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  1. Those who have been studying modern advaita (non-duality) might suggest this attention to the relative is pointless. We should solely focus on the transcendent absolute. However, this is actually a dualistic perspective. In true non-duality, absolute and relative are known as one wholeness. It is radically inclusive.

    Also, enlightenment isn’t just about waking up or having those higher shifts. It’s about moving that inner shift forward into all the layers of experience. It’s about embodiment. To do that, we have to clear the shadows so the light of truth can penetrate our whole being.

    This is not to suggest we should obsess over cleaning house. Only that we learn to handle what is arising so we experience more fully.

    1. Olli

      Would you say that this whole thing about embodiment and true non-duality and fullness is a more recent understanding of spirituality? I guess it’s been around always in some form?
      Relatively speaking, I’m still a bit of a newbie in spirituality. 10 years ago when I started learning about the teachings, it was all pretty much in the neo-advaita style or something in that vein. I don’t remember anyone specifically talking about how important it is to also bring the realizations into the body. Maybe it just wasn’t a popular idea then..
      And even some teachings which did point out the importance of the body, talked about it in terms of having the nervous system and the nadis purified so that shakti can move more freely. It didn’t quite feel as “human” as this more recent talk of embodiment which I’m seeing. I think it’s really important and no surprise.. I’ve been getting loads of help from Malika with my own embodiment. I was really out there floating anywhere else than my body and the difference is a big one. Feeling really grounded and “here” now.

      Also really looking forward to hearing the talk from you and Malika!


      1. Hi Olli
        No, it’s not at all recent. However, the understanding was muted for a time in an overly-simplified view of awakening. Wake up and be perfect. However, as more and more people have made the shifts, a greater reality has moved into the narrative. Talk of embodiment became much more prevalent at SAND a few years ago, for example. And about healing. It’s no longer just theoretical.

        Similarly, talk of stages of awakening was dismissed until around 2015. More and more people stepped into higher stages…

        Yes, getting grounded is a big one for some. It’s easy to float off in the astral and not integrate or function all that well in the world.

  2. Sharon

    Hi D, whenever I see a tri part system, I correlate it with vata/pitta/kapha and on the psychological level with fear, anger, sadness. Or in terms of pragyaparadh or limiting beliefs: limiting belief about ourselves leads to the fear emotions; limiting belief about others leads to anger emotions; limiting beliefs about us from others leads to the sadness emotions. The goal is to move up the scale of emotions: from delusion in the state of tamas to delusion in the state of rajo to delusion in the state of sattwa and then to transcend beyond that.

    1. Hi Sharon
      I can see that as a useful model. However, it does over-simplify a bit as , for example, there are more than 3 emotions. Or limiting beliefs are often structured by others feedback. How we respond to that emotionally can vary.

      1. Sharon

        For healing purposes the model focuses on negative emotions. And I do simplify into fear/terror, anger/rage, sadness/despair as it helps people identify what they’re feeling in a stressful moment. The kapha emotions tend to have a heavy/halted energetic feeling. The vata emotions tend to have a speedy/scattered energetic feeling. And the pitta emotions tend to have a fiery/frictiony energetic feeling, e.g. impatience, frustration.

        1. Good point, Sharon. It can be useful to simplify, especially if people have not learned to notice how they feel. And yes, those categories are quite valid. Some other emotions like shame or grief can be related back to them.

          Our energy structures are pretty complex and entangled with others by karma, soul group, etc. So a simpler view is helpful. My analytical nature tends to the detail and complexity more. (laughs)

          1. Sharon

            I would theorize that introjection is associated with kapha emotions such as sadness, grief, despair; projection associated with pitta emotions (anger and blame always arrive together!); and split ego associated with vata emotions such as fear, anxiety. Recently I’m exploring the idea that all limiting beliefs, even those we have about others, or those that others have about us, are ultimately limiting beliefs about ourself. Reminds me that Maharishi once said that fear is the last negative emotion.

            1. Hi Sharon
              Yes, I’d add shame to the kapha group.
              And yes, limiting beliefs are just that, whoever they’re about. It is a natural mechanism so we can make sense of the world. But when we get attached to them, we don’t shed the limits and become increasingly constrained.

              Psychology studies stages of development and most people stall out part way along due to these held limits and unresolved experiences.

              1. Sharon

                There’s a gem of an audio tape in which Maharishi explains that the fundamental problems of life listed in chapter two of the Gita can be generated by combining the three gunas with the five mahabhutas [elements]. He begins to list them: a sattvic problem in prittivi, a sattvic problem in jala, a sattvic problem in tejas, etc. That gives 15. If we then add delusion in tamas, delusion in rajas, delusion in sattwa, now we have 18 fundamental problems correlated to 18 chapters of Gita. So it’s more complex but can also be simplified.

                1. Have you tried correlating the chapters with the combos? I would imagine the sattvic ones are further in or it maybe the heavier elements first.

                  Each chapter has a yoga theme, yet at the same time, Arjuna is evolving through the stages during the discussion. It’s not obvious to me how they correlate to the stages though.

              2. Sharon

                Yes, I’ve correlated all the categories with negative emotions. For example, shame, guilt embarrassment I have as a tamasic problem in tejas. I have the delusions associated with the worst: delusion in tamas with despair; delusion in rajas with rage; delusion in sattwa with terror. Those are chapters 16, 17 and 18. BTW, your last message did not have a little reply icon in the upper right corner. So I went to your previous post.

  3. Michael

    Hi David!

    So i write a comment! lol 😀

    First, i really like that you emphasize that resolution is part of the process. …really ancient traditions all emphasize that the highest stages is complete resolution of karma not just waking up. Waking up and not facing our humanness is a relativly new form of “spirituality” and usually comes from fear of meeting trauma.

    I also enjoy your personal experience with that theme. 🙂

    I find this model not so useful having worked in the last several years in somatic work with very awake people (pure divinity). Because just becoming aware of the emotional charge is for most stuff the way to bring it to resolution. …whatever the origin is.

    The lines in this model are so blurry …. for ex. i can project a part of me onto others that i got from introjection. (projection being more a mode of unconscious ‘dong’)

    I find the following describtion better (from personal experience in this field with myself, others unawake and awake):
    The stories that are deficiency stories (when we project we tell ourselves stories about the others) are just the tip of the iceberg. Below is a charge that drives them (no charge and they have no effect). But below the charge or within the charge is the trauma (exiled part of the psyche). That part needed to be exiled to handle a situation when we were children. Bringing reolution to these parts does not happen within seconds…there is a ‘being with them’ that is needed as they discharge and slowly re integrate. (this is of course quicker for awake people and with a certain skill set in this kind of work but it takes time for all levels of awaking)
    It is bringing these exiled parts back that results in huge internal shifts and often heals mental and physical conditions.

    These exiled parts are deeply repressed. Meaning the are not there for our conscious awareness….we may hear the deficiency story but thats it…later we feel the charge below the story…. and with some skill and knowing these exiled parts can slowly return. Just deep allowing is not enough to bring them to surface…they are too deeply hidden and locked within. They need somatic inquiry or energy healing to bring them out of repression. Because our nervous system equates feeling them with death etc.

    Whole feelings can be exiled (for example anger…so we never or rarly feel it…but we also lack in our own power) or it can be complete parts (as mentioned above).

    So enough of my ramblings …but felt joy to share 🙂

    much love

    1. Hi Michael
      You make some great points I emphasize elsewhere. This particular article was about the model I gleaned from the talk. I could have gone much further on the theme.

      Fully agree about embodiment. Not just fear of meeting trauma but obliviousness. When transcendence is used as an escape from how we feel, emotions remain suppressed and unconscious. I’ve been surprised how many spiritual people don’t know how they feel. And don’t realize how much power is in there, as you mention.

      Some stuff is just a charge and that can be cleared in seconds. But yes, there are the big ones that often have multiple charges around them, and various stories. It can be useful to have the support of a skilled healer for those.

      And agree, waking helps so much as we’re not identified with the contents and we’re able to just allow. But even there, the shadow quality makes it harder for us to see. A healer doesn’t have that limitation, unless they’re part of the construct too. (soul group, karmic connection, etc)

      Interesting – thanks for sharing. I’ve found some stuff I’ve been able to following the feeling and move into energetically. Being visual, i can see it and apply various techniques. But this is quite informal. More recently, I’ve been working regularly with an energy healer. That has cleared some collective whoppers I’d not yet seen myself. Amazing how much stuff we can store in infinite space. (laughs)

      Thanks for sharing and bringing balance to the article.

  4. Peter

    “When they’re really seen, it can be surprising how lame, foolish, or ridiculous they are.”

    This is part of what makes it difficult to look at them, and admit they are there 🙂 that they have been running the show in such foolish ways…

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