Sunday, June 9, 2013

Shadow Work III: Timing

Part 3 in the Shadow Work series: Timing and Shadow Work.

{Note there is where we're getting into the nitty gritty opinions section, so disclaimer: This is my opinion and my version of shadow work and you are allowed/encouraged to disagree and change this to suit yourself and your needs! Shadow Work is not a monolith, and neither is Paganism}

(Note in this post I am talking mostly about Emergency work/Complex Work, as I have the most experience with that type. The Timing for self work can be entirely different, though much of this applies to both)

You might wonder why I'm dragging out the nuts and bolts decision making process for shadow work, as opposed to methods, and Woo, and the Juicy Parts

Partly it's because many don't think there IS a decision making process that goes into highly emotional work (as if those two things can't coexist), and it's partly because many haven't experimented with, or examined, their limits, and the decision making process involves you looking at, and accepting, those limits and their validity. So--onward, to Timing!

Life is largely a huge game of timing. You can apply for hundreds of jobs, but timing is what often gets you the one. Right place, right time. Sales at the store are limited. Most people plan their families around other events in their lives/their stiaution. Timing is half luck and half planning, if you ask me. It's how you 'randomly felt like going to the grocery store at 8 AM on a Saturday, and you ran your cart into that random person because you were super freaking tired and they ended up being your spouse and what a weird story, right?' Seriously.

Timing is an undercurrent in everything. It's more acceptable to ask someone to date you as a stranger than to marry you. It's more expected to wear shorts in the heat than in negative temperatures. It's more appropriate to say "I'm sorry" than "Congratulations" at a funeral. It requires some situational-reading, y'see, and the same for the Work.

To say this another way, there is a such thing as taking Shadow Work upon yourself at the wrong time, and the wrong place, because you are at your limits emotionally and physically at that time. There is a situation that involves trying to take the Work on to get around the natural emotional grieving process or speed it up, when in reality your needs dictate you need to let that part happen first. There IS an order to this vague thing we call Shadow Work, and it's important to consider not just "when", but "IF" you should do it for yourself at this current time.

Basically, you need to not be at your breaking point to attempt shadow work in a safe environment. It's not meant to force you into a breakdown when you're on the verge of completely losing it. It's meant to help you bury things that are ready to go. In my experience, if you try and speed the grieving process this way or force yourself into a breakdown, the shadow work often "fails" in some way or another. You can't get through it or it doesn't "take". I say this because MANY TIMES I have thought my grieving was over and I was set to process the tail end, and only in the middle of working when I broke down sobbing and clawing my face (in the negative sense--there is a positive release like this too, in terms of reaction) and breaking in half I realized I wasn't actually over it, and I needed to process fresh things first, then try again later.

I have since learned the timing better, and know to wait until my body tells me it's time.

In short, Shadow Work isn't a tourniquet to stop the blood from a fresh wound. It's the cast or the bandage you put on the wound after it's bled itself out and most of it has been stymied. 

We all know everyone processes life altering events differently. For some, the grieving process is a lot longer than others. I know that I take a very very long time to process and get over huge events, and you can thank my earth-sign moon for that, because we have a hard time with drastic and sudden change, him and I.

When I was just starting out I thought I had to do shadow work consistently, like on a monthly basis, but it turns out that was far too soon for what I was working on. I was almost trying to do shadow work while the trauma (in this case abuse) was still happening, so what occured? I would do the work, and walk right the fuck back into the situation I was shadow-working on and revert immediately. It was honestly not a good idea. It took a solid 2 years after getting out of that situation for me to do the PROPER shadow work for it, and bury it/move on.

You don't bury somebody in the process of dying, you wait respectfully for them to take their time to pass, and then you start the rites. In this way you could say shadow work is very linked to death working. You take the time for yourself to heal enough to do basic life functions, and then you can begin to think about the work.

Let me rephrase that--

Directly after a traumatic event, seriously, don't even think about the work. It shouldn't be a priority. Surviving is your priority. Kick and scream and cry and handle the immediate fallout however you, as a human, like to do those things. Don't think about the work for a while. Let the event simmer and stew for a solid few weeks, at least. After the immediate shock period ends, you can test your limits. Shadow Work involves calling up events in gory detail and reliving them, then dealing with that final fallout, but if you're stuck in a period of crying 4 times a day because you can't HELP reliving them already--don't even think about the Work. Shelve it for another few weeks. Do not feel ashamed about doing this: As I said shadow work is a decision. It is your decision when and IF you take it on. You don't have somebody to please here; this is purely for your own well being. Forcing yourself to relive things you can't think about without breaking down completely at the current time isn't shadow work, it's mental torture. (PLEASE don't do that, seriously.)

The ideal time to do Emergency-type shadow work for an event is on average for me a few months to a year after the event. By that time everything is good and simmered for me and most of my depressive anger has gone out of me; rationalizations in their place. At this point I have analyzed and analyzed the situation multiple times, and it has largely exited my consciousness, because I did those mental work-throughs. This is very important. I often say shadow work is successful when you forget that you did it. The ideal time for it is when the trauma just comes back to bite you at random times, but you can handle those times without much emotion or upheaval in your day, and you want some help to handle the last bits of that thing, because you recognize it has no real positive impact anymore on your life. You have to be in a strong enough and safe enough place to survive reliving those events and letting them go, and that takes no small amount of courage and preparedness.

It's not a forgetting process; more of an accepting and cutting one.


This brings me to my final, more practical, point about timing.

Assuming you recognize you have an issue to work on and want to begin the work, I suggest choosing a time when you can be alone in your house or find somewhere you won't be interrupted. If that's when you go to bed because it's all you have, that can work out.

I prefer an empty house in case I get really deep into the work, because it does create almost a trance state or an ecstatic state, and in that state you might thrash or cry or vocalize and not necessary be worrying about someone else coming to ask if you're okay.

Note you can have somebody with you if you prefer, and you trust that person. The thing is, they have to be prepared to see you go into what might look like from the outside a semi-violent fit of emotion, and NOT step in unless asked. The expressive, ugly part that makes us uncomfortable is supremely important, and it's not good to quell it. Part of the shadow work is giving yourself the safe space to ugly cry and claw the carpet and chant profanities and not be composed and perfect and Okay.

Make sure you're in a safe spot, whatever that means to you, and feel free to call deities or guides to aid you. Make it a ritual, if you prefer. Make it something to celebrate, if that works for you. The Work is positive, even if it is difficult and painful, and you have the right to celebrate having the courage to begin.



  1. This is good. And for me, timely. Are you planning on making any more Shadow Work posts?

  2. Beautiful blog!*0*

  3. I have enjoyed this series. Thank you for posting them.

  4. I love your blog. So much of my experiences have mirrored what you write about, thank you for sharing them. You have brought unbelievable encouragement that I'm not the only one lol, thank you so much!