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!