Friday, March 21, 2014

The Shadow Self

Occasionally, one hears whispers of a practitioner doing shadow work.  What is the Shadow?  What, exactly, is Shadow work?  The Shadow is that part of ourselves that we have hidden away in the darkness.  It is that part of ourselves that we do not like or understand.  It is the personification of all that is negative about our personality.  The Shadow is nearly equivalent to the Ego.  Shadow work is working with the Ego and finding that place where we have locked away the things we don't like about our selves.  It's facing our own demons.  When we personify that part of us which we hate, and look at it, really examine it, we sometimes find out that it isn't the monster, but we are.

My own shadow was chained and stripped of her dignity when I discovered her.  She was living like an animal, half-starved, within the darkest recesses of my own soul.  When I approached, of course, she attacked.  She didn't retreat, so I hadn't broken her.  Thank the gods!  I watched her come at me over and over.  She wasn't interested in listening to me for sure.  She eventually tired and I sat down just out of her reach (because I know me and I know how clever I can be).  "Are you ready to listen?" I asked.

She looked at me and growled.  "You know who I am," I said.  "I have come here to let you go, not chain you farther."

Her expression changed from anger to curiosity.

I looked hard at what I'd done to myself.  I was ashamed.  This piece of me was something I had spent many years trying to force to 'be good.'  This piece of me was untamed.  She sat back as I released her, not saying a word, but not really trusting me, either.  My Shadow contained all of my fears, some healthy, some unhealthy, some outright ridiculous.

For the next several weeks, I had many conversations with her.  In reality, she drove me a bit crazy.  I would spend quiet moments at my job trying to concentrate and she would throw alien emotions at me, images of horrific things, or worse, images of distasteful words and deeds that made her feel powerful and needed, but left me bewildered.  She was challenging me to keep my word that I would not lock her up again.  I spent that time feeling very uncomfortable within my own skin.  Yet, I kept my word.

I became very conscious of my words and, usually, let her have her say (in my mind) before I would respond in earnest to whomever I was talking to.  Occasionally, I would let her scathing wit bubble up and, because it was so out of character for me to say such things, those around me would laugh heartily in surprise.

This, however, is just my experience in working with the Shadow.  I have come to love her very much.  I have been reading things lately that say the Shadow should be destroyed and I completely disagree with that sentiment.  I would never vanquish a part of myself because I find it to be unpalatable.  I would rather discover why I find those things undesirable.  Wicca is a journey of self-discovery, isn't it?  How can I discover anything about myself if I am just destroying the things I don't like?

I see the 'destruction' of the Shadow as the ultimate Ego bait-and-switch.  "I am so learned, wise, etc. that I have destroyed the darkest part of myself, vanquished it forever."  Really?!?  That statement doesn't sound very altruistic to me.  It doesn't sound very learned or wise, either.  The mere suggestion that the Shadow can be destroyed sounds too good to be true.  (Guess what they say about things like that!)

From where I sit, if one believes that the Shadow can be destroyed, then the Shadow has already taken over.  The practitioner has become complacent in his or her learning and believes that no one 'below' them can teach them anything new.  Just the act of seeing people as 'below' or 'less than' is also an act of the Shadow.  (I believe that we all have things to learn from each other, no matter where we are on our paths.)

I have learned a great many things from my Shadow self.  She says, "You have been learning Craft for nearly 15 years! Own that!"  I reply, "You are right, but it has only been nearly 15 years.  That is a mere blip in time for so many more people than me!"  She then replies, "Yes, it is more than some and less than most, but you should still own it.  That is nearly the sum of your adult life!"  So, I own it (mostly, I have just begun to own it and verbalizing it still makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I know so little).

Because I work with my Shadow on a regular basis, I have chosen to recognize that I may have had some experiences others have not.  I choose to recognize that I can bring something to the table in discussions.  In that recognition, I also see that I have to watch my words and deeds.  She is still here and, sometimes, my Shadow doesn't like how things are playing out, so she throws a fit.  She is, after all, still my Shadow.

In the future, I plan on doing a 'Practicals' blog on working with the Shadow, if there is any interest.  It may even become a sub-set in the 'Practicals' series if my beloved readers wish it so.  If you would like to know more about the Shadow or privately discuss some of your own experiences with it, you can always email me using the contact form, or you can message me on Facebook here.

Until then, brightest blessings, Friends!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Practicals: Grounding and Shielding

I have a poll here, and have gotten 2 votes (YAY!!), both requesting to see more practical workings, so I am going to start a series called "The Practicals".  It will be geared more toward the novice to intermediate practitioner as opposed to the newest practitioners of Wicca and the Craft (meaning you should already have some working knowledge of the subject).  The Practicals will discuss briefly what the subject is, why I believe it is important for those who are relatively new (or a good refresher for us all) and then move into ways to work with it in your daily life.

I am going to preface this with a caveat: Try these suggestions as your own risk!  They are suggestions of things that work for me as well as some that haven't!  If you find yourself trying any suggestion and it failing, remove it by doing the opposite of what you did to add it.  Please, please, use common sense! 

Grounding and shielding were two of the very first things I learned as a wee baby pagan.  I was interacting with people on the internet, one after another, chat room and message board, what I heard from Wiccans, Witches, and pagans across the spectrum, "If you can already meditate, then you must learn to ground and shield."  Since that time and coming to work with the wider community, I now understand the need for such basic practices as grounding and shielding.  Not only that, but I understand the need to teach these things.

More than once I have been to a festival or an open circle where people participating in the main ritual didn't know how to ground after the cone of power was raised and released and, for whatever reason, the HPS didn't do a few grounding chants during or after cakes and ale.  The ritual fell into total chaos, of course, because everyone was high on energy and couldn't or didn't want to let it go.  Even worse, I think, is going to a festival where there is trouble in the host group (or groups) and those emotions aren't shielded from the festival goers.  No one wants to go to a festival and feel the tension, pain, or outright hate between two people or groups of people.  Lastly, is the person or group of people at a festival or open gathering who can't or don't want to control their own energy.  (I prefer to believe that it is option one.)  These people end up being a black hole for energy and then whatever may come back out (sometimes it's no energy, other times it's all of it, just distorted) flies about in a chaotic vortex, much like blending a smoothie without the blender lid.  So, what are some options for dealing with these kinds of people or situations?

First, know your own best practices for grounding and shielding.  If you don't know what works best for you, then you can't help anyone else.  So, we will begin here with the definition of grounding and shielding.  Grounding is "releasing excess energy that has built up from ritual or other vigorous activities."  The best example of this was given to me a several years ago.  One is perfectly grounded in those first few moments after orgasm, when you don't want (or can't) to do anything but lie there and breathe.  I have had those moments after a particularly good ritual, but how do we carry those moments with us in every day life?

There are many meditations for grounding.  The most popular being the Tree Meditation.  Visualizing roots into the ground and limbs into the sky and draining away excess energy and replacing it with earth and sky energies.  Not many of us have time in the middle of our day, though, to sit for a few minutes in quiet contemplation.  So, what then?  I have found many more practical (and inconspicuous) methods through the years.  Some work better for me than others.  The first is carrying a worry stone.  It can be anything from a flat river rock to a specific type of tumbled stone (i.e hematite, for many).

Being a stone keeper, I have always been one to have a collection of rocks and stones.  The Stone People have always spoken to me (even before I was pagan and knew about these things).  Stones are, literally, bits of the earth we can carry around in our pockets or on a piece of jewelry. Those bits of earth carry the same grounding properties as the land they were born from.  When one can't 'be a tree', one can always carry a stone in his or her pocket and touch it when needed.

Another practical way to ground, is to touch a tree.  The Tree People are often happy to take excess energy from us if we offer it.  It should be noted here that if it is autumn or winter, the trees are slumbering or approaching it, so offering them an excess of energy during that time could disturb their rest.  Another option is walking barefoot on the grass, or in the winter, having an indoor plant or two that one can take care of.

Some people also benefit from the use of water as a grounding conduit.  What is better than a nice hot bath or shower after a tough day out in the world?  Water works in a couple of different ways to ground.  If you are one to take magical baths or showers, it washes away the ick of the day both literally and energetically.  Being the element of emotions, it can help to bring troubles into balance thus aiding in grounding.

Once your individual best grounding practice has been found, it will be a case of repeating it until it becomes second nature.  I have come to a point in my own practice that I can ground myself by simply pushing the energy through my own feet or crown chakras, but this has taken me a good, long time to get proficient.

Shielding, I have found, is a bit trickier.  Shielding is "energetically blocking unwanted energy or emotions which may effect us."  I find shielding to be trickier because, so often, some part of us wants to be part of the drama we find ourselves surrounded with.  It can't be blocked if we want this drama.  I also find it to be trickier because the setting of intent must be a very specific thing that must also be well thought out (i.e "What could be the consequence of this particular shield?").  With all of that said, everyone does have natural shields that they have developed just by living life and, for some, these suffice for a long time, sometimes for their whole lifetime.

Probably the most well known shielding technique is the drawing down of the white light of the universe.  In essence, one creates a 'bubble' of white light around them charged with a specific intent.  This technique doesn't work so well for me personally.  I find it to be too generic for my particular needs, but it is definitely a good place to start.

I learned shielding in a very different way from most people.  Where most people learn to shield with the white light, I learned to make specific shields with intentions and layer them on top of one another.  This is both good and bad.  It means that my own shields are very specific and may let things through that I may not want because I have not come across that particular energy or emotion yet.  It is also trying on occasion because my intent may be too broad and it blocks out otherwise good energies.  Also, these layers can be difficult to deconstruct if I need to because they have been in place for so long.

An example of a layered shield would be:

Layer one (right against the skin) is the white universal light.  It allows everything in except for the lowest of energetic vibrations.
Layer two (just on top of that) is a finely woven net of a specific color.  This shield allows the finest bits of energy to seep through so that I can feel what is going on around me and choose to let it in or not.
Layer three is a looser woven net of a specific color.  This shield allows more energy to filter through.
Layer four (the outer layer) is a bubble of some specific material (glass, a mirror, a soap bubble with a sheen, etc.).  This shield can be the most or least protective, based upon intent, but also the most tricky.

Imagine, if you will, this particular shield configuration with the outer layer being a mirror.  Mirrors reflect.  If one walks into a hostile environment (like someone at work having it out for you) with a mirror as the outer layer of a shield, things could get sticky very quickly.  If one works with someone who is inherently negative, that mirror shield is going to reflect that negativity back at that person.  What happens when our worst qualities are manifest back at us?  If we are unwilling to acknowledge those qualities, then our own negativity intensifies.  So, imagine what it must be like to be a muggle who doesn't understand energy, how it works, or what is happening when one gets back what they put out.  This kind of shield can be quite shocking and agitating.

Let's, for the sake of argument, say one did not make a mirror for an outer shield, but just a bubble of some fine material, transparent both ways.  The negativity projected could get through to the second shield, the first 'net'.  It was then filtered through to the second 'net' and then on to the white light.  What one might feel is a slight discomfort, that intuitive feeling that something is wrong.

This is, from where I sit, what shielding is supposed to do.  It allows us to set intent for the kind of energies we will and will not allow in our lives.  These shields also will protect us from surrounding ourselves with the wrong kinds of people, in general, depending upon intent.  However, shields can also draw to us those who are psychic vampires (usually these are the types who do not consciously feed on people).  They feel that energy, especially good energy, and they want to get through it, to the energy of the practitioner.

Other ways of shielding that I have found work (sometimes with a little trial and error), are charging a body wash, lotion, or oil with a specific intent and then putting it on or charging a piece of jewelry or clothing.

Some of these things work for some people and some of these things don't. When it comes to grounding and shielding, I have very specific things that I do which work for me.  Sometimes they work for others, sometimes not.  What techniques have you found to shield and ground yourself that might not be found in books or online?  What have you found that simply didn't work?  What worked best for you?

Until next time, Brightest blessings, friends!!