Something happened to you and you became numb. You stopped feeling. You took your pain inward and banished it to the depths of your mind. You did this as a means of protection. You thought it was an act of self-love, not allowing yourself to feel the hurt.You suppressed the trauma and the hurt became dominant.
But let me tell you this: exiling your trauma to the back of your mind will allow it to become a part of you. And it’s tender, the way it settles quietly into your body.
You will start to notice the body language of trauma: your body tightens and caves in. You fold your arms and tuck your legs to your chest and let yourself become as small as you can be. Your body will become afraid of its own shadow, afraid of the way its darkness takes up space.
The longer you pretend your trauma doesn’t exist, pretend it doesn’t still hurt, the more distant it becomes – but it will also get stronger too. Eventually, your hurt will swell. It will take up so much space inside of you that you don’t even realize it. And it will become nearly impossible to defeat. It will become louder and it will convince you that the trauma was your fault: what happened and how you dealt with it.
This is the brutality of it all: you hold yourself back from feeling that pain, despite how crucial it is. You fawn. You tiptoe around it as if your mind is a minefield: you dodge the memories of how it felt and what hurt the most.
It’s complex, the very thing you’re afraid of is what you have to face the most. In its own twisted way, this “armor” is self-sabotage: by letting your trauma make a home in your body, you’re keeping yourself from true healing.
You have to return to the war. You have to let yourself feel it all: the righteous anger, the quiet grief. Bring the trauma to the forefront of your brain and fight it. Don’t let yourself be numb to it forever. By confronting it, you can then let it go. Don’t let yourself become numb to the trauma forever. Be brave enough to go back to the battlefield and face it head-on. Stare it down until it surrenders. Fight for your healing. Your heart. Yourself. Because you don’t really have another choice.
Do not fear moving forward in the direction of your happiness. Plant your feet in the soil of adoration and stability. Be watered by those who appreciate both your petals and your thorns. May life’s simple pleasures become your joy. May your soul be filled with peace and laughter.
Do not fear love. Open your heart to new and endless possibilities. Be nurtured back to wholeness and celebrated for just being. Be reminded that there are no hoops that you have to jump through, no tests are necessary to prove your worthiness. For you are enough as is, star. Accept the complicity and the uniqueness that is you.
Do not be afraid to succeed. To have your gifts make room for you and have your talents expand. May the world be moved by every tremble in your voice, stroke of your paintbrush, word that you write and note that you play. May your activism invoke ancestors to help create new worlds, and may your teachings awake a sleeping nation.
Do not be afraid of your truth. Shed old skin until you are you again, and then… again. Proclaim loudly, “This is who I am and this is who I am not!” Stand in it unapologetically. Do not shrink in the faces of those who have yet to accept themselves. You will be their example. May you continue to evolve, learn, grow and love every part of you. Find balance between the dark and light, for the truth is always somewhere in the middle.
Gather your things, love. A new world awaits the fearless. There is no shame in starting over and no growth in comfort. Change is here and ready for your embrace. The past now has no place. You’ve been here many times before and survived the worst. It is time for your reward.
If you’ve always wanted to start the habit, here are five ways to start journaling and get you started:
1. What was difficult this week?
Addressing what was hard this week will shed light on the challenges in your life. Often these negative events cause repressed emotions that show up in monstrous ways. There is nothing healthier for your overall mental space than to let your words be your therapy and write about the challenges in your life. In doing so, you may come up with creative solutions you never knew existed—so give yourself the time and space to work through your problems as you navigate through them in the outside world.
2. What gave you joy this week?
Gratitude is a gateway to something truly beautiful. By pinpointing exactly what brought you joy and how it felt while engaging in an activity, you can bring more happiness and intention into your life by knowing what makes you feel the most alive. Understanding yourself and what lights you up is a path to a life well-lived.
3. How can you show up better next week?
In some regards, you may have failed at doing something this week. Flipping the script and changing your perspective to a more positive frame of mind can help you understand that failure teaches you lessons that will help you become a better individual. This is crucial when it comes to being aware of where you went wrong and how you can show up better for yourself in the coming weeks—life is, after all, a learning process.
4. What are new things you experienced this week?
If you experienced anything new this week, how did it make you feel? What is something that surprised you? Were you proud of yourself that you jumped out of your comfort zone and tried something new? Take careful note of these experiences, as they may unlock a key to something you never knew existed for your future self.
5. What new things do you want to experience next week?
One of my personal favorites when it comes to journaling is planning for the future, including things you want to manifest. While it’s not the best idea to hyper-focus on it, allowing yourself to dream and cultivate your future is an exercise that will bring you so much fulfillment and satisfaction when you see your wildest dreams come true. Having a vision is powerful—just don’t expect it to look exactly as you saw it because it may very well look even better than you saw it.
Journaling is not just a reflection of what’s around you but a reflection of how you’re feeling internally. It’s an intentional practice that gives you the time and space to not just open the door to a new world, but to change the story of your life if you don’t like the one you’re currently writing.
The term “Higher Consciousness” has been thrown around a lot recently. With the influx of spiritual teachers and coaches, this term has been becoming mainstream, and for good reason. With so much going on in the world, I think all of us are looking for meaning in our life.
I have studied self-development for years and read every book on the topic available. But it wasn’t clicking for me. I was trying to follow certain rules or force myself into spirituality because I wanted to be perfect at it. Who else is a recovering perfectionist?
It wasn’t until my life got turned upside down that I understood what spirituality actually meant and what attaining Higher Consciousness could look like in my own life. I realized it was so simple that I could throw away all the supposed “rules” I was placing on myself.
Now I want to pass this message on to you. I know that so many of us suffer from loneliness, depression, anxiety, etc. But the real reason humans are here is to enjoy life through exploration and love. Even if you can tap into this feeling of higher consciousness for a brief moment, you’ll realize just how impactful it is to your mental health.
Let’s first discuss what Higher Consciousness is not:
Believing that you are better than people.
Using spirituality for your own ego or self-image.
Thinking you need to go live in a monastery for the rest of your life.
Buying into the idea that you need to have a perfect daily routine to be spiritual.
Reading too many self-help books but not actually implementing the lessons.
Having to be from a certain religion to believe in it.
The beauty of Higher Consciousness is that any human on this planet can reach it. If you desire to tap into this higher energy and feel more fulfilled in life, you absolutely can.
Here’s what Higher Consciousness means:
Knowing that material things don’t bring genuine happiness.
Being grateful for life every single day.
Pursuing the people, events, and hobbies that bring you love and fulfillment.
Acknowledging that there may be tough moments in life, but the good ones always follow.
Seeing love in all the people and nature you interact with.
Believing in yourself and your purpose for life.
When you’re tapped into this higher consciousness, life just feels sweeter. It’s like you’re experiencing life on volume 10. The trivial day to day happenings don’t affect you as much. However scary the news is, you still will do everything in your power to live a life you love.
Of course, life will still throw curve balls at you and things may not go your way. No human on this planet can escape the unexpected. But when you’re tapped into this higher energy, you fully trust that life will work itself out. That the good times will come back around and that there’s lessons to be learned in the tough seasons.
Now you’re probably wondering, this all sounds great, but how do I actually achieve it? Well, there’s endless possibilities. The way to achieve it is just doing the things that make you feel more alive and more aligned with this state. But here are some ideas to get you started!
Ways to tap into Higher Consciousness:
Follow your passions and the things that excite you.
Start noticing the coincidences in your life and know that nothing is by chance.
Stop placing worth in your salary, cars, house, and other material things.
Deepen your relationships with the people in your life that you care about.
Don’t get caught up in the daily drama with other people or events.
Stop caring what other people think of you—their opinions won’t matter in a year from now.
When you get into a Higher Consciousness and notice just how amazing life truly is, your relationships will improve significantly. You will be happier and not fazed by small inconveniences.
But most importantly, your relationship to self will grow stronger everyday. You will be confident of your life’s purpose and you’ll make the most of the limited time you have here on Earth.
I remember when starting over felt like the heaviest burden in the world. An experience to dread. Something that made me feel like a failure sometimes, like I couldn’t get it right the first time around. It made me feel like I was losing my stability until I realized that starting over is one of the most liberating experiences ever. It’s sometimes essential. It’s sometimes what you don’t know you need. It’s sometimes the only way to move forward because when you start over, you have a chance to write a better story.
Your new life will cost you your old one; your new dreams and plans will force you to let go of your past and the things that didn’t work out for you. It will force you to release all that wasn’t serving you. Your new life will cost you old friends and meaningless attachments but it will reward you with the things that you actually desire. The things you were scared of doing. The people you were intimidated by. The risks you were too afraid to take.
Starting over means being brave enough to say goodbye to so many things and so many people because you’re choosing yourself instead of bending over backwards to please others. Starting over means living the life you were meant to live instead of following someone else’s dream or path. Starting over means you’re no longer stuck because you’re not afraid of changing everything around you for a better life.
Starting over means building a stronger foundation because now you have experience, now you know what makes something stand tall and what makes it fall apart. Starting over means writing a new story because now you’re wiser and you actually have something to say. You have an ending to look forward to and you know who you need in your story and who doesn’t really have a role anymore. Starting over means allowing yourself to be reborn again in the same lifetime, it means seeing life from a whole new angle and living the life you’ve always imagined. Starting over means you’re not giving up on yourself and you’re not settling either. It means you’re fighting for yourself and the life you were meant to live.
So please don’t let anyone make you feel like starting over means you’ve failed, because the real failure is staying stuck in a place you hate, living a life that doesn’t excite you, or being with someone who doesn’t love you. The real failure is choosing to live in the same environment that broke you instead of going out and creating a whole new one. Starting over doesn’t mean burning bridges or losing everyone you love, it simply means you’re crossing that bridge and moving on with nothing but love for what you left behind, but you know you can’t take it with you anymore.
Starting over means trusting that new beginnings will eventually lead to better endings and that you are capable of taking your life in a whole new direction because as painful as it can be, sometimes letting go of who you used to be and the life you used to live, can bring about the best experiences and the happiest of endings.
Every problem in life has a solution. Every problem in life can be dealt with. Every problem in life needs some time to be spoken about. And all it takes is the couragefrom within. All it takes is some resilience.
We’re all human beings, and yes, we all might have the ego within us that probably holds us back from finding possible solutions to our problems. The ego within us that stops us from giving in a little to others. The ego within us that refuses to give people a chance to be heard.
Not everything in life sucks. Yes, sometimesthings don’t happen the way we want it to be. Yes, sometimes things don’t happen when we want it to happen and that is okay. Things meant to be will eventually find their way back. All it takes is some time and effort. Time and time again, you need to remind yourself what you are capable of. You need to continue to persevere and you will eventually achieve what’s ideal for you and all that you’ve ever wanted.
We’re all human beings and we’re incredibly resilient. We all have dealt with pain at least at one point of time in life and we all have recovered. That’s because of the strength that we have within us that pushes us further and we don’t give up easily. We may not have achieved what we dreamt of when we were all much younger, but we may have achieved something we never thought of.
Eventually, we all would do fine with what we are faced with.
At this moment, even if life does not seem to be that good, trust the universe that the happier days of your life are just ahead of you. Even if you don’t believe right now, trust me, things will get better. And that’s because eventually everything will work out.
The mind body spirit connection describes the three always-entwined aspects of oneself. The physical, mental, and spiritual combine to make us who we wholly are. We speak of body, mind, and spirit as separate parts or aspects of ourselves, but this is more for convenience sake and having a frame of reference. The mind is not separate from the body any more than a toe or a liver is separate from the body.
The mind body spirit connection is a wondrous thing. When you understand, support, and tap into its power, you access the three pillars of holistic healing and are better able to manifest your true desires. It inspires and informs your experiences.
Ancient people understood that a healthy mind helps create a healthy body and a healthy body is important if you want a healthy mind.
Even when it appears that only the body, or part of the body, needs healing, the cause may trace back to the mind or spirit. When that is the case, healing the mind promotes healing of the body. Likewise, a dis-ease in the body can cause disruptions in the mind. These understandings have shaped modern day mind body medicine as well. For example, medical researchers know that mental stress is a contributing cause behind the majority of diseases.
But there is more to it.
For thousands of years, ancient people also believed that each living being is a connected part of ‘all that is’ in the web of life. You could no more separate a sentient being from the whole of creation than you could separate mind from body or spirit. To strengthen and reinforce this understanding, they took part in elaborate rituals to make the mind and spirit work to heal the body.
In the East, practices such as chi gong, tai chi, and yoga developed as practices to reinforce the mind, body, spirit connection.
Examples of the Mind Body Spirit Connection
Next time you feel stressed, notice your physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. What are you saying to yourself? What emotions are you experiencing? What sensations is your body experiencing? You may have sweaty hands, narrowed vision, and a faster heartbeat. Your mind may be racing, feeling panicked, or angry. Your prayers, if you can pray them, may be furtive and self-focused. Meditation? Forget about it. However, when you feel peaceful and expansive in your mind, your body is relaxed, you can breathe. You may feel connected to your intuition, to ‘all that is’ and the divine. You may feel inspired to offer gratitude, praise, to sing and dance.
Here are a few more examples:
Consider when you hurt a part of your body or get sick. Your whole being is affected. The pain in a stubbed toe radiates through your entire body. It is difficult to think of anything else.
Consider what happens when you hear really good news. You feel excited, your body feels supercharged with energy.
Notice how a baby’s whole being moves and responds with every nuance of emotion and physical sensation.
Mind Body Dualism
In the Middle Ages, beliefs about the mind-body-spirit connection began to shift. 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes popularized the notion that the mind and body are separate entities. His theory of mind body dualism gained a following, thus influencing religious theology and medicine. Our conventional allopathic medical model of treating parts instead of the whole person developed out of this philosophy.
Despite this erroneous teaching, language continued to reflect the innate knowledge people have of their mind body spirit connection.
You have probably heard or used expressions like these:
“He has a broken spirit”
“I knew it in my gut”
“I feel it in my soul.”
“I was so scared/excited my hair stood on end.
“My heart is bursting with love” or “breaking with grief”.
“I’m so nervous I have butterflies in my stomach.”
Before learning to mask their feelings, children demonstrate how the body and mind integrate in perfect synergy. You can watch how quickly their emotions ebb and flow by what their bodies are doing. Shrieking screams, tears, red face and flailing arms and legs clearly express feelings of anger and isolation. Sparkling eyes, full rosy cheeks, cackling laughter, and clapping hands express their delight.
Is the Mind Over the Body?
It is a well-known fact that our minds create our bodies. The nonconscious parts of the brain govern automatic biological processes without need of the thinking mind. As we introduce emotions into the mix, the brain produces chemicals which go into the body and affect its functioning. For example: stressful thoughts cause a rise in cortisol, which prepares the body for flight or fight at the expense of immunity and healing. Positive thoughts cause a rise in feel-good chemicals that induce relaxation and healing.
The thinking conscious mind can cause voluntary responses. You decide to hold your breath, you temporarily stop breathing. You decide to raise your arm, the signal is sent to the muscles and it goes up.
Experts once believed that the mind was just another name for your brain. (Some still do.) But research is showing that your mind is in your body and even around your body.
Although your brain exerts a powerful influence over your body, there is much more to the mind-body connection than a master-slave relationship. The belief that mind powers and levels of consciousness belong to the brain alone is a belief of the past.
Human intelligence involves much more than the cognitive intelligence of the brain. Not only does the brain communicate with the body, parts of the body communicates with the brain. And so do the microbes living inside us. Each affects the other on a continual basis.
Cells and the Mind Body Spirit Connection
Cell biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD likens cells to miniature people. Since they have the same systems and receptors as skin, they perceive their environment and the community of cells at large. Their environment is affected by nutrients, toxins, and the perceptions of the individual. This means that our beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings affect our biology for better or worse. These factors influence how genes express themselves more than the DNA. It is not a matter of nature versus nurture, but nurture over nature.
Cells are constantly communicating with each other via photons of light in the layer of the human energy field right outside the body. They receive information from the brain and energy field and respond accordingly. When we experience an emotion, our cells experience the same emotion through energy vibrations and changes in body chemistry. Each cell in the body functions independently and as a member of the community that makes up your body.
The heart-brain connection
Your heart has thousands of its own neurons that initiate communication with the brain via the vagus nerve and vice versa.
In mammals, both brain and heart are involved in receiving, decoding and processing intuitive information. However, it appears that the heart receives this information first. Unlike Westerners who place great importance on thinking and learning via the brain, some indigenous cultures teach youngsters to perceive and think with their hearts. Only when they are older do they learn to access information with their brains as well.
Did you know that your heart has a much larger electro-magnetic field than your brain? The following heart intelligence video explains how coherence, the unity or alignment of the heart with the brain, elicits a peaceful state that positively affects you and others.
Scientists have also found brain-like structures in other systems throughout the body. The gut is sometimes called the second brain. Researchers have also discovered that the billions of microbes residing in the gut and throughout the body may exert the greatest influence over us of all. They impact the workings of the body and communicate directly with the brain.
The Spirit or Soul
Whether we have an aspect of ourselves called ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ and whether or not that ‘soul’ connects to a Consciousness beyond ourselves is hotly debated.
It has been a long-held belief among humans that we have a soul, a spark of the Divine within us. This spark connects us to ‘all that is’. It is our true nature, our higher nature. This nature is vibrationally higher than the self-serving, yet necessary, ego. It is our authentic nature of Love. Through our spirits we forgive, show compassion, evolve as individuals, and feel the call to live our life’s purposes.
A popular theory is that your personal local mind is connected to a universal mind. The local mind is over the body and the nonlocal mind is beyond personal consciousness. It is the infinite, nature, the universe. We are all subject to its laws.
There are many names for universal mind and the scope attributed to it. Some call it God. Others call it Nature or the Universe, the Field, or Infinite Intelligence. It is believed that this is the realm of all knowledge and our connection to ‘all that is’.
We can feel the Oneness of the Field and tap into its wisdom at the superconscious level of mind.
Manifesting with the Mind Body Spirit Connection
We have much to learn about harnessing the powerful potential of the mind body spirit connection for accessing intuition, healing ourselves, and manifesting our heart desires.
The mind-body works in mysterious, often unpredictable, ways. People who have experienced spontaneous healing know that healing can and does happen without any conscious effort on our part. This is called the placebo effect. The same holds true of people who believed they are cursed. Through the power of the nocebo effect, they might act like zombies, writhe in pain, or be scared to death from a suggestion and the subconscious belief in its power.
Researchers are working hard to solve these mysteries. In addition to exploring the benefits of heart-brain coherence, recent scientific discoveries on the ever-changing quality of the brain have led to a lot of research on how to rewire the brain for healing, achieving goals, becoming more compassionate, and so on.
Tapping Into Your Mind-body Connection
Individuals and metaphysical practitioners use techniques to access the wisdom of the mind, body, spirit connection. How successful and accurate these methods are varies with skill, the ability to relax and achieve coherence, belief systems, being detached from outcome, and perhaps elements we are not yet aware of.
Several subconscious mind power techniques are popular tools for deprogramming and shifting outdated patterns and limiting beliefs. They offer new suggestions to your mind, neutralize the charge of troubling emotions so that mental, spiritual, and physical energy can be freed up. Together with mental rehearsal to practice new ways of being and taking action, the brain and body have the energy, circuitry, and experience needed to create a healthier, happier future.
Examples of mind-body manifestation techniques include:
emotional release techniques
Some people use muscle testing or pendulums as a way to access the wisdom of the subconscious for information about anything from which remedies and techniques are best to which foods are harmful, and so on.
Summary of the Mind Body Spirit Connection
We have much to learn about how the mind, body, and spirit are one, as well as how we are connected to the greater whole.
Although your brain exerts a powerful influence over your body, there is much more to the mind-body connection than a master-slave relationship. The belief that mind powers and levels of consciousness belong to the brain alone is a belief of the past.
The mind body spirit connection is more than just an abstraction or a way to get what you want. It is who you are as a wondrous whole being. When you see yourself as a whole being instead of conglomerate of parts, the philosophy of holistic healing and health make perfect sense. The need to support and care for your whole self becomes as obvious as the need to feed, clothe and wash your body. When you love and care for mind, body and spirit, your whole self will benefit. Others benefit as well.
Sometimes we catch fleeting glimpses of them, sometimes we witness them in full frontal chaos. But for the most part, we ignore and bury their existence either out of fear, guilt or pure shame.
However, as tempting as it is to suppress our demons, discovering and owning them is a vital part of our spiritual journey.
As authors and psychotherapists Steve Wolf and Connie Zweig note:
In other words, the Shadow isn’t just the centrally wounded part of us, but it also provides a path towards a more authentic and fulfilling life. In order to heal and grow on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level, we need to practice Shadow Work.
Shadow Work is a practice that helps us to become whole again. It works on the premise that you must 100% OWN your Shadow, rather than avoiding or repressing it, to experience deep healing.
This daunting and often frightening task is a requirement of every person. But you don’t have to go at it alone.
In this long and detailed guide, I will offer you a helping hand. Having studied and worked with the Shadow for years, I’ll share with you some of the best tools, insights, and advice that I have gathered thus far.
Please note: Shadow Work exercises should not be undertaken if you struggle with low self-esteem. Exploring your demons will likely make you feel a million times worse about yourself and may spiral into self-hatred (especially if you’re going through the Dark Night of the Soul). Before doing Shadow Work, I strongly and emphatically encourage you to work on cultivating Self-Love. Shadow Work should only be undertaken by those who have healthy and stable self-worth and a friendly relationship with themselves.
Why Focusing Only on the Light is a Form of Escapism
For most of my life, I’ve grown up firmly believing that the only thing worthy of guiding me was “light” and “love.”
Whether through the family environment I was raised in, or the cultural myths I was brought up clinging to, I once believed that all you really needed to do in life to be happy was to focus on everything beautiful, positive, and spiritually feel-good. I’m sure you were raised believing a similar story as well. It’s a sort of “Recipe for Well-Being” dictated by our culture.
But a few years ago, after battling ongoing mental health issues, I realized something shocking:
I was wrong.
Not just wrong, but completely and utterly off the mark. Focusing only on “love and light” will not heal your wounds on a deep level.
In fact, I’ve learned through a lot of deep inner work, that not only is focusing solely on the “light side of life” one side of the equation, but it is actually a form of spiritually bypassing your deeper, darker problems that, let me assure you, are basically guaranteed to exist.
It’s very easy and comfortable to focus only on the light side of life. So many people in today’s world follow this path. And while it might provide some temporary emotional support, it doesn’t reach to the depths of your being: it doesn’t transform you at a core level. Instead, it leaves you superficially hanging onto warm and fuzzy platitudes which sound nice, but don’t enact any real change.
What DOES touch the very depths of your being, however, is exploring your Shadow.
What is the Human Shadow?
What is the human Shadow? In short, the Shadow is our dark side; our lost and forgotten disowned self. Your Shadow is the place within you that contains all of your secrets, repressed feelings, primitive impulses, and parts deemed “unacceptable,” shameful, “sinful” or even “evil.”
This hidden place lurking within your unconscious mind also contains suppressed and rejected emotions such as rage, jealousy, hatred, greed, deceitfulness, and selfishness.
So where did the Shadow Self idea originate? The concept was originally coined and explored by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. In Jung’s own words:
When the human Shadow is shunned, it tends to undermine and sabotage our lives. Addictions, low self-esteem, mental illness, chronic illnesses, and various neuroses are all attributed to the Shadow Self.
When our Shadows are suppressed or repressed in the unconscious long enough, they can even overtake our entire lives and cause psychosis or extreme forms of behavior like cheating on one’s partner or physically harming others. Intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs also have a tendency to unleash the Shadow.
Thankfully, there is a way to explore the Shadow and prevent it from devouring our existence, and that is called Shadow Work.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow Work is the process of exploring your inner darkness or “Shadow Self.” As mentioned previously, your Shadow Self is part of your unconscious mind and contains everything you feel ashamed of thinking and feeling, as well as every impulse, repressed idea, desire, fear and perversion that for one reason or another, you have “locked away” consciously or unconsciously. Often this is done as a way of keeping yourself tame, likable, and “civilized” in the eyes of others.
Shadow Work is the attempt to uncover everything that we have hidden and every part of us that has been disowned and rejected within our Shadow Selves. Why? Because without exploring what is hidden within, we remain burdened with problems such as anger, guilt, shame, disgust, and grief.
All throughout the history of humanity, Shadow Work has played a powerful yet mysterious role in helping us discover what is at the root of our individual and collective mental illness, physical dis-ease, and even insanity resulting in crimes of all kinds.
Traditionally, Shadow Work fell in the realm of the Shamans, or medicine people, as well as the priests and priestesses of the archaic periods of history. These days, Shadow Work falls more commonly in the realms of psychotherapy, with psychologists, psychiatrists, spiritual guides, and therapists showing the way.
Do We All Have a Shadow Self?
Yes, we ALL have a Shadow Self.
As uncomfortable as it may sound, there is a dark side within every human being. Why is this the case? The reason why all human beings have a shadow is due to the way we were raised as human beings, often referred to as our ‘conditioning.’
“But I’m a good person! I don’t have a ‘shadow’ side,” you might be thinking. Well, the reality is that yes, you might be a good person. In fact, you might be the most generous, loving, and selfless person in the entire world. You might feed the hungry, save puppies, and donate half of your salary to the poor. But that doesn’t exclude you from having a Shadow. There are no exceptions here. The nature of being human is to possess both a light and a dark side, and we need to embrace that.
Sometimes, when people hear that they have a Shadow side (or when it is pointed out), there is a lot of denial. We have been taught to perceive ourselves in a very two-dimensional and limited way. We have been taught that only criminals, murderers, and thieves have a Shadow side. This black and white thinking is one of the major causes of our suffering.
If the thought of having a Shadow side disturbs you, take a moment to consider whether you have developed an idealized and unrealistic sense of self. Signs of an idealized or unrealistic sense of self include attitudes such as:
“I’m not like those people, I’m better.”
“I have never strayed.”
“God is proud of me.”
“Criminals and wrongdoers aren’t human.”
“Everyone sees how good I am (even so, I have to remind them).”
“I’m a role model.”
“I should be validated and applauded for my good deeds.”
“I don’t have bad thoughts, so why do others?”
Such perceptions about ourselves are unrealistic, unhealthy, and basically delusional. The only way to find inner peace, happiness, authentic love, self-fulfillment, and Illumination is to explore our Shadows.
How is Our Shadow Side Formed?
Your Shadow side was formed in childhood and is both (a) a product of natural ego development, and (b) a product of conditioning or socialization. Socialization is the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.
When we are born, we’re full of vast, innocent, wide-eyed potential. As time goes on, we learn more and more to become a certain type of person. Slowly, due to our circumstances and preferences, we begin to adopt certain character traits and reject others.
For example, if we’re born into a family that shows little interpersonal warmth, we will develop personality traits that make us self-sufficient and perhaps standoffish or mind-oriented. If we’re born into a family that rewards compliance and shuns rebellion, we will learn that being submissive works, and thus adopt that as part of our ego structure.
As authors and Jungian therapists Steve Price and David Haynes write:
As we can see, developing the Shadow Self is a natural part of development.
But you also formed a Shadow due to social conditioning, i.e., your parents, family members, teachers, friends, religion, and society at large all contributed to the repression of some parts of you.
Well here’s the thing: polite society operates under certain rules. In other words, certain behaviors and characteristics are approved of, while others are shunned.
Take anger for example. Anger is an emotion that is commonly punished while growing up. Throwing tantrums, swearing, and destroying things was frowned upon by our parents and teachers. Therefore, many of us learned that expressing anger was not “OK.” Instead of being taught healthy ways to express our anger, we were punished sometimes physically (with smacks or being grounded), and often emotionally (withdrawal of love and affection).
There are countless behaviors, emotions, and beliefs that are rejected in society, and thus, are rejected by ourselves. In order to fit in, be accepted, approved, and loved, we learned to act a certain way. We adopted a role that would ensure our mental, emotional, and physical survival.
But at the same time, wearing a mask has consequences. What happened to all the authentic, wild, socially taboo or challenging parts of ourselves? They were locked in the Shadow.
What happens as we grow up?
Through time, we learn to both enjoy, and despise, our socially-approved egos because, on the one hand, they make us feel good and “lovable,” but on the other hand, they feel phony and inhibited.
Therapist Steve Wolf has a perfect analogy that describes this process:
But while the Shadow Self may be portrayed as our “evil twin,” it is not entirely full of “bad” stuff. There is actually gold or goodness to be found within the Shadow.
What is the Golden Shadow?
Jung once stated that “the shadow is ninety percent pure gold.” What this means is that there are many beautiful gifts offered to us by our Shadow side if we take the time to look. For example, so much of our creative potential is submerged within our darkness because we were taught when little to reject it.
Not everything within our Shadow is doom and gloom. In fact, the Shadow contains some of our most powerful gifts and talents, such as our artistic, sexual, competitive, innovative, and even intuitive aptitudes.
The ‘Golden Shadow’ also presents us with the opportunity for tremendous psychological and spiritual growth. By doing Shadow Work, we learn that every single emotion and wound that we possess has a gift to share with us. Even the most obnoxious, “ugly,” or shameful parts of ourselves provide a path back to Oneness.
Such is the power of the Shadow – it is both a terrifying journey, but it is ultimately a path to Spiritual Enlightenment or Illumination. Every spiritual path needs Shadow Work in order to prevent the issues from happening that we’ll explore next.
What Happens When You Reject Your Shadow?
Rejecting, suppressing, denying, or disowning your Shadow, whether consciously or unconsciously, is harmful and dangerous.
The thing about the Shadow Self is that it seeks to be known. It yearns to be understood, explored, and integrated. It craves to be held in awareness. The longer the Shadow stays buried and locked in its jail cell deep within the unconscious, the more it will find opportunities to make you aware of its existence.
Both religion and modern spirituality have a tendency to focus on the “love and light” aspects of spiritual growth to their own doom. This over-emphasis on the fluffy, transcendental, and feel-good elements of a spiritual awakening results in shallowness and phobia of whatever is too real, earthy, or dark.
Spiritually bypassing one’s inner darkness results in a whole range of serious issues. Some of the most common and reoccurring Shadow issues that appear in the spiritual/religious community include pedophilia among priests, financial manipulation of followers among gurus, and of course, megalomania, narcissism, and God complexes among spiritual teachers.
Other issues that arise when we reject our Shadow side can include:
Hypocrisy (believing and supporting one thing, but doing the other)
Lies and self-deceit (both towards oneself and others)
Uncontrollable bursts of rage/anger
Emotional and mental manipulation of others
Greed and addictions
Phobias and obsessive compulsions
Racist, sexist, homophobic, and other offensive behavior
Chronic psychosomatic illness
Depression (which can turn into suicidal tendencies)
Narcissistically inflated ego
Chaotic relationships with others
… and many others. This is by no means a comprehensive list (and there are likely many other issues out there). As we’ll learn next, one of the greatest ways we reject our Shadows is through psychological projection.
The Shadow and Projection (a Dangerous Mix)
One of the biggest forms of Shadow rejection is something called projection. Projection is a term that refers to seeing things in others that are actually within ourselves.
When we pair projection and the Shadow Self together, we have a dangerous mix.
Because as psychotherapist Robert A. Johnson writes:
There are many different ways we ‘punish’ those who are mirrors of our Shadow qualities.
We may criticize, reject, hate, dehumanize, or even in extreme cases, physically or psychologically seek to destroy those on whom we project our Shadows (e.g., think of countries who go at war with the “enemies”).
None of us are innocent in this area. We have ALL projected parts of our rejected Shadow Selves onto others. In fact, Shadow projection is a major cause of relationship dysfunction and break down.
If we are seeking to bring peace, love, and meaning to our lives, we absolutely MUST reclaim these projections. Through Shadow Work, we can explore exactly what we have disowned.
12 Benefits of Shadow Work
Firstly, I want to say that I have the highest respect for Shadow Work. It is the single most important path I’ve taken to uncover my core wounds, core beliefs, traumas, and projections.
I have also observed how Shadow Work has helped to create profound clarity, understanding, harmony, acceptance, release, and inner peace in the lives of others. It is truly deep work that makes changes on the Soul level, targeting the very roots of our issues, not just the superficial symptoms.
There is SO much to be gained from making Shadow Work a part of your life and daily routine. Here are some of the most commonly experienced benefits:
Deeper love and acceptance of yourself
Better relationships with others, including your partner and children
More confidence to be your authentic self
More mental, emotional, and spiritual clarity
Increased compassion and understanding for others, particularly those you dislike
Discovery of hidden gifts and talents
Deepened understanding of your passions and ultimate life purpose
Improved physical and mental health
More courage to face the unknown and truly live life
Access to your Soul or Higher Self
A feeling of Wholeness
It’s important to remember that there are no quick fixes in Shadow Work, so these life-changing benefits don’t just happen overnight. But with persistence, they will eventually emerge and bless your life.
7 Tips For Approaching Shadow Work
Before you begin Shadow Work, it’s important for you to assess whether you’re ready to embark on this journey. Not everyone is prepared for this deep work, and that’s fine. We’re all at different stages. So pay attention to the following questions and try to answer them honestly:
**Have you practiced self-love yet?** If not, Shadow Work will be too overwhelming for you. I have starred this bullet point because it is essential for you to consider. Shadow Work should not be attempted by those who have poor self-worth or struggle with self-loathing. In other words: if you struggle with severely low self-esteem, please do not attempt Shadow Work. I emphatically warn you against doing this. Why? If you struggle with extremely poor self-worth, exploring your Shadows will likely make you feel ten times worse about yourself. Before you walk this path, you absolutely must establish a strong and healthy self-image. No, you don’t have to think that you’re God’s gift to the world, but having generally “good” self-worth is important. Try taking this self-esteem test to explore whether you’re ready (but first, don’t forget to finish this article!).
Are you prepared to make time? Shadow Work is not a lukewarm practice. You’re either all in or all out. Yes, it’s crucial to take a break from this work from time to time. But Shadow Work requires dedication, self-discipline, and persistence. Are you willing to intentionally carve out time each day to dedicate to it? Even just ten minutes a day is a good start.
Are you looking to be validated or to find the truth? As you probably know by now, Shadow Work isn’t about making you feel special. It isn’t like typical spiritual paths which are focused on the feel-good. No, Shadow Work can be brutal and extremely confronting. This is a path for truth seekers, not those who are seeking to be validated.
Seek to enter a calm and neutral space. It’s important to try and relax when doing Shadow Work. Stress and judgmental or critical attitudes will inhibit the process. So please try to incorporate a calming meditation or mindfulness technique into whatever you do.
Understand that you are not your thoughts. It’s essential for you to realize that you are not your thoughts for Shadow Work to be healing and liberating. Only from your calm and quiet inner Center (also known as your Soul) can you truly be aware of your Shadow aspects. By holding them in awareness, you will see them clearly for what they are, and realize that they ultimately don’t define you; they are simply rising and falling mental phenomena.
Practice self-compassion. It is of paramount importance to incorporate compassion and self-acceptance into your Shadow Work practice. Without showing love and understanding to yourself, it’s almost guaranteed that your Shadow Work will backfire and make you feel terrible. So focus on generating self-love and compassion, and you will be able to release any shame and embrace your humanity.
Record everything you find. Keep a written journal or personal diary in which you write down (or even draw) your discoveries. Recording your dreams, observations, and self-analysis will help you to learn and grow more effectively. You’ll also be able to keep track of your process and make important connections.
How to Practice Shadow Work
There are many Shadow Work techniques and exercises out there.
In the guide below, I will provide a few to help you start off.
1. Pay attention to your emotional reactions
In this practice, you’ll learn that what you give power to has power over you. Let me explain:
One Shadow Work practice I enjoy a great deal is paying attention to everything that shocks, disturbs, and secretly thrills me. Essentially, this practice is about finding out what I’ve given power to in my life unconsciously, because:
what we place importance in – whether good or bad – says a lot about us.
The reality is that what we react to or what makes us angry and distressed, reveals extremely important information about ourselves.
For example, by following where my “demons” have taken me – whether in social media, family circles, workspaces, and public places – I have discovered two important things about myself. The first one is that I have an issue with control; I hate feeling vulnerable, powerless, and weak . . . it quite simply scares the living hell out of me.
A part of me wants to feel unworthy because that is what I’ve developed a habit of feeling since childhood (e.g., “You’re a sinner,” “It’s your fault Jesus was crucified,” etc.) and therefore, that is what I secretly feel comfortable with feeling: unworthy. So my mind nit-picks anything I might have done “wrong,” and I’m left with the feeling of being “bad.”
Thanks to this practice of paying attention to my emotional reactions, I’ve welcomed more compassion, mindfulness, and forgiveness into my life.
Paying attention to your emotional reactions can help you to discover exactly how your core wounds are affecting you on a daily basis.
How to Pay Attention to Your Emotional Reactions
To effectively pay attention to your emotional reactions (I call it “following the trail of your inner demons”), you first need to cultivate:
Without being conscious of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling and saying, you won’t progress very far. Journaling is a wonderful way to cultivate more self-awareness.
If, however, you’re fairly certain that you’re self-aware (or enough to start the process), you will then need to:
2. Adopt an open mindset
Have the courage and willingness to observe everything that makes you feel uncomfortable, and ask “why?” What do I mean by everything that makes you feel “uncomfortable”? By this, I mean that, whatever riles, shocks, infuriates, disturbs, grosses out, or terrifies you, you must pay attention to. Closely.
Likely, you’ll discover surprising patterns emerging in your life. For example, you might be outraged or embarrassed every time sex appears in a TV show or movie you like (possibly revealing sexual repression or mistaken beliefs about sex that you’ve adopted throughout life).
Or you might be terrified of seeing death or dead people (possibly revealing your resistance to the nature of life or a childhood trauma). Or you might be disgusted by alternative political, sexual, and spiritual lifestyles (possibly revealing your hidden desire to do the same or even an inner bigoted side).
There are so many possibilities out there, and I encourage you to go slowly, take your time, and one by one pick through what you place importance in.
The moment you emotionally react to something is the moment you have given that thing power over you. This practice of open awareness helps you to regain perspective, understanding, and access to your Shadow.
2. Artistically Express Your Shadow Self
Art is the highest form of self-expression and it’s also a great way to allow your Shadow to manifest itself. Psychologists often use art therapy as a way to help patients explore their inner selves.
Start by allowing yourself to feel (or draw on any existing) “dark” emotions. Choose an art medium that calls to you such as pen and pencil, watercolor, crayon, acrylic paint, scrapbooking, sculpting, etc. and draw what you feel.
You don’t need to consider yourself an “artist” to benefit from this activity. You don’t even need to plan what you’ll create. Just let your hands, pen, pencil, or paintbrush do the talking. The more spontaneous, the better.
Artistic expression can reveal a lot about your obscure darker half. Psychologist Carl Jung (who conceptualized the Shadow Self idea) was famous for using mandalas in his therapy sessions.
3. Start a Project
The act of creation can be intensely frustrating and can give birth to some of your darker elements such as impatience, anger, blood-thirsty competitiveness, and self-doubt. At the same time, starting a project also allows you to experience feelings of fulfillment and joy.
If you don’t already have a personal project that you’re undertaking (such as building something, writing a book, composing music, mastering a new skill), find something you would love to start doing.
Using self-awareness and self-exploration during the process of creation, you will be able to reap deeper insights into your darkness. Ask yourself questions like, “What am I feeling and why?” Notice the strong emotions that arise during the act of creation, both good and bad. You’ll likely be surprised by what you find!
4. Write a Story or Keep a Shadow Journal
Write a story where you project your Shadow elements onto the characters – this is a wonderful way to learn more about your inner darkness!
If stories aren’t your thing, keeping a journal or diary every day can shine a light on the darker elements of your nature. Reading through your dark thoughts and emotions can help you to recover the balance you need in life by accepting both light and dark emotions within you.
5. Explore Your Shadow Archetypes
We all have different varieties of Shadows within us, also called Shadow Archetypes. These archetypes are sometimes defined as:
The Shadow Witch
The Shadow Mother
Here are my thirteen classifications which are based on my own self-observations and analysis of others:
1. The Egotistical Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: arrogance, egocentricity, pompousness, inconsiderateness, self-indulgence, narcissism, excessive pride.
2. The Neurotic Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: paranoia, obsessiveness, suspiciousness, finicky/demanding/compulsive behavior.
3. The Untrustworthy Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: secretive, impulsive, frivolous, irresponsible, deceitful, unreliable.
4. The Emotionally Unstable Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: moody, melodramatic, weepy, overemotional, impulsive, changeable.
5. The Controlling Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: suspicious, jealous, possessive, bossy, obsessive.
6. The Cynical Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: negative, overcritical, patronizing, resentful, cantankerous.
7. The Wrathful Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: ruthless, vengeful, bitchy, quick-tempered, quarrelsome.
8. The Intolerant Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: uptight, rigid, racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic,transphobic,obstinate, uncompromising, inflexible, narrow-minded.
9. The Glib Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: superficial, cunning, inconsistent, sly, crafty.
10. The Cold Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: emotionally detached, distant, indifferent, uncaring, unexcited.
11. The Perverted Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: masochistic, depraved, sadistic, vulgar, libidinous.
12. The Cowardly Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: weak-willed, passive, timid, fearful, untrustworthy.
13. The Immature Shadow
Defined by the following qualities: puerile, childish, illogical, superficial, vacuous.
Keep in mind that the above Shadow Archetypes are by no means exhaustive. I’m sure that there are many others out there which I have missed. But you are free to use this breakdown to help you explore your own Shadows.
You’re also welcome to add to this list or create your own Shadow Archetypes, which I highly encourage. For example, you might possess a judgmental and dogmatic Shadow who you call “The Nun,” or a sexually deviant Shadow who you call “The Deviant.” Play around with some words and labels, and see what suits your Shadows the best
6. Have an Inner Conversation
Also known as “Inner Dialogue,” or as Carl Jung phrased it, “Active Imagination,” having a conversation with your Shadow is an easy way to learn from it.
I understand if you might feel a twinge of skepticism towards this practice right now. After all, we’re taught that “only crazy people talk to themselves.” But inner dialogue is regularly used in psychotherapy as a way to help people communicate with the various subpersonalities that they have – and we all possess various faces and sides of our egos.
One easy way to practice inner dialogue is to sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, and tune into the present moment. Then, think of a question you would like to ask your Shadow, and silently speak it within your mind. Wait a few moments and see if you ‘hear’ or ‘see’ an answer. Record anything that arises and reflect on it.
It’s also possible to carry on a conversation with your Shadow using this method. Just ensure that you have an open mindset. In other words, don’t try to control what is being said, just let it flow naturally. You’ll likely be in awe of the answers you receive!
Visualization is another helpful way of engaging in inner dialogue. I recommend bringing to mind images of dark forests, caves, holes in the ground, or the ocean as these all represent the unconscious mind. Always ensure that you enter and exit your visualization in the same manner, e.g., if you’re walking down a path, make sure you walk back up the path. Or if you open a particular door, make sure you open the same door when returning back to normal consciousness. This practice will help to draw you effortlessly in and out of visualizations.
7. Use the Mirror Technique
As we’ve learned, projection is a technique used by the ego to help us avoid the Shadow parts within that we’ve disowned (knowingly or unknowingly). However, we don’t only project the deeper and darker aspects of ourselves onto others, we also project our light and positive attributes as well.
For example, you may be attracted to another person who displays fierce self-assertiveness, not realizing that this is a quality that you secretly long to reunite with inside yourself.
Another common example (this time negative) is judgmentalism. How many times have you heard someone say “he/she is so judgmental!” Ironically, the very person saying this doesn’t realize that calling another person ‘judgmental’ is actually pronouncing a judgment against them and revealing their own judgmental nature!
The Mirror Technique is the process of uncovering our projections. To practice this technique, we must adopt a mindful and honest approach toward the world. We need to be prepared to “look in the mirror” and own that which we have disowned!
Another helpful mindset that we can adopt is that other people are our mirrors. In other words, we can understand that those around us serve as the perfect canvas onto which we project all of our unconscious desires and fears.
To start this practice, examine your thoughts and feelings about those you come in contact with. Pay attention to moments when you’re emotionally triggered and ask yourself, “What might I be projecting?”
Remember that it’s also possible to project our qualities onto another person who really does possess those same qualities. Psychologists sometimes refer to this as “projecting onto reality.” For example, we might project our rage onto another person who is, in fact, a rage-filled person. Or we might project our jealousy onto another who genuinely is jealous.
Ask yourself, “What is mine, what is theirs, and what is both of ours?” Not every triggering situation reveals a projection, but more often than not, they do. Also look for things you love and adore about others, and uncover the hidden projections there.
The Mirror Technique will help you to shed a lot of light onto Shadow qualities that you have rejected, suppressed, repressed, or disowned.
Shadow Work Q&A
Here are some commonly asked questions about Shadow Work:
What is shadow work?
Shadow Work is the psychological and spiritual practice of exploring our dark side or the ‘shadowy’ part of our nature. We all possess a place within us that contains our secrets, repressed feelings, shameful memories, impulses, and parts that are deemed “unacceptable” and “ugly.” This is our dark side or shadow self – and it is often symbolized as a monster, devil, or ferocious wild animal.
How to do shadow work?
There are many ways to practice shadow work. Some of the most powerful and effective techniques include journaling, artistically expressing your dark side (also known as art therapy), using a mirror to connect with this part of you (mirror work), guided meditations, exploring your projections, and examining your shadow archetypes.
What is the spiritual shadow?
There is light and darkness within all areas of life, and spirituality is not exempt. The spiritual shadow is what occurs when we fall into the traps of spiritual materialism – a phenomenon where we use spirituality to boost our egos and become arrogant, self-absorbed, and even narcissistic. The spiritual ego arises out of spiritual materialism.
Own Your Shadow and You Will Own Your Life
If you’re looking for serious, deep, authentic, and long-lived healing in your life, Shadow Work is the perfect pathway to experiencing profound inner transformation.
Remember that what you internalize is almost always externalized in one form or another.
There is plenty of advice out there about how to heal from trauma and bring more self-compassion into our lives however we don’t often learn WHY we get blocked and how we can use that information to inform our healing.
The 10 key concepts of Resonant Healing are the foundational neuroscience concepts for healing. Understanding these 10 concepts gives us a scaffolding of understanding to stand on as we observe our challenges, and gives us a clear path to heal.
Concept #1: Resonance | Concept #2: Self-Warmth | Concept #3: Neuroplasticity | Concept #4: Default Mode Network | Concept #5: Left and Right Hemispheres | Concept #6: Body-Centered Awareness | Concept #7: Vagus Nerve | Concept #8: Traumatic Experiences Are About Loss of Accompaniment | Concept #9: Time-Travel Empathy | Concept #10: Circuits of Emotion + Motivation
Dive into the 10 Concepts of Resonant Healing
Concept #1: Understanding Resonance
Did you know that our bodies actually vibrate with emotion? And that each emotion has a different vibration? This insight comes to us through the work of Jaak Panksepp and his research into the mammalian circuits of emotion and motivation.
To truly understand resonance, we must understand that our bodies ACTUALLY vibrate with emotion. Anger moves us in a different way than sorrow. We are taken into emotional states that have qualities that are recognizable to other humans… as long as those humans are not stopping their vibrations in response to others.
There’s a diagnostic tool we can use to see where our own resonance is blocked: begin to notice when and why we step out of relationship (with ourselves, and others) and when we cannot be in the fullness of a particular emotion. For example, if we start to grieve and immediately become angry, this means we are unable to resonate with grief, and we have learned that it’s easier for us to respond with anger, rather than feel grief.
One major way humans stop their own resonance is shifting into the left-hemisphere. We do this when there is not enough capacity for self-regulation to be with the particular emotion that you, or another person is feeling or expressing. When we have emotions that we cannot resonate with, when our bodies can’t hold it in resonance, we shift out of relationship in order to care for our systems, to not get “flooded” with an emotion that we don’t want to feel.
Concept #2: The Healing Power of Self-Warmth
Have you ever noticed little humans (or even non-human mammals) who carry tiny stuffed animals or blankets with them everywhere they go? This is often a strategy for little ones to get an additional level of warmth that they aren’t receiving from their primary care-givers. If humans have failed us completely, it is often small non-human animals (including stuffed animals or inanimate soothing-objects) that can support us in having some sense of togetherness, warmth, and affection.
Certainly, we can receive warmth in other ways–whether from animals, plants, experiences of the divine–yet the experience of receiving warmth from humans is hugely important in order for our skull-brains to develop the unshakable self-warmth of secure attachment, through building fibers of attachment in the brain.
In the western world there are many religious traditions and that tell us that self-warmth is selfish or sinful. We are often encouraged to project warmth outward, as compassion for others or for the world, but warned that we shouldn’t turn “too much” of this warmth toward the self.
In my humble opinion, there is an absence of understanding in western culture about how deeply harmful loneliness is for humans, and how important it is that we learn to cultivate warmth for ourselves. I call this nervous system state of not receiving enough warmth, and not having internalized a loving resonating self-witness, “alarmed aloneness.”
Understanding how and why human brains need warmth is a key reason why resonant healing works to repattern our nervous systems toward kindness and resilience.
Self-warmth is about the integration and internalization of experiences of affection, presence, understanding, and kindness that come to us from others. If we haven’t received this as young ones, we can build it ourselves through cultivating our resonating self-witness.
Concept #3: Neuroplasticity is Real
Why is understanding how the brain works important to healing? Because neuroplasticity is the foundation for hope. And for faith in neural change and healing. Neuroplasticity has a number of elements – it is the science that shows us that neurons can find brand new connections between their branches, new receptors for neurotransmitters, and there can be strengthened connections through practice.
Our brains can actually change; we can grow our capacity for self-warmth and resonance, no matter how old we are, no matter what our genetic predisposition, and no matter how broken we feel. Neuroplasticity is real.
Concept #4: The Default Mode Network
Scientists are still discovering the secrets of the default mode network, but we know for sure that the DMN is responsible for integrating new experiences. It’s a bit like a tailor that stitches together our sense of self: who we are and how we are related to each other socially, it tells us the story of who we are. The DMN is our “inner voice” — the voice of the DMN is essentially our sense of self being reflected back to us as a voice that tells us about ourselves, what we’ve forgotten, how we have erred, etc.
The DMN is hugely affected by trauma. The more a person has experienced trauma, the more shaming and self-critical our default mode network becomes. Psychologists sometimes refer to this kind of self-criticism as “negative self-cognition” and we now know through fMRI brain scans, that this voice becomes critical through experiences of trauma. We are not born that way, our experiences of trauma can make our brains more critical and difficult to be with.
Surprisingly, the DMN is actually trying to help us. It tries to sew us together so we know how we experience ourselves in the world, based on what we’ve learned about who we are and what we deserve. It tries to keep us safe, to never be surprised again, to never make mistakes again.
Learning how to heal a cruel and fragmented DMN through resonance is a key concept to building a more cozy brain. But first, we need to understand that we make sense. Our DMN attacks us because it’s trying to help, but it needs to learn new stories.
Concept #5: The Left and Right Hemispheres
For the left hemisphere, other living beings are tools instruments. For the right hemisphere, people are souls, each holding knowledge and wisdom, and what is important is how the collective moves and holds each of our unique voices.
The left-hemisphere cares most about what we are getting done. Checking off our to-do list.
The right hemisphere cares most about how we are received and connected to others. How many other people in this room are connected to me? How can I contribute and belong in this complex ecosystem?
A key piece of understanding the differences between the hemispheres is in body-centered awareness – we find enormous treasures and meaning when we witness emotion through the body. Another reason we pay attention to the body, is that that’s how we know we are in the right hemisphere. The integrated body map lives here in the right-hemisphere, it has the capacity to decode the messages that are coming, to give them emotion words, and to understand a little bit of the deep-longings that are at the seat of deep emotion.
The left hemisphere has little ability to connect action and consequence on its own. Emotions are just inconveniences, they get in the way, they give us stomach aches, they are immaterial and just need to stop. Until it is introduced to the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere doesn’t know or understand the great gifts our emotions and bodies can offer us in accomplishing our dreams.
We have choice in how we live and perceive the world to whatever extent we have received resonance.
Concept #6: Body-centered Awareness
There are several reasons why we might have our bodies closed. We can learn this habit from our parents. And/or from really difficult things that have happened to us and have contributed to our default mode networks becoming lacerating, which then can prevent us from accessing our body’s sensations.
(As an aside, this is why constellations are so beautiful, we get to be somebody else, but in our own body, allowing our bodies to safely experience intense emotions that are not ours. Like doing body-centered awareness push-ups!)
Concept #7: Understanding the vagus nerve
Perhaps you’ve heard of polyvagal theory, the work of Stephen Porges, fight-flight-freeze—etc? The vagus nerve is a huge bundle of nerve fibers that runs from our pelvie to our head and controls much of our lived experience and our perceived sense of safety and belonging, especially in terms of how we relate to other humans.
The term “ventral vagal” refers to the state of our nervous system that we are in when we have a sense that we are safe and we matter. Especially in western cultures, we tend to believe that the brain in the skull is all-knowing and in charge, controlling everything, including knowing when we are safe or not. But actually, only 10% of the vagal nerve fibers run downward; 90% of the fibers run UP to the skull brain from the body, giving us critical information about the world and what is safe (and what isn’t.)
What this means is that we can’t actually tell ourselves what to feel. We can be present, decode, hold and resonate with what to feel, but we can’t tell ourselves to be happy, when we are sad. If we’re neutral, in social engagement, relaxed and self-regulated, we can actually invite ourselves into a different state of consciousness. But not when we’re activated.
When we have a neuroception of safety in our vagal nerve, our body shifts – we see more clearly, we hear more clearly, we decode, understand and we have a sense of both physical and emotional safety. Emotional safety is required for full functioning of humans. Understanding how the vagal nerve works is key to having compassion and understanding for experiences of fear, fight and flee, and freeze that occur without the thinking brain.
Concept #8: Trauma is about loss of accompaniment
Trauma isn’t not necessarily a house fire, an earthquake, a car accident, it’s not necessarily abuse or neglect. What determines if something is trauma is to what extent we are accompanied by warm-understanding during or after a traumatic experience.
Trauma leaves traces in the brain because memories that are difficult—-those that create alarm and are not resolved, where we move through social engagement into immobilization—remain as trauma-knots in human memories. The amygdala has the power of super-glue with memory, and when it grabs a trauma memory, it keeps it forever in present time! It keeps it here in the present in order to preserve our lives and make us safe. It wants us to learn from our experiences so it keeps them fresh, creating bubbles of trauma, the hell of the mean default mode network.
Understanding trauma means understanding that it’s not the event itself that creates trauma. It is how alone we were in it.
Concept #9: Time-traveling with Resonance
When we have traumatic experiences where we are not accompanied, the amygdala super-glues everything about the experience together and stores those memories in present time. It does this so that those experiences of terror/fear will help us to NEVER experience that thing again. Trauma is our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe by remembering all the times we didn’t feel safe so that we can avoid them again in the future.
While this is a hellish thing, to be always present with our feats from the past, this means that the DMN is eternally available for resonance. This is very hopeful! When we are resonating with experiences from the past, time-traveling with empathy to our younger selves, we are bringing resonance and self-warmth, leveraging neuroplasticity to change and organize the right hemisphere, create more body-centered awareness,and moving our vagus nerve into social engagement, so that we become the full people we are.
We can’t really know ourselves until we experience ourselves in a neuroception of safety. Moving knots of memory from implicit, amygdala-held memories, to explicit, hippocampus-held experiences, we’re able to time-stamp and contextualize the things that we have lived through.
Concept #10: Circuits of Emotion and Motivation
Understanding emotional circuitry is a huge piece of beginning to untangle the webs of trauma that keep us stuck.
Sometimes, when everything seems stagnant and lonely, you have to spring into the unknown with dreams to keep you afloat as wings. You book a trip to Barcelona alone because everyone else is dealing with the cyclones that weather them.
You go because you have to make time for your heart—something that you haven’t honored lately, frequently working overtime for weeks. You want to allow other cities to fill your mind with dreams once again. You have to keep going. Your path is your own.
Other travelers become companions. Some are companions for the fleeting hours on the plane, like an Indian couple visiting their daughter who works for Google, like the woman returning home to Spain from France who recommends you visit El Nationale for dinner, like the man to whom you lend a pen who shares he is coming back home from a work trip with his friends, like a young woman explaining how to navigate Charles DeGaulle airport.
Some strangers become companions for the seconds between the time you ask for them to take your photo and the moment they walk away, like the girl who takes your photo in front of Botticelli’s breathtaking “Primavera.” Some strangers become companions in the stories they share, unabashed and unhinged. On a bus ride, you listen to Arya’s story of leaving Colombia at 16 and moving to New York. Her grief and determination become your own in the seconds she talks about living with an alcoholic for decades, about his death, about the brutally hard days she endured to make it to see another day.
And one day as you sit on the train to Vernazza from Rapallo, watching tunnels become terracotta rooftops and hanging clothes lines, you realize that the seed of sadness that for many years grew within the pit of your stomach doesn’t feel as heavy anymore. Not because it dissipated, but because a plethora of other seeds have grown beside it—seeds of happiness, thankfulness, surprise, beauty, and love. These seeds have not blossomed from sitting on Tiktok for distraction or on Instagram for external validation, but from being present for the not-so-picturesque moments like putting sunscreen over the sunburn that sleeps on your shoulders from a previous day’s walk in Nice, like accepting a compliment from a stranger on your walk to the Picasso museum, like spilling scorching coffee all over your favorite jeans when a sparrow lands to close for comfort as you eat a salad bowl at the Amblé patio in Florence, like laughing about how bad your French is with a Texan couple at dinner in Juan-les-Pins. These are the important moments.
No, they are not free of harrowing loneliness or sadness, but they are the ones that keep you going. They are the ones that show that you want this life amid its uncertainty, its sorrow, its brutality, its injustice, and its evanescence. Keep casting dreams into wishing wells. Some will come true and others will surprise you in the most wholesome of ways. I promise you it is worth it to keep going in the face of weariness. You are worth it.