In Shamanistic training, and in Psychology as well, there is a concept of the “Shadow Self” that must be confronted if one is to heal completely. This “shadow” includes all the behaviors that we think are nasty – all the things we have decided, through conditioning, experience, and pain – are unlovable. And since every human wants love, we deny these characteristics in ourselves. Instead, we see them and condemn them only in other people.

As Margaret always told us, other people we meet are a mirror for us – and this is what shadow work is all about. We are so afraid of our “unlovable” behaviors that we literally cannot see them in ourselves, until someone models them for us. For instance, I am carrying about 30 pounds of extra weight right now – and as a result, when I see very heavy men or women I feel judgement and criticism. I know better, but this is just how the shadow works. What I was taught in shamanic practice is that EVERY time we feel this judgment, it is a message to us that WE have something inside us which needs needs healing. It is a call to be compassionate, and to nurture ourselves and remind ourselves of the great love that is always available to us.

As I write this, August 21st, we have just literally had a shadow over the sun, and it has been an amazing and fearsome and wondrous thing for many people on many levels. I do not claim to understand them all, and they will vary in personal significance. But what I have become aware of today is that this shadow is a metaphor for the temporary darkness we have been going through in America. The eclipse is a symbol of the simple fact that our country is doing shadow work.

No, we did not want to know that so many of our contemporaries still hated and feared other races, or other ideologies, or other countries – or in fact, anything that could be called “Other.” Yes, it is sad and upsetting. But it is absolutely necessary, as all shadow work is. We cannot evolve unless we face our own shadow – the “bad” attitudes we thought we had left behind – and admit that this is, or was, an essential part of our character. And like all shadow work, the only way to release it is to accept it. Yes, this is part of who we are. Yes, it is ugly. And yet, yes, those who feel this way are still human beings, carrying the essential divine spark, and we do not serve ourselves or them by hating and rejecting.

It is a basic, primal human characteristic to be afraid of “the Other.” Shouting resistance does not allay this fear – the only thing that can, is authentic contact with these Others, which causes us to see that they are not really scary, but just another version of human. We cannot get anywhere by facing the shadow self with hate – that leaves us condemned to our old internal blindness. We must face the darkness in ourselves and in others with compassion, and as much information & gentleness as we can muster (without actually getting physically hurt).

As part of the shamanic ceremony I participated in this morning, we were called on to remember ourselves as beings truly made of light, right down to the cellular level, just like a star or moon or solar planet. And like those radiant beings, it is our job to shed our light equally on everyone who comes within our orbit – not selectively shed light only on those we think are enlightened, or who follow a similar path to our own, or whose ideologies we understand. I know none of us can do this perfectly, because we are flawed & emotional & human. But we can remember that these people of the shadow are also human, and clearly in great pain and fear, or they would not behave in this fashion. We, who have also been in great pain and fear along our path, can do our best to understand them, and root out these characteristics in our own selves before we go throwing stones.

Just like a physical healing crisis, there will be a scary painful time before it gets better. But the crisis is necessary for the healing. As the eclipse shows us, the light always comes back.