Often when we think of self-care we think light and love, cozy and rejuvenating, peace and balance. But I think we have to go deeper than that. We have to look at the stuff we don’t want to look at, bring it into the light, and heal it so that when we do the cozy and rejuvenating self-care, it is more beneficial and sustainable - and not just in-the-moment self-care.
Let’s take a look at ways to access what’s beyond the light to achieve the ultimate self-care.
What is Shadow Work?
It’s just that. Facing the darkness within you. Darkness. It’s what makes you feel inadequate, small. It’s the key that unblocks why you get triggered; why you do what you do. Your addictions. Your patterns of choosing the same relationships over and over again in different bodies. The darkness is what keeps you in the job you hate that you’re too scared to leave. So if facing it and getting curious about it and having the courage to go to the bottom of the hell part of yourself isn’t the most beautiful form of self-care I don’t know what is.
The Evolution of Self-Care
Self-care to me has changed through the years. For example, in the beginning, for me self-care meant going to the gym six days a week and meal prepping. But why was I going to the gym six days a week? I mean, honestly. To look good? To burn off steam? No. There were unresolved, unknown reasons buried deeper. Instead of feeling uncomfortable emotions that were surfacing, I’d go out for a 10-mile run. Which only served to numb it out. So was fitness truly self-care or was it an escape? I wanted to look good, and be "healthy." Why? So YOU would notice me. Hmmm, got approval issues much? So, does fitness equal self-care? Not really.
I have a healthier relationship with fitness now. Why? Because I’ve done shadow work. Shadow work helps you to know the parts of yourself that you don’t know. Literally, the part of you hiding in the shadows. It’s like taking an X-ray of your whole self and examining what had remained hidden.
Shadow Work Shines the Light
Shadow work is about uncovering unprocessed trauma. Guess what happens when you do this? You take a boat ride through the compassion river. Shadow work is learning the secret love language that only you can discover. Self-care go-to's like bubble baths and champagne will never teach you to love yourself in the way that shadow work does. I’m not saying bubble baths and champagne aren’t amazing to enjoy, however, that’s like surface-level self-care.
The result of shadow work allows you to wrap your arms around yourself amid a horrible mistake. Imagine laying on the floor, bawling your eyes out, and still being able to say to yourself:
"I love you! There’s nothing you could ever do wrong. I’m here for you. I’m not going anywhere. Ever. I will never turn my back on you. I will never abandon you. I don’t care if you lost the job, the perfect guy dumped you, or you’re three months behind on rent, and you’ve gained 50 lbs. I love you and I’m never leaving you and we are going to navigate this one minute at a time if we have to."
That’s genuine self-care.
Shadow Work is Sacred
Shadow work is humility work. Shadow work is sacred work. It’s the work that breaks you open to the spirit within and births grace and mercy through every cell of your being.
Self-care to me is summed up well in my favorite poem: The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Within it she writes:
"Can you disappoint another to be true to yourself? Can you bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul? Can you be faithless and therefore trustworthy?"
Self-care is that kind of care. The ultimate self-care is shadow work. I wish more people knew this. Superficial self-care is what we mostly know: Get eight hours of sleep. Setting boundaries. Be kind to yourself. None of this shit is new. While it can be helpful, is it truly healing?
Diving Into Shadow Work
Shadow work involves asking the questions that stir the emotions. Asking the right questions that resolve the unresolved.
Why weren’t you setting boundaries in the first place?
Why has a bully lived in your head? Do you even know?
Why have you berated yourself?
Where did the pain, resentment, anger, or self-loathing originate?
Who hurt you?
What is the darkness that pollutes your soul?
Why has it become habitual pollution? And how can you love yourself more, not less as you walk through it?
When was the last time you allowed yourself to see, hear, and witness yourself? If ever?
When was the last time you were vulnerable?
When was the last time you examined the stories you cling to about yourself that you didn’t even know you were clinging to?
What are all the masks you are wearing?
Do you know the archetypal patterning of them and why you have created them in the first place?
Do you know yourself that well?
Do you know how to check in with your needs at any given moment and give yourself the replenishing and nurturing you need?
Do you know how to show up in a strong, but loving masculine energy so that your feminine energy feels safe?
Do you know that level of intimacy with the radical responsibility of knowing yourself?
Because when you explore these questions, that’s the ultimate self-care. To thine own self, be true.
Written by Jennifer Lancaster. Jen is an intuitive life coach/artist/healer/writer who helps seekers of truth learn to trust and respect themselves so they can move from darkness to light. To schedule a discovery call with her DM “Soulacy” on IG @jenergy17
This article was originally published in our annual SELF CARE special edition.
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