Hi Alexander, is shadow work another way of talking about "letting go of the past?"
Margaret Indiana Fantastic question. From a certain perspective, there is no past. There is only the present. This doesn't mean, however that we are free from our history. Its just that the horrors and majesty of the last 14 billion years, barrels into the present moment and 'mixes' with our present context and sense of self, shaping who and what we are.

So, that last 400 years no longer exist in a living way, however 400 years of systemic racism and slavery lives within each of us and shapes us in various and unique ways; but in the present. This happens through memory, stories and how these are woven into our psyches and every cell. But in the present. 

This is a product of deep memory that shapes us in conscious and unconscious ways. For example, the book "white fragility" explores many of the ways white progressives are blind to what racism is and how they participate in it every day. It is in us, but its not the past anymore, because that has already happened. Its still alive in us now, in the present, through the ways we are psychically shaped. 

In this context, shadow work can't help us truly let go of the past, because there isn't one here, in the way I have defined it. However, there is a living present that contains all the things we have not extracted the wisdom from, all the things we remember, and all the things we have suppressed, including our individual and collective traumas, which are often called 'shadow'.

Shadow work, brings the pain 'memory' of the past to a place of healing in the present. So that the pain of the past, that lives in us in the present, can become liberated, integrated, owned, etc. Which one depends on the kind of shadow.  

At the same time, often some view shadow work as a process with an end point and there can be a hurry to get it done and over with. But it doesn't seem like the human experience is made that way and this stance comes down to a desire to avoid uncomfortable things, which is thee opposite of what we need.  It seems our traumas and places of suffering, are invitations to become more whole and most importantly, more able to be with intensity. 

I find this is one of the biggest issues of this era. Many of the people I have met or interacted with have a very difficult time having feelings while acting with integrity and responsibility at the same time. Again back to the book I mentioned. It seems that a huge issue presented in the book, is a major difficulty with white people receiving feedback (in this case about racism) without automatically getting reactive and defensive.

Shadow work, trains us to be with deeply difficult emotions and seeing very difficult aspects of ourselves. This trains us to notice our reactions, take responsibility for them, and still......wait for it, listen and reflect, instead of talk and defend. 

So, while we could say shadow work helps us let go of the past, in the traditional sense, it really helps train us to be in the present, under difficult conditions and be able to do so with more capacity. So that when someone points out a hard thing for us to face, we can meet this with love, ease, and also feel the contraction we have, in the face of something being pointed out. 

Hence, the focus can be on cleaning up how the past shapes the present in a way, but shadow work also has the function of equipping ourselves with deeper capacities in relationship. Our presence deepens, love gets bigger, and holding greater states of discomfort grows. 

This could be an essential tool for shaping a new future that is truly different from the horrors of our past. 
Love this - to sit with discomfort, to bring a light and allow it to dimly light the darkness, to create space where sitting in the darkness is ok. - This is the work, I think. 

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