David Richo, Ph.D.
The poppy petals:
They fall. -Etsujin
The Jungian archetype of the Shadow includes all that
we abhor about ourselves and all the wonderful potential
that we doubt or deny we have. We project these
negativities onto others as strong dislike and project
our positive potential as admiration. We can re-member
and restore these capacities to our psyches. We explore
our dark side as a source of creativity and untapped
potential. How does our dark side manifest, go into
hiding, and emerge to hurt or liberate us? What is evil
and how do we protect ourselves from it? What is the
shadow in our family, relationships, religion, and in
the world? We learn ways to make friends with our shadow
both positive and negative so that our lost life can be
restored and renewed. Inner foes become allies; dark
angles within us become archways of light.
To befriend the POSITIVE personal shadow: Use this
triple A approach:
• Affirm that you have the quality you
admire or envy in someone else. This can be a simple
declaration or affirmation such as: "I am more and
• Act as if you have that quality by making
choices that demonstrate it.
• Announce it: Tell everybody you know that
you are making these changes and ask for their support.
These are three steps we take. They are
usually followed by shifts in our personality; we
begin to act in wiser, more loving, and more healing
ways with no further need for effort. This is the grace
dimension, the spiritual assistance to our work.
To befriend the NEGATIVE personal shadow, here are
• Acknowledge that you have all the
attributes humans can have, that you contain both sides
of every human coin. Acknowledge that you have the
specific negative traits you see in others that evoke a
strong reaction of repulsion in you. The urge to observe
coexists with its opposite impulse to expose.
• Allow yourself to hold and cradle these as
parts of yourself. Acknowledge that they may have gone
underground for a legitimate purpose and are now ready
to be turned inside out and become something more
creative and empowering in your life.
• Admit to yourself and to one other person
the fact of these shadow discoveries about yourself.
• Make amends to those who may have been
hurt by your denial of your own shadow: "I saw this
in you and it is in me. I have blamed you for what I am
ashamed of in myself." Make amends to anyone you
have hurt by any underhanded ways your shadow has
• Become aware of the kernel of value in
your negative shadow characteristic and then treat it as
you did the positive shadow above: affirm it as true of
yourself, act as if it were true, announce your
discovery and program to others who can assist us in
following up on it.
As you do this work, do not scold yourself as a
critical parent for all your deficits. Have a good talk
with yourself as a kindly adult: "I have been
controlling and that is wrong of me, but there is a
kernel of positive value in that controlling. It is my
capacity for getting things done, for organizing, even
for leadership. I will now concentrate on and release
those wonderful attributes. I will find my positive
shadow in my negative shadow!" This is working with
what is rather than attempting to eliminate what is, and
thereby working against psychic truth. Shadow embracing
reverses self-alienation and connects us to our own
To see your dark side, to see what you are really up
to while not shaming yourself for it reconnects you to
your true self and reveals its spacious grandeur. Such
vision is a form of mindfulness. Turning against the
external tyrant is useless. You have to see him in your
own mirror: "This face is mine. I accept the fact
that there is something dark in every one of my
motivations. And I still see the light in me too."
Jung, toward the end of his life, wrote: "I am
astonished, disappointed, and pleased with myself. I am
depressed and rapturous. I am all this at once and
cannot add up the sum."
The theme of letting go keeps appearing in our work
of deflating our egos. Why do we not let go as easily as
the poppy petals do when their season ends? Why is it
not automatic in us as this phrase of Rilke suggests it
can be: "Make it as easy as the earth makes itself
ready for spring"? To ask why surrender does not
happen without pain is like asking why we do not have
strong muscles without working out. It takes practice,
both psychological and spiritual practice that have as
their purpose to grant an unreserved assent to every
human predicament we find ourselves in. The ego cannot
do this; it has too many vested interests in survival
based on its props of control and entitlement.
In the past it was thought that fasting,
self-flagellation, asceticism, etc., made a contribution
to one’s own holiness/wholeness or to those of others.
These practices were reproved by the Buddha who saw them
as life-negating. Our best offering to the world is in
capitalizing on our own vast body/soul potential. What
helps us toward wholeness and what helps others is the
release, not the inhibiting, of our hidden reserves.
This release is found especially in meditation, yoga,
body-oriented therapies, dream work, and active
imagination. The central purpose of these practices is
the letting go of ego not the splitting of mind and
body. The mind’s subjugation of the body can be
another ploy of the ego to keep us divided against the
Self! Ego thrives on oppositions, so defeat of
oppositions is the true letting go of ego.
A body image is the ego’s version of our body. We
confuse these two and think they are the same. Actually,
our body is a marvelous tool and full of wonders
unguessed at by the mind. The ego version of the psyche
does not give the complete picture of who we are either.
Dreams, poetry, imagination, and projection give clues
that there is more to us than ego. In body and mind we
are more than we seem.
An intriguing metaphor for the dissolution of ego is
the metamorphosis of the caterpillar. When it becomes a
cocoon, it goes into dissolution, becoming a yellow,
undifferentiated, gooey mass. This is a necessary stage
before it can be adorned in its splendid butterfly
raiment. We will feel like an identity-less mess when we
let go of ego. Our first reaction may then be fear and
that makes us hold on more tightly to the F.A.C.E. we do
not want to lose. We fall back into the old patterns of
control and combativeness. In reality, the time has come
to let go of those ingrained habits and to allow
dissolution. It is time to lie still, as mummies do.
In fact, a mummy is a cocoon, lying quietly for as long
a time as it may take for its new life to open.
Sometimes the work is to dissolve rather than solve.
Letting go of ego proves to be what wants to happen in
us. It is not a goal but a program already and always in
place for beings like us, so infused with urgent
yearnings for Buddha’s paradise beyond fear and
Everything is pretending
To be born and to die.
Copyright © 2000 David
Richo, Ph.D. This article is an excerpt from Shadow
Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark
Side by David Richo, PhD, Shambhala Publications.
David Richo, Ph.D., M.F.T., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and writer in
Santa Barbara and San Francisco California who emphasizes Jungian,
transpersonal, and spiritual perspectives in his work. He is the author of:
How To Be An Adult (Paulist, 1991), When Love Meets Fear (Paulist, 1997),
Unexpected Miracles: The Gift of Synchronicity and How to Open It
(Crossroad,1998) , Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your
Dark Side (Shambhala, 1999) and Catholic Means Universal: Integrating
Spirituality and Religion (Crossroad, 2000). For
a catalog of David Richo’s tapes and events, please