what is shadow work

The Power of Shadow Work: A Journey of Self-Compassion

We've all been there. That little voice inside, whispering secrets about ourselves, urging us to push certain memories, feelings, or aspects of our being to the far corners of our mind. It's these parts, often ignored or suppressed, that hold the key to genuine emotional healing and self-love. 

The process of no longer ignoring or suppressing those parts is called shadow work. And that's what we're going to dive into here.

What is Shadow Work?

At its core, shadow work revolves around delving into the depths of our consciousness to uncover hidden parts of our psyche. These hidden facets can be due to trauma, shame, or various other reasons. By acknowledging and embracing them, we offer these wounded parts the compassion and space to heal.

For the Balance app's Co-Head of Meditation Ofosu Jones-Quartey, who's also a recording artist, this self-exploration often surfaces during meditation and his artistic pursuits. 

"My latest album, Amida, was a conscious decision to touch those tender spots of vulnerability and express them. The song 'Frozen Lake' from the album, for instance, encapsulates a poignant realization: 'Wish I knew then what I know now. How could I understand? I had to reach the end of self-loathing to find where love began,'" Jones-Quartey said. 

Such revelations underscore the importance of understanding that one can't give love if they haven't experienced or recognized it themselves.

Embarking on Your Own Shadow Work Journey

If you're interested in embarking on this journey of introspection, check out this brief video, which is part one in a two-part series, from Jones-Quartey:

To summarize, consider these three foundational exercises if you'd like to begin shadow work:

Meditating

Mediting is a great way to explore shadow work. By observing your thoughts, you can locate and acknowledge your vulnerabilities. A specific meditation, such as the Forgiveness Single on the Balance app, can assist in overcoming feelings of shame or guilt since it allows you to focus specifically on forgiving yourself. Furthermore, the Balance app's Loving-Kindness meditation can be instrumental in cultivating self-love.

Journaling for Self-Reflection

Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper can help get them out of your mind and make them feel more concrete. Begin with the prompt: “What part of me do I try to hide from myself and others?” Then, go a little deeper by contemplating, “What would it look like for me to be kind to this part of myself?”

Practicing RAIN

This technique, introduced by psychologist and leading mindfulness meditation teacher Tara Brach*, stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. By using this method, you can learn to identify, understand, and lovingly embrace your emotional triggers.

Remember, the aim is to forgive, accept, and befriend every facet of yourself. This is the essence of self-compassion. 

*To see conversations between Jones-Quartey, Balance's other Co-Head of Meditation Leah Santa Cruz, and Tara Brach, you can check out this video on Working through Anger and this video on Turning Poison into Medicine.

How to Create a Daily Self-Compassion Routine

Once you've done some shadow work, the next step is to build self-compassion into your daily routine. To do that, you need to first understand that self-compassion isn't a monolithic practice. Rather, it's the combination of small, intentional actions that you can weave into your daily life.

Jones-Quartey talks about this in the second part of his video series:

Actions that Generate Self-Compassion

To summarize Jones-Quartey's ideas about what these intentional actions to generate self-compassion could look like, check out this list:

  • Meditation: A short meditation session allows for introspection, enabling you to address your feelings without judgment.
  • Physical exercise: Incorporating physical activity, whether it's a nature walk or a workout, into your day benefits both your body and mind and can improve your view of yourself.
  • Positive self-talk: Intentionally interacting with yourself using the same kindness and understanding you extend to your friends and family members is pivotal to increasing your self-compassion.
  • Creative endeavors: Creative outlets, like songwriting, journaling, or design can provide an avenue to express yourself and act as a form of self-kindness.
  • Gratitude: Finally, reflecting on the good things in your life and the things you appreciate about yourself, however small, can further instill feelings of self-love and acceptance.

Suggested Daily Routine

And if you're looking for more of a schedule to jump-start your self-compassion daily routine, we've got you covered:

  • Morning: Start your day with meditation and positive affirmations.
  • Afternoon: Dedicate time for a walk outside and some simple gratitude reflections.
  • Evening: Make time for a judgment-free review of the day's events, reacting to your choices as if you were dialoging with a friend.

Build More Self-Compassion with the Balance App

Embracing shadow work is a transformative process that paves the way for deeper self-compassion, understanding, and emotional healing, which you can then maintain through intentional daily actions geared toward embracing your whole self.

It can be tough to do independently, so if you're looking for some support along the way, consider downloading the Balance app on iOS or Android. It's full of amazing guided meditations and other tools that can aid your journey toward self-compassion. And it's totally free for your entire first year, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

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