“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” — Carl Jung
In the spiritual community, there is a huge focus on light and positivity. Many of us refer to ourselves as “lightworkers,” and there is nothing wrong with that. But we all have a shadow side – and to only focus on the light would be spiritual bypassing.
The “shadow” is a concept coined by psychologist Carl Jung. It’s the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to look at. The darker aspects of ourselves that we repress, ignore, and shove under the rug. We may try to hide these parts of ourselves – or deny them completely. Sometimes we’re aware of our shadow selves, but it’s on the periphery of our mind. Other times, we’re completely and unintentionally ignorant of them.
According to Jung, our shadow selves can consist of energy patterns called “sub-personalities” that we disowned during childhood. We pushed these qualities deep into the depths of our subconscious as a coping strategy.
What is “Shadow Work”
Put simply, shadow work is a way to uncover our shadow selves. When we bring our shadow into the light, we’re able to change destructive behaviours, heal past hurts, and become happier and more self-confident.
I won’t sugarcoat this: It’s not a pleasant process.
But the shadow is always there – even if we refuse to acknowledge it. Pretending that our shadow doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. That just makes it worse.
How to Start with Shadow Work
Let’s be honest – it’s so much easier to notice someone else’s flaws than point out your own. Right?
Ironically, the quickest and easiest way to see your shadow is to notice the qualities that you don’t like in other people.
What are the things that other people do that irritate you or get on your nerves? Where are you quick to criticize someone else?
Unfortunately, if certain personality traits or aspects push your buttons, they’re probably a part of your shadow. Jung has said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Tarot, meditation, and journaling are powerful tools for bringing our shadows into the light.
How to Use Tarot for Shadow Work
Here is my recommendation for how to use Tarot for shadow work. Feel free to try these ideas on for size, or tweak them so they work for you.
First, set aside some quiet time where you will not be disturbed. Feel free to light a candle or some incense. You may even want to burn sage or palo santo to cleanse the energy of your space. If it works for you, play some soft meditation music in the background. Set the scene in a way that will make you feel centered and calm. If you’re into essential oils (like frankincense, lavender, sandalwood, or roman chamomile), feel free to dab a little on your wrists and/or third eye. If you have them, get out your crystals or tingsha cymbals.
Of course, have your Tarot cards, and a pen & paper handy. Choose a Tarot deck that you’re “bonded with.” It’s going to be more effective than working with a deck you’ve never used before.
To start, I recommend sitting in at least five minutes of quiet meditation so your mind is clear and your body is grounded.
Next, it’s time for Tarot and journaling.
There are a number of ways you can use Tarot for shadow work. The first is the freewriting technique:
Freewriting technique: Think about what is truly bothering you right now. What is standing in the way of living your fullest potential? What might be creating negativity in your life? What are you truly struggling with?
Select just one area to focus on and then begin to ‘free write’ about this issue in your notebook for at least 10-15 minutes. What is it about this issue that is upsetting you? Where is this negativity coming from? What does it really feel like? Keep writing and fleshing it out – you’ll find that the more you write, the deeper you go.
If you hit a roadblock, then draw a Tarot card for insight. For example, you might wonder, “Why does this keep happening?” or “What’s really lying beneath the surface here?” Draw a Tarot card and then explore that card through more free-writing.
You may also like to call on your angels or spirit guides to show you aspects of this issue that you may not have been aware of.
Shadow Work Tarot Spread: You can create your own Tarot spread using some of the following questions.
- What does my inner child want me to know?
- What am I hiding from myself?
- What am I not seeing?
- What qualities am I projecting onto others?
- Where do I need help?
- What is the source of my pain?
- What will I be able to achieve once I remove this pain?
- How do I move forward?
- What are the next logical steps?
Independent Shadow Work Cartomancy Session: Benebell Wen has created an extensive workbook for shadow work, which you can find in this blog post. She prepared this workbook for the 2016 Card Reading Summit with Tori Hartman – and it is EXTENSIVE. I highly recommend using this as a guide.
For whichever shadow work technique you used, close out your session by thanking your inner-self and/or your guides. Place your hand on your heart, take a deep breath and say “thank you.”
Bear in mind that shadow work is a life-long process. It’s helpful to revisit your notes in the future to see what has changed or shifted in your life.