Playing with Shadow

Shadow. What comes to mind when you think of that word? You may envision a shadow that is created when the path of a direct light source is obstructed by a physical object, but what I’d like to share with you today is the psychological understanding of “shadow.”

In psychology, shadow is a concept that refers to the repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts that are held in our unconscious mind. However, much like physical shadows, our own shadow aspects follow us wherever we go, affecting our interaction with ourselves and the world around us.

Yet given that shadow is unconsciously located within, how can we bring it into the light of consciousness? I’m so glad you asked! Shadow can be brought to light in a few different creative ways.

Since shadow is held in our unconscious, just thinking about it with our rational, analytical minds might not work. Our analytical minds are much too good at judging or justifying, which may only help to keep shadow hidden.

Instead we need to have ways that can help us bypass rational thought in order to tap into the unconscious. In my practice, I like to offer people the opportunity to create art and music as a way to engage in shadow work.

Sometimes clients feel like it’s easier to engage with their shadow if they can first have a visual representation. Therefore, the creation of visual art is used as a way to create a physical representation of shadow. This is done by engaging in mindful art making- putting to paper whatever comes up, without judgment or critique. Sometimes I’ll play recordings of evocative instrumental music as a way to help them stay grounded and present to the task at hand.

Once they have come to a place of completion with that activity, I then encourage them to have a musical dialogue with their representation of shadow. Because I’m a music therapist, I have a variety of easy-to-play percussion instruments available for them to choose from in order to engage in this musical dialogue. Some of these instruments are melodic in nature (xylophone, piano), while others are rhythmic (drums, cabasa, shakers).

Before playing, I suggest questions for them to ask their shadow, such as “Who are you?” or “What do you want/need to express to me?,” and then playing back shadow’s response. Again, my reason in using freely improvised music as a means for dialoguing is so that clients can say in that place of openness and receptivity without moving back into a place of judgment or criticism.

Once this dialoguing is complete, we then verbally process the experience together. Or if they are still processing the experience and are having difficulty finding the words to describe what occurred for them, I encourage them to journal about it so that we can explore it further the next time we meet. I believe that it is important for words to be used in capturing the insights gained, as it can help solidify what was learned.

So, next time you’re feeling stuck in life, that may be your shadow cluing you in that it wants to be seen. I encourage you to take some time to play with it so that you can find out what it wants you to know.

Please feel free to share any thoughts or questions you might have in the comments section below.



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