A Brief Overview
“Shadow work is the path of the heart warrior”. Carl Jung.
“To sit alone without any electric light is curiously creative. I have my best ideas at dawn or at nightfall, but not if I switch on the lights — then I start thinking about projects, deadlines, demands, and the shadows and shapes of the house become objects, not suggestions, things that need to done, not a background to thought.” Janette Wilson.
In the Shadows
Over the past four years, I’ve been on my own journey of deep inner work and over the past seven months I’ve been training in clean language. This works on the principles of inviting clients to explore their landscape and moving toward metaphors. This led me to learn that we tend to consume the same information, day in and day out, carved up in different ways from similar sources. It’s therefore important to diversify our reading, our conversations, and our landscape.
What does this mean?
Challenging and disrupting the way you think, as you become comfortable with everything surrounding you, so when faced with change or uncertainty, it doesn’t create a false belief in your thinking.
Take my client who is a hugely successful VP and in the top 10% of the organisation. She has delivered and exceeded expectations continuously in her career and she believed that she had to move periodically. In fact, she expected to do this.
Now this is typical of a high performer, particularly those on the top talent track (think rotations to broaden experience).
There are two things she discovered:
1) uncertainty as to what the plans on where she would go next, and
2) started to put together conversations that were positive, but she was seeing them as negative. She felt out of control, in limbo, and in the bed of uncertainty.
Firstly, there’s a better way for organisations to manage succession and 9-box models through continuous communication and engagement.
Secondly, limbo and feeling out of control IS common if you aren’t taking control of how you are thinking and what you are seeing.
If you’ve studied art or music, you may have come across the phrase working in shadows or look for the shade. You’ll have learned how to explore the landscape. Light, dark, colours, attributes. This kind of space allows you to focus on ‘one thing’. Observe more clearly. And succeed.
It’s the same for people. The best results I’ve facilitated have come from shadow work that involves observation.
Consider this paragraph from a book I read recently:
“We Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce, then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light – his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”
Source: In Praise of Shadows (1933) by the Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki
- Read how shadow coaching helps leaders to improve in real-time.
- Try doing nothing for 1 minute, and then increase to 5, then 10 minutes. You can try lighting a candle, breathing deeply for a few moments, sitting in sunshine or in nature. Something that gives you the space to stop. Observe your emotions, what’s around you. Focus on one thing if you find it difficult to slow your thoughts. Keep practising and see how much more creativity and more focussed you feel as you practice further.
- Consider your own leadership shadow:
Remember shadows don’t have to be dark. They could be the key to unlocking your potential to greatness.