On a whim, I read A Little Book on the Human Shadow. It’s very short, and it felt very much worth my time.
It’s a pretty even split: I felt indifferent about a third of it (mostly the poetry commentary), I wasn’t interested in another third (very specific to US American culture, and of a certain time or generation), and the last third was extremely useful and interesting. As it’s a very short book, I count that as a win.
Here’s what stood out as helpful in his notes on shadow work:
- Projecting your shadow means giving away energy and power, but is also a good and necessary step: Without projection, it would be much harder to work on reintegration.
- Eating your shadow is the last step, after you have hidden or projected it, then noticed (and possibly rejected) the discrepancy, found justifications (this part hurt in how specific it was), then felt the lack you produced, and only then, you approach the shadow.
- The shadow might be necessary, at least for a while, and absorbing it needs to be a careful, conscious act: Your ego is important, too, and hurting it in your efforts to embrace the shadow will hurt you as a person.
- Shadow work might require a big task or some other external motivators.
- Shadow work might lead to big life changes, and if you don’t choose these changes (after a decade or so), that door closes, and you’re stuck in a shallow understanding of yourself and the world.
- He lists some archetypes and shadows, some of which felt familiar or offputting, both of which is a good starting point for work.
- Shadow work includes playing parts, coming up with scary/dark “spirits”, eg in your art, writing, chasing down the shadow, following your dislikes and strong reactions: both in other people and in anything you encounter.
- He advocates to neither repress nor express your shadow immediately: instead, feel it deeply, honour it, and then (if appropriate) find a mode of expression that is not immediate (“savage”) and rather you and natural (“wild”)
Two refreshing things occurred to me: Some parts of the book are very gendered, and surprisingly enough in a useful way, I thought. I also liked that generally, Bly often just points in directions, or says “there’s something more here, but I really don’t know what it is”.