• nancy willbern

Updated: Jun 15

All you have to do is tell yourself you are going to write a blog post about the personal shadow and all the ghosts and goblins hiding in your back pocket will rise up and shout, “Gotcha!” Seriously, this morning I was in that twilight state between snooze and awake and every humiliating moment that my psyche has collected for my whole life-time came rising up to my awareness, in a whole stream of consciousness – one wincing scene after another. And, it wasn’t like I was just thinking about them. With each memory, I felt my stomach clench, my shoulders folding, my knees rising to my chest. And there I was – a bundle of guilt and shame in full-body fetal position. And I hadn’t even had breakfast yet.

Welcome to the most predictable, reactionary experience that arises for most of us when facing the personal shadow! This initial visceral reaction is why we all want to avoid looking at it, much less inviting it in for a chat – and as you can see, me included. But the truth is the shadow carries with it mighty treasures, delightfully surprising treasures that we buried long ago.

Getting to know the shadow is convoluted. It’s a paradox. It turns reality, as we know it on its head. I introduced some of these ideas in my last post. I am going to slow the process down, clarify some things and show how the the process evolves in this post and going forward. Here’s how this works, as I understand it: When we are little and experience what feels like gaps in love, we will more often than not, make it up that we must have either done something wrong or that we – our very being – must be unlovable or unworthy, not desirable in some way.

When we turn the lack-of-love experience against the self, what we are actually doing is cutting off parts of the truth of the self and then hiding them away in a secret back-pocket.

What is left after all the seemingly unworthy parts have been hidden is a caricature of the self that we want to believe, and want everyone else to believe is our true self – the me that is acceptable, loveable, worthy and desired.

Our innocent-child-self is hard-wired to keep its focus on the external authorities in its life. This is a built-in survival mechanism. The instinctual body registers when things feel safe and good, and when things feel tense or scary. It is our intuitive body that registers the Life Energies of Truth and Love as discussed in the previous post. When we are young and dependent, the intuititve body registers but it takes a backseat to the instinctual body whose main goal is survival. Our little psyches are designed to take notes from all the signals. In those early years, actually for the full first-half of our lives for most of us, our unconscious goal in life is to notice what brings us the experience of safety, some sense of power and control, and what seems to win us affection and esteem. Whatever those things are we weave into the best version of the self that we can come up with. We learn to identify with that self-made-self and present it to the world. What has been stuffed into our back pockets becomes the shadow.

We typically reduce the shadow to the container of all those unwanted, embarrassing, humiliating parts of the self that bring us a sense of shame, the ones that aroused those all-powerful authority figures, that gave us the distinct message that those parts were not allowed or wanted here. And that is exactly what the shadow is – a container for all of that mess. But if you just go back up a few paragraphs and re-read the sentence in italics, you will notice that the shadow is actually the container for parts of the truth about the self that our authority figures labeled as unacceptable and we agreed with.

There is something vitally important here that cannot be missed: There is a direct relationship between the self that we identify with and the authority that carries all the power in our lives. From our child’s perspective that authority is always external and upon whom we are totally dependent for survival, safety, love and direction. With our innocent little eyes trained on their every move, we silently ask, “Tell me who I am. Reflect back my worth. Show me that I am loveable.” This part of the human experience cannot be side-stepped. It’s built into the fabric of the whole evolutionary process. We don’t have any choice in that part of the journey. What we do have choice about, once we are on our own and usually after some life-rattling experience is who or what we give that power to. That choice-point is where I will begin in my next post.

CODA: It is now 12:45 PM and clearly, I am all better now – no longer curled up in a tight little wad. A lot happened between 9:45 AM, when I finally went down for breakfast (Don’t judge me. It’s a Saturday. I slept late.) and 12:45, now ready for lunch. All that took place in that 3-hour span is where we are headed. In other words, there is hope. There is more than hope. There is freedom. Back with you soon.

Image credit: Public Domain Pictures/17907 Images

For instructions on how to comment, refer back to the blog post dated June 27, 2020, titled "Comments Please."

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  • nancy willbern

Updated: Jun 15

We create the thing we are defending against.

A Course in Miracles

Continuing on our topic of Shadow Work, I wanted to move away from the collective and talk a little bit about what the shadow is and the important roles it plays in our personal lives. To do that, we have to go way up high and look down on the planet earth from the level of the stars. That perspective exposes the shadow as a vitally important dynamic puzzle piece within the human developmental process. This blog entry will be an introduction to that dynamic relationship.

We’ll start at the beginning. When we come onto the planet we are equipped with an incredible radar system. This system is hard-wired to sense two essential – I will call them - Energetic Forces – because they are felt rather than understood. These two Energies are the building blocks and the healing agents of all life in the Universe. They constitute the very substance of Life, Itself. We call them: Truth and Love.

By Truth, I mean the Energy that resonates an inner YES. It is clear and concise. It doesn't need explanation. It rings true on the inside of our core and is experienced as strength, something to be trusted. It empowers us. Love, in this context brings with it the experience of felt-connection, not-alone, safety, being supported, comforted, understood, known, valued and guided. Please note: Given these contextual definitions, these two Energetic Forces are actually flip sides of the same coin. They always go together. You can’t have one without the other. When one is missing, the other will be missing, as well.

When we are in the presence of or have an interior experience of Truth/Love, we feel good inside. We feel strong in our core. Our heart is open and trusting. We feel aligned, free and connected. Love, peace and joy are its hallmarks. When Truth/Love is either missing or distorted in some way, we feel that too. It feels like a void or tension, like chaos, like a knot in our stomachs, heart-ache, a lump in our throats. Sometimes it feels heavy and dense, something sitting on our diaphragm, something weighing down on our shoulders. Sometimes, often times, it’s terrifying. The lack of Truth/Love is at best, uncomfortable and at worse excruciating.

Here’s how these two Energetic Forces play out in our lives - As infants, we experience life as seamless. We are at one with it all. We can’t tell where we end and our mother (primary care-taker) begins. But by the time we reach about the age of two, reality morphs into a collection of separate entities – each one having a boundary around it and a name. In addition, we begin to realize that our emerging self is one of those separate entities, as well. I, too have a boundary around me and have my very own personal name. This experience of the separate sense of self is when the radar system kicks in, loud and clear. We send out invisible feelers to tell us when we are on the receiving end of Truth/Love. When we are, we feel all warm, safe and cozy inside. When we are not, we feel alone and sick inside. We feel anything but safe. And so, we scramble.

When we are not in the presence of Truth/Love, Its lack of presence is experienced as gaps in Love, which must be True – or so we tell ourselves. When parts of Love are missing in our experience, Truth is replaced with illusions – distortions of the Truth. So, just as Truth and Love always arise together, so does less-than-Love always coincide with distortions-of-Truth Experiencing gaps in Love is confusing and scary. So, in response to this, our brilliant little psyches scramble to make up stories in our heads to explain why the Love is missing. And, given the power differential between ourselves and the powers-that-be, accompanied by our utter dependency, the innocent-child-in-us will inevitably turn this confusing and scary experience-of-lack-of-Love against the self. The child assumes that Love is being withheld because it – the child – is not enough or has done something wrong or is too much of something. Those stories about the self are assumed to be True.

There is more - The pain of that self-condemnation becomes the childhood wounding. And in response to the wounding, and in order to avoid further wounding, our brilliant little psyches come up with a plan to keep us safe and to win the Love that is being withheld. In other words, a plan is created to fill in the gaps where Love is missing. And this is where it gets really important and turns the whole mess on its head – That plan that is designed to fill in the gaps of Love, then becomes the very thing that prevents our awareness of Love’s actual presence in our lives. It blocks the Light of Truth. And that, right there is the birthplace of the personal shadow. Much more to come.

We create the thing we are defending against.

A Course in Miracles

Would love to get your comments or feedback. Does this make sense? Anybody relate? Talk to me.

(If you can't figure out how to comment, please click on the blog post on

June, 27, 2020 for a detailed explanation.)

Image by Santa3 on Pixabay

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  • nancy willbern

Updated: Jun 15

Last night, my husband and I watched “Hamilton” on the Disney channel. If you have not seen it, now is the time! It is being offered on TV during the Covid shut-down because the production is not being performed on stage. And... to think you get front row seats!

The finale left me crying and speechless. I was inspired. I was awed. I was informed. I was deeply touched. And truth be told, I was envious of all that creative genius! Who are these people and what are they made of?!

I am sure you are all aware of the uniqueness of this piece of art, but I will point to some things that stand out in bold relief to me, in continuing our conversation on “Shadow Work.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, an American of Puerto Rican descent is a composer, lyricist, actor, singer, rapper, producer and playwright. Miranda wrote the script, wrote the music and wrote the lyrics for the Broadway hit. (Yes, jaw-dropper!) The inspiration for the work came to Miranda while on vacation in 2008, when reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. What stood out in Miranda’s mind was that Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of American independence was of mixed-race, born out of wedlock, later orphaned and immigrated to this country as a teen-ager - not the traditional, high-brow, white-skinned, powdered wig portrayal we are so used to. The recognition of that humble and tainted beginning became the initial seed for all the creative genius that over the next few years burst into wild and crazy bloom.

The glorified Founding Fathers are not typically depicted as men of color with questionable heritage, but the truth is that Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of Finance was just that. Miranda took that often obscured fact and expanded it into a modern-day portrayal of the White-washed-traditional story and spray painted it with an eclectic array of extremely talented Brown and Black actors, singers and dancers, hip-hopping and rapping their way around a revolving inlaid stage.

While the pace of it is dizzying, the underlying paradigm shift cannot be missed. The field and background of the origins of our nation are flipped-flopped, exposing all sorts of collectively agreed upon assumptions and breaking open all sorts of unimaginable mutations. The shadow becomes foreground and when it does, new neural pathways are formed in the mind and new songs are heard in the heart.

The repetitive refrain in the final song comes in the form of a poignant and piercing question, “Who lives?… Who dies?… And who tells your story?” That question right there sums the whole thing up.

Would love to hear about your own experience with it. What did it stir in you? Expand your neurons? Make your heart sing?

Image by klimkin on Pixabay - Chess Pawn King Game


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