“Some Jungians describe incorporation as eating the shadow. I love the gruesomeness of that phrase, so I’m adopting it, even though I am not generally enthusiastic about Jungian theory. (Jungians talk about the shadow as a metaphor for “rejected parts of the self.” In a Buddhist framework, I would rather talk about “rejected aspects of experience.”)
Eating the shadow is slow, repetitive, and often unpleasant. You can’t go to a weekend workshop and get it. It’s like a restaurant in hell. You have to keep chewing, even though the pile the demons shovel in front of you is so vast you cannot see its edges in the gloom. It takes years. And it is disgusting. The shadow includes everything you have rejected because it is slimy and dark, embarrassing and terrifying. Eating it can be exhilarating too, though, once you get your face into it.
Eating the shadow is not mainly a job for the mind. Much less for the “spirit.” “Spirit” talk is usually some concept of how beautifully ethereal humans should ideally be. Put a stake through that, if you want to get anywhere with the shadow.
Eating the shadow is more about the body, including the messy, wet, digestive, metabolic parts. It is about feelings in your stomach—sinking, cramping, nauseous, or empty—not attractive metaphysical ideas.
There are five phases to eating the shadow: hunting, chewing, swallowing, digesting, and burning.
- People hide things from themselves. You have to go hunting, if you want to find them again.
- Chewing shadow is getting extremely intimate with a rejected bit of reality and thoroughly experiencing it, without holding it away at all.
- Swallowing shadow takes it “inside,” so it is no longer “not me.” You may have to regurgitate it sometimes and chew it again, like a cow.
- As you digest the shadow, it becomes a familiar aspect of experience. No longer threatening, it changes in consistency, becoming increasingly malleable.
- Digested shadow is fuel for creative work and practical magic.”