Robert Augustus Masters, Ph.D.
Shadow Work: Exploration, Integration, and Turning Towards our Pain
Can you be intimate with all you are?
There’s a saying, in Alcoholics Anonymous, that we’re only as sick as our secrets. And most of us who’ve done the deep and challenging work of opening up, whether to a sponsor, a therapist, a close friend, or our partners, know that through allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we can heal. We’ve exposed our shadow to the light of awareness, and through this work, we can begin to transform our lives.
Dr. Robert Augustus Masters, author of Transformation through Intimacy, Spiritual Bypassing, To Be a Man, Knowing your Shadow, and more, is one of the foremost experts on Shadow. In this week’s interview, he shares his wisdom on shadow work, relationship, masculinity, and spiritual growth.
Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, is a relationship expert and psychospiritual therapist and trainer, with a doctorate in psychology. He is the cofounder, with his wife Diane, of the Masters Center for Transformation, a school featuring relationally-rooted psychospiritual work devoted to deep healing and fully embodied awakening. He’s also the author of many books (including Transformation Through Intimacy, Spiritual Bypassing, Emotional Intimacy, and To Be a Man) and the audio program Knowing Your Shadow.
His uniquely integral, intuitive work, which he developed over the past four decades, dynamically blends the psychological and physical with the emotional and spiritual, emphasizing full-blooded embodiment and awakening, emotional openness and literacy, deep shadow work, and the develop¬ment of relational maturity.
At essence his work is about becoming more intimate with all that we are, in the service of the deepest possible healing, awakening, and integration.
Men only groups: http://robertmasters.com/masters-mens-work/
Women only groups: http://robertmasters.com/groupwork/
Professional training: http://robertmasters.com/training/
What is the shadow?
All of us have aspects of ourselves that we’d rather keep in the dark. Parts of ourselves that we’re ashamed of. Emotions, experiences, reactions, and traumas that we’d rather not reveal to the world. Often, discretion in revealing ourselves to others is essential. The danger comes, though, when our shame runs so deep that we dissociate and disown aspects of ourselves, turning a blind eye to their presence within us.
Hidden from the light of awareness, these aspects of ourselves are known as “the shadow”. Learning to discover, recognize, and integrate this shadow material is essential not only to our recovery, but to our growth and evolution as conscious human beings.
Our shadow consists of everything within us that we, often unknowingly, dislike or reject about ourselves. We distance ourselves and disconnect from those facets of our lives, our characters, and our very humanity that are too difficult or too painful to face. Consequently, we see our shadow material everywhere and in everyone through our own projections. “That’s not me,” we say. But until we recognize and integrate that material, it will control our lives in profoundly damaging ways.
The shadow is our not-yet-explored conditioning. And courageously entering (and persistently continuing) that exploration is not a sideline pursuit. It’s the path to wholeness. And for those in recovery, it’s a matter of life and death.
With an open-heart and tremendous self-compassion, we explore those hidden parts within us. We find our hurt, our pain, our suffering, and we enter it. It’s not an intellectual process, either: It’s an emotional, visceral, somatic journey. And it’s (surprise!) not always fun or pleasant to come face to face with those rejected and disowned parts of ourselves. With commitment and continued practice, when we’ve entered our pain deeply enough, we emerge from it. But before that can happen, we must face it. We must turn towards the pain.
Why would anyone put themselves through the uncomfortable hell of confronting our shadow-selves? Because what’s waiting for us on the other side is worth it.
On the Integral path, any awakening that doesn’t include deep knowledge of one’s shadow is going to be only a partial awakening. Without addressing our shadow material, we can slide into the trap of using our spiritual practices as a way to bypass and retreat from the areas of our lives that we’d rather not face. And in doing so, we turn our backs to the truth of what is. Not a very awakened thing to do.
But more immediately, and perhaps more importantly, integrating our shadow brings out the best in us. For all that we projected our “negative” traits onto others, we dissociated from and projected our gifts, as well. And when we rediscover that golden shadow, allowing it into the light, our lives can take on a new sense of purpose and meaning.
Turning toward the shadow takes an incredible amount of courage and self-compassion. It also brings out the warrior in us. Every time we face the darkness, we build faith in our ability to handle life’s challenges. We become more grounded and stable. We learn that anger and love can coexist.
On the path of being intimate with all that we are, the muck of our shadow fertilizes our growth.
In this episode:
[1:25] Who is Robert Augustus Masters, Ph.D.?
[2:45] The concept of Spiritual Bypassing, and what it means to be a man in the 21st century. The dearth of men’s literature on healthy masculinity, and why the lack of healthy role-models for integrated and functional maleness is having a detrimental effect on the lives of men of all ages – and the women in their lives, too. How does healthy masculinity, or the lack thereof, contribute to the plague of alcoholism and addiction, and how does this knowledge and exploration help us in recovery?
[4:37] Bringing the head, the heart, and the guts into full-blooded alignment, and why more and more people, both men and women, are embracing the approach with increased interest
[5:32] Personal experiences of trauma and sexual abuse, and their prevalence in addicted populations
[6:10] Why it can be important to have separate men’s groups and women’s groups when working with deep emotional healing and the shadow, particularly as it applies to our experiences with masculinity and femininity and how these ideas, in both their healthy and unhealthy expression, have affected our life experiences.
[7:12] What does it mean to be a healthy man? When are that we are is working together and functional, including heart, guts, spine, and clarity of mind. Further, facing what’s unhealthy in ourselves – promiscuous urges, pornographic pulls, anger addictions (or allergies) and more, and why it’s important to pull these hidden elements into the open
[9:22] Why confronting our shadow material, in direct opposition to spiritual bypassing, is critical for the completeness of our awakening and spiritual growth
[10:34] Self-compassion in relationship to our shame, and why that vulnerability can be so difficult for men in particular
[11:52] Using numbness as a coping mechanism: What happens when we allow ourselves to feel grief, and how do we find the entry point into the work?
[13:10] Considering our own deaths, and the softening and growth that comes through in our brushes with our mortality
[14:15] The high degree of correlation between Elaine Aron’s work on the highly sensitive person and the addicted population.
[15:30] Stripping away the negative connotations and cultural associations around the word “sensitive”, and why, on a personal level, this is critical to recovery from addiction
[17:15] The anger allergy – where does it come from, and what is the work involved with transcendence. How does learning how to be angry in a healthy way help us step into our manhood
[18:50] The false equivalence of anger and aggression, particularly in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, and why it’s important to bring anger out of the closet and into the light.
[19:40] What are the gifts of sensitivity and empathy for a man in recovery, and how does developing these traits in a healthy way, with healthy boundaries, help us to do the work of recovery?
[21:15] What does healthy anger look like, and how do we work with it? The importance of maintaining heart through our anger – the care and safety that comes along with the heat of anger
[23:10] The distinction between working “enraged” and “outraged”, and the responsibility required of ourselves
[24:28] The coexistence of anger and love, and how, for many of us, “heart” was left out of the equation in the process of growing up
[24:45] Using artistic practices, particularly music, to transmute our emotions. The deep soul expression of creativity and how working with our uncomfortable emotions and shadow material through artistic endeavors can help us integrate our emotional experiences in a healthy way that ultimately leads to growth and evolution
[26:22] Shadow work as a daily practice: “The Conscious Rant” as a means of emotional expression, and how to deepen our shadow work and knowledge of our hidden dynamics through deep inner exploration
[28:08] Somatic anchoring, and how feelings, cogitation, and social factors are all tied into our experience of an emotions, and why this complex and intricate menagerie must be explored on a deep level for healing to occur
[28:52] The storage of past experiences, hurt, trauma, and damage deep within our bodies, how these hidden, repressed elements continue to influence us, and how we can use those somatic clues as guideposts for self-healing. Why area therapy that bypasses the body is inherently incomplete
[30:30] The importance of body work, like massage and Rolfing, as a means to reconnect with our forgotten embodied cognition
[31:12] The bigness and the beauty of the “light shadow”, and how working with the dark shadow can lead to a sense of who and what we really are, our purpose in life, and the hidden and repressed gifts that we have to give the world
[32:45] The path of being intimate with all that we are
[33:33] The re-emergence of our gifts and our passions as we grow comfortable with vulnerability, courage, and self-expression
[34:44] Shadow – that dimension of us where we store, often unknowingly, what we’ve disowned in ourselves, rejected in ourselves, and attempt to distance ourselves from. Moving towards our unilluminated conditioning, and how this can reveal the collective shadows of our culture. Making shadow work an adventure and turning toward our pain, our suffering, and our discomfort to enter and explore it. To enter it, you have to face it.
[37:12] The dangers of spiritual bypassing, and meditating through our addictions and our pain – using meditation as an escape and a distraction from the real and pressing issues that are occurring in our lives.
[39:02] How are we dealing with the addict inside all of us? Are we facing our truth with shame or compassion? It’s easy to demonize the addict within, which only assures that this part of ourselves remains unhealed, lurking in our shadows.
[40:20] Working with our shadow material by inviting our subpersonalities into the living room for a conversation: a difficult guest is still a guest, and we treat them with compassion while keeping our boundaries intact.
[41:15] On developing a light touch and a sense of humor with ourselves to encourage self-compassion and remove the charge from our negative self-talk
[41:40] The courage required for vulnerability and the vow to turn our attention toward our pain instead of turning our feelings into aggression or withdrawal
[43:15] When practice is painful: Transmuting our shit into “holy shit”. Our shadows are the compost of our growth
[45:00] The compassion, humor, honesty, and love that emerge when we share ourselves honestly and allow ourselves, through vulnerability, to grow