Using a planner for better, more consistent spiritual practice and conscious, slow life.

Using a planner for better, more consistent spiritual practice and conscious, slow life.

Planners are not for everyone. Just like journals are not for everyone, or hitch-hiking is not for everyone. Why am I opening a post about planners by saying that it's not for everyone? Because I think that it's not talked about enough in the planning community. I believe that if you're interested in starting your own journey with planners, you ought to know how it all works and why so many people treat their planner as if it was the holy grail or a life savior, and why others are not so crazy about it, or drop it after a month.

A planner is a tool. You probably want to be real with yourself from the start about whether you're going to use this thing or not. Tools that actually help us with our work and life are useful tools. Tools that we use just for the sake of using them - because they're pretty and look good on IG, they're trendy or your friends use it or whatever - can turn out to be a useless chore, but they might as well accidentally change the way we operated before, if we're lucky. Either way, a planner needs things to be planned in. Obviously. If you're going to toss it away after a month, consider whether it's worth wasting money and trees (paper) on. I'm saying all these obvious things because it's really important to understand that everyone has different needs and understanding these needs in terms of planning can be a rather useful thing to do.

So, who can benefit the most from having a planner? Those who have a "freelance" hobby / job of any kind, where you organize your own time and need to carefuly plan your tasks, appointments etc. I happen to have this kind of job where I would be completely lost without my planner. Tracking all the client appointments, diagnoses, meetings, deadlines, but also days off and holidays. And I'm not even self-employed, yet. Same thing goes for those of us who have a spiritual practice of any kind. Let's say, as a pagan, it's really difficult to keep track of all the natural phenomena that's happening around the Wheel of the Year, unless you have it all marked and joted down in your planner in advance. Solstices and equinoxes, full and new moons, you name it - there's shitloads of things to track, depending on what's important to you and your practice. Some people choose to have one planner for work and another for everything else. Others might want to separate work, spirituality, travels etc - each into a separate planner. It's all up to the individual. I choose to keep everything in one place. That's because I don't treat any aspects of my life as separate from the rest.

When it comes to spirituality in the context of planning - which we will be focusing on in this post - there are some things to be considered. I had this dillema at first - I didn't want people at work to potentially find out too much about my spiritual practice by accidentally peeking into my planner. It does happen, especially when you want to plan a meeting or appointment, people will automatically look at your calendar as soon as you open it. I'm very private about this aspect of my life in the context of work (unless someone asks) and I certainly don't want strangers to formulate misconceptions about who I am based on what my planner looks like. However, that is my thing, dictated by the kind of career that I have and my need for privacy. You might as well be completely opposite in this regard - if that's your thing then more power to you!

The mistake that I did at the beginning of my journey with planners, years ago, was getting a woowoo planner which I thought I liked, where on most pages you had bits of astrology, some random spells, lunar phases, recipes, affirmations and whatnot. I didn't resonate with most of the content and I ended up making a cover for the planner and pasting sticky notes over the things I didn't want people to see. And let's be real, some people are judgemental fucks, so it's worth considering in advance whether you want to have these conversations with them or not. Either way, I'm not the greatest fan of premade planners where someone curates the content for you. If you're choosing a planner for the first time it's definitely one of the most important things to think through - whether you are into curated content or you'd rather personalize your own thing. If you're just starting out and are unsure whether or not you're into curated planners, it's definitely worth testing it out. For example, I highly recommend this amazing free "Lyrical Songbook" Cartomancy Journal printable, carefully curated by the amazing Jodi Cleghorn. I will be testing it out myself in January.

Obviously, I'm a fan of personalized planners and a huge part of the joy of planning comes from having the planner perfectly tailored to my needs. This applies especially to the content relating to my spiritual practice. I'm not a wiccan who follows the Celtic holidays, likes horoscopes, retrogrades, lists of "100 things to do in 2018" and premade rituals, which seems to be the most popular route with a lot of these planners. Doesn't work for me. And I'm guessing it doesn't work for a lot more people in this community, judging by all the reviews of popular woowoo planners where more often than not you hear "I liked it last year but it doesn't speak to me anymore, the prompts are repetitive, the design is too much, I ended up not using it after two months". That's just the way it goes. Either way, let's get to my setup and how I do it.

For a couple of years now I'm using an A5 binder planner (Filofax-style) with inserts that I replace each year. This kind of planner proved to be the most practical for me - being able to remove pages when I no longer need them, inserting printables or watercolor paper, or even fucking sudoku, being able to make my own dividers, create my own trackers, lists and whatnot. It's a win.

List of contents of my planner:
  • Weekly spread calendar section (premade)
  • Detailed daily planning section to use when necessary (dotted pages)
  • Notes section where I keep loads of cool stuff (also dotted pages)
  • Finances section where I keep wishlists and plan trips etc (dotted)
  • Contacts section (dotted)

That's it. As you can see, the weekly spread calendar section is the only section that I have a premade insert for - that's because I know this system works best for my planning on a daily basis, plus it's still adjustable enough for my needs. The rest of my planner consists of dotted, bullet journal style pages divided into sections.

In my weekly calendar section, apart from work / personal / travel stuff, I keep track of the lunar phases (full and new moons with exact times) + sometimes other astronomical phenomena, solstices and equinoxes + group  rodnovery celebrations that I attend to, my card of the month and sometimes daily draws as well.

I like to have exact times of solstices/equinoxes and major moon phases for magickal workings or ritual purposes / At the beginning of each month I have a card from my Year Ahead Spread for said month written down.

Apart from the calendar part of the planner, most of the magick happens in the rest of the sections. And that's where a bullet journal dotted insert really shines. It can successfully replace a spiritual journal or magickal log of any kind, and make it more practical than all the heavy volumes that we tend to keep. The only thing that I keep a separate journal for is my shadow work, for obvious reasons. Everything else is packed in my planner, where I can access it on the go.

Working on my #winterselfaidkit prompts / My Year Ahead Spread for 2018

I always like to keep track of all the challenges that I do. Depending on the kind of challenge, I sometimes just jot down the prompts and other times create calendar style tables to track my progress. Lists of prompts and important readings are a no-brainer, but there are also other important pages that I always keep in a planner. Some of those are:
  • Lists of books to read and things to learn / research.
  • "Brain dump" sections where I list things that inspire me, things I want to do or try, projects I want to start - all the things that inspire action.
  • Trackers! I track my workouts but I'm also considering a meditation tracker this year.
  • Wishlist. I try to keep it short and inspired, so when I write something down on my wishlist I make sure it's a tool that will aid me in my development and self-improvement or learning something new. No mindless consumerism.
"Brain Dump" page, had to cover the contents, sorry ;) / Workout Tracker page (legend to color in not included) / My Wishlist page - keeping it very short.

The options are limitless really - and that's precisely what has kept me a satisfied user for a few years now. In a customized binder planner there's a place for everything. And, most importantly, there's no place for things I do not need, do not use, do not resonate with. I'm not forced to fit my practice into a foreign system of any kind, I choose my own aesthetics and accessories. 

So, how exactly is a planner helpful in keeping your spiritual practice more consistent and positively impacting the quality of your life as a whole?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it hugely depends on one's needs and especially one's character and style of life management. Some people instinctively gravitate towards planners and journals, others don't understand the point of all this. Personally, I'm somewhere in between. If it wasn't for the kind of job that I do, I prrrobably would be skeptical about the concept of planning. I'm not huge into journaling (apart from shadow work - though even with that I sometimes can't be arsed to write things down, which I end up regretting), I don't do any kind of Book of Shadows etc, I don't record life events or travels. But I'm eternally grateful for my consistent planner practice. 

Managing my professional life through planning has taught me heaps about managing the other aspects of my existence. Constructive solutions that work in one field can often be transposed into other fields! Using these solutions consistently is what helps us discover, tweak or reconstruct our habits, and what's more important, creates a stable frame for growth. It is rather logical that in order for growth to appear, we need to know where's our starting point and where's the final destination - only then can we assess the kind and amout of effort that we need to put into it.

Another important aspect is being real about whether or not I'm procrastinating, cheating out of my goals or simply overloading myself with too much stuff. I can't possibly know how many workouts I missed or when I started slipping out of my meditation routine if I haven't tracked my activities. Having these kind of trackers can be an amazing self-loving aid, giving us powerful clues about our mental well-being or physical health. I've definitely discovered a few interesting "coincidental" behavioral patterns thanks to tracking some of my activities and cycles. It can be a huge help in getting rid of habits and behaviors that are not serving me, or learning where I need to accept my limitations and give myself a self-loving break.

A self-curated planner very much reflects our nature by being as minimalistic or intricate as we like it, and by providing exactly the kind of motivation and accountability that we need right here and now. It is a great tool for those of us who want to improve some aspects of our lives or could use an additional creative outlet for self-discovery and keeping our shit together.

That being said, happy NEW YEAR to you! Wishing you an amazing 2018! I'm definitely up for nailing it by having everything neatly planned - got some amazing goals to suceed at, and I bet you do too!

Got any questions concerning planners? Hit me up in the comments section! Perhaps you'd like to share your planner solutions with me? I'd love to hear about that as well!
#ShadowWorkOctober 2017: The Elements

#ShadowWorkOctober 2017: The Elements

Here's a recap of my #ShadowWorkOctober challenge that was hosted on IG throughout the month of October 2017.This year's shadow work experience is a mixture of the best things from previous years in terms of form. You can probably recognize some familiar bits - like the mandalas that we also did two years ago and had lots of fun and profound experiences with. Similarly to last year's experience, prompts are grouped and divided into weekly themes but this time there aren't as many huge spreads but rather more singular prompts, as well as some exercises consistent throughout the weeks. You can participate with or without the help of tarot (or other divinatory systems), however I strongly encourage you to use a journal!

#ShadowWorkOctober 2017 Schedule

On the first and last day of the challenge you're asked to create a mandala. You can use any medium of your choice, it could be a simple drawing or an elaborate painting - whatever you feel drawn to express. The process should be intuitive, not much planning involved. When you go with the flow you allow for the deeper parts of the Self to come forth and manifest.

Once your mandala is complete, you might want to take some time to try and interpret its meaning - you can look out for any universal symbols, things that have personal meaning to you or remind you of something particular. You can also leave the mandala be and wait till the end of the challenge to have two mandalas to compare. You'll be surprised how different they'll feel.

WEEK 1: Fire

WEEK 2: Water

WEEK 3: Air

WEEK 4: Earth

If you'd like to check out all the amazing people who participated in this challenge, hop over to IG and see what the #ShadowWorkOctober tag has to offer.

Here are some badass mandalas that I love!

Previous years #ShadowWorkOctober resources:

* All of the provided resources and images (apart from the mandalas which are clickable links to their owners' profiles) are of my own making. Please do not claim them as your own.
Quit the damn blame game! Collective shadow in the face of social revolutions of today.

Quit the damn blame game! Collective shadow in the face of social revolutions of today.

There are some things that need to be said in regards to the collective shadows running wild across nations these days. I think we can all agree, at this point globally, that something is stirring up, bubbling furiously into the surface and rather quickly slipping out of control. I've been watching in pain and horror as these series of tragic events unfold pretty much on a daily basis - mass murders, terrorist attacks, people getting killed, injured or ostracized at best for their beliefs and values, free speech being violated. These are scary times we live in. But guess what - times are always scary, as long as we're human. This is not as much about the circumstance you find yourself in but the way you handle it in terms of personal and social responsibility.

I have talked about the collective shadow on numerous occasions (I'll link it all at the bottom of this post), because I strongly believe that it's important to make you aware of such concept and specifically how you might potentially be contributing to the issues, unknowingly or not. I want this to be my first and last post concerning political issues - I'm aware that many people will disagree with me and perhaps even hate me for what I'm going to say. What I invite you - The Reader - to do is to try and always look at the bigger picture, outside of your subculture, ethnicity, political orientation, and especially outside of the group of people that you consider to be your friends and allies. Get to know and really understand the people you perceive to be your enemies, just as you have to get to know and really understand your shadow in order to grow, mature and self-actualise.

What prompted me to write this post, apart from this shadow work prompt, was seeing some women I love and respect speaking about how the mythical, almost archetypal at this point, White Man is responsible for all evil in the world. White Man responsible for rape, White Man responsible for mass shootings, White Man responsible for racism, terrorism, crime, sexism etc. It's not just one White Man, it's every damn White Man in the world - you're all of the above just by being born a White Man, unless you self-proclaim as an "ally". I'm not overexaggerating. This is pretty much a direct quote. An ally to what? Playing the blame game and guilt-tripping yourself to hell for who you are? Ideally.

My first thought was "I wonder how these women's white boyfriends / husbands feel about being thought of as the worst plague that walks the face of Earth." I wonder if they had to buy into it to buy their woman's love, thus basically annihilating their self-esteem and masculinity OR do they consciously censor themselves on a daily basis in order to be accepted by their partner? Either scenario is damn tragic. If you blame the White Man for everything that's wrong with the world, just keep in mind that you're also blaming your partner, your father and grandfather, your son. No, there are no exceptions according to this way of thinking, are there? So don't make exceptions to get rid of the cognitive dissonance. Take responsibility for being a major contribution to the male:female suicide ratio disproportion growing each year in disfavour of the males. Let this thought sink in.

The major problem I have with the Western English-speaking countries' politics of today is that the rule is to tear the Enemy down, completely destroy them in order to magically gain everything we think they possess - power, money, social status, easy life, glory, immortality and fuck knows what else. (And if not gain those things then at least make sure nobody has them.) Guilt-tripping people into mental breakdown and then guilt-tripping them some more for having that mental breakdown, while simultaneously feeling entitled to being "triggered" by anything outside of our comfort blanket vision of the world. Playing the blame game, to shove all the shit of the world at the mythical creature known as Someone Else and win the Victim Olympics. Because apparently, today, the more incapable, weak and dependent on others you are, the more accomplished you are. Or at least that's what they want you to believe. Guess why.

I'm in constant shock that this is being a thing, especially in the spiritual community. How is tearing groups of people down through conflict a constructive thing to do? We all know it is not. But it's difficult not to play the game that the society is asking us to play, when you're nearly forced to choose sides at this point. Is it really difficult though? That's the problem of populist political movements that downplay the importance of an individual in favor of "us, the people", movements that make you shape your identity in such a way that you become incapable of perceiving yourself outside of the group context.

Such movements create the perfect microclimate conditions for the Collective Shadow to grow and fester. Let me tell you why that is.

As we all know, the narrative is that it's either left or right. It cannot possibly be more polarizing than that. Our minds love these dualities! They make life easy - they help us operate on autopilot, use our learned and conditioned schemes of behavior, act out the stereotypes we believe in, and most of all - not question the rules, beliefs and actions of the group we belong to. You'd want to believe that this description fits your enemies perfectly but at the same time you have trouble seeing how it applies to your side of the force. Trust me, if you chose the side, this applies to your side just as much as it does to the opposite side. You might not partake in these things personally - same could be said about most other people - but the sole support is what makes you co-responsible, make no mistake. Failing to see it proves that some stepping back and figuring shit out might be required. Good thing it's free.

Anyway, where do these conditioned schemes of behavior and stereotypes come from? We learn them, they help us function more efficiently and thus, evolutionarily speaking, highten our chances of survival. They're partially or completely subconscious in order for us to have a maximized amount of cognitive "operative power". In psychology we know these mechanisms as cognitive bias. It doesn't end there though! Here's where it gets dangerous. When you're a strong believer in anything, be it a religion or - in the context of this post - a political movement of any kind, your perception of the world is biased towards these beliefs. I'm not saying that it makes people delusional or unable to see the world for what it is. Nono!  (That's reserved for extreme cases, which btw are not so rare anymore these days.) It just sets our cognitive and interpretative "priority" to be in line with our beliefs. This is known as confirmation bias.

If you are strongly invested in a political movement that is populist and ideologically fucks around either with religion or with identity, there's no way in hell you're not experiencing and participating in these biases. Unless you misidentified your political views. (Hey, perhaps it's time to actualise?) This proves to be especially ironic for the modern leftist movements which claim to be anything but biased, at the same time claiming that we're all born with inherent bias towards minority groups, because fuck logic (the tests and faculties that are now mandatory to take at some universities are highly unscientific, but this is not the place to explain this), and exhibiting extreme bias themselves (towards anyone who is not a member of any minority). It's gotten to the point where free speech is thought to "perpetuate fascism and white supremacy." Here, check this beautiful summary of freshest news just from October this year.

Absolute madness. This is our zeitgeist. This is the collective shadow of the western civilization as a whole surfacing after centuries of suppression. Entire nations feeling guilt and shame for their forefathers' actions. We should learn from history if we don't want to repeat it, it's true. But guilt and shame are not a good advisor, unless we're interested in making the least constructive decisions, especially when it is the collective guilt and shame we're talking about. Just like with individual shadow work, it would be ideal to analyze the situation and get to its root, then understand it and come up with an appropriate way to heal and integrate it into consciousness, into common knowledge and fact about the human nature.

Oh wait, we already researched and analyzed these things: Stanford prison experimentMilgram experiment. But we would rather start another war than admit that we're all capable of being just like Hitler and Stalin. It is a dangerous and scary thought, but it's true. And nobody other than us wields the power to control these impulses. It's a tremendous power. Unused power - because we'd have to admit the existence of these impulses in the first place, which we don't want to do. That is the great collective shadow of all humanity - the Beast Within, the potential for dark deeds and evil that rests at the depths of our souls. When we deny its existence or think of it as something "that could never be me", we give it control over us.

Those who survived a true Dark Night of the Soul will know what it's like to allow these impulses to wash over us, make us not only believe in their existence but perhaps even fear that that's all there is to us. Those who survived the Dark Night will also know that the only way through the crisis is to integrate this part of themselves into consciousness, to stop denying it any longer, to be aware of the beastiality they're capable of at all times.

Is integrating it into consciosness equivalent to becoming the worst version of ourselves full-time? A beast, devout of ethical values and wallowing in this scary yet satisfying new-found freedom to do evil? Absolutely not! That is up to the individual. What makes you civilized is the ability to control the Animalistic Self in favor of the Moral Self - the ability to consciously choose to follow the Golden Rule, and the law.

As I mentioned, the Dark Night of the Soul, or simply crisis is a natural mechanism that occurs when the amount of shadow content grows to be too overwhelming to be contained. Similarly, when the amount of shadow content of the collective grows too much, it also results in a crisis (extremism, war, collective hysteria, terrorism etc.). We've had a few of those major crises in the past, less than 100 years ago. You'd think it would suffice for longer than that, or at least wish that was the case. But truth be told, this is the longest period of relative peace in the western civilization in the history of its existence. Perhaps this is the maximum we're capable of. The collective shadow is running loose yet again - this time in the form of extremist left and right at the same time, woo! The worst part is that most people involved probably have no idea that they are involved.

The situation gets complex and hard to grasp when we stop talking about the individual capacity for darkness and look at it from a collective perspective. But it's always handy to try and break it all down to make it more digestible. So, how do we become involved in a collective shadow? If you're involved in any group of people, you're also involved in that group's shadow. There are some groups we belong to by default (since birth), like our nationality, race, gender; there are also groups we consciously choose to become a part of as we grow, concerning our political views, interests and hobbies, profession, beliefs, subculture etc. How can we detect the collective shadow of a group we're a part of? The easiest shadow content to uncover is the one concerning the Enemy. Every group of people has an Enemy. Depending on the kind of group we're talking about, it might not always be an enemy in a literal sense - for example, it could be as banal as something we dislike or ridicule within the group, like people listening to a certain genre of music we find distasteful or fans of otherkin furry roleplay. But it can also be (and most often is) more literal - an enemy of the country/state, opposing political party or religious group, people that are considered to be outcasts, black sheep, underground counter-culture. Those are the embodiments of our group's shadow.

But let's dive back into the collective guilt and shame, because I strongly believe that those two feelings are at the backbone of the political fuckeduppery (yes, this is a word from now on) of today. Does anyone genuinely believe that making their entire existence into a political statement of guilt and shame of the western civilization's history can cause actual change for good? Does it actually help the oppressed minorities when you offer to have your life made hard "in return", for the sake of historical revenge? Does it help people grow and actualize their beliefs and views when you shut down their freedom of speech, forcing them into the underground, to resentfully keep all the "politically incorrect" views to themselves and make them evolve into fuck-knows-what unchecked? Here, take a look at what's happening in the underground of the internet, where supporters of forbidden political views are trying to create history: Polish far-right march goes global, drawing people from afar.

Everything is a matter of interpretation. People need the Enemy to justify enforcing their beliefs onto others. What happens if there's no enemy to fight though?

It's consciously created - extracted out of the depths of the murkiest places in one's psyche and animated into life, like Frankenstein's monster.

Let's take that thread about "Polish far-right march" as an example. November 11. is the Independence Day in Poland. One of the ways in which it's celebrated each year is the march in Warsaw. Of course, you can find far-right people and organizations marching there (as well as far-left, antifa etc) but the majority of the people marching are regular people, not belonging to any extremist groups, who simply want to celebrate Poland's independence. Here's where the power of interpretation comes into play. At one hand, the leftist part of the internet got flooded with posts about "the greatest gathering of fascists and neo-nazis march in Poland", at the other hand we get the direct result of this narrative in the form of threads created by actual "Fourth Reich supporters" trying to make it reality. Fun fact is that none of the sides of this internet narrative were actually Polish. What does this narrative do? It portrays Poland as a modern "bastion of fascism, racism and white supremacy", which is exactly what some groups want Poland to be portrayed as, for political and economic reasons.

(Nov 11. Independence Day march in Poland)

How do we find ourselves in this collective mess? It's really not simple to stay completely neutral at all times. However, exercising observation of the Self in political context might prove to be of tremendous help for our personal development. Partaking in activism for example says a lot about the beliefs we hold, some of which might not exactly be fully conscious. It's worth pondering on not only what we're supporting but also what we're fighting against and what are the far-reaching consequences of that. Some forms of activism seem like polarizing forces of nature, rather than rational actions. Take as examples the Charlottesville "you will not replace us" torch march and it's aftermath or BAMN - thought to be involved in terrorist attacks, causing riots.

I'm assuming that my readers are most likely not actively involved in these particular groups, on either side. But I'm pretty sure that a lot of us, when confronted with news about all these riots, rallies and whatnot secretly cheer for one of the sides, thinking that even though we might not openly support their methods, we're kind of happy that there's someone doing that in order to fight the Enemy, the side we don't support. It's human to think so. But it's also very dangerous. It might not be obvious for people in the west but for someone who lives in a country that survived both the nazis and the communists, it's quite fucking apparent that that's exactly how these deadly regimes come to power. When there's silent support (or lack of reaction), bad things happen (Diffusion of responsibility occurs). Any sign of compromise of individual freedom is a sign of emerging trouble and should not be ignored. Things spiral out of control faster than we'd expect, and when the damage is done it often becomes unreparable until the cycle of destruction and restoration (sinking into crisis and building back up) is complete.

Let's not give ourselves, as societies, the excuse to engage in self-pity, violence and war. Supporting constructive initiatives is where your energy is never wasted - instead of protesting what you don't like, find things you can support with your energy (be it through finances, publicity, volunteering) to create actual change for at least one individual. That one individual can also be yourself. Self-love, respect, awareness, wellness - these are the signs of a healthy individual, as well as a healthy group (of individuals). Always.

Other posts where I speak about the Collective Shadow and related topics:

P.S. In case you're really really curious about my political views, I'm a classical liberal, very centrist and focused on freedom of the individual.
What is and isn't shadow work? And who the fuck is C. G. Jung? Understanding the concept of Shadow.

What is and isn't shadow work? And who the fuck is C. G. Jung? Understanding the concept of Shadow.

Most of you, Dear Readers, probably know me from my annual #ShadowWorkOctober challenge / experience. This year will be the third time we're in this together, and since October is fast approaching, I thought I'd take the time to touch on the subject of shadow work and perhaps explain the jungian concept of the Shadow a little bit. I'm warning you now - this post is going to be rather long, so get yourself a cup of tea or coffee, get comfy and let's go through this together! It's going to be worth it, I promise.

I'm pretty sure it's a safe bet that Carl Gustav Jung never anticipated that his analytical theory of the structure and dynamics of Self would become so unpopular in the scientific circles, but would take the modern witchy and spiritual communities by storm. Or did he?! Even though he's known for being the man who tried to marry science and spirituality by drawing inspiration from in-depth analyses of all sorts of spiritual traditions, world religions, philosophies and various metasystems, such as alchemy, astrology, comparative mythology, western occult tradition et cetera, it's important to remember that back in his days he was thought of and recognized as a psychologist, psychiatrist and a scientist. This means that his primary focus was to record, test and research his theories in a scientific manner, as much as it was possible at that time (the beginning of XX century) - at the dawn of psychology as a field of science separate from psychiatry, when tools and methodology in this field certainly weren't nowhere near as advanced and established as they are today, and when Freud's penis theories were still thought of as "the shit".

I could talk about Jung for hours (absolutely love the guy!), but sadly he's not the main focus of this article. Why am I mentioning Jung then? Because I think it's important to remember where the concept of Shadow and shadow work came from and where we should ultimately turn our heads for answers. The shadow side of shadow work (pun intended) being so popular in the circles it's popular in is - and I am willing to bet huge amounts of money that it is the case - that only the minority of those interested actually take the time to research the topic properly, from less of a woo-woo-witch perspective and more of a "let's put my smartass glasses on" perspective.

There's probably a few reasons for that, but I imagine the main problems to be: a) Jung's books are not as easy to read as fantasy novels - in fact, they can be overwhelming as fuck if you don't have a basic knowledge/understanding of classic psychology/philosophy terms and concepts, b) lack of willingness or perhaps even resistance stemming from the preexisting preconceptions and fallacies (false knowledge and beliefs) one might have surrounding this topic in particular or psychology in general - mainly, that it might "debunk" some of the things one believes in and thus contribute to the collapse of one's hierarchy of values or even the meaning of life itself.
For obvious reasons, let's skip factors like laziness or believing that we'll get all the answers by watching a YouTube video from a teen wiccan about how they're an expert at shadow work because they started doing it a week ago ;)

So, how do we go about understanding what shadow work is and what it certainly isn't? It would be helpful to start by understanding what the Shadow itself is, where in our Psyche it resides and what its function is. If you did shadow work at least once before, there's a huge chance that you understand the Shadow to be the part of your Self that is unconscious and consists of all the parts of Self that you repressed because you don't want to identify with them for one reason or another - such as fear, traumatic experiences, resentment, shame, judging something as evil or weak etc. While it's not incorrect to think of the Shadow in these categories, it is only a half-truth, an incomplete image taken out of its context. To understand the Shadow further, it's important to present it in its original context, which is the jungian theory of the Self and what it consists of.

  • The Self
The Self can be thought of as an axis around which the structure of human Psyche organizes itself. To make it easier to understand, you can think of this whole structure as a tree - The Self is the trunk, everything above it is the crown (consciousness) and everything below are the roots (unconscious).

  • Consciousness
The conscious part of who we are consists of the Ego and Persona. Ego is everything we consciously recognize as ourselves, while Persona is how we present ourselves in the outside world. The difference between the two is that Ego is usually much more complex than Persona - after all, we don't always expose all of who we are to others, we don't always speak our mind out loud, not everyone knows about everything we do and are interested in etc. Persona is adjusted to the social context we find ourselves in, while you can think of Ego as who you consciously are when you don't have to pretend anything or conform to social context. 

  • Unconscious
Everything that rests below the Self is partially or completely unconscious. Every part of Self that got rejected by the Ego lands in the Shadow. The contents of our Shadow are very contextual, in the sense that what gets repressed is heavily dependent on the way we were raised and treated in life by others, the kind of intense experiences we had (traumas and revelations alike), as well as the cultural context we grew up in.

  • Shadow
It's important to note that not everything we cast into the Shadow must be an objectively negative thing by default. On the contrary! For example, if you think of yourself as a civilized person that despises violence, you might have repressed your natural capacity for freely experiencing and openly expressing emotions such as anger. By doing so, you might find yourself unable to act in an assertive manner or defend yourself when needed, basically creating unnecessary tension and feelings of resentment and hopelessness, leading to self-sabotaging behaviors and victimhood mentality, which in itself leads to repression of even more parts of Self as a result. Another common example could be the repression of our inner artist - compulsively procrastinating or feeling huge amounts of tension each time we want to express ourselves creatively. While there might be multiple reasons for that, some of the most common are tied to feelings of shame, embarrassment and lack of approval or being judged as not good enough by a parent when we wanted to express ourselves creatively as kids. An example of  a culturally conditioned shadow could be shame of being a sexual creature or aversion to materialism.

Enough examples! As you see, the Shadow is not exactly all scary, evil and weak. We sometimes discard parts of ourselves that could actually be constructive and useful to us and imperative to our growth, which is one of the reasons why it's so important to get to know our Shadow.

  • Archetypes (Animus & Anima)
As you can see in the image above, Shadow is not the entirety of the unconscious part of Self. There are deeper and even more unconscious parts of Self, like the Animus and Anima, that reside below the Shadow. These are the Archetypes that could be compared to powerful background programs that, in a way, have lives of their own and administer the parts of our Self that are more primordial, instinctual, built into the very core of humanity as a result of millions of years of evolution of life. They show up in our dreams and as projections on the outside world. I won't be focusing on those in this article as they would require a very lenghty and complex explanation. What is important to note is the difference between them and the Shadow in relation to Self. In short, Shadow is much easier to access. In fact, without accessing and working through our Shadow first, we can't possibly hope to dive any deeper. 

  • Collective Unconscious
Another important aspect of the Shadow is its collective form. As we already established above, Shadow is located in the unconscious part of Self. The unconscious part of our Self is connected with the Collective Unconscious. Now, it's important to understand that the Collective Unconscious might not necessarily be understood as this imaginary cloud where all of the collective human experience resides and we can access it through some woo-woo techniques, like the "akashic records" or whatever the fuck (excuse me if you believe those things and you just felt offended). The Collective Unconscious is in fact within us, all of us. It's the Archetypal structures that each of us experiences in our lives - The Great Mother (Eros), The Great Father (Logos), Hero, Trickster, Wise Old Man/Woman, Child, The Great Dragon, and many more. You can think of it as the same kind of "database" that every animal is born with - containing information about the species, how it operates, what are the key phases of its life, how the hierarchy in its herd works, how it interprets the world on a very primordial level etc. It consists of all the collective information gathered throughout thousands of years of the species' evolution. Might seem very primitive, but trust me, it is everything but! It's actually quite fucking sophisticated - it's had millions of years to develop, after all.

  • Collective Shadow
The Collective Shadow is the Shadow of nations, ethnic groups, religious groups - basically any kind of big group that shares a significant amount of history, land and cultural tradition throughout centuries. For example, Native Americans have their separate Collective Shadow from the rest of the Americans but they also partake in the Collective Shadow of America as a whole. The Collective Shadow consists of all of the things a group or nation learned and experienced as a collective but that got repressed due to changing conditions, political / ideological evolution of the group or nation but also traumas that they endured historically - for example the mass-murder of Jews in concentration camps, slavery of black people in America, communism in Poland or nazism in Germany.

You can think of a huge chunk of the Collective Shadow as the worst possible version of a member of a certain group known to history, but also the typical black sheep and rebel, sometimes in a good sense. These shadows can lie dormant for decades or even centuries but they're destined to emerge at one point in history or another, usually in the form of a nation projecting guilt onto another nation or opposing idealogical groups emerging within a country in order to release the tension between these groups' Shadows. Somewhat of a unique example of a national Shadow would be modern Germany, where people to this day seem to share feelings of extreme guilt surrounding their national identity, kind of as a compensation for their grandfathers' and great grandfathers' sins during WW2.

What does the Collective Shadow mean for you as an individual? It's definitely worth thinking through and figuring out what groups and nations you're connected with and what their Collective Shadow can be. Once you've established that, it's important to be honest about whether you've been contributing to the Shadow in any way, by allowing it to dictate your identity or behaviors, by engaging in the perpetuation of conflict, or cultivating outdated hate and baseless prejudice within.

  • Shadow Work
Now that we have the basics of the concept of Self out of the way, we'll focus on some basics of shadow work and how it works. Engaging in shadow work means integrating the Shadow into consciousness. Jung himself mentioned on numerous occasions that (I'm paraphrasing here) integrating the shadow cannot be accomplished on our own - we need a mirror, usually a person, to see some of the contents of our Shadow more clearly. The reason for that is quite obvious - we get to know ourselves through interactions with other people and the world, we have to decide constantly about what we think about things, what our opinions are, how things we experience make us feel, how we want to react to people and events etc - we get to know ourselves in relation to the outside (and inside) world, through the process of differenciation. We can observe our Shadow through these interactions - when something always annoys us, when we feel resistance, resentment, fear, when we try to avoid something, when something makes us procrastinate, when we feel unable to react to something in an assertive manner - those are some of the common examples of when we've encountered our Shadow Self. There are also parts of Shadow that are not exactly so obvious and easy to spot - these are usually related to traumatic experiences or ways of functioning that we strongly identify with so strongly that it's not our first instinct to think of them as our Shadow.

How do we go about shadow work? As we already established, we need some kind of a "mirror" to aid us in the process. A huge dose of honesty and readiness is essential as well. So what can serve as our "mirror"? It would certainly be the easiest to find a qualified jungian psychotherapist, or at least a perceptive friend to help us with all this. But we can do it successfully on our own as well - and that's where we can use a variety of tools to serve as the "mirror". One of the most effective ones has to be a journal and its equivalents - video or audio recordings - this way you can write or record something when it just popped into your mind and is still fresh which will be open for interpretation later. Tarot and any other mediums carrying heavy symbolic and archetypal messages (such as visual art, poetry, stories, songs, even weather) also serves an as excellent "mirror" for shadow work. The reason for that is that these symbols always carry a meaning that is specific to us - they trigger emotions, memories, states of mind, they often make us reminisce. That's the kind of mental and emotional content you want to pick up on and record it. It's essential to have our thoughts extracted to an outside form in order for us to be able to analyze the gathered material. Just sitting and thinking about it is never enough - our mind is really good at confusing itself and getting lost in thoughts, which is a really unproductive thing to do. And even if we manage to draw accurate conclusions this way, we'll forget about them within a day and they won't have any impact on us as a result.

Once we gathered the material, we should move on to interpretation and drawing conclusions. More often than not, the meanings will come to you intuitively. Other times you'll be prone to dismissing it as something unimportant or, on the contrary, extremely profound - those are the situations when it could be especially helpful to talk to somebody who is supportive and trustworthy, and can lend us their help with an honest interpretation of our behaviors in relation to Shadow. If we don't have a person like that in our life, it's alright to just let those pieces of Shadow be for now and come back to them in a few months, maybe even years, when we're in a different situation and we feel ready.

That's it in a nutshell, guys! I tried to make this post as packed full of important information as possible. If you managed to get to the end, you're awesome! Should you finish reading this article with any questions, don't hesitate to ask - I'll be happy to provide you with answers. If you're hungry for more, check out a short list of helpful resources below.



#ShadowWorkOctober resources:

Disclaimer: Even though I am a practicing psychologist, please do not treat this article as a substitute for psychological help of any kind. This article's sole purpose is to merely provide information backed with experience and knowledge. I am not responsible for misuse of information provided above. If you're in need of help, please make sure to alert your family or friends and seek professional support in your area.
Self-Care in the Dark & Dangerous Waters of the Virtual World + Prompts

Self-Care in the Dark & Dangerous Waters of the Virtual World + Prompts

Just a random piece by me ©
In April I needed a break from the world, I needed to rest and to forget, and to be forgotten. I'm lucky that my inner compass is strong, always has been, and it informs me when it is time to turn inwards and when it's time to open back up. This can be understood on many levels: introversion vs extraversion, shadow self vs higher self, staying down to earth vs daydreaming, nurturing vs expansion, accepting vs giving. All this applies to the virtual plane of existence just as much as is applies to the immediate reality.

I'm one of those people who feel like shit when they spend too much time on social media and just interacting with people in general. I am not particularly interested in other people's lives, I also believe that it's not always good for me to be interested in other people's ideas and viewpoints, I don't compare myself to others unless it's for a constructive reason. Simultaneously, I find it rather problematic when people consider me to be interesting to them, to be some kind of a specialist or a teacher, or a cool person to compare themselves to or become friends with. It is nice to speak to like-minded people or just any-minded people for that matter, I love it! But beware - you request or give me too much attention and I'm gone - that's just the way I work. No apologies. I know my shit - do you know yours?

The vast waters of the interwebs are certainly not a safe place for those who pay attention to what they put into their heads. There's only so much invaluable free space on the hard drive of our mind that we can manage each day. It is surely good to fill it up with creative ideas, new knowledge, plans and projects, inspiration, experiences. But it seems like we tend to forget that all those juicy things can also come from within. It's easy to forget when we're bombarded with eye-catching stimuli anywhere we look.

Videos, pictures, photographs, gifs - shorter and shorter forms of expression that require less and less focus and attention to swallow. Instant delivery of information makes it impossible for the recipient to decide whether this is something they want to soak up or not. The more you scroll the more trash you're involuntarily absorbing. This causes our attention spans to shrink and makes our ability to focus damaged. Our nervous system becomes fed up and - unless you're taking care of it properly - before you know it, you function like a spoiled kid in a candy store. There's so much candy that you're unable to appreciate any of it. Knowing that you can get any candy you wish makes you place value on the quantity rather than the quality. You want more and more, just for the sake of getting it, and you eventually lose yourself in it.

I refuse to participate in this. I know that I'm not immune to these things, nobody is. I make a conscious choice to pay attention to what I pay attention to. That is why I often retreat from the virtual world and become unavailable. I focus on me, I pay attention, I nurture myself and the bonds with my loved ones, I cherish the senses, I create, I make dreams come true, I do my work, I do my craft.

How can we help ourselves survive in the interwebs jungle? Two of Swords!

Two of Swords happens to be my April card. I spent quite some time meditating on it and learning its lessons this month. It was a primary inspiration for this blog post.

Two of Swords from Thoth and Mary-El

In the Thoth system, Two of Swords (Peace) represents the beginning of analysis. While the Ace is a pure, undifferentiated potential of the suit - actually quite symbolic of what internet could be perceived to be - the Two of Swords separates and differentiates that potential, gives it a form, performs an energetic Google search or chooses which site to visit. Two of Swords chooses what to do with the potential, how to direct this energy.

In Landscapes of the Abyss, Marie White mentions that "Two of Swords is creation through word, and words are the highest art of man, the potential and destiny of mankind." I particularly love Marie's view of this card. The Mary-El Two of Swords portrays it with a bunch of wings, which are a symbol of transformation. Marie cleverly describes how any symbol is transformed if you give it wings.

Words are like wings.

Words have the power to transform the world, both for the good and for the bad. If you trust someone to be a specialist in a field, you'll believe their words and will see the world through the lens they offer you. We don't always realize how big of a deal that is. Heck, when it comes to the internet, we often don't even care to check whether the source of information is legitimate or someone's just toying with our emotions to achieve a specific reaction from us. Now that is some black magic stuff!

A wise practitioner of magic, of spirituality, of mindfulness, of life will always try to be aware of words - be it their own thoughts or the words of strangers. A wise practitioner of life on Earth will always check back in to see how they feel about the streams of information trying to penetrate them against their will from all directions.

Words are power. 

Those who practice magick know exactly how powerful words are - they are the sole thread we use to weave our reality. Therefore, it is wise to pay attention and be careful what words we allow into our heads. And not only that! It is equally important to be aware of what kind of influence our words might have on others. Sometimes less is more.

Here's a list of prompts / questions you might want to ask yourself, keep in mind during voyages on the web, and perhaps journal about if you wish to up your self-care game in the virtual reality department:

  • Am I engaging in enabling myself or others to perpetuate unhealthy patterns of behavior, addictions or escape coping?
  • Who do I follow on social media? What kind of value do I find in this person's content? (i.e. learning, motivation, inspiration, friendship, growth) Bonus points if you regularly clean the list of people/media you're subscribed to based on who/what you're genuinely interested in and are in alignment with!
  • Am I more of a lurker or a sharer? What does it say about me?
  • Did I ever find myself being jealous of someone on social media? If so, what was the reason? If not, why?
  • Is there a social platform I wouldn't be able to live without for a longer period of time? Bonus points if you actually challenge yourself not to use your favourite platform for at least a week!
  • Am I guilty of not checking the validity / sources of information? Is it easy for me to believe in something without doing my research?
  • Do I jump on the Hype Train easily? How often do I want things I've seen on the internet? What are the things that I would have never bought if it wasn't for the internet communities I participate in?
  • How do I protect my privacy on the interwebs? Do I pay attention to the amount of information I share? Do I guard my space from toxic people and creeps properly or do I allow them to hang around? Do I keep my boundaries strong and healthy or do I let people use me? 
  • How do I feel when I witness people venting on the internet? Do I use the internet to vent/rant myself? Is venting constructive and helpful in actual problem-solving and improving the quality of my life?
  • Have I experienced abuse on the internet? (i.e. sexism, sexual harassment, offense, exploitation, depreciation, racism, cultural appropriation)
  • How often do I find myself mindlessly scrolling through social media? Is it a coping mechanism, procrastination, addiction, anxiety? How could I utilize this time or help myself more constructively?
  • How much time do I spend practicing my craft vs sharing pictures of it and talking about it on social media? How much of my craft is for me and how much is on show?

The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it. 
― Terry PratchettDiggers

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