Mar 142017

Artwork by Audrey Niffenegger

Try as we might, there is no inoculation against shadow. No matter how dedicated we are to piety, good health or selfless service, we cannot distance ourselves from the grit and grime of being alive. The shadow will always find a way to enter our lives, but the artfulness is in how we dance with it, the degree to which we follow its lead.

There is a powerful groupmind so pervasive that it is almost undetectable, which advocates for mass inoculation against shadow. It offers myriad activities and substances to keep us from depression, rebellion, anxiety and restlessness. It may even talk about shadow in a homeopathic way, offering us small, safe doses of theory and jargon, instilling the false confidence that we have any reign over chaos.  But until we become truly intimate with darkness, which is to say, respectful of that dangerous and powerful Mother, reverent of her compulsory initiations by wrath and grief, we are only making ourselves more susceptible to her possession.

What is it to refuse inoculation? It is to aspire to our own humanity. Stepping away from the protective, controlled, masked persona to let ourselves be seen as we are.

Just as fire can transform food from its raw form into something digestible, our darknesses are radical transformers. Instead of airbrushing our personalities, we should practice at exaggerating our blemishes, leaning into our stagnancy, wounding and discomforts. If we really want to evolve, all we have to do is be more expressly where we are.

As an Ambassadress of the Darkness, my message to embrace these darker emotions is sometimes misinterpreted as an invitation to wallow in, or let your base impulses run wild. But what I’m really talking about is getting out from under spiritual override long enough to acknowledge the validity of your feelings.  Instead of affirming whatever emotion is arising, override is when we put up resistance to conflictual feelings by telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way, we don’t want that pain, we should be more evolved, less emotional, stronger, etc. To inhabit our feelings is another way of saying belonging to the true breadth of our experience. Yessing your conflict doesn’t mean staying in it. It means making a compassionate encounter with your difficult feelings, until they reveal their hidden intelligence.

Excerpted from the forthcoming book on “Belonging” 2017 © Toko-pa Turner (To read more, sign up for Toko-pa’s free newsletter here: )

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A writer, artist and tender of dreams, Toko-pa has been interviewed by CNN News & BBC Radio and her writing has appeared in publications around the world. Thanks to Skype, she works with dreamers internationally in her Private Dreamwork practice, based on Salt Spring Island in Canada. You can find Toko-pa on Facebook or sign up for her mailing list to receive news about upcoming events.

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  17 Responses to “Inhabiting the Shadow”

  1. Dear Toko-pa,

    I am very grateful to you for your words. So true and wise. I have spread your words, so other people can hear you.
    Anything really, let it be anxiety or depression, is often a valuable phase of a person’s life journey. It is soul’s need to demean onself in order to re-assess its priorites, directions, relationships, self-image, spirituality and personal values. Definitely a moment to stop and reflect. Above all, it can help us to learn to be kind to ourself, and listen to our heart to find out what the soul in each of us needs.

    I wish you all to find peace while we dance with our shadows xxx

  2. What a powerful alternative perception of the detestable. This piece has spoken to me directly and has summoned me to stay in the rink.

  3. Thank you Tokopa for your wise words. The natural wisdom of our bodies and really listening in guiding my decisions where I see myself trying to override these difficult feelings and keep cruising towards things that won’t serve life itself within and around. Slowing down, listening and honoring what’s there and then coming forth from that has really nudged me towards making hard decisions that I knew we’re true. The darkness brings me down to my knees in humility and gratitude, making a rich soil for beauty to arise.

  4. Thank you Toko-pa. Your words are skillful, potent and alive. I love walking with you on this earth, as a friend and co-Ambassadress of Darkness.

    with much love

  5. I am emerging from a very dark period where I “lost myself” but really, found my true self. I know my true strength now. Oh I wallowed, and I wanted pity. And when it didn’t come in the way I had secretly hoped it would, I broke. A hard from Grace. Your words here describe my journey. I am humbly very alive, grateful and embracing the light again and I see now how my shadow has always appeared and will always appear when I dive into new positions, roles, projects, relationships and pathways… And then some. I have never experienced such an initiation. Thank you for sharing your heart felt truth and I look forward to reading your book Toko-Pa

  6. Thank you so much for this. It is exactly what I needed to hear today. Been struggling the past few days, and struggling with the struggle on top of that. Telling myself “what’s wrong with me? I had a couple full night’s sleeps.” As a new mother, that’s like gold! Telling myself I shouldn’t be feeling this way, I should be grateful, everybody is happy, baby is happy, maybe it’s just hormones. Ever waychful of the slippery slope towards post partum. And yet underneath it all it’s just a grief, the loss of certain aspects of my life that I may never re-gain, precious freedoms that are hard-come-by in motherhood. All the regrets. So many. And so I am allowing myself to say “I feel sad.” “I have regrets.” I don’t regret having my child, but I do regret the things I didn’t do beforehand, which I may or may not re-take in the future. I wonder if there isn’t some longing behind those regrets, a longing to fulfill certain longings, as a way to re-claim my regets into wholeness?

  7. Your wisdom is also found in this poem by David Whyte called The Well of Grief:

    Those who will not slip beneath
    the still surface on the well of grief

    turning downward through its black water
    to the place we cannot breathe

    will never know the source from which we drink,
    the secret water, cold and clear,

    nor find in the darkness glimmering
    the small round coins
    thrown by those who wished for something else.

  8. Your wisdom allows the air to move around me. and you’re so right it isn’t a wallow.

  9. Reminds me of the African proverb,every misfortune is a blessing.

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