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a boy and his dog

We are doomed to repeat the past, only so long as it remains in our present attention.

What if we were able to choose our future, individually and collectively?

What of the past might try to come with us, what hurdles and obstacles from the past might we face?

How might we learn to remediate our relationship with the past so that we are free to choose the future we want?

This is shadow work, however one conceives of it within one’s own personal mythology. With expansion comes a resetting of one’s thermostat to a higher level. Because of this experience or that realization, the setting of my thermostat on directly experiencing awe or wonder or curiosity or compassion is now at a higher level than I had experienced before.

My little one is playing among maples and oaks and elms. The crunch of twigs underfoot. The matted leaves from the fall before cover the forest floor and are cool underfoot. The three leaves of jack-in-the-pulpit lay across the creek as I balance on a log to get to the other side.

Lilly, my dog and best friend bounds across the creek and begins sniffing something, a rabbit tract perhaps, before meeting me at the end of the fallen tree that is my bridge.

Her fur is soft and blonde. Her nose is pink like her tongue. Her ears hang down. I scratch behind her ears and she is off again, seeing the world through her nose.

The new feelings feel good in our bodies. We want to know them more and deeper. Yet, as we feel new feelings and encounter the new experiences that spawn from a higher thermostat setting, we also encounter our ‘protective part’ that wants to keep us the same, that fears the unknown, or that fears having to reconcile past experiences of hurt and harm and misconception.

That ‘protective part’ is the part of us that learned how to stay safe in toxic childhood environments and decided, before our rationality developed, what was safe and what was harmful. Many times these choices are at odds with who we want and need to be in our adult lives. This well meaning part of ourselves comes into conflict, especially in scripted and intimate relationships. It holds us back, sometimes seeming to hold us hostage to who we want to become.

This is where shadow work comes in. We learn new tools for accessing the subjective feelings and perception of our child-selves in a directed effort to clear this ‘junk’ so that we can see the world and ourselves with clarity. With this clarity we are able to choose our path anew, make adjustments and decide again how we want to show up each day. Whether we choose to become a hermit in the woods or a community leader is a choice, like any other, yet the process of shadow work, when paired with the foundational work of reassessing self, values and boundaries, eventually leads down a winding path to self.

Shadow work an also be a trap. The deepening of self through this work can lead to a place where we become stuck, gazing at our past reflection with an entrenched intent to clear it all before beginning to take action for ourselves and the amazing world in which we find ourselves.

Let’s be clear. Action is very much necessary in this time, yet once one steps onto a healing path the path to healing can become obsessive, compulsive and all consuming. What about just living well? What about creating the world we want and need for ourselves and our loved ones as caretakers of Life?

I avoid my shadow work when it gets heavy. I have believed that I needed more and better tools. I have searched for them attempting to bypass looking at my own feelings, the cathartic meat and bones of shadow work.

I also understand, cognitively, that there is no-thing to fear there. That all of the shadow that comes to light both transmutes and alchemizes, allowing the light to pass into and through former wounds.

Then, with each full moon cycle, I sit with familiar and uncomfortable feelings waffling back and forth between the desire to work through it and the avoidance of my protective part that is well intentioned in its desire to keep me safe.

The issue is that this well intentioned protection is based on maladaptive childhood responses, a tidy psych term that has no feeling. A maladaptive childhood response might be a young child, who’s been left to sleep alone in the dark and is scared. They feel abandoned. This works its way into the body as a somatic response and the child may be scared of the dark later in life.

Trauma kids can have an especially hard time with childhood misperception for a couple reasons:

  1. Their caretakers are known not to have the best interests of their children at heart. Trust has been broken repeatedly over decades.
  2. Childhood trauma survivors feel on a conscious or unconscious level that up is down and down is up. This is the stranger things metaphor. A childhood trauma survivor may feel like they were raised in the upside down, knowing no-thing different than the dark and the shadows, while witnessing pieces of a more positive world around them but not having access to it.
  3. Childhood trauma survivors can become obsessive about clearing in shadow work and become overly focused on peak traumatic experiences. While work on peak traumatic experiences is important, it does miss the golden alchemy of looking at less conscious experiences that left somatic memory in the body.

For a childhood trauma survivor this is challenging work, to look and truly feel the depth of their Little One’s fear, helplessness, hopelessness, numbness, and move towards mastery of their fight, flight, freeze and fawn responses.

It is possible. There is hope. Every day is a new day to try again, to take care of one’s self again, to rebuild trust with one’s inner child again.

From the woods I am taken to a space and place that is familiar. The memory of my former friend comes back. The collar I kept and still have to this day. Lilly, my dog, greets me as if no time had passed and we are well on our way down the hill and back into the woods to explore and discover.

Then, the scene shifts. My former self, my little one, is in a place words can’t touch except with approximation. Sorrow, loss, grief, despair, rage.

His best friend has disappeared, and come back dead. Announced after the fact, with no feeling by the parent that has already buried her without consideration for the relationship and bond and deserved respect that mirrored my relationship with her. There was no opportunity for closure, no words said, no chance to help dig her grave, just a tidy and unfeeling end to the parent’s own accessory to themselves… this dog that seemed to mean so little to the parent, yet was my whole world.

To feel the uncomfortable feelings again. To go back to that place and relive it from the core of feeling.

To watch as the cascade of loss and helplessness and grief that was the end of my own childhood, and the beginning of how I related to others intimate to me for decades. The rapid opening and closing of the heart that led, for me, to ending relationships spontaneously, dramatically, and without closure.

Even her name, Lilly, cascaded through my life. My so-called step mother’s nickname was Lilly. She opened a shop in the cookie-cutter suburb of my childhood by the same name, with no shortage of ire and resentment on my part. To me, this woman was the antithesis of my relationship with my dog. She seemed to take joy in using by bother and I as instruments of torture that she could not express towards my tightly wound, unfeeling father who demanded that she become a mother to two young children against her own will.

Even when I was able to open my heart to another in my adult life, the only real stable point was my connection to the woods and waters of natural environments. All else would be taken from me. Lilly, and her unexpected, unrecognized loss, then my wife that spent 13 years in a vegetative state after a lightning strike.

The patterns of our wounding repeat until we learn.x

I have avoided looking at these pieces of self, these lost soul fragments all of my adult life. Part of me doesn’t want to see what lies within, yet my adult self keeps pushing the boundaries of this inner world despite the protests of my protective part.

In the end, what is recognized and what realization does the reclamation of my memory allow, anew?

That there was a deep love and bond between Lilly and I. That it existed, that I am capable of opening to the depth of my experience. That my Little One has amazing wisdom and insight in their lived experience. With the reclamation of this memory, I again open to a higher setting on my own thermostat of love, compassion and empathy.

In this journey to the loss of my friend, I could be present with my little one. I listened their screams of loss and rage.

We went back to the moment where she received the lethal injection that ended her life and held her. We removed my father from the scene with a slammed door and dug the grave ourselves. We honored her memory at a graveside service my Little One never had the chance to attend. We stood and recognized all of the feelings that came up, place value and judgement on none of them.

My endlessly running thinking mind ceased for a moment and we just sat and remembered the love that Lilly and my Little One shared.

What might one find when one digs within.

What is the cost of reclamation of self-perception, then self-worth?

However much I resist the feelings of my Little One, I know that the deep dives into his space are always worth it. He is worth it. Who or what could be more precious and valuable than my own Little One? Looking back, pieces of myself shed from me throughout my childhood through harsh words and actions. The confusion and obfuscation and outright lies of my elders were the upside down that led to a deep disassociation from my-Self.

Standing here and now, as a Compassion Keys, hypnosis and shamanic practitioner, I know I have the tools and insight to do this work. More important than any training or technique or realization, however, is the courage and bravery to step into another’s shoes and feel — empathetically and empathically — with their lived experience, however subjective. It is real to my Little One, and it lives in me as shadow or light until I choose to sit with my younger self and hear, see and feel him.

Welcome to shadow work. This is the call of our time. To look again with new eyes at old circumstance and choose to show up in ways the adults in our lives could not at the time.

“There is gold in them thar hills!”

Digging for that gold, the light in the wound, is worth it. You are worth it. Collectively, we are worth it.

While this work is ongoing, it grows in depth and breadth. Reclamation of the shadow individually benefits the collective. When you free yourself, you allow others to also be free. Then, individually and collectively we open to seeing this world as it truly is, without the horse blinders of childhood misperception and we enable a new dream to dawn for our kids, our loved ones and all of Life.

about author


A dad, a kid, a kelpie and two cat brothers rubbertramping around the country doing our best to live authentic lives while awakening to our birthright. 

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