Last week we discussed what shadow work is, why we would want to do shadow work as witches, and a few basic ways to begin dipping our toes into shadow work practices. This week, we’re going to be diving deeper into the purpose behind shadow work and how you can use this magical modality to alchemize your emotions and start seeing real change in your life. I’ve also included one of my favorite emotional alchemy rituals so that you can really get your hands dirty with your new shadow work practice.
More Than Just Letting Your Feelings Out
In our previous blog post, we talked a lot about letting your emotions out. This is a vitally important first step since pretty much every single one of us has been socialized into rejecting, repressing, and ignoring our emotions. You have to be able to feel an emotion and express an emotion before you can do anything useful with that emotion. That is not where shadow work ends though.
If shadow work were just about letting your emotions out and being able to express yourself, we wouldn’t need the incredible diversity of shadow work practices that we have today. Letting your emotions out and learning to express them is only one half of the equation. If all we do is express the emotions, then we do end up with far fewer emotions bottled up, which is good, but we never really transcend beyond that simple feel and express process. There’s no resolution, no real change, no real learning taking place. We would end up stuck in a cycle of feeling and expressing forever, never finding the root cause or the path that leads out of our suffering. This is where shadow work gets good.
The Goal Of Shadow Work
The true goal of shadow work is to take your emotions, your pain, and all of your worst thoughts and help you turn them into something new. Learning to feel and express sorrow and anger and anxiety is all well and good but if you never do anything with those emotions, you will simply stay in the cycles that led you to feel those emotions in the first place. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it a million times more, but witches are all about action. We come to the craft because we want to change our lives. We don’t come to the craft just to feel better. We become witches because we want our real tangible lives to be different. This is the real goal of shadow work as well.
Feeling your emotions and learning to express them is important but unless you are actually doing something with that, you’re just running in circles. Shadow work aims to take those emotions, help you understand them, integrate them fully, and transform them into something that makes your life truly, tangibly better. This is the real goal of shadow work. It is taking the worst parts of yourself, the painful parts, the parts that you’ve been told you shouldn’t have, the parts you hate, and finding a way to turn that pain into growth and happiness. We are taking the unwanted and using it to create something that is wanted in our lives.
The Alchemy Of Your Emotions
Alchemy, in a very basic sense, is turning one thing into something else. In popular consciousness, it’s turning lead into gold but for our purposes, we’re going to be using this term to discuss transmuting and changing our emotions from something unwanted into something that is wanted. This is a very large subject that we are going to touch on briefly so please know that if this topic interests you, you can go way deeper into it.
In order to alchemize your emotions you have to do what we call “going into the feeling”. This is essentially what I’ve been teaching you to do in the last two sections of this article. Feeling your emotions and expressing your emotions is what people mean when they say you need to “turn into the feeling” or “go into the feeling”. Essentially this just means that you are being present with the emotion rather than repressing it or running away from it. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge and understand, so acknowledging and understanding our emotions is the first step to changing them into something more pleasant to experience.
After this, how we proceed with alchemizing our emotions depends on the emotion that we’re dealing with. For example, if you’re experiencing anger, you’ll want to express that anger and let it out of your body, figure out what is causing that anger, and find a way to use that emotion to move forward into a state of being that feels better. Anger is always a response to having your boundaries crossed. This means that if you’re going to alchemize anger, you need to first learn what boundary has been crossed and then use that anger as a way to change the circumstances that created the emotion in the first place. Perhaps you didn’t set strong enough boundaries with someone. Perhaps you have someone in your life who doesn’t respect your boundaries, even when you set them. Perhaps you don’t know how to set boundaries. You would take your anger and use that energy to find solutions to these problems and then apply them to your day-to-day life. Anger is excellent for making real change because it is a very active energy.
If you are dealing with something like heartbreak, you would want to fully express that heartbreak, really let it out in every way that felt right to you, and then use that emotion to lead you into something that feels better. In this case, it might be digging down into your heartbreak to discover what it is that is causing this deep sense of loss. Often we will get hung up on a particular person but the heartbreak itself is not about an individual, it is about some deeper need that they met. Did they meet your need for human connection? Physical contact? Understanding? Validation? Pick through the relationship and think about all the good things that you miss from that lost relationship. This is your road map forward. If you can find these qualities in other people, not necessarily romantic partners if you’re not ready for that yet, but perhaps in friends, then that feeling of loss is replaced with wholeness.
This is the real key to shadow work. Every single unpleasant emotion, unwanted part of yourself, every bad thought, or crappy belief is a flashing neon sign telling you what you do not want to experience in this world. And if you learn to read the signs correctly, it gives you the road map that leads you to what you do want. Alchemizing your emotions is all about allowing your emotions to transcend the limitations that we’ve placed on them to become the very thing that will lead us into greater happiness, greater connection, and greater abundance.
Alchemizing Your Regrets
To finish off today, this shadow alchemy ritual will help you to begin to experience what this process can truly do for you and your craft. This ritual is designed to help you process and release old stories that are holding you back in your life. These can be old sorrows, anger, ways that you wish your life had been, and things that you wish people hadn’t done. We’re going to be processing all of this in today’s ritual.
I’ve also created an audio version of this ritual if you would prefer to listen and follow along.
You will need:
- Loose Paper
- A pen or pencil
- Somewhere safe to burn your pages
Find somewhere quiet and private to do this ritual. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself. You don’t need to clear your mind of thought. Just come into the room and be present with yourself. When you’re ready, begin to think about all the parts of your past that you wish had been different. Let the images and memories of these past regrets come to the surface. Feel them in your body. Think about the ways that you wish your childhood had been different. The ways you wish your parents had raised you. The things you wish your parents had not done. Think about the ways you wish your education has been different. The college you wish you’d gone to or the degrees you wish you’d gotten. Think about the friends that you wish you’d kept or that you wish you’d gotten rid of sooner. Think about the lovers that you regret leaving and lovers that you wish you’d never met. Think about the experiences that you wish you’d had, the travel you wish you’d done, the risks you wish you’d taken. Think about the hobbies that you wish you hadn’t neglected and the opportunities that you wish you hadn’t let pass you by. Think about how you wish your health would have been. The things you wish you’ve done to take care of yourself and the things that you wish you hadn’t done that hurt your health. Think about that skill that you wish you learned, that instrument you wish you learned to play, or that book you always intended to write. Think about how you wish you’d raised your kids differently, words you wish you hadn’t said, or words that you wish you had said more often. Let all of these past regrets fill you up and wash over you. When you’re ready, open your eyes and write down everything you can remember from this exercise.
What you’ve just written down is a list of your stories. These are the stories of how you wish your past had gone, but the reality is that your past did not go this way. None of these things happen the way you wish they had and holding onto this fictional past, the grief and anger that accompanies these stories, is holding you back. You’ve allowed these stories to build up in your body and your mind and tell you that you are not living the life that you’re supposed to be living. We cannot build a better life from this state. The only way to make real change in our lives is by being fully and completely in reality, and these stories are warping your reality and draining away your power to create a life that you truly love living. It’s time to let go of these stories.
Take your sheets of paper somewhere that you can safely burn them. Take a moment to thank these stories for all that they’ve done for you, and then consciously make the decision to release them and burn the pages. As you watch the pages being consumed by flames, feel the weight of these stories falling away from you. Feel the energy of these regrets peeling off of your body, leaving you lighter, brighter, and ready to move forward.