Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

Ending the Shadow Dance

Posted by on Apr 10, 2017 in Articles by Shayla, Lifeletters & Articles | 3 comments

Ending the Shadow Dance

Whether all is really lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost.
–Vaclav Havel

Many of our relationships contain shadow elements, ways of being with each other that are not conscious. These unconscious dynamics do not lead us towards health, authentic connection, and awakening. They protect us, they attempt to make us feel comfortable, safe, stable; and they often numb us, shut us down and fragment us in the process. One of the central drivers in our shadow worlds are the hidden agreements and contracts we have made with each other. These are agreements about all kinds of things: what we are allowed to do and not do, speak and not speak, see and not see, feel and not feel. Embedded in these agreements are a myriad of values, beliefs and judgments that we may never have fully examined.

Most of our human cultures are full of these shadow agreements. They become more and more visible, the longer you look. A relationship based on hidden agreements is not vital, free, creative and liberating. When we meet in this way, whether it’s with a parent, child, colleague, intimate partner, teacher or friend, we are actually doing a shadow dance together.

In the work I do with couples, families and groups, we take a good look at what these hidden agreements are, and whether we really want to keep on dancing inside them. Quite recently my partner and I made a strong and friendly commitment to dissolve as many of our shadow agreements as we could. I asked him one day if he would like to do this with me, and I got a real ‘yes’ from him. This was very exciting for me- it brought a lot of vitality into my life. He told me it was the friendliness in my asking that inspired him to say ‘yes’ and mean it.

The friendliness is important. It came from the place in me that knew that the whole process had to be deeply mutual. I did not want to be the only one who was investigating, discovering and speaking up. I needed his light, his awareness to get brighter and more intentional. I wanted him to let me know whenever he saw me participating in something that felt even a little bit unconscious, dishonest or unhealthy.

Shadow Dance

This is the way forward into a new kind of love. It’s how we can begin to dissolve our shadow dances. We don’t point our finger at the other person and denounce them for their shadowy behaviour! That’s just more of the same behaviour, right there. We simply share what we are seeing with some genuine curiosity: “I’m feeling something as you are speaking that seems way out of proportion to what happened. I’m wondering if you can feel this too?” If we are genuinely curious, the other person can usually feel it. If we have a subtle judgment going on, they will start to close down and protect themselves.

Once we begin to bring this kind of intention, curiosity and awareness right into the intimate dynamics of our life together, things really open up. This opening might not be easy. I have passed through times lately that felt quite difficult and chaotic-we can be very attached to our unconscious ways of being with others. We need to go very gently, but with great precision and persistence, into the jungle of our habitual behaviours.

Once I start to look, I notice that I’m agreeing to all sorts of things that I don’t really want to! It’s as if I totally forgot to update the whole relationship. I might feel the presence of my mother, aunt, or grandfather here, and realize that this particular agreement came from them-it was passed right down the family line, and no-one ever questioned it. Or if they did try to, they got in a lot of trouble.

It takes courage to end our shadow dances, to come out into the light of honesty, clarity, love, and freedom. It’s easy to give up, to get sidetracked along the way. We need a strong shared intention to keep walking through the jungle, keep shining the light on whatever arises. We cannot really know how beautiful it will be to come into that light and feel the open space between us, so much more lucid than before.

Take down the loveletters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
                                        –Derek Walcott



with love,




Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Michelle Wilsdon

    Even seeing
    the upside
    reflected and reinterpreted
    Let me hear the Light

  2. Yogita Bouchard

    Wow Shayla, once again I feel like we are somehow walking side by side as you write these words and share them it puts clarity and light to my heart. As bring kindness and friendliness to my own shadows…may I also continue to bring kindness and friendliness in my relationships…..I too Say YES and will bring this home to my dear husband and share. I am blessed to read these life letters and receive the profound teachings that come through you. Yogita

  3. Jonathan Taylor

    And I, the other respondent in this mutual shadow dance, would often say, even as recently as this morning, “My agreement to participate in this process of busting the shadow dance, is also perhaps a shadow statement.” Am I agreeing to this way of engagement just to reduce conflict? And so I came to question my motives for the authentic ‘yes.’ In short, I am being authentically agreeable and some of that authenticity comes from motivation based in shadow material. The challenge for me is to stay aware of all of these possibilities and not slide back into the murky world of shadow agreements, all the while testing the authenticity of that original ‘Yes.’

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