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The Practical Reason to Own Your Shadow

Nov 06, 2019

Hi everybody. It’s Dmitri Bilgere with another tip on how you can become the inspired leader that you were born to be. 

Today I want to talk about the practical reason why you need to “own your shadow,” and how to do it.

So I was out walking my dogs and I went by a house that had in their front yard a little free library. If you’re in the United States you might know what that is. It’s this box on a stick that has a door and it’s got books in it. People can add books to it and take books from it. It’s a "little free library." Pretty cool.

And on their lawn, right next to the little free library, was a yard sign that said something along the lines of, “No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter your creed or religion or race, we’re glad you’re here.” A great sentiment.

Oh, and then on the front of the little free library they put a note that said, “Do not put Christian material into this little free library.”

The reason I bring up this example is this is an example of shadow. This is an example of saying that you’re one way but then behaving another. Saying on the one hand, “I’m very inclusive,” but then immediately turning around and doing something exclusive, excluding people. “Hey, great you’re here. We welcome everybody. We’re awesome that way. We’ve made decisions that we are not going to exclude anyone. Also, if you’re Christian get the heck out of here.” That’s just straight-up shadow. 

So I want to talk a little bit today about how that happens and how you can keep it from happening to you. Because it’s a big deal. We see in the media all the time, or maybe know personally, these guru types who are very spiritual and very wonderful and very healing for lots of people—and then it turns out they’ve done something terrible, or in the background have been doing something terrible. They’ve been acting from their shadows. 

And I think there’s a lot you can do to keep that from happening to you.

“Shadow,” in this context, is either things that you’ve decided that you’re not like or things that you don’t know about yourself. For our talk here we’re going to talk about the things that you’ve decided that you’re not like. And we all have things like that. We all have said, “You know what? Because of my experience in life, I have decided I’m not an angry person,” or, “I’ve decided I’m not someone who excludes other people,” or, “I’ve decided I’m not someone who is ever mean,” or whatever it is. We’ve all made these decisions—you have made decisions about things that you are not. 

But here’s what happens: When you make a decision that you’re not a certain way and could never be a certain way, what happens is when you start to be that way you don’t see it. Because you don’t have an eye out for it. In fact, you already know you’re not like that.

So the people with their yard sign, they don’t see that they’re being exclusionary when they put up “No Christian materials” on their little free library. Because they’ve decided, “Look, I’m not like that. I’m not an exclusionary person. I don’t have to keep an eye out for that. I’m not like that.” 

And what happens then, to make it even worse, is that this grows in you. Your shadow starts to develop an independent life where you’re like that more and more and you can’t see it as it grows. This happens all the time. 

And it’ll happen to you. It’ll happen to anybody—it happened to me—if we’re not keeping an eye out for it around this whole thing about, “What have I decided that I'm not like?”

I like to say that shadow is one of the few things that grows in the dark. That if you don’t have the light on it, it’s going to keep getting bigger and you’re going to keep becoming more and more the way you decided you could never be.

I used to be like this years ago before I got involved in personal work. I had seen a lot of bad examples of anger, people doing bad things in anger, so I had made the decision, “I am not an angry person. I will never get angry. I’m not bitter and mean to people.”

But what happened was what you’d expect: I was anyway, because I’m a human being and we have all these behaviors inside of us. And I would get angry but then deny it or refuse to see it. Or I’d be mean to people and deny it or come up with excuses and refuse to see it. And it just got bigger and bigger and bigger until I was forced to face it. 

I don’t want that to happen to you. I don’t want you to be forced to face your shadow by having your life fall apart in some way, which happens to so many people who stand for “being in the light”—all that really means is that they can’t see it when they are behaving from their inner darkness.

The ManKind Project, who run the New Warrior Weekend, they have a great way of handling this that I want to share with you. They encourage men to figure out what their mission is. “What is your mission of service?” My mission is for you to be the inspired leader that you were born to be. I want that for everybody. I deeply want that. So, great, I could pursue that. What could go wrong? Well, what could go wrong is when we take a stand for being something, what happens is we take a stand that we’re not something else. 

So I have to ask myself, “If I’m going to be somebody who, what I want for the world and what I do in the world is help people become the inspired leader that they were born to be, what am I saying I’m not like? Well, I’m not like a guy who pushes other people down to aggrandize himself. I want everybody else to be great. So I’m not a guy who pushes other people down to aggrandize himself.” 

That would be my shadow in this situation. That would be the thing that I need to look out for. Because if I’m saying, “Hey, I’m not a guy who pushes people down. I lift people up. That’s all I do,” when I do push somebody down—because I’m human and we have all these human behaviors in us—when I do push somebody down I’m not going to notice it. And then when I do it again I’m not going to notice it. 

And what happens is my ego will start to grow and I’ll start to believe my own bullshit about what a great, amazing, spiritual guy I am. And then eventually I’ll do something incredibly stupid and have a big fall when my shadow becomes unavoidable. 

Does that make sense? I really hope it does. If you have any questions about that, please ask in the comments.

So what can you do about this? You can ask yourself, “Where have I decided that I’m not going to be a certain way?” What decisions have you made to never be like something? Or never be like someone. That’s a great one: Who have you decided you could never be like? 

In our increasingly polarized society there’s more and more of this shadow building up as people are saying, “I could never be like them! I could never be like that!” Well, all that really does is it puts that behavior in shadow and it grows. So ask yourself, who have you decided to not be like? What have you decided you could never be like?

And don’t go crazy. It’s not like this is a million percent of you. But keep an eye open for those little impulses in you to be like that. Let yourself see them when they happen. Give yourself some compassion, like, “Yeah, I’m a human being. I’m like all of us. We’re like this.” And that is how you can own your shadow in this situation.


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