My intuitive research on shadow work in nature

posted by Eivind on July 25, 2010, at 1:37 am

Go alone into the woods at night. Find a lake. Enter it. Release your shadows as you swim.

I have become more and more intimate with nature lately. I have understood how important it is for me in my transition to full manhood, which I’m focusing on now with unrelenting dedication. There exists in nature a huge untapped potential to shed unconscious baggage and I’m starting to realize the extent to which this is true and important.

I took out my bike just after midnight and went to a nearby lake. It was dark and nobody was around. I just saw the texture of the slight wind on the lake, the rippling reflections of the full moon on its surface, the trees and some huge insects.

There is something deeply mysterious about quiet bodies of water in the woods at night. There is something slightly unsettling about it as well. I had brought some ashes, which I proceeded to cover myself in. I cannot give good reasons for this right now. I just know of Robert Bly’s mention of ashes work and the Norwegian folk tales of “Askeladden” and I know there is something significant about it. To me right now, the ashes represent something like grief, the unconscious which must be processed en route to manhood. I will get a clearer understanding of it as I keep going.

Then there is the water, the full moon, the dark. I realized today something about darkness and why it scares us. The dark is the unconscious. It’s what we don’t see. We often call the unconscious psyche “shadow”. Shadows are dark. Unseen. Behind or beside us. Darkness confronts us with our own suppressed unconscious baggage. If you don’t believe me, go for a stroll in the woods at night yourself. It will rise to the surface in a flash and either produce monsters all around you (last time I took a stroll in the woods at night, an angry badger came running at me and made me jump. Afterwards, I laughed heartily) or you will release them and find freedom. Water, especially lakes and oceans, has the same quality. It represents that which is not seen. Water is the most feminine of all the elements. Granted, all of nature is feminine, but water specifically is incredibly feminine. I’m not just saying that. It is a felt quality when you stand next to it. It’s like She speaks to me. Water too represents the subconscious. So bodies of water in the dark are naturally scary (If you are not superstitious, it’s because you’ve lived in a city too long. Trust me, go to nature at night and you will be superstitious.)

As I covered my body with ash, I started realizing the significance of it. If ash represents something like my grief and my unprocessed feelings, taking that into water – my subconscious – to wash it off is very potent. The archetypal symbolism here is very strong. I make the subconscious (water) conscious by moving into a lake at night and there I wash the grief (ash) away. Thus, I can free my unconscious baggage and return the energy of that to Nature, which soaks it up and turns it into life energy (as e.g. shamanism and daoism tells us). I will also mention how strong I felt the boundary of the dark water. Stepping into the water was like stepping into a different dimension. At night, it seemed to me, stepping into water is a huge leap, a leap of faith and courage. I am saying to the universe that YES, I will look at my unconscious baggage. I surrender it to you. Take it and create life with it!

To me, the lake was decidedly feminine. It was a Woman. It was viscerally so. And as I entered Her womb, all kinds of stuff arose in me. And I realized as I always do when doing ritual in Nature that the only way to move forward was to surrender to nature and pledge to serve Her. That is the only way I have found to master my mind’s production of horror in these scenarios. So to fully submerge myself and start swimming into the dark, I had to pledge a life of service to Nature and to the women who represent Her in the human realm.

Still, She got the better of me. Swimming into the lake, long tendrils grabbed my feet. Weed from the bottom of the lake rose to grab me and as I swam forward, She started pulling me down. They twirled around me feet and wouldn’t let go. I tried to swim forwards, but more and more grabbed hold of me. Had I not done the ritual surrender earlier, I would have freaked out like all fuck. This is exactly the kind of thing that scares me about water – being pulled down into it by some unseen object. I surrendered, whispered “you win” and started swimming back. Most of the weed let go, only a final one wrapped itself around my throat before I took it off and went back in.

Nature knows how to humble me real well. And tonight, I realize even more strongly how important it is to confront our unconscious baggage in Nature like this. I realized that were I to have killed as much as a mosquito earlier that day with no remorse, it would have come up when the plants were pulling me into the pitch black lake. But my conscience was clear so I did not get afraid. Not THAT afraid anyway.

This ritual also made me reflect on why we’re destroying nature; it confronts us with our unconscious. And with the level of suppression of unconscious baggage that is going on these days, we can’t allow that. It would destroy us (we think). But unless we grow our willingness to work with our shadow material as a species, we will destroy the planet to avoid looking at it. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

The best way we men can work to prevent that from happening is by consciously moving from boyhood into manhood by seeking out that which scares us. And that which scares us is often shrouded in darkness and mystery.

I encourage you to seek out a lake in the woods at night, guys. Going alone is better. Once you start entering the lake, it will tell you what you’re made of. Then you may find yourself returning to life a little wiser, a little more mature. If you do so, please share your experience below. Also, if any of you has such experiences from Nature yourselves, please share that also.