Inner Michael » The Shadow Man

The Shadow Man

It was my shadow man and Curandero who first introduced me to the concept of the light behind the darkness. A few years ago I was doing extensive and exhaustive shadow work because it seemed important to understand and embrace that she of the shadow was also an important part of who I am. I knew that if I did not learn to recognize, embrace and have dominion over or “leash” this part of me, it would run rabid in the world and impose itself on the most unsuspecting and unfortunate characters and do irreparable harm. We always project the unrecognized shadow self onto others. That is why we have enemies; they or those we see as other give us a way to conveniently take the focus off self. A destructive powerful convenience that destroys our humanity.

Besides that intuitive need to confront my shadow, I was a smoker (I know’ shameful!) and I wanted to give up that addiction. My mother had died of cancer which they said was caused by her smoking and my daughter begged me to not someday put her through what my mother had just made me live through as I cared for her while she was dying. I won’t go into details, but some kinds of lives and equally—deaths, are not pretty. I knew there was something (or someone) behind my smoking that I needed to make my friend. I knew intuitively that my habit was related somehow to shadow. So I joined a class designed for the exploration of shadow and found it so enlightening that I spent more than two years with a teacher intimately making the acquaintance of my own shadow. And yes, along the way I gave up cigarettes.

But oh what a treasure of information there is when one has the courage to high five one’s own shadow! Rather that continuing to see my shadow as enemy, I realized she is the provocateur, the artist, the courageous selective and demanding lover who holds the key to the artiste` and the fierce passionate brat who stands up to the world and screams: “no!” And I am no longer ashamed of her. I am even able to see the “sexy” in her outrageousness. And oh yes, she is every bit the Diva.

I used to be afraid of her and afraid of her power. I knew the very earth would tremble if she were really stirred up and released. She would look every bit the demon just as Michael does when he gets his ugly on in Ghosts. But as we eventually learn, it is the demon that can make one dance the human dance with passion. My shadow is the Wolfwoman who fiercely protects her cubs as well as the Earthmother who protects her planet. She inspires awe. She is the Star Queen and equivalent of Thor but throws mirrors instead of lightning bolts. She is the female warrior who “Stands with a Fist” (remember her from Dances with Wolves?), digs in her heels and refuses to conform knowing full well the effect she has on those around her. And some days she has her tongue permanently planted in her cheek. She is earthy. She is saucy. She is that one who shakes her hips to Streetwalker. She knows; and she knows that she knows. She has a coiled silent power. She rocks.

I didn’t always feel that way. I used to be good at turning my head or turn my back and pretending that she didn’t exist. I would point my fingers at those shameful others who dared to flaunt their power. I thought she should be demure and meek and most of all—quiet. But the more I tried to silence her, the more fierce she became.

Before I bothered to know and appreciate her in name she was: shame, envy, rage, self-righteousness, religious exclusivity, status and station, false pride, ego, fear, loathing, and she was all of those things for one reason—to hide her inferiority from herself. There is nothing inferior about the shadow; it is every bit as stalwart as any other part of the human. Shadow must exist if we are to have a choice. If shadow is not there for contrast, how are we to know the light? If we do not have a choice between this and that then how are we to exercise free will? If we do not know what is not soulful how do we recognize that which is soulful? In this world of duality, both are essential. But that doesn’t mean we have to live from that place that drags us back and forth or catapults us from one extreme to the other.

I don’t think we can occupy that place of choice, however, unless and until we have a long staring look at our own shadow. I think we have to make friends with it and I think we must be conscious of the mischief of which shadow is capable. To turn away from it or deny its existence in oneself is dangerous. It darkens the world. But to embrace one’s own shadow and see the potential there even if scary, it to integrate an essential part of self and to mitigate the compulsive need to see shadow in others.

My Curandero taught me that on the other side of shadow (the mirror) is light. Behind an addiction is the impulse toward its opposite. My craving for cigarettes turned out to be my longing for breath. I simply wanted to take a deep breath, something I could never do as a child. (It was not safe in my home and there were a lot of those jerky and involuntary in-breaths that accompany walking on eggshells and anticipating impending violence.) Since breath is connected to birth and soul, ensoulment and God, I was holding my breath to keep the unthinkable away. For me, the act of holding the breath held at bay the unthinkable idea that there might not be a God. The God that I knew and believed in would not allow such bad things to happen to a child. And since they were indeed happening, that might mean that there was/is no God. Or it might mean that I was not worthy. Neither of those explanations were attractive. Holding my breath helped to keep those thoughts from fully surfacing to my conscious mind.

Smoking allowed the breath. So, my smoking and the accompanying deep need to inhale deeply, allowed this cigarette addict the soothing feeling of reassurance that accompanies the expectation and delivery of nicotine and how that feels. It also reinforced predictability. And control. As an addict, you can always count on your cigarettes to deliver that feeling of life enhanced just a little and it will always be there for you when you perform this ritual. So what is that? Was it truly the filthy habit that I and everyone thought it was? Did it make me an ogre? Was it the addiction condemned by society as that of a degraded human being? Was I that dastardly being? Was it the act of someone who would relinquish control to a substance because she was not strong enough to resist? Or in knowing the shadow and the phenomenon of the mirror, was there something redeeming about the act of smoking?

The deep inbreath of smoking was, for me, an excuse to take that deep breath that I was never allowed. It was a longing for God whom I thought had abandoned me. The smoke just gave me a reason to take that deep long inbreath and for holding it inside as I would God. My smoking was an impulse toward Divine Union—the same impulse experienced by mystics. I wanted to know and breathe the breath of God.

Smoking was no longer the boogieman I thought it was. It no longer represented my weakness or inability to control my own habits. It no longer represented a disgusting human being with a disgusting habit. It was simply my longing for divinity. But its effects still were damaging to me physically. And there certainly was another way to breathe the breath of God. Giving up smoking was easier now that I understood the shadow to be my friend and an impulse toward embracing my own divinity.

Behind every dark impulse is a wound. It is a void or emptiness inside that needs relief and finds it through self destructiveness or other-destructiveness. If I can’t embrace my own shadow or if I reject something about myself, that is ultimately so painful that the only relief is to find someone else who disgusts me more than I do.

The antidote to self loathing is not to loathe others. It is to learn to love self warts and all. When we can do that we can love others and their warts too. And when everybody can love warts, the warts will disappear because there will be no need to identify them or to distinguish them from the rest of the human landscape.

The need to vilify someone else is an impulse to forget self and deny, diffuse or deflect the nagging internal message that is trying to surface into one’s own consciousness—that I am imperfect and my imperfection is damning. The name I call others is the very name I am afraid of in self. The indictment I bring upon another is the unindicted characteristics of self I am trying to hide not just from the world, but from me. It is a confession. If I, through confession, reveal those imperfections to others or if they, or the world snatches away my anonymity and exposes my inadequacies or my repressed inner non-human monster, will I too be ridiculed, reviled, banished or demonized or made somehow inhumane? The world will not be kind to me because I am not kind to me. Because we are not kind to us. Because we lack the compassion that embraces the humanity of our woundedness. How much easier would it be if we could just learn to identify when the shadow self is making mischief? How much easier would it be if we just understood that when we feel compelled to demonize another that it is the demon in self we are hiding from?

How much brighter would the world be if we took “my confessions” out of that dark closet where they are secretly vocalized in shame only to the Priest and instead allowed them to find the light of day and accepted as a common wounding and the confession “I’m only human!” And what if that were just made OK by everybody—that humanness, I mean. Would we all breathe a little easier? Could we all just relax then and take that deep breath?


I know there is a lot in this post to consider. There is more… Michael understood the concept of shadow man in so many ways and incorporated it into his work in ways that reveal genius. He loved Peter Pan whose shadow was unruly and who collected those lost boys. Michael spoke about shadow in the only way we would have understood it then. It is more mainstream now.

You might want to spend some time with your own shadow and embracing that fertile part of self. Then you might want to look at all those in Michael’s life who projected their own shadow onto him because he was convenient and visible in the world. Michael was aware of this. He knew.

They did not know. Some still do not know. But if your own shadow goes unexamined you may not call them out for the right reasons. Identifying your own shadow and its motivations, you can identify the real mission you engage in with those who projected their stuff (and still do) onto Michael. Behind that shadow projection is another reality– the one in the mirror. You then can be a mirror because you understand the mirror. It is their humanness and woundedness that compells people to project their own shadow. That does not make it alright nor does it exuse or preclude the need to make them aware. But it does make you understand your own motivations and the reasons for allowing them the opportunity to become conscious instead of unconscious. It also gives you compassion enough to consider their wounded humanness as you hold the mirror for them. Taking a look there requires courage. Holding that mirror requires another kind of courage, another kind of love. Do you understand what you are being asked? Are you willing to do it consciously as Michael did?


  1. Kim said . . .

    Once again, thank you Rev. Barbara for such an insightful article. I know you have discussed shadow before. I feel that I am beginning to understand shadow, but also when I see how other people project their shadow onto others, I no longer react like I used to. In other words, I consciously am working on allowing those people who are projecting shadow to save face (as you say) or recognize that that is what it is. It’s much easier to judge others when we see shadow at work; however, now that I understand shadow and what it is, I do not judge. I have compassion for those who project shadow. I have hope that they will one day see that it is shadow at work. I think that we first need to understand that we are seeing shadow and then the next step is to acknowledge and accept it. That is a process that will take some time, but once you start the process, it’s hard to turn back. This has been my experience. I’m not saying I’m there yet; however, I feel that I’m on my way. Understanding about shadow really does change one’s life and the way which we interact with others. Although I understand shadow a little bit better now, I still feel very sad because of how much shadow Michael had to endure. I no longer dislike those people who projected shadow onto Michael, I have compassion and empathy for them. Perhaps they will eventually see the light through the evolution of their soul. I feel that although Michael was the recipient of so much shadow, I believe he was a teacher of shadow because as a result of him leaving this earth, many people are understanding now what shadow is and hopefully will work to acknowledge it and change how they address it. Of course, this couldn’t be done without your insightful articles. I thank you for that. Namaste!

    Posted November 14, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink
  2. Jan said . . .

    Thank you, Rev. B. I believe I needed that. And you are right. There is a lot to contemplate and to work on in this post. God grant me the wisdom and honesty with myself to face those parts of me that I project onto others. Be in the light, dear. Jan

    Posted November 14, 2010 at 2:12 am | Permalink
  3. Dalia said . . .

    When I begin to recognize the shadow that is in me, I can manage to go forward. If I can not see it, I am blind, I act wrongly and I can hurt others and myself. Recognizing what is wrong with me is a way to manage and control. This is the first step for my correction. When I really have that domain then I am ready, I can work with a clear mind to my goal: making the world a better place. Michael was very hurt, beaten and humiliated but he chose ultimately to shine and give love for humanity. Thanks Barbara, for helping me recognize my shadow, I’m working on it.

    Posted November 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  4. admin said . . .

    Thank you Kim. I too struggle with shadow all the time and sometimes it gets off-leash and I have to rein it back in. How do I know if shadow is at work? If I ask myself if something is soulful and silently wait for the response, I always know. My body knows. When I do something that is not soulful, I get that twinge of recognition that says “you know better than this.” Watching the breath will also give me clues– am I breathing deeply (soulful) or holding my breath (not soulful)? That appplies to me as well as to an encounter with someone or something else– my breath will inform me. If the world accepted woundedness as a part of the human experience and understood shadow better, it would not be so essential to hide our shadow from others, and ultimately from self. Does that mean we should ignore shadow? Absolutely not. Treachery should be exposed for what it is. Calling someone out can be a gift that grants them the opportunity to re-engage their soul by recognizing their shadowy behavior, apologizing for it, and vowing to change it and monitor themselves thereafter. And we do them a service by accepting that apology and allowing for a change of heart. The calling out must come from a grounded position and demonstrated with an open heart. That makes it powerful. Then retreating and making space for change is a kindness that we can extend. None of us is proud of our ignorance! We are embarrassed by it. But if I know that your open heart is genuinely giving me an opportunity to open my heart and reform or make reparations, I am more likely to engage my heart to do it. What I have seen all too often is that people actually have had a change of heart or are obvously undergoing a change of heart not yet complete and people want to continue to pounce on them not realizing that the inordinate need to make someone “wrong” is the work of their own shadow. Instead of pronouncing them “wrong,” pronounce them “human.” That makes their change of heart easier to navigate and our forgiveness easier to bestow. Most shadow is not deliberate but is a forgetting of our own divinity and comes from ignorance. We are all sensitive to criticism. Why would I reform if my while my vulnerability is being exposed, I am still going to be called names, pounced on and not forgiven for my error? We are so harsh in our judgments! With others and with self. To give an example of what I am speaking about, I cite Lisa Marie Presley. What I saw in her recent interview was a woman who has been through it. She appeared to be a woman tortured by her own past mistakes, intolerance and lack of love. I saw regret. I saw pain. I saw a change of heart– a heart that is softer for her having the experience of grief and regret which just may have been Michael’s last loving gift to her. Her heart had been broken and opened in that brokenness. I saw a human. I saw a human being, being human. And in that I saw beauty. ~Rev. B

    Posted November 14, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  5. Heidi said . . .

    Profound teaching as always. Thank you. Where does the middle picture come from? It is absolutely mesmerizing. Perhaps Michael is charging the planet with light to heal its shadow. What do the letters mean or signify?

    Posted November 15, 2010 at 2:15 am | Permalink
  6. admin said . . .

    Heidi, Thanks. I can’t remember where the picture comes from. I think the letters may be a reference to “Smelly Jelly.” The picture is vaguely familiar is it not? Have we been there in that landscape? That is how I see Michael now. Your comment about “Michael charging the planet with light to heal the shadow” is more intuitive than you realize. That was and is his real work here. Meditate on that image and let me know what you discover. ~Rev. B

    Posted November 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  7. admin said . . .

    Some people have written to ask where they might find more information about shadow. “Shadow” comes from the work of Carl Jung. It is from the field of Transpersonal Psychology. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell are experts in the field of the shadow archetype.

    “Among the many prominent writers and scholars who have elaborated on Jung’s ideas, Joseph Campbell applied Jungian concepts to topics including myth (1985, 1988) and the hero archetype (1949). James Hillman (1975, 1989), strongly influenced by Jung, developed an approach he calls archetypal psychology. Jean Shinoda Bolen (1984, 1989) has written two best-selling books on the archetypes of the goddesses in women and the gods in men. In their book King, Warrior, Magician Lover Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette (1990) describe the “archetypes of mature masculinity.” One of the founders of the men’s movement, Robert Bly (1990), has been strongly influenced by Jung’s ideas.

    There is a whole literature relating Jungian psychology and spirituality, primarily from a Christian perspective. This literature includes writings by Kelsey(1974,1982) and by Sanford (1968, 1981). Caprio and Hedberg’s (1986) Coming Home: A Handbook for Exploring the Sanctuary Within is a practical guide for spiritual work in the Christian tradition. It contains striking personal stories, excellent illustrations, and useful exercises.

    For a fine look at the relationship between Jungian psychology and Buddhism, see Spiegelman and Miyuki (1985). Spiegelman (1982) has also written on the links between Jungian psychology and Jewish mysticism, as well as on the relationship between Jungian psychology and Hinduism (Spiegelman & Vasavacla, 1987). Others have related Jungian psychology to the Kabbalah (Drob, 1999) and to a wide variety of topics in phenomenology (Brooke, 2000).

    I particularly like the work of Stanislov and Christina Grof as they studied and wrote about shadow and spiritual emergency. Shadow also makes an appearance in the landscape of dreams and many authors have navigated that landscape. I like Jeremy Taylor because I know him and love his work.

    Enjoy your journey!

    Posted November 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  8. lmat said . . .

    I have a bit of trouble with the concept of shadow and it’s projection on another. Glimpses come and go. What I see as the difficult part for me is understanding enough to forgive another’s pushing their own shadow on another, as demonstrated so clearly in Michael’s case. Perhaps those feelings of anger, outrage and ‘how dare you’ necessarily diminish when that ability to understand and then forgive finds it’s way inside. Before June 25 last year, the concepts that Rev. B describes resided in a different dimension for me. Not now. I think Michael gave many people his final gifts of grief and love by opening hearts as he left us; a roadmap to change…

    Posted November 16, 2010 at 3:18 am | Permalink
  9. gertrude said . . .

    I wonder if you are aware of how impactful this sparkling little writing of yours is. Again. I thank-you, and my angry little loves-to-dance hell-cat shadow thanks you. This is a very big corner to turn for some of us who grew up battered and vilified, as you clearly know, and since reading this last night I have been able, just as a result of this article!, to start thinking “shadow, shadow” and side-step the anguish I wrack with when confronting bizarre or massive injustices and Michael being thrown under the bus so often, even by the well-meaning! Especially wonderful is suddenly being able to recognize that “yucky” feelings inside myself are shadow. Just my own injuries, reminding me they need a healing balm. I think your article may prove a defining moment for me, and I don’t know how I will repay you. But I will read every one of those books and authors I can get my hands on that you have recommended.

    Posted November 16, 2010 at 3:32 am | Permalink
  10. jeanne said . . .

    I know what you mean. My body feels it too when shadow is at work. It causes dis ease. Literally.

    Posted November 16, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  11. lmat said . . .

    That picture is amazing. Now I have a vision in my mind of what MJ may be up to.

    Posted November 17, 2010 at 12:45 am | Permalink
  12. gertrude said . . .

    I don’t want to overstay my welcome on this page but I have to give a mini-update on the effects of this article on me. Its been 48 hours since I read this and completely thanks to this article, I avoided shadowing all over someone for something they were totally innocent of, instead having a sane, quiet exchange in which we, TOGETHER, ascertained that something did not come off as we planned due to the unavoidable humaness of us both. No one was blamed, and we both felt very satisfied with our resolution. I know this just sounds like the way things should be, but for me, this is huge. Prior to this article I would have struggled mightily with being what I thought was manipulated and played. Turns out I was not being, my shadow just THOUGHT I was, and this article has helped me take a LEAP forward in identifying that. I will find a way to repay Reverend Barbara for the epiphany given here, its becoming that effective for me. and get this: for the first time in a long time my job didn’t drive me nuts today!

    Posted November 17, 2010 at 4:01 am | Permalink
  13. Devi said . . .

    I am so happy about how you address this subject matter. I have started to resonate strongly to the word love and the importance of being connected to God Source. I know the importance of being aware of what shadow is and how to detect it. I believe that shadow finds us through our wounds and blind spots. I still have a few insecurities but luckily I also have some great friends around me who know how to tell me when I start to resonate from my wounded parts without recognizing it. If we don’t understand our own shadow we will be prey to shadow outside of us and while believing we are in the light. We might find out too late that we have entered a dark space and might not know how to find a way out. I think history is full of shadow and is proof of the need to learn to always self reflect in all situations. Hitler is an example of undetected shadow, a silly little man who managed to get millions of people to resonate to his destructive messages. Were all those Europeans resonating to his messages bad and evil? No, they were blind! It is impossible to see and hear clearly without knowing and understanding our darker parts. I have learned that my darker parts are my fears. Recognizing my fears is nothing to be afraid of; embracing our wounded parts will help us to grow up. By doing so we will be able to love, forgive and embrace ourselves. Embracing and caring for our wounded parts is part of the connection to God Source I believe. There are techniques and ways to learn about how to embrace our own shadow/fears and on how to learn to heal our wounds. Please continue to write and to educate us on this subject matter Rev. Kaufmann.

    Posted December 7, 2010 at 1:20 am | Permalink

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