Shadow? What Shadow??


We’re right in the middle of producing our upcoming World Maker video series and one of the themes that’s coming up is about the shadow and its transformation.

It’s not necessarily a sexy topic until you experience that life-or-death sense of urgency that comes with the powerful, crushing realization that UNLESS. YOU. CHANGE. you will endlessly repeat the patterns that hold you back.

The shadow is a set of inner habits, like ruts in our minds, souls, and wills.  They are the habits that kick in and generally do not serve your higher aims — especially when you’re doing something you really care about in your personal life or your work.  Yup.  Those.  That.

So… why even go there?  And… what to do with it?  Here’s why and what.

The main reason is: so you stop thinking, feeling, and acting in those same ole tiresome ways that in effect pre-program your interactions and actions with others and in the world.  Yes, the programming metaphor.  We’re not computers, and we’re not really “wired” — but our habits work like that.  Stimulus response, stimulus response.  Stimulus. Response.  Did I just do that…. again?  Sh*t.

If you’re still reading, you know what I’m talking about.  So let’s get down to it.  What can you do about it?  I’ll share a tool from our toolkit that we and others have found useful.  It’s called the habit loop.

To use it, you gotta also keep in mind your inner light: the possibility to free yourself from those habits — to think, feel, and act with new perception, new insight, new imagination.  Your creative potentials.   Everyone has a light.  No light, no shadow.  Shadows arise only because we are not and cannot be absorbed in our light all the time.  Not unless we’re babies or fully enlightened transcendent bodhisattva types.  But we’ll have to go there another time.

In Magenta’s world, there are two basic activities that make up inner development, or an inner practice:  1. Transformation of your habits (or shadow), and 2. Development of your creative potentials, meaning specifically, your potential to freshly perceive, cognize, imagine, understand, feel, act, and so on.  The difference is: habit (programmed) or intuitive and present (creative)?

One small note.  The tool here focuses on the habit side of things, but requires the light to notice when the habits are in force.  It was wrought from my own experience, suffering, and teaching — and was hard won. I hope it can help you too!

The transformation of habit

By “habit” we mean the habitual thoughts, feelings, and actions that follow a trigger event—specifically the ones that are negative, self-destructive, self-defeating, and so on.

Let’s imagine that something happens—for example, a family member or co-worker says or does something to us—and there arises within us a barrage of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as a reaction. These reactions arise so immediately and powerfully that they take us over, so to speak. They run amok; they act in us and through us. This is the visible aspect of what I call the “habit loop.”  Here’s the diagram.


The habit loop looks and feels something like this: first, one is “triggered” — the red star with the black outline  We are all triggered by different things for different reasons, but we all have the “buttons” that other people can push.  Once I’m triggered, the habitual reaction kicks in (the red dotted line): certain thoughts arise, followed by certain feelings, and certain actions.  It might manifest as being negative, blaming others, hating myself, being irritated, doubting, being afraid—all the myriad beasts of hell!

At some point, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors comprising the habit loop come to an end, and I “wake up” and realize that I’ve been “going there” again.  That’s the green circle with the exclamation point.

When I wake up, I might upbraid myself, suppress any further thinking about it, or just let it go for now—and get back to living “normal life” — the solid green line.  But eventually, another trigger event occurs, and I go around the loop again.

The transformation of the shadow consists in the specific inner work that enables us, gradually, to shorten the red arc of reacting and lengthen the green arc of living.  Our lives gradually become less fragmented and more filled with meaning, presence, love, contentment, and joy.  The normal becomes healthy.

Eventually, one can experience when trigger events no longer happen — or rather, things that used to trigger us no longer do so.  Instead, we are able to meet the moment with presence and neutrality, and ultimately, with compassion.  We can feel the suffering of the other because we are no longer triggered in the ways we once were.

And that, my friend, becomes a whole new capacity now available to us, instead of a habit that keeps us locked up and diminished.

So what do you think?  Is this familiar to you?  Can you identify your own habit loops of reaction behaviors that are typical to you?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.




  1. grady mcgonagill on January 14, 2016 at 7:32 am

    I found this a strong articulation of the value of work on one’s shadow. However, what I didn’t see was any tool or exercise that would be helpful in doing “the specific inner work that enables us, gradually, to shorten the red arc of reacting and lengthen the green arc of living.” Do you have any concrete suggestions, Louisa?

    • Jeff Barnum on January 14, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Hello Grady, and thanks for your question! We have MANY concrete suggestions, yes. We’re just starting to share these and many more tools; our plan is to roll them out over the next few months — starting soon. STAY TUNED in the coming weeks for MUCH more. And thank you so much for your interest! We’re on it!

  2. Noah Erenberg on January 14, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    This kind of process that you outline here is so important for healthy living. I appreciate the diagram and the advice on identifying the trigger, the habitual reaction and how to deal with it all. At one point in my life I struggled with irrational thoughts and found it really helpful to develop the skills to notice when and how and why it was happening. It took some time, but once I became adept at doing this, I could change this ‘habit’ and live a much healthier life. It was interesting that the importance of devloping this skill was highlighted for me almost by accident when I was doing some research for a documentary and was sitting in on an anger management class at the Clark Institute in Toronto. The subjects (or clients) there were using a similar kind of technique to manage anger.

    • Jeff Barnum on January 14, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks Noah for your comment. The diagram is a simple representation of our experiences as well. I like it also because although we didn’t say it, it’s also a picture of what happens with groups — in relationships, teams, organizations, societies. Becoming adept is what it’s all about. Thanks again!

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