Integrating Shadow

Ken Wilber Cognitive, Defenses, Emotional, How can I feel happy and fulfilled in my life?, Integral Basics, Integrative Metatheory, Intrapersonal, Perspectives, Psychology, The Ken Show, The Ken Show (v2), Video 1 Comment

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he “shadow” refers to aspects of our self that have become disowned, broken off, our pushed into the unconscious. One of the most important goals of healthy integral living is to recognize and reclaim these broken pieces of ourselves, and to reintegrate them back into our total self-system so that we can become less reactive, more responsive, and more fulfilled. In other words, we do shadow work so that we can become whole again, to become more of ourselves, to re-own and reintegrate all those splintered pieces of ourselves that we may have unconsciously pushed away over the course of our lives.

Watch as Ken offers a stunning overview of the psychological shadow, emerging first in the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and then further unpacked by human potential pioneers like Stan Grof and Frtiz Perls. Ken describes several different kinds of shadow — projection, introjection, and retroflection — and how each of these represents a particular breakdown in the subject/object relationship.

We also get into the difficult issue of “collective shadow”, which has become a prominent feature of 21st century politics. We are seeing a massive wave of people who sincerely believe that they are chasing down the collective shadow — from #BlackLivesMatter protesters to anti-maskers to the multiple enclaves of conspiracy theories that been circulating in recent years, so much of the conflict we see in our culture is the result of standing in each other’s shadows. Everyone has a unique perception of what the collective shadow actually is — whether it’s systemic racism, media manipulation, or top-down statist oppression — and when we feel like we are trying to confront that collective shadow, it gives us a sense of righteous purpose which, if we’re not careful, can become its own source of fresh shadow material for us to work with, because in the end it is very difficult to tell where your personal shadow ends and the collective shadow begins. Which means that when we think we are confronting a “collective shadow”, we are oftentimes just projecting our own shadow onto the world around us — our own fear, our own bias, our own powerlessness, our own need for certainty.

And yet, collective shadows are real, because shadow can in fact appear in very different ways in all four quadrants. Ken shines some much-needed light on all this, exploring the different kinds of shadow that can emerge in each quadrant — physiological and behavioral shadows in the UR, institutional shadows in the LR, cultural shadows in the LL, and of course psychological shadows in the UL — all of which allows us to discern and deal appropriately with these different kinds of shadow when we encounter them.

Finally, we have a brief conversation about the relationship between violence, shadow, and social transformation. Is some degree of violence necessary for meaningful social change? As John F. Kennedy said, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. Just how inevitable has violence become? Can we gauge the health of a society by the amount of violence required in order to enact meaningful change? What does “a stronger violence in saner hands” mean, and what role does that stronger, saner violence play while creating genuine worldcentric “anti-fascism” safeguards?

We hope you enjoy this latest episode of The Ken Show! Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Written and produced by Corey deVos

Music by Stuart Davis

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Ken Wilber offers what’s got to be one of his most hilarious teachings to date. His focus is on shadow, but this time he adopts a more practice-oriented perspective, offering examples of shadow at each of six levels of development—featuring conversations with a stripper, a monster, a man burning in eternal flame, a radiant being, an oil tanker, and Gaia. As for what these conversations entail, you’ll just have to experience them yourself….

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The Four Quadrants: A Guided Tour

Ken Wilber and Corey deVos

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Click here to find a full list of all Ken Show episodes, which include both video or audio.

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Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for Mbohu Mbohu says:

    Wonderful discussion, as always. Thank you, Corey & Ken! (It looks like Ken is “integrating” his new hair more and more into his public image. I love it! It’s looking more and more a part of him.–sorry, getting off topic!)

    I recently saw this article and (without really knowing anything about this particular topic beyond what the article is saying) I was fascinated at how shadow is (or maybe isn’t) being processed in our culture:

    The author writes: “Celebrities, for the most part, have lost our blind admiration, and earned our distrust. I think that’s a healthy development”
    I find myself wondering if that is true. It looks less like a healthy integration and more like the 2 sides of the same shadow projection:
    First, we project our “golden shadow” out onto the celebrity, who seems to represent all the good that we cannot quite see inside ourselves, and then, when some detail comes out about them, that we cannot deny and that doesn’t fit into our idealized image, we throw ourselves fully on the other side and they now represent the unintegrated demons we so much want to think don’t exist in ourselves.
    (Many of us who have been part of various spiritual communities with strong leaders, may have experienced this many times over: The “Perfect Guru” who suddenly became the “evil depraved manipulator”…and yet nothing about the actual person had usually changed between the times they represented the first and the second version of themselves. And: Wasn’t it usually the most devoted and uncritical devotees, who eventually became their most fervent opponents?)

    It looks like our culture is very publicly working with personal and collective shadows right now, but still is getting lost in the dualities of dark and golden shadows, without quite finding its way to healthy integration.

    Wonder what others think and what examples you are seeing in the public space right now.


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