The 3-2-1 Shadow Process: Face It, Talk to It, Be It

Diane Musho Hamilton Full-Length, Integral Life Practice, Shadow, Video Leave a Comment

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“Where ‘IT’ was, there shall ‘I’ become.”Sigmund Freud

A crucial aspect of any integral practice is a way to be profoundly honest with ourselves about our shadow, or unconscious, or false self, or dishonesty, or disowned self. The 3-2-1 Process is a simple and effective tool for working with the shadow — any part of ourselves that we unconsciously repress or deny.

The 3-2-1 Process uses shifts in perspective as a way of identifying and integrating shadow material. “3-2-1” refers to 3rd-person, 2nd-person, and 1st-person — the perspectives that we move through in this exercise.

Each part that we disown is at first an aspect of our “I” or 1st-person awareness. But, for whatever reason, that aspect poses a threat. So we push it outside of ourselves, often onto someone else. It’s important to note that the aspect can be positive or negative. We can disown both lower and higher aspects of ourselves. In either case, we project it as you . . . but not me. “You are angry.” “You are being selfish.” “You are worthy,” etc. In other words, we displace it from a 1st-person I to a 2nd-person you.

If the threat of this emotion or situation becomes so great it requires a total rejection, we banish it totally as a 3rd-person It, stripped of humanity. At that point, we can often recognize shadow as a sense of irritation, reactivity, fear, phobia, rage, or aversion toward things… but we don’t really know why.

Under these circumstances, most forms of meditation won’t help; in fact, they’ll make things worse. They recommend dis-identification from experience, when what is necessary first is RE-identification with disowned dimensions of our experience and ourselves. You can only let go of that which you have first owned. Meditation instructions to “observe all experience and to know that consciousness is independent and free from experience” don’t work with experience from which we’re dissociated. Healthy disidentification is only possible once we’ve re-owned, re-associated, and re-identified with the disowned parts of ourselves. For this reason, there’s no substitute for shadow work. That’s why the Shadow module is a core component
of ILP.

To sum up, dissociation proceeds from 1st-person to 2nd-person to 3rd-person: 1-2-3. The reversal of dissociation thus goes from 3 to 2 to 1. Hence, the 3-2-1 Process. We also summarize this process as: Face it (3), Talk to it (2), and finally, BE it (1).

3-2-1 Process: Long Form

First choose a “difficult person” to whom you are attracted or repelled (e.g., romantic partner, boss, parent), or pick a dream image or a body sensation that creates a disturbance in your awareness. Keep in mind the disturbance may be a positive or negative one. Then follow the 3 steps of the process described below. For the short form, spend about 5 minutes on each perspective. For the long form, you can spend 10-15 minutes or longer.

You can either talk through the process or use a journal to write it out. If talking, imagine the person or thing sitting across from you. If using a journal, simply write out each of the following steps.


Describe the person, image, or sensation in vivid detail using 3rd-person pronouns (e.g., he, him, she, her, they, their, it, its). This is your opportunity to explore your experience fully, particularly what it is that bothers you. Don’t minimize the disturbance—take the opportunity to describe it as fully as possible.


Enter into a dialogue with this object of awareness using 2nd-person pronouns (you and yours). This is your opportunity to enter into a relationship with the disturbance, so talk directly to the person, image, or sensation. You may ask questions such as “Who/what are you? Where do you come from? What do you want from me? What do you need to tell me? What gift are you bringing me?” Then allow the disturbance to respond back to you. Allow yourself to be surprised by what emerges in the dialogue.

1 — BE IT

Now, writing or speaking in first person, become the person, image or sensation you have been exploring. Use the first person pronouns (I, me, mine). See the world, including yourself, entirely from the perspective of that disturbance, and allow yourself to discover not only your commonalities, but also how you really are one and the same. Finally, make a statement of identification: “I am _____” or “_____ is me.” Now integrate this perspective into a larger you, feeling it as an integral part of your being.

3-2-1 Process: Short Form

You can do the 3-2-1 Process anytime you need it. Two particularly useful times are right when you wake up in the morning and just before going to bed at night. Once you know 3-2-1, it only takes a minute to use it for anything that might be disturbing you.

  • First thing in the morning (before getting out of bed) review your dreams and identify any person or object with an emotional charge. FACE that person or object by holding it in mind. Then TALK to that person or object, or simply feel into it. Finally, BE that person or object by taking its perspective. For the sake of this exercise, there is no need to write anything out — you can go through the whole process right in your own mind.
  • Last thing before going to bed, choose a person who either disturbed or attracted you during the day. FACE him or her, TALK to him or her, and then BE him or her (as described above).

Again, you can do the 3-2-1 Process quietly by yourself, any time you need it, day or night.

About the Author
Diane Musho Hamilton

Diane Musho Hamilton

Diane is a uniquely gifted, playful, and awake group facilitator, consultant and teacher of Integral Spirituality and Zen. She is a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition, and has collaborated with the Integral Institute and Ken Wilber since 2004, developing the Integral Life Practice seminars and the Integral Spiritual Experience global events. Diane is the co-founder and lead trainer of the Integral Facilitator pathway of programs offered by Ten Directions.

Diane is well known as an innovator in facilitating group dialogues, especially conversations about culture, religion, race and gender relations. She was the first Director of the Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution for the Utah Judiciary, where she established mediation programs throughout the court system. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards for her work in this area, including the Peter W. Billings Award and the UCCR Peacekeeper Award.

She has studied and practiced Buddhadharma for over 25 years, beginning at Naropa Institute in 1984 with the teachings of Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche. She was ordained as a Zen priest in 2003 and received dharma transmission from her teacher, Genpo Roshi, in 2006. She is a facilitator of Big Mind Big Heart, a process developed by Roshi to bring the insights of Zen to Western audiences.

With her husband, Zen teacher and lawyer Michael Mugaku Zimmerman, she established Two Arrows Zen, a center for the study and practice of Zen. They maintain two facilities – an urban center in downtown Salt Lake City, and a rural retreat center in the red rocks of Southern Utah where traditional Zen meditation is joined with nature-based practices and shamanic disciplines.

With extraordinary depth and insight, Diane encourages us to consciously evolve beyond old and limited ideas of who we are so that we might discover our own unique expression of wisdom and of compassion in this time. She is the author of Everything is Workable, published by Shambhala Press, and a contributor to Harvard Business Review. Her newest book is The Zen of You and Me, also by Shambhala Press.


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