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June 2015, by Becky SchupbachIn a novel or a play, we use the concept of an arc to describe how the story and action unfold. The arc describes the development or resolution of the narrative or principle theme. I believe that the concept of an arc is also a useful way to approach Shadow Work® carpetwork or other process work. When I am facilitating, I watch for the development and intersection of three separate arcs: the story arc, the spatial arc and the energetic arc. Each arc describes a felt sense of rising action, crisis and resolution.
The story arc describes the issue or theme of the work and the way in which the participant chooses to work with it. When we ask a Shadow Work® participant what she wants to have happen, we are asking for the story. It also describes the block that is getting in the way. It may also include the people in her life who are a part of the pattern or who are caught up in the issue with her.
If a participant tells us she wants to live courageously in spite of negative self-judgments, we will explore the meaning of living courageously for her, the nature of her negative self-judgments, and when and from whom she learned them. These pieces of information inform and guide the process. They are a part of her story on multiple levels. They may represent what actually happened to her, but more importantly, they represent the story she is telling herself about her life or her situation.
By hearing her story, we learn what beliefs or old patterns oppose her forward movement. The block or resistance she faces represents the dramatic element of crisis or conflict. Once we have the elements of story as they show up in her history or her beliefs about herself, we can move the story forward in time toward a resolution that may change its trajectory. Thus, whether she ultimately chooses to confront those who taught her the negative messages or transform her inner critic or bring support for the one who wishes to live courageously, she is living her new story into the world. The unfolding of her new story moves the story arc of the process to resolution.
Some approaches to facilitation discourage too much sharing of story, particularly when the time allowed for process work is limited. It is certainly true that a participant can become so involved in telling his story that he does not move forward to change it. However, we should not underestimate the power of allowing the participant to speak his story aloud and be heard by the facilitators and other participants. Graceful and empathetic facilitation allows the participant to share his story line and uses it to co-create a process that fits the forward action of his story through crisis toward resolution.
The spatial arc describes how the process is set up on the carpet and how it moves through space. Paying attention to the spatial arc allows us to see the ways in which the position of the role-players relative to each other or the physical action of the process intensifies the energetic arc. We also notice that physically moving into different places on the carpet may also allow a Shadow Work® participant to get in touch with different parts of him/herself.
Sometimes the spatial arc of the process is dramatic and sometimes it is subtle. For example, when a participant expresses his anger and physically moves across the carpet, we see the spatial arc of his process in an obvious way. However, when a participant takes on a posture that represents the sad or frightened child self, a physical movement happens that reflects both the story and the energy of the process. To extend the theater metaphor, the facilitators serve as the directors of the process by encouraging the participant to position himself and his role players and to move and interact in ways that deepen and serve the process.
The energetic arc describes the emotional trajectory of the process toward an end-point of emotional release. It involves the build of energy as the process unfolds. As with the spatial arc, it may be obvious or subtle. For example, we may notice a Shadow Work participant move from a powerful energetic expression of anger to tears of deep grief or relief. Or we may notice a subtle relaxation or softening of the participant’s body and face following a grief or support process. We watch as the dramatic tension of the process builds to an emotional climax, followed by an energetic or emotional release. Paying close attention to facial and body changes allows the facilitator to recognize when the participant has experienced the release.
We believe that encouraging a Shadow Work® participant to feel and integrate this energetic shift transforms old patterns of behavior or old stories which no longer serve the participant. For this reason, we give the participant time to sink into the energetic release and feel it fully. At this point, we refrain from asking him to tell us what he is feeling or posing other questions which will prematurely take him from his heart to his head. We encourage him to stay with his emotions and feelings by remaining silent or perhaps by quietly affirming with words like “yes . . . yes.” We simply watch him until we see him beginning to surface on his own from the depths of his feelings. After that, we guide him to express his intellectual understanding and awareness of what happened in the process as a further step toward integration and anchoring the energetic shift.
Using the elements of theater can help us describe how a Shadow Work® process unfolds. However, as facilitators, we do not want the process to be a performance. We want to create an experience that is both symbolic and real for the participant. By following the story, spatial and energetic arcs of a participant’s work, we interact with the participant in the moment to co-create a transformative experience based upon the issues, feelings and reactions as we see them unfold before us.
Becky Schupbach is a certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Louisville, Kentucky. Read more about Becky.
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