I work with a variety of small groups which use dramatic emotional work. During the past year, I’ve enjoyed introducing them to Shadow Work® methods, using a simplified version of Shadow Work® processes called the Carpet Training Manual.
While editing that manual recently, I reflected on a question I’m commonly asked: “Why are the two processes on which that manual is based—the Ideal Support and Warrior Run processes—the foundation of the work we do?”
Ideal Support has traditionally been thought of as a Sovereign process, since it brings a person support from an ideal being or concept. The Warrior Run has, as its name suggests, been seen as a Warrior process, since it helps a person set a boundary. On a map of the Shadow Work® Model, the Sovereign and Warrior archetypes share a “north-south” axis.
Why are these processes foundational? Are the Sovereign and Warrior archetypes, or perhaps their shared axis, somehow the natural starting place for carpet work? Are these processes simply what we’ve discovered thus far, perhaps to be superseded by even more basic processes later? Or are they simply the easiest processes to learn to facilitate?
I will explore some possible explanations for the foundational nature of these processes, in order to suggest some future areas for growth and exploration within Shadow Work®.
WANTING TWO THINGS
One explanation is expressed well by Shadow Work® facilitator Dmitri Bilgere in the “Online Carpet Training” available at his website, dbweb.org. In the training, he attempts to distill facilitation into its most simple and jargon-free form:
“Here’s a BIG process work secret:
People want one or both of two things. They either want to separate from something, or to connect to something. That’s it.
That fact simplifies process work a lot.”
Dmitri goes on to describe the Warrior Run as “[getting] angry at a big mean part, in order to separate from it.” He describes Ideal Support as “[getting] sad and loving with a small helpless part, in order to connect to it.”
His explanations suggest that, rather than being associated only with the Sovereign and Warrior quarters (as they tend to be in formal Shadow Work® materials), these two processes, in their rawest form, explore an even more primal distinction of separation/connection. Ideal Support, after all, involves the entire Lover-Sovereign energetic loop, connecting both by being little and by being big, with a lot of “connecting through feelings.”
From such an observation, I think there’s an obvious connection that can be made to attachment theory and related realms of psychology. Attachment theory explores the idea that our earliest experiences of psycho-social attachment to our caregivers set patterns which play out throughout our lives.
We could easily view Ideal Support and the Warrior Run as experiences in which the participant severs a poor psychological attachment and creates a healthier re-attachment. Shadow Work® theory does propose that the most primal archetypes are the Lover and the Warrior, suggesting a resonance with attachment theory, in that these archetypes can be described as fundamentally connecting to, or separating from, others. I believe this kind of thinking about attachments is important because it emphasizes the deep symbolic nature, built upon our earliest experiences, of what is happening on the carpet.
But I don’t find it helpful to always view these processes as a return to rework infantile issues. In reality, I rarely work with people who aren’t attached to something in some good way, or with people who have no boundaries whatsoever, the kinds of conditions that would seem to call for an attachment-therapy orientation.
Rather, what I experience with participants on the carpet is a shift in their perceptions of what they can attach to and separate from. I see participants looking over the contents of their lives and perceiving new aspects or opportunities or realities, followed by a symbolic enactment and practicing of the newfound choices such perceptions present. What changes on the carpet is not someone’s fundamental ability to connect and separate but what they perceive they can apply those abilities to — what new meaning they make of their lives.
It’s a little hard to get language around the process by which human beings transform their own meaning-making, but we see it emerging in the Shadow Work® literature. For example, the six-step What’s At Risk process has given rise to the term “2-5 shift,” summarized here:
- What do you want?
- What’s at risk for you to get it?
- So it looks like you’ve got things set up so you don’t get (what you want) so you don’t run the risk of (the risk), is that right?
- Why that risk makes sense.
- So you made a decision not to take that risk, and that decision’s been with you all this time. How’s it going now? Does not (getting what you want) keep you from (risking)? Or do you ever (risk) anyway?
- If yes, are you willing to (get what you want), knowing that in doing so, you run the risk of (risk)?
The term “2-5 shift” means that in step #5 the participant reinterprets the risk seen in step #2, or constructs different meaning in it. If there were no shift in meaning, the participant would have an “apples to apples” experience of a shift in their relationship with it, but the risk itself would not change. However, if the participant experiences a shift in the meaning they make of the situation and risks, they are said to have had an “apples to oranges” experience of a shift in values about what is important.
This example with What’s At Risk serves to illustrate how Shadow Work® catalyzes a participant’s construction of meaning. When we talk about a participant’s “evolution of values” during a process, we are talking about a shift in how they reconstruct the form of their situation. I submit that Shadow Work® implicitly rests upon a constructivist framework. That isn’t much of a leap. To go further, I suggest that it recognizes a directionality to the evolution of meaning-construction — a recognition of this as growth, and a sense that increasing order of complexity or texture in someone’s meaning-making is a good thing, and should be nurtured.
Constructivist models of the evolution of meaning-making within a particular person are not something we talk about much in the Jungian-oriented world of emotional work, to our loss. Nurturing the meaning-making process is the realm of another branch of psychology, Adult Developmental Psychology, a branch that is usually, unfortunately, partitioned off under topics such as “adult education.” Most of us who have encountered developmental psychology have found it focused on children (where the funding is) or shallowly addressed as “lifecycle models” or popularly as “passages” or “phases.”
Since the 1980s, models have crystallized within adult developmental psychology that explain the evolution of meaning-making: how a person who has been making a particular type of “apples to apples” meaning in her life will predictably experience a particular “apples to oranges” transformational insight. These models explain the sequence and patterns for the evolution of the form of individual values. The model which is recognized as synthesizing a great deal of research into one coherent whole is Subject-Object Theory, developed by Harvard’s Robert Kegan.
NEW WAYS OF SEPARATING AND CONNECTING
These developmental models conceive each new developmental stage (each significant transformation of meaning-making or emergence of new faculties with which to make meaning) as being experienced simultaneously as a new way of separating and a new way of connecting. What transforms or evolves in the participant is not the ability to separate or connect; rather, it is the felt reality of what can be separated from or connected to.
For example, imagine a participant processing his frustration over an agreement with a supervisor at work. Week after week, he attends status meetings where the supervisor is late and unprepared, takes actions without follow-through, and keeps no meeting notes. The participant feels trapped, held by expectations and roles, frustrated, wasted, and unheard.
After processing the issue, using whatever tools are available (in Shadow Work® the tools would be splits and triangles), it would not be unusual for such a participant to have a transformational moment, a knowing moment, where he says something like, “Why have I been showing up, week after week, enabling this behavior? I’m contributing to it. It’s my life that’s being wasted and I’m contributing to this happening. I don’t know what this means for my relationship with my boss, but I’m going to change something!”
He may move into a boundary-setting Warrior Run or perhaps discover that he has been projecting his father onto his supervisor and explore his connection with his own internal ideal supporter. In either case, what has actually shifted are his perception, labels, meaning, and ownership for the situation.
I am convinced that in this way Shadow Work® directly nurtures adult development, by explicitly creating opportunity for new meaning-making to emerge while protecting the participant from the facilitators’ meaning-overlays. It then nurtures development by providing ways, chosen by the participant, in which to symbolically anchor the new meaning that has been made, along with the new choices and responsibilities that it presents.
This is why the foundational processes of separation and connection are so valuable in such a wide spectrum of situations on the carpet, and thus why their formalized forms of Ideal Support and Warrior Run are so broadly applicable as the foundational processes to learn to facilitate.
And this is why these two processes remain valuable, no matter how experienced a participant is, and no matter how many times the participant has done an Ideal Support or Warrior Run before. What they are separating from or connecting to is new, within their perception, each time. A participant can engage with the same “basic” process over and over, involving even the same apparent content. But because the meaning he makes of what happens evolves along with his own growing edge, it can be a new experience for him. As Heraclitus of Ephesus famously said, “No man can cross the same river twice, because neither the man nor the river are the same.”
I’ve been learning about Shadow Work® since the summer of 2000. What most attracted me to Shadow Work® is its style of facilitating. Unlike some other styles, Shadow Work®ers don’t feel they have to invent clever new processes to get the participant to “see” what the facilitators see. Instead, facilitators choose to work with a series of basic moves to nurture the emergence of the participant’s own unique, in-context insight. From a constructive-developmental point-of-view, this is a far more effective course.
This understanding of Shadow Work® suggests another encouraging insight: that facilitators don’t have to be “ahead” of participants. They don’t have to possess a more textured set of developmental faculties than the people they are facilitating because their toolset allows participants to choose their own meaning, and separate from or connect to symbols which have meaning to the participant. The facilitators do not have to share the participants’ interpretation of content in order to nurture their growth.
I hope to initiate a discussion on the resonance between Shadow Work® and developmental psychology. Whether you agree or disagree with my line of thought, I’d love to hear from you, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darren Cummings creates and trains adult development groups, including ManKind Project I-groups. His day job involves knowledge deployment, training, and process coordination for Honeywell’s Flight Management Systems software development organization. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife, Sara, and their children, Shawn, Pratista and Sheldon.
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