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Shadow Mastery: How To Integrate Suffering

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” ~Cheryl Strayed


Nobody is coming to save you from yourself. No God is coming to ease your death anxiety, no matter how much you want to be placated. No “authority” is coming to guide you through the brambles. Your suffering will always be a thing. It’s your responsibility alone to integrate it. You are the only hero you will ever know.


But the only way to get to know your inner hero is to sharpen yourself against the pain. Sharpen yourself against your suffering. Sharpen yourself against your existential dread. Then use this sharpness to pierce the veil between your cultural conditioning and your innermost darkness. Get down deep. Dig into the muck and mire of your humanness. Penetrate the blinding light. Get your “hands” dirty.


The key to integrating suffering is to give yourself an edge. Preferably a sharpened edge. If you have no edge, then you have no leverage. And leverage is the difference between suffering toward strength or just plain suffering for suffering’s sake.


If you have no leverage, then your suffering will tend to consume you. You will drown in bitterness and resentment. But if you have leverage, you’ll have the potential to subsume your suffering.


So, the question becomes: how do you give yourself an edge? That’s where the shadow comes in.


Look at the shadow like you would a speck of dirt in an oyster. The only way the speck becomes a pearl is through assimilation into the oyster’s environment. Similarly, the only way the shadow becomes an ally is through assimilation into the environment of the self.


In your youth it was necessary to repress the shadow to achieve discipline; in your maturity, it is vital that you integrate it to achieve individuation (enlightenment). The alternative is resentment and bitterness.


Shadow integration is facing the bitter truth within you and then being radically honest about what you discover. When you face the bitter truth within, your capacity for truth outside expands. Your once disoriented Self clicks together because the missing pieces become self-actualized. You become oriented to your suffering. Such orientation becomes a sieve that filters weakness from strength. It separates the wheat from the chaff.


Honoring the shadow births honesty, which gives birth to humility, which gives birth to humor. Such rebirth creates a sharpness, a razor’s edge. Bitterness, weakness, and pettiness fall away because a sense of sharpened wholeness cuts through it all.


You get ahead of the game. You gain a fierceness. You grow teeth. The ability to transform a negative into a positive becomes manifest. You’re able to transform pain into power, wounds into wisdom, setbacks into steppingstones, tragedy into transcendence, loss into laboratory, and shadow work into soul craft.


When you integrate your shadow, you begin the psychological process of individuation. Depth, rootedness, and stability is born. You become more grounded, more secure in your skin, more independent in your moral judgments, more courageous and self-reliant.


Your suffering becomes a wave you surf into greatness rather than a wave that pummels you into meekness. You surf over pain, tragedy, loss, and setbacks. You become the tip of the spear, spearheading adaptability despite mortality, integrating shadow work despite darkness, and transforming suffering into self-overcoming. You become the forerunner of the Truth Quest cutting through the “truth.”


The future opens wide. Your shadow guides you out of the shadows. You become integrated. You become whole. Plato’s Cave becomes nothing more than a shed cocoon behind you. You arrive. You come alive—darkness balanced by dawn; light sharpened by shadow—a force of nature to be reckoned with.


Integrating suffering is mastering the shadow aspect. It’s utilizing pain as a whetstone. As Rumi said, “The cure for the pain is in the pain.” Indeed.


The diamond in the rough is created by the rough. Great character is forged in the furnace of adversity. Pain is mere kindling. The pebble is a mistake to the oyster but a pearl to the master. Likewise, the shadow is a mistake to the uninitiated but gold to the initiated.


Initiate yourself. Strike gold by integrating your shadow. Allow your fortified foundations to crumble away. Dig into your innermost darkness. Discover what makes you tick, what makes you fall apart, what makes you crack. Then glue it all together into a stronger version of yourself.

Making your darkness conscious is self-mastery. Mine the gold from the abyss and then transform it into your magnum opus.


It’s in the fall from grace, in the broken pieces of shattered soul, where vivid, raw, wholesome wisdom lies. It’s where the shadow’s gold glimmers. Where wounds are transformed into wisdom. Where the heart is inverted into a womb. It’s where the ashes give birth to the Phoenix.


As Nikita Gill said, “Heroes are meant to be forged golden from the blaze.”

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About the Author:

Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.


This article (Shadow Mastery: How to Integrate Suffering) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.


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