Shadow Work (Updated 11/13/17)

Our petrified idea of the theatre is connected with our petrified idea of a culture without shadows, where, no matter which way it turns, our mind (esprit) encounters only emptiness, though space is full. But the true theatre, because it moves and makes use of living instruments, continues to stir up shadows where life has never ceased to grope its way. – Antonin Artaud¹

Hidden edges or repressions are like a field of treasure for personal and deep artistry. Follow these steps to take the warrior’s journey into your own psyche.

Shadow work takes on the journey of Jo-Ha-Kyu, which are the three main parts of a story: (1) Thesis (problem or lead); (2) Antithesis (working with the problem or alchemical process); (3) Synthesis (solution or gold). These stages are to be journeyed with movement or dance. To Rhizome Lee it is finding the twist (Jo), entering the twist (Ha), and concluding with the reverse twist (Kyu).

0. Preliminary

Before embarking, you must be in a comfortable space. You must also have nurtured yourself well already.

1. Search for the shadow. (Jo)

You can also ask yoursealf a big question such as, “What is the underlying problem right now?, “How am I really doing?” or “What do I really need right now?” Once you get a feeling or answer back, go on to step 2.

2. Feel the shadow. (Jo)

Observe the feeling/demon/poison in a third person perspective. There are many ways we can feel (see section on feeling). Identifying an unsure feeling is a good start. Gradually solve the riddle from there. There might be more than one feeling/demon/poison, but just pick one. Simply see the feeling/demon/poison externally from a distance and without passing judgement. If you want suggestions on creating distance, refer to section on boundaries. Feel, but also embrace the warrior, and do not take the feeling personally.

3. Become the shadow. (Ha)

While keeping your inner warrior, compassionately ask the feeling/demon/shadow what the possible solution, negotiation, or request might be and wait for the response. Feel the response. Place yourself inside the feeling/demon/poison knowing that this state is only transitory. Feel any slight release. Give thanks to the feeling/demon/poison.

4. Transcend the shadow. (Kyu)

Return to your prior position, seeing the feeling/demon/poison under a new lens, and transformed into an ally or medicine. You become a stronger or more complete you with the help of this ally or medicine. If you have reached this step through a major shadow, you ought to reward yourself in some way when your research is complete for the day.

Exercise: I Accept Myself Despite…

Complete the prompt with movement. Resonate.

Length of Time

Shadows come in varying intensities. Some shadows may be identified within 5 minutes but others may take years. Recent shadows are easier to find than not so recent ones. Because of this, not so recent shadow research may be taken outside of the realm of the studio or exploration space, but with precaution. Being in an open state for insights throughout the day is recommended.


A trigger is a physiopsychological response to an associated sharp shadow or trauma provoked by something in the environment experienced by one or more of the senses.² One may also feel that their body has betrayed them because the mind might think the situation is small, but the automatic body response paints a different picture. Example trigger feelings: (1) overwhelming feeling; (2) numbness; (3) spaced out; (4) asphyxiating; (5) a bomb explosion.³ Very often when these triggers are met, the only thing one wishes to do is to flee from them in some form via distractions or indulgences (food, substances, habits). Fortunately, we can use another response which is butoh theater.

If a trigger happens, it is highly encouraged to attempt to engage, deconstruct, and resonate with it as much as possible. If a trigger happens during practice, it is an opportunity to engage in shadow work. Step 1 (Jo) of the 4 steps of shadow work (see above) already engaged itself, and so you can direct yourself to the preliminary step (comfortable space, nurture) followed by step 2 and attempt to complete the process. If the work is too difficult, do not shame or guilt yourself, but instead accept your place in the self-work.

The Shadow & The Scapegoat

“Be not hasty to condemn others; how knowest thou that in their place, thou couldest have resisted the temptation? And even were it so, why shouldst thou despise one who is weaker than thyself?” – Liber Librae, V.I. The Equinox4

How we perceive the causal chain may have everything to do with how we perceive the archetypal devil or shadow. There are two ways one can view the archetype.

1.  Scapegoat

Leviticus 16: 8: He is to cast lots for the two goats–one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat.

The scapegoat was given the burden of sins and sent out into the wilderness. The goat was the vehicle for blame, the boogeyman. Goats are such peaceful and playful animals too! This sacrifice was a means to pacify minds that needed reasons for hazy causal relations or chaos.

When the blaming finger extends, there are only victims. The pointer releases power over to the external something which then incarcerates the pointer and sometimes the one pointed at too. The incarceration in turn only reinforces the pointing. Vicious circle.

2. Empowerer

Luke 17:20: Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21: nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Whereas the scapegoat is associated with fingers pointing about whichever way, the empowerer (made onto oneself) points above and below (as above, so below). There is no particular causal blame here. One is as a cog in the machine. This cog however knows this and becomes a momentary representation of all that is above and below (the kingdom of “God,” one’s “true self”), exemplifying the idea of the holographic principle where the part contains the whole. One is certainly not exempt however from being another’s projection of the scapegoat. This might come with the territory, especially for a butoh dancer.

That the realization of the “God” principle within oneself might be represented by some goofy-looking goat (Baphomet who points up and down) is only appropriate. That might be what it takes to express such an idea here down to earth. If one gets too caught up in the symbol though (logos), absurdity may soon follow. As Zhuangzi put it, “Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.”

Exercise: Mirror Shadows

This is an exercise to be done in front of a mirror in the dark with one candle. One is to focus on one’s face for a long while (30 minutes or more), and see the various personalities that come about. Many may be scary, absurd, or aged. When they come about, know they are aspects of yourself (subpersonalities), and that you accept them in yourself. These can also possibly be useful for finding butoh characters.


¹ Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. New York: Grove Press, 1958. Print.
² Sexual Assault Centre, U. (2016). What is a Trigger?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 9, 2017, from
³ Deconstructing Triggers, Becoming Safely Embodied,
4 Liber Libre, O.T.O. U.S.A. Library,