The only (?) thing that really has a shadow is a belief, but it comes in many flavors. Beliefs create identities, so identities have shadows. And beliefs create group norms, so groups have shadows.
This came up for me earlier today in a group that has meet monthly for a while. There is a strong focus on transcendence in the group, and on release from suffering, which in themselves are fine. But it also gets a little one-sided sometimes, and the groups creates a quite obvious shadow for itself.
Some of the things in this group shadow:
- The inherent neutrality of it all. There is a caught-upness in a sense of good/bad about various forms of content… awakening good, delusion bad, freedom from suffering good, suffering bad. Again, it is very understandable, and itself neutral (!), but it does marginalize the realization that any situation is inherently neutral.
- The process not always working, and also absence of flashy experiences. There is a strong focus on the process working, and just about all examples people bring up is of how it works rather than how it apparently does not work (which is just as valuable and informative). An absence of flashy experiences is also marginalized, along with more mundane and everyday experiences (which still may be significant to the person). In both cases, people feel marginalized and alienated from the group. I know a few examples of that (Including from myself… knowing how much is marginalized, and that people genuine experiences are being marginalized, makes me not quite feel part of the group either.)
- Appreciating what is, as it is, for its own sake. Many experiences are used only as stepping stones to something else, as something unfortunate to get beyond, as something to transcend, something to manipulate to get something else out of it, as a doorway into awakening. They are not appreciated as they are, for what they are.
Any group has norms shared by the majority, creating a culture which leaves certain things out (marginalized), and so creates a shadow for itself. And some individuals in the group will experience this shadow more clearly, either because they happen to fall into it, or because they generally are more sensitive to it.
Attentive facilitators and participants will actively encourage the group shadows to be brought out and shared in the group. It tends to break the spell, allowing what was previously outside of the group norms to be brought in.
At a group level, it helps the group bring the norms into the light, discuss them, and maybe make a decision to actively follow different norms. It helps the group become more conscious of group dynamics in general, and how they play themselves out in that group in particular. It helps the group bring out and share what was previously left out and marginalized. And it may even help the group re-evaluate its culture, goals, and strategies.
At an individual level, it helps each one find in themselves what was marginalized by the group norms. It helps those who had group shadow material come up for them feel more seen and included. And it helps each one be more conscious of shadow dynamics in general, whether they happen at individual or group levels.