Appendix B

The 3-2-1 Shadow Work Process


The 3-2-1 process is a simple and effective tool for working with the shadow – any part of ourselves that we unconsciously repress or deny. The 3-2-1 process uses shifts in perspective as a way of identifying and integrating shadow material. "3-2-1" refers to 3rd person, 2nd person, and 1st person – the perspectives that we move through in the process.

Each part that we disown is at first an aspect of our "I" or 1st person awareness. But, for whatever reason, that aspect poses a threat. So we push it outside of ourselves, often onto someone else. It's important to note that the aspect can be positive or negative. In either case, we project it as you, but not me. "You are angry." "You are being selfish." "You are worthy," etc. In other words, we displace it from a 1st person “I” to a 2nd person you.

If the threat of this emotion or situation becomes so great it requires a total rejection, we banish it totally to a 3rd person “it,” stripped of humanity. At that point, we can often recognize shadow as a sense of irritation, reactivity, fear, phobia, rage, or aversion toward things, but we don't really know why.

Under these circumstances, most forms of meditation won't help; in fact, they'll make things worse. They suggest dis-identification from experience, when what is necessary is RE-identification with disowned dimensions of our experience and ourselves. You can only let go of that which you have first owned. Meditation instructions to "observe all experience and to know that consciousness is independent and free from experience" don't work with experience from which we're dissociated. Healthy dis-identification is only possible once we've re-owned, re-associated, and re-identified with the disowned parts of ourselves.

To sum up, dissociation proceeds from 1st person to 2nd person to 3rd person: 1-2-3. The reversal of dissociation thus goes from 3rd person to 2nd person to 1st person. Hence, the 3-2-1 process. We also summarize this process as: face it (3rd person), talk to it (2nd person), and finally, BE it (1st person). 

Step 1: 3rd Person – Face It

Imagine the person or “it” that you want to focus on. Describe what aspect most upsets you, or the characteristics that you are most attracted to, using 3rd-person language (he, she, it). Talk about him, her, or it out loud or write it down in a journal. Take this opportunity to "let it out." Don't try to be skillful or say the right thing. There is no need to sugar-coat your description. (If you are describing a person, he or she will never see this.)

Step 2: 2nd Person – Talk to It

Begin an imaginary dialogue with this person or thing. Speak in 2nd person (using "you" language). Talk directly to this person or thing as if he or she were actually there in the room with you. If it helps, you can sit with an empty chair across from you and imagine the other person or thing in it as you talk. Tell them what bothers you about them. Ask them questions such as "Why are you doing this to me?" "What do you want from me?" "What are you trying to show me?" "What do you have to teach me?" Imagine their response to these questions. Speak that imaginary response out loud. Record the conversation in your journal if you like.

Step 3: 1st Person – Be It

Become this person or object. If it helps, you can move into the chair they “sat in” during step 2.  Take on the qualities that either annoy or fascinate you. Embody the traits you described in "Face It." Use 1st-person language ( I, me, mine). This may feel awkward, and it should. The traits you are taking on are the exact traits that you have been denying in yourself. Use statements such as "I am angry," "I am jealous," "I am radiant." Fill in the blank with whatever qualities you are working with: "I am__________."

You can do the 3-2-1 process anytime you need it. Two particular useful times are right when you wake up in the morning and just before going to bed at night. Once you know 3-2-1, it only takes a minute to use it for anything that might be disturbing you.

From The Integral Vision by Ken Wilber

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