Tom Daly on The Shadow

Interview with Tom Daly

Tom Daly is a therapist, writer, a master teacher and personal coach, as well as a nationally respected elder in men's soul work. He is the founder and Director of The Living Arts Foundation through which he teaches The Inner King Training and The Inner Sovereign Training. These cutting edge programs initiate participants into "their greatest and most compassionate Selves." He is author of "Wildmen at the Border".

Tammie: What led you to do the transformational work you do with men ?

Tom Daly: My work with men began as a personal response to my own feelings of uncertainty about what it is to be a man and a father in this culture. In the late sixties and early seventies, I wanted support in being a single father and I didn't want to depend on women as I had for most of my life. I started my first men's group through a local free school in 1971. I have both been in and have led men's groups continuously since that time.

My passion for trying to understand my own growth process led me to working and learning together with thousands of other men. This work has been one of the great joys of my life.

Tammie: In a 1995 interview, you shared that the common thread throughout your work addresses the shadow at some level. What is the shadow, and how is it significant? Why should we embrace it?

Tom Daly:Shadow is all the parts of ourselves that we don't identify as our everyday persona, the latent, marginalized, denied, and unclaimed parts. We all come into this world with incredible potential. As we grow, some of these gifts are put into what Robert Bly has called "the shadow bag we drag behind us." For example, we may have been punished for showing our anger, or shamed for our tears, or rejected for showing our natural exuberance. So we put anger, compassion, and exuberance into the bag. We use a lot of energy to hide them and keep them from coming out. Many of our gifts are forgotten, suppressed, left undeveloped, or projected onto other people, individually and collectively.

continue story below

My belief is that everything we've put into shadow is a potential treasure. We often spend lots of time and energy keeping the shadow bag from spilling over and this keeps us from living our lives fully. When we can bring parts out of our bag safely, play with the energies we have locked up and enjoy ourselves in the process, our shadows become a gold mine of creative, useful energy. The personal cost of not owning shadow shows up as alcoholism and drug addiction, depression, family violence, workaholism, "internet-ism", pornography, and countless other dysfunctional patterns.

The social and collective cost of not owning our shadow is equally devastating. By projecting our disowned parts onto others, we make possible the great social "isms" that wrack our world. I believe that racism, sexism, class-ism, materialism, terrorism, and nationalism are the direct result of un-owned shadow.

I believe that by personally owning that which we project and hold in shadow, we can make powerful steps toward health, personally and collectively.

Tammie: From your perspective, why are we so fragmented today?

Tom Daly: While I don't doubt that we are very fragmented in some important ways, I want to discuss briefly the assertion by some that we are more fragmented today than our ancestors were. We have such a tendency to romanticize our ancestors by thinking they lived in a more idyllic age when humans were more connected to nature and more connected in communities. Because we now have a longing to connect more with the natural world and the capacity to imagine such a time, we project that possibility on to our collective past. I believe that it is possible that there are more people living today who feel more connected than there ever were in the past. We certainly are more interconnected globally than ever before. I am not sure that living a less complicated life and closer to the earth equates with living a less fragmented life.

Clearly we are more focused on our connections and responses to other humans than our ancestors were. We now depend more on other humans than we do on the wilderness or the farm for our survival and that is a direction that we as a species have been moving toward for hundreds of years. There is no doubt that the process of urbanization has accelerated tremendously in the last century. Surely this disconnection from the natural cycles of nature adds dramatically to our feelings of being lost and alienated. But what in us has driven this process and what meaning it has for us as a species is something perhaps we can only discover by living the questions.

Many of us who are willing to feel the disconnection from the sacred wildness, sense it as a deep grief. And that very process brings me back into connection. Seemingly that is not a direction that most people want to go willingly. We try very hard not to feel the pain of the suffering around us. We want to hide from the fact that we are the cause of so much suffering. In fact it seems that the more we see and hear about suffering the stronger our desire becomes to avoid it, deny it, suppress it, blame others, and harden ourselves. Essentially we put grief into shadow.

How we got to this place has been the subject of countless books and articles. And the books about how counter this trend are now filling the book shelves, hundreds of titles with themes like: how to live more simply, how to live with soul, how to be happier, and how to find the path to personal meaning, how to reconnect with our bodies and the earth. What I haven't seen is a serious inquiry into what is it about us as species that has brought us to this point. Something is driving us to become more and more self-conscious both individually and collectively and at the same time has made us more insensitive to the world around us.

We seem to find it impossible to reduce our birth rate by conscious choice, and that alone makes it very likely that we will exterminate other species and ultimately make life very difficult for the vast majority of our own species in the near future.

The relatively new field of evolutionary psychology suggests that we perhaps we are a the mercy of our genes. The prime directive of the genetic code is "reproduce...get the DNA into the next generation anyway possible and try by whatever means possible to protect that genetic investment." This is a bit more ruthless than most of us want to see ourselves and certainly doesn't fit our model of humans as conscious masters of our own fate. Perhaps our shadow, our arrogant thoughts of ourselves as the most highly evolved species, is what fosters our disconnection and alienation. Whether we will acknowledge our arrogance and come back to a deeper and more soulful connection with our world is an important question of our times.

Tammie: You've said that "a lot of the pain and the dis-ease that we experience in our lives comes from our lack of support." In what ways do you see us most effectively healing from this lack.

Tom Daly: It is my belief that much of the pain and dis-ease we experience in our lives comes directly from the disconnection from the non-human natural world that I spoke of in the previous question. This pain is heightened by a lack of support that is symptomatic of our culture. We currently have the idea that we can deny and hide from that which causes us pain. That belief makes it very difficult to question ourselves at a deep level. We are taught that we are responsible for our own pain and that it is up to us to fix ourselves by taking drugs (both legal and illegal), working harder, eating more, taking exotic vacations, and generally doing anything but looking at the source of the pain.

One very deep paradox in this is that vast numbers of us now make our livings by treating the symptoms of stressful modern society. If people were healthier and were blessed just for being alive then we perhaps we wouldn't need the prozac and cocaine, the big new car, the trip to Bali, the therapy sessions, the vitamins, the cosmetic surgery, and the self-help books. I often reflect on how much my own work depends on other people's pain and dissatisfaction with life.

As Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher, said, "You can never get enough of what you don't really need" . We will never get satisfaction in the ways we are trying to get it. What I believe is missing in the equation of modern life is what we most seen and heard and taken seriously.

My answer to the question of how to deal with the pain created by living in this society is to change our ideas about how to get and give love and support. I believe that if we all got the love and support we both need and deserve, many of our problems would evaporate. And with them, as I suggested above, so might some of our biggest industries. What keeps this economy growing is the creation of artificial need. If we lived lives more filled with love, the pain would diminish, but the engine that drives our economy would also diminish. There are many forces that keep that engine going. Love doesn't fit in the modern economic equation. A shift to an economy of love and compassion would require a massive "birth-quake" that you have described.

continue story below

I teach a number of processes that help people feel more blessed for just being and that has been the focus of my work for the past decade. Paradoxically when people feel blessed and supported they often feel more grief about the way the world is going. So in the short run their pain increases.

Part of the process I teach is that when we feel the pain, we can also transform our resistance to it. When the resistance to whatever is causing the pain is diminished, the pain is first more manageable and then becomes something else, often the experience of love and connection. Accepting this particular paradox is, to me, an important part of becoming an adult.

When we feel our pain and acknowledge it, the healing can begin. When we can counter the tendency to deny it and suppress it and be with others who feel it, when we can honor it and let others know when we sense it in them, when we can remember grief is something we must share, then we deepen the connections between us and we can then feel the blessing of it.

I am not sure why we came to be so afraid of grief, but I believe it has to do with our forgetting that grief is an expression of love. When we label it as pain, we try to avoid it and that sends it into shadow. The way to bring it out of shadow is to feel our grief together and remember it as love and connection.

Many of our deepest wounds can become gifts when we can allow ourselves drop into pain knowing that we are supported and blessed in the process of going there. Obviously if we are shamed for our tears and view them as a sign of weakness then we are not going to be willing to go to that place.

For me, men's work has been a long and difficult process of creating a safe place for men's grief and tears, and ultimately for love and compassion.

Tammie: After closing my psychotherapy practice in Maine, and having an opportunity to step back and think about the process of psychotherapy, I've come to appreciate the wisdom of James Hillman, who points out that a significant amount of what therapists have been trained to see as individual pathology is often an indication of our culture's pathology. I'm wondering what your perspective is on this.

Tom Daly: Jim Hillman has shaped my thinking on this as well. I certainly agree that we have for too long over-looked the collective aspect of neurosis. Hillman sees us spending a lot of time on introspection and that for the most parts seems to have made us less politically and socially active. In my private practice and in my Trainings, I always stress the link between the personal and collective. It is not a question of the personal vs. the political but how can we be effective in both realms.

What interests me about Hillman's inquiry is how we can bring the inside out. If therapy simply makes people more conforming to the mainstream values then we all lose. If on the other hand we help bring out the best in each individual, then the result will probably be a more vital and active person both personally and politically. I have no doubt that an individual or small committed group can bring about profound change. I definitely believe that individual choices do add up and make a difference.

Our anger, our pain, our joy, our fear, is all influenced by our environment. We can't solve our problems only by talking to our therapist, we must also talk to our families, to our neighbors, and to our national, state, and local politicians. We cast our vote about everything by who we are. Every act is consequential, how we treat our friends, how and what we eat, the way we pray or don't, how much time we spend or don't spend with our family, where we go after work, how much water we use to brush our teeth, it all makes a difference.

As much faith as I place in individual choice, I'm not convinced that we can make the changes we want simply as the sum of many individual choices. We are, I believe, at the point where individuals are not smart enough by themselves to make the wisest choices. The systems are too complex for any individual to process the data and make choices for the good of the whole. The time of the lone ranger leader is past. The answers we need are in the "field" and in the shadows. And we haven't been so good at looking there. In fact we are trained not to look beyond ourselves and most trusted allies.

We all need to develop a new skill of sensing this field wisdom. If we don't, we will continue to be torn apart by shifting individual, group, and nationalistic self-interest. My guess is that this shift to greater group awareness will be one of the next "BirthQuakes".

Tammie: In the simplest terms, I've described a BirthQuake as a transformational process triggered by the quakes in our lives. You appear to me to be a living, breathing example of the power and possibility of our quakes. Would you be willing to talk about your own "BirthQuake" experience?

Tom Daly: I have experienced a number of important birthquakes in my life starting with being adopted at age three and a half and being brought to America from Europe. Each of these experiences seems to build on the one's before. What I would like to speak of briefly is my most recent BirthQuake, which came as the result of a tragedy in our family.

Less than two years ago my son-in-law, David, physically abused his daughter to the point that she was hospitalized and then placed in foster care for over a year. For many months, he denied what he had done and we all defended both him and my daughter, Shawna, looking for any cause other than the most obvious one. When he finally admitted his guilt and was sent to prison for 3 years, the Department of Social Services continued the case against my daughter for another six months claiming she had been involved or was, in fact, the perpetrator and had convinced David to take the rap for her. It was a year of agony and trauma for all of us at many levels: medical, legal, financial, psychological and spiritual.

Happily my granddaughter, Haley, is very healthy and has been reunited with Shawna. The physical wounds have healed and we are all continuing to work with the psychological and spiritual ones. Shawna and David are separated both by his prison bars and by the gulf between them. This event called into question some of my most deeply held beliefs. The situation remains quite complex but most of us are moving in a healing direction.

The pain of all this taught me many things, some of which I am only now beginning to sort out. Because of my interest in men's work one of the greatest dilemmas was and still is how to relate to David. Here was a young man who, on the outside, was a very loving and devoted husband and a father who happily took birthing classes and looked to be doing everything right. We could all see the stress that he was under and were aware of his conspicuous problems finding a job that suited him, but we all wrote that off as "normal" for someone of his age and situation. Both he and my daughter had a image of themselves as strong people who could handle whatever came their way. None of us knew the depth of his insecurity and his inner turmoil. I have tremendous compassion for him, and would like to forgive him and move on. And yet there is a part of me that will not do that. I don't feel that it is in either of our best interests to forgive and forget. I want to continue to work with the shadows that got us all into such a painful place.

continue story below

I could literally write a book about how we all made it through this passage, this BirthQuake. And the saddest chapter would be about David. I have written to him several times and his response has been minimal. He seems to have retreated into a hard shell. I'm not sure if he is reacting to the conditions of prison where a shell is a necessity or he has made a decision that he is beyond help.

I will keep reaching out to him because I know how important it is to our whole family, especially to his children. However this turns out, we have all been changed forever; we are all reborn and it is up to us to learn from what has happened. It some very important way, I believe we have all been tested for the days to come. We all know ourselves more essentially having set in that fire. Working with this issue will always take us deeper into our own and each other's shadows. I am faced with practicing what I preach.

Tammie: Do you believe it's possible that we're encountering a global quake?

Tom Daly: I think we are undoubtedly entering a time of world-wide chaos and transformation that easily fits your definition of a BirthQuake. My hope is that it will lead us to a rebirth of soul and more sustainable options for all of us.

For the past twenty years, the economies of the US, Western Europe, and Japan have been gobbling up world resources at an alarming rate. Most of our growth has come at the expense of the Third World. Now it seems clear that the current world economic bubble is about to burst. The recession in Japan, South Korea, and many South East Asian countries as well as the instability in Russia will lead to a deepening world-wide recession. There simply isn't enough loan money to go around. If any of the major world economies (the G-7) falter all the dominos will fall. Many smaller countries are already collapsing under the strain of repaying massive debt that further oppresses their people. The rich and powerful are getting richer and more powerful on a world-wide basis. History tells us that this can't go on much longer before something will shift things to a place of greater balance.

I believe the year 2000 computer problem will be the catalyst for this larger break down and reconfiguration. Even if the rest of the world had their computers fixed (and they don't), the magnitude of the disruption caused by the failure of the US government to handle this problem would be enough to create a world-wide depression. The costs of fixing the problem is now estimated in the trillions. That alone would be enough to cause a global recession, if not depression.

The problem is not simply one of fixing a few million lines of computer code or replacing a few million embedded chips. The problem is that most people in power both in business and in government simply don't grasp the magnitude or interconnectedness of the system and it's problems. And if they do, they are becoming increasingly afraid to speak out about their fears because of threats to their credibility and fears of being held liable for potential failures. Many states are in the process of passing legislation limiting their liability related to failures due to this problem. Most insurance companies are in the process of restricting coverage for the period just before and after the year 2000.

Given the instability in this country due to the impeachment issue and how much energy that debate will take away from working systematically with Y2K , combined with the world-wide economic issues I mentioned previously, I can see an inevitable BirthQuake of enormous proportion coming.

I think that it is no coincidence that the most popular movie of our time is "Titanic". We are all sailing on the grand liner of western technology and democratic capitalism and think we are invincible. A small number of us see the potential dangers and warn the captain (CEO's and politicians) but he is easily convinced that it is to his advantage to make a new speed record and that the great ship herself will get us through. Like Titanic passengers we really don't have the option of getting off or being involved in the decision making process and are held hostage by the powers that be. For a few more months we do have the option of building more life rafts, but in the end that will not save more than a few million of us. A larger percentage of the steerage passengers will probably die, many are already.

This BirthQuake will require that we all work together is ways that are new to us. We will be required to work together is smaller groups on issues that are of immediate importance to us. We will be asked to use our inner and outer resources in new and creative ways that I mentioned earlier. It will be a exciting and difficult time.

Tammie: What concerns you the most about our collective future? What makes you hopeful?

Tom Daly: My biggest concern is that the Year 2000 Problem, the world-wide recession, global weather extremes, terrorism, nuclear accidents and proliferation, the combination of these factors will lead to a neo-fascism on a world-wide scale. My fear is that in the face of so many uncertainties, many governments, including our own will attempt to consolidate control through force. This will happen more completely in countries where the military is already in charge of food and water supplies and infrastructure.

What makes me hopeful is that this BirthQuake will bring us into closer connection and healing at local levels and not simply in cyberspace. We may be forced to both think and act locally, esp. in our own bioregions. Perhaps this more local self and community sustaining possibility will spread. With many more experiments in living being tried perhaps we will align with a more nature based model where redundancy and diversity will allow for many new ways of living to emerge and succeed. We humans have flourished on this planet precisely because of our adaptability. And that is my cause for optimism. We will adapt, and hopefully we will do that in ways that makes this a better place to live, for all living things and not just humans. Perhaps we can let go of our arrogance and take our place in the world and be of it, rather than above it."

Y2K sites and articles contributed to by Tom Daly:
(note: unlinked url addresses are innactive at this time)

Fortune Magazine, April 27, 1998
Business Week, March 2, 1998
The Washington Post 12/24/97

You can contact Tom Daly at:

Tom Daly, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 17341, Boulder, CO 80301
Phone and FAX (303) 530-3337

next:Therapeutic Spiral: An interview with Kate Hudgins, Ph.D,

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 16). Tom Daly on The Shadow, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Last Updated: July 18, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info