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An Interview with Jim and Jessica

What inspired you two to create your own Shadow Wedding? Where did you get the idea?

Jessica: Early on in our engagement, I remembered a story I’d heard about a “shadow wedding” done by another couple. I can’t remember where I heard it, or who the couple was, but I do remember what they did: On the night before their wedding, in their basement with a few close friends, they dressed in rags and spoke vows from their most neurotic and unconscious selves. It always stuck with me, this image of two very brave and committed people, saying out loud what they knew was dark and difficult about their relationship right before getting married. [NOTE: We’d love to know the identity of this couple! If you know them, or if this is you, please contact us.]

Jim: When Jess told me this idea, I knew immediately I was on board to do our own version of a shadow wedding. Something just clicked inside of me. Without knowing exactly what form it would take, I knew I wanted to give myself the luxury of a ritual that would honor the not-so-pretty aspects of both of us. Enough with all the white and lace and flowery love-language, I wanted a chance for us to get dirty together!

Nice that you didn’t have to convince him, Jess! OK, once you had the idea, how did you prepare yourselves?

Jim and jessica benson shadow wedding photo oceanJim: I think for a long while we just let the idea cook in us. About six weeks before our wedding, we stumbled on a way to talk about it while we were reading The Conscious Bride, which a friend had loaned to Jess. It was a lifesaver, and a book we now recommend to everyone we know who's getting married. We landed on the notions of our inner “Prince” and “Princess” — the worst versions of our adolescent selves: fantasy-driven, selfish, fearful, and manipulative. We spontaneously took turns speaking from the Prince and Princess, voicing their points of view in the form of vows.

Jessica: That was a totally fun and brutal afternoon! My Princess vowed, “to compare you to the fantasy man who only exists in my mind, and tell you about how you fall short of his greatness!” and Jim groaned. He got me back with, “I vow to pretend to be committed to monogamy, when in truth, I will share sexual energy with other women and slowly work to convince you to let me sleep with them!” and I made retching sounds. We kept going like that, “getting” each other with our vows, with equal parts humor and viciousness until we were cleaned out.

I think from there we realized a form that felt right: Rather than accuse one another of faulty character traits, we realized that speaking our own dark material would protect the psyche of the other. It also meant we each had to take incredible responsibility for the parts of ourselves that had a negative impact on the relationship. We decided that the bulk of our ritual would be exchanging vows in this way.


What actually happened at your Shadow Wedding?

Jim: We decided the ritual would take place one week before the wedding, and invited friends who really got what we were up to. Ten amazing people joined us. We held it at night, under the redwood trees in our backyard, and dressed in our frumpiest house clothes, super un-sexy to each other.

Before leaving our living room, we invited our friends to sit in silence with us for a few minutes to set the stage for the ritual. We asked them not to speak during the ritual, but to instead respond in any non-verbal way that felt appropriate — hissing, grunting, and moaning were all welcome.

We also told them that as part of the ritual we would be saying, “I vow to...” which actually meant, “I pray to release....” We wanted them to know our intention, so they wouldn’t be confused about why we would vow to do some nasty or neurotic things.

Jessica: We had previously written our shadow vows — some together, some separately — but decided to speak them either from memory or create them spontaneously. We traded vows back and forth, sometimes riffing off each other’s vow. Speaking the vows was intense! I remember my legs wouldn’t stop shaking at one point, and there were tears for both of us. Our friends were awesome. We got lots of booing, hissing, and spitting, which really helped the intensity of it move through.

The vows do sound intense, and I’m not sure I understand why you say, “I vow to,” when it seems like the last thing you'd want to reinforce. Isn’t that kind of dangerous?

Jessica: I think it’s all about intention and the consciousness behind how you do it. We had done enough of our work around each shadow vow to know this was something that we had, rather than it having us. By speaking to it in such a bold way, the internal sensation was that the strongest parts of myself were in charge, so much so that I felt 100% clear and ready to transform the stuff I was bringing to the ritual. It didn’t feel dangerous at all — it felt empowering.

What happened after the vows?

Jim: We wrestled! Physicalizing our experience felt deeply satisfying and essential to the embodiment of Jim and jessica benson shadow wedding photo oceanwhat we had just done. It was a great way to move all the intensity we had just stirred up. Plus you really can't do that kind of thing at your "light" wedding. We had brought out a foam pad for this purpose, which really allowed us to let it rip. Our witnesses stood around us forming a makeshift boxing ring.

After catching our breath, we exchanged rings and formally chose each other's shadows. Our rings were a twist tie and a circular piece of aluminum foil. Jess went first with the twist tie, saying something like, “With this piece of garbage, I chose all of you, with all your insecurities, hang-ups and hypocrisy.” She went on to describe how her love included seeing and accepting the darker aspects of me, and that she chose me completely with all my faults.

I did the same for Jess with the aluminum foil ring. After that, our friends spontaneously showered us with leaves and redwood duft instead of rice, which was perfect.

When I hear you describe how you accepted one another so completely, I imagine that was a big moment. What was it like for you?

Jessica: This was probably the most powerful part of the ritual for me, both as the giver and the receiver. I knew that as I chose Jim, I was not deluded by who I wanted him to be, and I wasn’t hoping that my "savior-prince" lived in him somewhere. I felt very strong in my loving of him and in my ability to see the truth of him in that moment. And to be chosen by him with all my ugliness revealed was just incredible — another kind of a dream come true!

Jim: I agree with Jess; this moment in the ritual had a huge impact on me. At some point in my history, I decided that I had to hide in my relationships — that if someone saw all of me, they would become critical and unloving. Trusting Jess to see me and love me has been life-changing, and ritualizing that aspect of our relationship rooted a new reality for me in a lasting way.

It sounds amazing for the two of you, but it seems like a lot to ask your friends to see you at your worst like that. What was the impact on them?

Jim and jessica benson shadow wedding photoJessica: This was actually one of the greatest surprises we received through our process. After the ritual, we asked everyone to join us back inside for some time to debrief. [NOTE: The photo at left was taken during that debrief.] We got some valuable feedback and reflection, but we also got a sense of the universal nature of shadow material. Our friends shared with us how some of the vows hit home in a big way. They spat and hissed not just for us, but for themselves as well. I think it was then when we began to grasp the healing power of what we had done.

Jim: To be sure, we had chosen folks who had done a lot of work with themselves and could understand our intention, so that felt like an essential ingredient to keeping the ritual healthy for everyone.

The feedback that we got was mainly gratitude — for being open and willing to expose ourselves, and for making a stand for conscious relationship. Oh, and they also told us that we were courageous as hell!


Do you think your Shadow Wedding had an impact on your wedding day?

Jessica: I truly believe that the acknowledgement of all that dark material is what allowed me to be present and fully receive the magnitude of love generated by our wedding. In the weeks leading up to our Shadow Wedding, when I imagined our “light wedding,” I would Jim and jessica benson shadow wedding photo oceanworry about being out of my body and that I wouldn’t be able to take in what was happening. When wedding day arrived, though, I shocked myself by how clear and at peace I was during the entire day. I can easily say it was one of the best days of my life.

Jim: Absolutely. There wasn’t any “no” left in me! I had expressed it all a week earlier, in that dark redwood grove. I also experienced a powerful bachelor’s ritual the day after the Shadow Wedding. Quite a combination on the weekend before our wedding!

It sounds like the whole process was good for you, but what if a couple can’t get past some shadow parts they come across because of their work with you? How does it feel to know that some relationships might end because of this process?

Jessica: In all honesty, if a couple breaks up because of an impasse, we think it might spare them a lot more suffering down the road. That said, we’re certainly not into this work to break people up! We strongly suggest couple’s counseling or other means of support before making the choice to separate, but we ultimately land on the side of truth. The bottom line is that we trust the Shadow Wedding process to help couples find the truth, even if it gets rough along the way.

What's ahead for the Shadow Wedding? Any big dreams?

Jessica: I'm incredibly excited about this work, and I feel solid in how well-suited Jim and I are to help others in this way. I want to facilitate more Shadow Weddings and train others to facilitate them, too.

Jim: I'd love to see a Shadow Wedding documentary that would track the process plus the ritual for, say, three different couples. And I would love to be around for the the day when a majority of wedding planners around the globe ask their engaged clients: "And who will be guiding you through your Shadow Wedding?"

Anything else you would like add?

Jim: We’re both clearly very passionate about offering this work. We know we created something special for us, and we’ve begun to see how powerful it can be for others, both for the couple and for those they invite. We’re well aware it’s not for everyone, but if you’re a couple of consciousness junkies like we are [laughs] then it just might be a fit. Just make sure you bring a seatbelt, because it can be a wild ride!


From a Shadow Wedding witness:

“Jim and Jessica's Shadow Wedding restored my faith in marriage. I knew that they were saying a full 'yes' to each other — not just to the aspects that were easy to love.

"I believe if couples are able to engage with this incredible level of authenticity and realness, they set themselves up for the possibility of the true depths of love, not just the Hollywood romantic version.”

Kay Ceridwen Bachman, MA, elementary school teacher