Walking with my dog, Lilly, in the sunshine this week, I noticed our shadows strolling in front of us … attached… dark faceless companions paving our way. I began to reflect on the word ‘shadow’ and how it’s been showing up in my life recently, nudging me cunningly.
Only a few days ago while purging clutter in my garage, I stumbled across an old diary entry from my sophomore year, bemoaning a night out with a friend.
“She gets so much attention. I always feel like I’m in her shadow…”
It was a familiar story and one I told myself for years. It went something like this:
Once upon a time there was a little girl with crossed eyes and thick-rimmed glasses. She felt she could never compare to the beautiful princesses and queens surrounding her, so she lived in their shadows instead. She wrote in the darkness. She avoided the light, closing her eyes from the glare of the golden tiaras that sparkled brightly around her…
The thing about that story is that it was destined to end sadly, until I made the decision to alter it. I knew I couldn’t change the beginning, but I could affect the middle and the end. I could create fresh dialogue and play with new themes. I could step cautiously out of the shade cast by others and get to know my own shadow instead.
We all can.
Carl Jung, who explored the concept of the ‘shadow’ and how it relates to the human psyche, wrote in 1946 “The man who recognizes his shadow knows very well that he is not harmless…”
Shadow aspects of self are dark and dank. They reside in the mouldy basement of our unconscious where ill wishes and self harm fester and breed. Like a viscous dog foaming at the mouth, our shadow aspects are just waiting to be cruel, and that ferocity is as easily directed inwards as it is outwards.
Once I started examining my own shadow, rather than living in the confines of other people’s, I began to understand my spiteful urge to blame others for my lack of momentum. It was a valuable insight.
Self-sabotage can become addictive until you wrangle it with your awareness. Confronting your shadow head on can diminish its powers – like Dorothy throwing a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West, there may be momentary triumphs when we watch our shadows shrivel.
But unlike the witch, our shadows will never completely vanish. They are licensed to linger.
Coming to terms with our darkest aspects means accepting their presence rather than imagining we can permanently enforce their absence.
Like the prolonged political promise to ‘wage a war on terror’, the battle is one that will never ultimately be won, because wherever there is lightness, darkness is not far away. It is an age old, archetypal, unsettling truth. The two are inextricably linked.
So drink up the darkness. Walk with your shadow and become familiar with its wily ways. You’ll be surprised how many tales you both have to tell…
Write for ten minutes on the word ‘shadow’
Give your shadow a voice. Create a dialogue between the dark aspects of your self and the lighter elements. What needs to be said? Who is louder? How could you introduce more equilibrium? If your shadow was an animal what would it be?