As a kid I was always a little puzzled when I heard grown-ups talking about people (or things) as ‘shadows of what they once were’. Being of a nimble (and tragically literal) mind, I knew for them to use the expression, there must be some kind of light source involved. I mean really, how else could there be shadows? What kept bothering my imagination was the inference of shadow being somehow ‘less than’; less than what?
Shadows have been with us since we crawled up out of the primordial ooze and saw the sun. Ancient priests used them to terrify the locals with eclipses being chalked up to something other than, you guessed it, a VERY large shadow. It’s a telling indictment of human nature to think of how shadows have historically been used to manipulate. But on a lighter note, I recently watched a video clip of a really little kid trying to slap his shadow on the wall in front of him. Naturally, he kept missing. But what was great (and funny) was the more he missed, the more he laughed. What makes you and me laugh at our intrepid toddler experimenting with how things work is we know better; we know how things work; we know about shadows.
Or do we?
Debbie Ford (author of The Dark Side of the Light Chasers and The Secret of the Shadow) and other therapists of the Jungian tradition all speak to integrating the whole person to themselves…like our shadows naturally know to do when we walk down the sidewalk. It doesn’t have anything to do with being good or bad, but being ‘real’. Authentic shadows are stupid (and wise) in that they just know to be the outlined image of their source…no focus-groups; no panel of experts necessary…shadows just know. Yes, I’ll grant you, there is no headline here because shadows look like what we expect to see. Or do they? [note to reader] This is where it gets good.
For me, it really gets interesting when the shadow is what we see emotionally. Ever crawled into bed and pulled the covers over your head because you were afraid of what you ‘saw’ lurking in the shadows in the corner of the room? It reminds me of the time when my little sisters were having a ‘camp out’ sleep-over in our backyard. Seems I (may have) made a cardboard cut-out while one of my boyhood cohorts blinked his big flashlight towards it from a few feet away. To be politically correct, I am very sorry that the recurring ghostly image on the wall of their tent made the girls scream. And with the politically correct stuff out of the way, I will confess the memory of it still makes me smile. What can I say? Like Popeye, I am what I am.
But shadows are actually really good indicators for us. Sometimes the shadows in our minds show us our true nature; our truest selves.
But other times, when our shadows don’t match what we know, it shows us the ‘additions’ to our psyche that aren’t as natural. Families (god bless ’em) are famous for putting things into our self-image which affect the shadow we see/feel. ‘You’re fat‘ or ugly; ‘You’re a bad boy (or girl)‘ which can translate into careful-or-we-may-not-love-you-anymore; ‘You! Had a thought?‘ which converts into a behavioral version of be-seen-and-not-heard-or-there’ll-be-hell-to-pay. And being little kids, many of us believe what we’re told about ourselves. It’s about then our shadows begin to shift…they begin to lose their true profile. And not long after that, our true selves have slipped into the darkness.
Are there times when you’re not feeling like yourself? Me too. So what do you about it?
For me, it’s all about Light. As a youngster, I remember a wise old white-head telling me “What you do in the dark is what shows brightest”
Back then, growing up in a fear-rich overly-religious environment, such a truism scared the snot out of me. Did what I do in the dark match who I told the world I was? What if others can see the shadow of me that I see? Would anyone like me if they knew? Would anyone love me if they knew? BONK! Wrong approach.
After years of recovering, I’ve been blessed to have learned some things that have brought my shadow back into both focus and synch. If I may, let me pass some of what I have learned your way. However this may (or may not) help you, I can honestly (now) say that Life is so much better since my Light and Dark began working together.
So very mindful of how much I still don’t know about the human mind, sometimes I play a game with myself when I sense some of those old bewildering feelings trying to reassert their claim over me and the Life I’ve since built. It involves flipping the ‘fear of shadow’ equation on its head and coming at myself from another direction.
Next time you find yourself outside on a sunny day, pay attention to your shadow. Move your arms out and watch the corresponding shadow move in-kind. Lifting a leg or squatting down on your heels…it doesn’t matter. Your shadow is right there, moving in perfect unison with your body. What does your body and your shadow have in common? A shared source of light. Now I know that bit of trivia is not going to win any science fairs, but stay with me on this.
If you were to do the same exercise from an emotional perspective, would your shadow be as tight with your body as your physical body and shadows are? If you’re even remotely like me at all, the answer is probably ‘no’.
Remember the images of self-worth some of you were forced to swallow as a child? Those shadows are all built-up…they are made up of parts whose sum-shadow looks like one thing while the components add up to something quite different. In lieu of getting all pyscho-babbly, let’s look at a simple example.
When I see the bigger picture, I don’t have to wonder what I need to work on…I can just walk outside and look at my shadow. I’ll see it.
The beautiful simplicity in looking at shadows and their true source is once you can see it, you can name it. And once you name it, you can start to edit the falsity from the image your shadow is casting. Everyone talks about adding to the body of knowledge. I would propose there is equal potency in subtracting.
If you think about it, ‘editing’ is often a form of subtraction.
Try subtracting just one of the shadows others have added to your form. It changes the profile. Do that again and the resulting image shifts even closer to the Truth our shadows are compelled to reveal. My sincere hunch is your true shadow is pretty fine. You were created to cast a specific shadow that falls across the Life you lead and the people in it. Your shadow can impact those you love as surely as it impacts the people who are not in your fan club. You have a choice this week to live with your head under the covers or embrace the Light that’s always there. Pretty amazing to think it wasn’t the Light that left you…that maybe it was you who moved out of its reach. No wonder the shadows can haunt us. But that was then and this is, now.
There is someone in your Life that could use some shade this week. How empowering to be the one that casts that kind of shadow. Shadows are nothing to be afraid of…they yearn to be used for the purpose for which they were created…sort-of like you. Walk in your Light and find your shadow. We’re all depending on it.
(CNN) — Michael Clarke Duncan, nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the 1999 film “The Green Mile,” died Monday morning at age 54, according to a representative for his family. http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/03/showbiz/michael-clarke-duncan/index.html
The Secret of the Shadow by Debbie Ford: http://www.debbieford.com/
Power of Subtraction by Anthony K. Tjan: http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2012/09/the-power-of-subtraction.html (Not everyone in business agrees with Tjan, but it is a ‘good read’ worth considering as it may apply to your personal life.)
Ms. Fleur Gaskin has a really good WordPress blog on fighting shadows and depression. She’s the real-deal and maybe another good link in the new chain you’re forging for yourself and your Happiness. Check out her blog: http://fightingtheshadows.com/wordpress2/?cat=1
PHOTO and ILLUSTRATION CREDITS: A Very Short Story (shadow art) by Fred Eerdekens: www.fred-eerdekens.be; Sneaker Shadows: http://www.foundshit.com/sneaker-shadows/; Letter_Heads by Kumi Yamashita: http://zboog.tumblr.com/; Dirty White Trash (with Gulls) – 1998 – photo by pashasha: http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/featured/incredible-shadow-art-created-from-junk/12265?image=1; Scary Friends, Bad Shadow, Vile Shadow, : http://fightingtheshadows.com/wordpress2/?cat=1; Shadows of the Past (Old New Shadows) by Lubomir Bukov: http://inspirationalforwomen.com/my-inspirational-messages-for-women/shadows.html; Me and My Shadow – Illustration by Hati: http://www.hitrecord.org/records/325358; His Favorite Corner – Illustration by Maryam Tabatabaei: http://www.jacketflap.com/megablog/?blogid=1941; Kids Shadows by Helen Levitt (c. 1940 silver print): http://www.laurencemillergallery.com/levitt_tribute2.html; Shadows-thesuiteworld: http://thesuiteworld.com/blog/shadow-art-kumi-yamashita-tim-noble-sue-webster/; Augmented Shadow (3621451981_75ffebc69f) by Steve Benstone: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32915112@N04/3621451981/sizes/m/in/photostream/; love-shadow: http://www.foundshit.com/love-shadow-shapes/; Shadow of an Idea by Christopher Tully: http://mmt-mbit.ning.com/profiles/blogs/shadows-in-lighting-pm; Paper Shadows and Muscle Memory by Color Me Katie: http://colormekatie.blogspot.com/2009/04/shadow-project.html