Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Shadow and Light: Tuesday's Reflection

As I unloaded several bags into the back of my car after a big Target run, I noticed my shadow following my every move. The day was gloriously sunny, one of those perfect mild summer days; a day to celebrate with its crystal clear skies and a sun worthy of an elementary school drawing. And yet, there was my shadow, a reminder of the darkness in the light.

Shadow and light. Both in my presence at the same moment.

Where there is light, there is shadow, and where there is shadow, there is also light. 

In a recent spiritual direction session, my client comforted herself with her ability to be strong even in the midst of a current difficult situation. She is strong, emotionally and spiritually and physically, and I admire how she handles what would cause many to curl up under the covers and ignore all methods of communication. Her ongoing strength serves her well and should not be discounted, but I suggested she think about the shadow side of her strength. That was a new thought for her.

In her next session, she talked a bit about the stoicism of strength and how sometimes being strong gets in the way of being realistic or of allowing others to assist you. With the recognition of the shadow side, comes the ability to adjust and also, the possibility for transformation. Light. 

When we are in the midst of chaos or grief or unexpected turbulence, someone is bound to remind us to be positive and "look on the bright side," and I am not opposed to that. Without meaning to sound like a Pollyanna, I do believe there is light, however teeny, tiny it might be, in everything. Yes, everything. It may be a kind word. It may be recognition of some strength or acceptance or tolerance inside yourself you had not known lived quietly within you. It may be a lesser degree of something you anticipated to be much worse. It may be self-growth or an unexpected path leading to greater pleasure or love or success or knowledge. The light can take many forms. 

When in the midst of light, however, we are less inclined to intentionally look for the shadow. Wouldn't that be pessimistic or negative? Why court the dark side? Why jinx what is going smoothly with a more somber view? 

I think knowing both the shadow and the light side of a situation or of an aspect of yourself is a pathway to greater depth, to wholeness, and is a necessary way to care for your soul. 

I know for instance that most of the time my ability to be organized and efficient brings me light and often shines light for others, but sometimes there is a shadow side to that ability. Sometimes being organized gets in the way of being present to the beauty in front of me or to the needs or opportunities of right now. Sometimes being efficient interferes with joy or fun and spontaneity. In these cases I want shadow to be my teacher. 

I am an introvert. To extroverts it may be hard to see the light in that characteristic, but I know the delight and benefits of quiet time, of silence, of reflection, of the independence and ease of being by myself and knowing my own good company. However, I also am aware of the shadow side of introversion. Sometimes I just plain miss out on connection or exploration, because I need to recharge my energy by being alone. Knowing what I need, however, is part of caring for the soul, of understanding my essence complete with shadow and light. 

Joan Chittister http://joanchittister.org in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, which I quote in this blog frequently, refers to burdens and blessings. For example, in the chapter on "adjustment," she writes, 
         A burden of these years is that we must consciously
         decide how we will live, what kind of person we will
         become now, what kind of personality and spirituality
         we will bring into every group, how alive we intend to 
         A blessing of these years is being able to live so open-
         heartedly, and to adjust so well, that others can look to
         us and see what being old can bring in terms of life, of
         holiness, of goodness to make the world new again. 
                                                                    p. 65

Sometimes the burden and the blessing, or the shadow and the light can seem quite similar, the boundaries blur. Acknowledging that both shadow and light lives within us and on our human journey, can lead us each to greater care of the soul on our quest for wholeness. 

Remember Peter Pan who felt incomplete when he lost his shadow? Wendy sewed it back on, and he felt restored and more himself. We need our shadow, just as much as we need the light. 

         Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle of life;
         quite the opposite, it is an appreciation of the
         paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness 
         into the grandeur of what human life and culture can
                        Care of the Soul,
                        A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness
                        in Everyday Life, p. xix
                        Thomas Moore

An Invitation
How is shadow and light currently interacting in your life? I would love to know.  

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