The Light Shadow


brightshadowWhile most of us associate the shadow with undesirable or “bad” qualities we’ve disowned, everyone also has a “light” or “bright” shadow composed of their soul’s true potential. Why would anyone repress their light shadow? Because they learned early in life that the way to stay safe and comfortable at home and in the world was to hide parts of themselves.
Whereas some families encourage interest in creative pursuits like music, drama, drawing or writing, others see them as “putting on airs” or “only for sissies,” or “a waste of time and you’ll never make any money at it!” Many find being smart and aspiring to college admirable. Others might call you a “nerd”, or accuse you of “trying to rise above yourself,” or of thinking “you’re better than everyone else!”
Margaret Paul wrote in an article on Huffington Post, “When I was growing up, my parents made it very clear that feelings were to be avoided. I heard homilies such as “don’t cry over spilled milk,” or “I’ll give you something to cry about.” When I was upset or crying, I was ignored or sent to my room. The only difficult feeling that seemed to be allowed was my mother’s anger — but not mine. The only feeling I was allowed was ‘happy.’ Not only did I learn never to share any feelings other than ‘happy’ with my parents, I also learned to stay in my head and disconnect from my feelings. It was the only sensible way to cope with life in my home.”
As long as we disconnect from our feelings we won’t find our light shadow. To “follow your bliss” you have to feel it! Until you do, you’ll project it onto others, and that can become problematic. For example, if we refuse to acknowledge our feminine sides we might be attracted to others who exhibit feminine qualities, yet at the same time, have a tendency to criticize or persecute them for these same things. Or we might over-idealize someone with a gift or talent we’ve repressed, then reject them when they disappoint us by being as human as everyone else.
Other problems arise when we repress genuine strengths and obsess over unfulfilling substitutes until they turn into their opposite, unhealthy dark shadows. For example, an obsessive need to please others can become intense and rigid perfectionism. Forced piety becomes self-righteousness. Extreme humility can birth a sense of superiority. Overvaluing logic and intelligence can turn us into a thoughtless, painfully serious and dreadfully boring know-it-all. Continually serving others while denying ourselves can create resentment, and so on. There’s little light on an unauthentic path.
So how do we discover and develop our light shadow? Here are two suggestions.
Make a list of five people you deeply admire, known or unknown, real or fictional. Beside each name note their qualities that you most like. Re-read your list knowing that these qualities are undeveloped aspects of your light shadow which you have projected onto these people. Ask yourself what steps you can take to develop these qualities in yourself, and then…take them.
Examine your dreams for images of people, animals, objects, places or activities your dream ego is deeply drawn to. What is it about them that appeals to you? What associations do you have for them? How do they make you feel? Are they literal things you already enjoy in waking life, or are they symbols for something as yet undeveloped that you want to bring out, for example your creativity, talents, leadership abilities, or capacity for intimate relationships? In either case, they’re aspects of your light shadow, and you’ll do well to give more time and attention to them in your inner and outer life.
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0 Responses

  1. I can’t find words for how this resonates with me today, Jeanie. It’s very powerful to see and read, and realise I’m not alone in this.
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Viv. I’m glad I’ve stumbled on a way to help you feel less alone! No one else can know where we hurt or what we need for healing. But we who are on this lonely journey can be mirrors that help each other see the best and tame the worst in ourselves. Blessings, Jeanie

  2. Thanks for this, Jean. I loved to draw when I was a child, but when I got older, I was discouraged from taking art classes because, just as you say, “waste of time, you’ll never make any money at it.” Art got put away for a long, long time.
    On feelings, crying was okay, but anger wasn’t. Not at all. I got this from my parents, but also from my teachers. “Nice little girls don’t shout.” As an adult, out in the work force, I was puzzled and embarrassed when I found myself in tears when I needed to ask for a raise or change anything in my employment situation. Why was I crying? I wasn’t sad. In fact, I was angry and did not have any way to express this feeling. Not that I should have been shouting: all I wanted was to be able to “stick to my guns”. To state and defend my position.

  3. Thanks for these great examples, mrsdaffodil! Lots of us will identify with them. I know I do! Especially the crying instead of stating and defending my position. I also had great difficulty asking for what I needed. It felt self-centered and selfish! Girls were supposed to be other-centered and sacrificial. Ouch! It still hurts to remember that. No, actually it makes me angry!!

  4. The Shadow, the Tree, and the Heart of Darkness
    By Joseph Anthony
    For Jeanie, the wisest snowy owl I know.
    “So,” said the Shadow, born in the woods, “this is it. This is where I grow.” She looked behind her at the sun just beginning to set and she smiled a delicious smile. “Excellent,” she grinned, and as she spoke she elongated, spidering out, touching everything around her, and everything around her crumpled just a little bit as her fingers passed over them. Not that it hurt. Her touch was simply cold.
    The tree whose base she was connected to swayed a little as she moved out over the forest floor. She swayed with him. He leaned just far enough for the squirrel in a neighboring tree to be able to land in his boughs. The
    shadow leaned too. When the tree caught the song of the wind in his highest branches he had to sing. As he sang he swayed even more than before, and as he did the squirrels and the birds in his arms closed their eyes, enjoying the ride.
    “Ah, excuse me, tree?” the shadow interrupted.
    For a long, annoying moment, the tree just kept singing and swaying, ignoring her, or simply not hearing her, she didn’t know which.
    “Yo! Tree!” she shouted.
    Slowly, in his own time, the tree swayed to a stop and his voice trailed off over the hillside like a whispered secret.
    “Yes,” he said softly.
    “Would you mind not moving so much? I’m trying to spread out here and it’s hard to grab things when you’re dancing.”
    “I see,” he said, “and why are you trying to grab things?”
    “That’s what I do, I’m a shadow. Shadow’s grab things, take them under their wings, tuck them in the folds of their coats, stuff them into their pockets, smother them with affection.”
    “I see,” the tree said again, “and why do you do these things?”
    “It’s just what I do. Now would you stand still for a few minutes, please? You see that girl over there, the one playing the recorder on that rock? I want to reach her next before the sun gets much lower.”
    “What will happen to her when you reach her?” asked the tree.
    “She’ll stop playing. Doubts will creep in. She’ll think I mean more than I do. She’ll bring to mind her parent’s displeasure of her music.”
    “And then?”
    “She’ll stop playing for years. And a little piece of my soul will graft onto her and when she gets up to walk home I will go with her. And the next time she thinks about playing the recorder, she’ll stop and think about displeasing her parents and she won’t play. She’ll stay nice and cozy in me.”
    “I see,” said the tree, “I think I am going to sing again.”
    “No! Wait!” Damn!” yelled the shadow, but it was too late. The tree was singing, swaying; only this time his swaying was more of a swirl. This time his singing was more of a chant. This time he threw his voice across the path to where the girl sat playing recorder. He joined her melody, joined her breath, joined her fingering, and she looked up, felt his presence, rose and began to dance. She danced towards him. She bowed with all the grace of the dawn and he bowed in return.
    “Ah, thank you,” said the shadow, “you have brought her closer.” And as the shadow began climbing the girl’s leg, the tree bent down and lifted the girl onto his shoulders.
    “Damn you,” yelled the shadow. And before she knew what was happening, the tree bent down and hoisted her up as well.
    “Wait a minute! What are you doing?” the shadow screamed.
    But the tree he just kept singing. The tree he just kept dancing. And the girl sensed the shadow’s presence and saw her there on the branch next to her. And in a moment that froze time; in a moment that stopped the turning of the earth; in a moment where the forest and all of the trees, and all living things—the hills and the water—the birds and the planets—all of them paused, stopped, for the girl had reached out and touched the shadow’s hand. The shadow trembled like water and instantly burst into tears. The girl leaned over and embraced her, and the tree threw leaves and sobs to the wind. He swayed and he danced, and the sky broke open in waves of silken purples and crimsons; the sun smiled, winked his eye, and bowed in deference to the moon. The moon appeared, saw the embrace and instantly sent down a silver shawl to cover them both, and there they sat in each other’s arms as the world began to turn and dance again.
    After a long while, the girl let go and wiped the shadow’s tears, looking at her dark, mysterious face.
    “I was playing for you,” she said.
    “What?” said the shadow, “What did you say?”
    “I knew you were there. I saw you coming. I have spent time in many a shadow. I know what’s inside you—the voices of doubt, self-criticism, shame. I know the fear you carry. I also know that your desire to surround me isn’t purely selfish. There is comfort in your wings, there is silence in the hallways of your heart, there are theatres in your mind where I can act out the scenes of my life, and you know very well all that would give me a safe place to hide from my parents.”
    “I did not mean to harm you,” said the shadow.
    “I know,” said the girl.
    “The truth is I wanted to collect you into my folds with the hope you would one day find the courage to face your family and just be yourself. You couldn’t do that without me.”
    “I know,” said the girl.
    “How do you know these things?” asked the shadow.
    “The tree tells me,” she said, “he sings to me, so do the birds and the streams, and the roots and rocks. My dreams tell me, my music tells me, the caterpillar becoming a butterfly tells me. They tell me that everything shadow-dappled is beautiful. That shadows are part of the way of light. In fact, without shadows there would be no light. On my long walks in nature I have come to terms with my parent’s disapproval. I have come to terms with my sadness and pain. I have come to terms with the fact that I will have to strike out on my own in order to live my dreams.”
    “Not alone,” interjected the tree.
    “Yes,” blushed the girl, “You’re right, not alone. I carry the tree’s love in my heart, his beauty and steadfastness, his desire to shelter and…”
    “To shade,” laughed the tree.
    “Wait a minute,” said the shadow sitting up, “you’re a part of all of the work I do, of course! Why didn’t I see it before?”
    “You weren’t looking,” laughed the tree, “but the fact is without objects, real or imagined, to block the light, you wouldn’t exist. I know your coldness can be refreshing. Your shade can help the weary traveler. It’s all in how you desire to be used.”
    At that moment the sun went down completely and the woods went entirely black, black as coal.
    “Oh my,” said the girl, leaping down from the tree, “I’m late. Oh goodness, how am I going to get home? It’s pitch
    Then the shadow leapt down, opened her wings, and said, “Let me take you through the darkness. I know the heart of the darkness, we are part and parcel of one another. You may have spent time in a shadow before, but what I carry deep within me, only those who have eyes that can pierce the darkness know what I carry deep inside. I promise to bring you home safely. You have helped me see my own light, let me share with you the heart of darkness.” The shadow opened her arms and invited the girl in. The girl turned, embraced the tree and then walked slowly into the shadow’s arms. Darkness engulfed her like black water. She held her breath until she opened her eyes and when she did, in the heart of the heart of the shadow, was a cathedral lit by a thousand candles, the moon was there delivering homilies on the alchemy of grieving, the sun was there smiling, listening from the first row, tears steaming from his face. She felt herself being lifted, the entire cathedral of the night lifted with her and spun gently, like a giant ship in an ocean of ink, and turned in the direction of her house. She laughed and sat down next to the sun and listened far into the night about images, and wonder, about hope and the power of praise, about how laughter and tears walk hand in hand, about how light and shadow live and breathe and dance as one.
    And the tree? The tree leaned into the darkness, and held a place for the sleeping birds and squirrels. He also held a place, high up in his highest branches, for that winged, piece of the moon—the snowy white owl, who can see into the shadows and find sustenance where no one else would ever think to look.

  5. Love the post, Jeanie! I call projecting your ‘light shadow’ onto others, ‘giving away your gold.’
    This is for Joseph. A dream I had last week after deciding to to the inner work of connecting with lost Child parts of myself:
    A giant tree is walking swiftly around our neighborhood (dream neighborhood, not the one I live in in waking life). Its trunk up to where the branches start is a royal blue color. My husband stands to the side watching it, too. He is standing off to my right. Then the tree circles and comes behind me. I am afraid, because I know what is coming next but there is nowhere to go and nothing to do except let it happen. The tree swoops me up in its branches and takes off. I close my eyes and hold fast to the branches around me. Soon, I find that while the tree is traveling fast, I have no problem holding on. It is traveling at a speed that is safe for me. I feel a strong kinship with the tree and begin to enjoy the ride. We come to the edge of a road where the Executive Director of the non-profit I retired from is driving. Her name is Rhonda Abbott. As she catches sight of the tree and me, she swerves in a large puddle of water in the road, but keeps driving, zigzagging down the road in a sort of careening way. I think, “How am I going to explain this?” as the tree turns and heads back toward where my husband is standing. I am on the ground again, and my husband explains that the tree is rare and ancient. Its royal blue color is now gone and it looks like a large tree with regular bark. He says what kind it is [which I can’t remember when I wake up]. There is a scene where my husband and I are mixing some concoction on part of the tree—that now resembles a top of a table. I see the beautiful design in the grain, and say that we should use a plate and not mix directly on the tree, which we do. A man in the neighborhood comes running up with his son saying, “What the hell was that all about?!” meaning the tree walking about with me in it. We ignore his question, and father and son come up to the tree. The father tells the son that they could cut down this tree and make something (I forget what) out of it. I am aghast! But my husband winks at me as if to say, “Just let them try. There is no way they are cutting down this tree!” (EOD)
    And, of course, Tree symbolism and healing stories of reconnecting with the imagination and creativity of the Magical Child have been coming my way ever since I had the dream.
    So, thank you, Joseph, for this intriguing story that speaks to me on many levels.
    I love the dance of Light and Shadow I find here at Matrignosis when I come for a visit…
    Blessings, All Ways, Jenna

    1. Thank you, Jenna! I love your phrase, “giving away your gold” and will adopt it if you don’t mind! I also love the synchronicity of your dream and Joseph’s story and my post coming together at this time! How beautiful and “uplifting” is this magical dance! Blessings to you both for your enriching contributions to Matrignosis! Love, Jeanie

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