Watching everything going on around the world and listening to all the conversations, a variety of thoughts keep swirling around my head, most particularly the idea that our planet and society as a whole is now engaged in the deepest shadow work it has ever consciously done.
You know shadow work, right? That practice in which one intentionally looks for and sheds the light of awareness on the darkest pockets of the unknown – or unowned – we each carry? All the parts that make us recoil in rejection, mouthing or screaming the words, “Not me, not me.” And yet, what has been the catch phrase of the last years… we are all one? Really? Are we? Well, guess what that means…
I also see a lot of debate about what shadow work is, what light work constitutes. To me it’s pretty simple, but maybe that’s because Gran explained her version in short words.
She said light work wasn’t about creating light: The light is already there. Light work is about uncovering that light, then directing its aim wherever it most needs to flow. You know, kind of like the whistleblowers who stand up and step out, rocking the boat and themselves in it, the ones no one wants to admit they know, afraid “trouble making” might be catching, not to mention detrimental to the retirement account. Sure, the Good Ship Society has huge structural problems, a rust infestation and a large gaping hole in the hull. It needs to be rebuilt, perhaps even scrapped, but please don’t draw attention to that as the tide comes in and the oceans rise. Please don’t make me step out of my comfort zone or do anything that might make anyone “unlike” me on Facebook. Heaven forbid. That feels too much like high school, all over again. Must fit in, must stand out… must be happy yet humble… must be approved, but with an edge… must keep others smiling and entertained at all times… must drink blood, eat human flesh… oh sorry, I got distracted by the current zombie craze.
Where were we? Oh, yes: Gran said the whole point of light-bringing is not about closing our eyes or sticking our heads in the sand and pretending we don’t see the darkness around us. That serves no one, and only winds up leaving a painful layer of sand to be rinsed away from our most delicate parts (although that serves a purpose, too).
The other thing she said about light work, or shadow work – whichever you want to call it, because they’re two sides of the same coin – is that it’s a lot simpler than people realize. Edith Wharton shared her version: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
Just like in personal work, sometimes we realize the thing is not to immediately DO anything when we reveal the shadow – not to engage it directly, because that can take us down, and our friends with it. Rather the idea that, at least initially, our shadow simply wants recognition. First and foremost to be seen, to be heard, to be held in the light of consciousness. And, like those little children within, to be loved and accepted as part of us, part of the team, a part that somehow, sometime, somewhere, served a vital part in our development, and deserves our gratitude for exactly that. Perhaps in some way it protected us. Perhaps it showed us something we needed to see – about ourselves, about others, about life or our belief structures in general. About choices, decisions, and consequences. About private clubs and public spaces. About what serves us, and what doesn’t. Somehow, although Gran didn’t explain how at the time, this in itself begins the healing process.
Of course, if we’re looking at shadows, it behooves us to do a little work on ourselves before we start casting around our personal spotlight. As Gran pointed out, when you do that, the first thing that happens is that spotlight hits the reflective shield of the person or situation you’re aiming it at and bounces it right back on you. And if you aren’t sure what your weak spots are, well, this little exercise will definitely help your state of awareness.
Or you can just ask the people closest to you. They’re pretty good at spotting our internal contradictions, and usually happy enough to share, although this approach may take a bit of discernment and plowing through the constructive criticism and other voices that appear. But hey, Gran said that’s why they’re there. The best mirrors sometimes speak up, poke and prod us a bit, to draw our attention to those things we’re doing our best to ignore or sidestep. Just like our shadows and our children within, they don’t rest easy. Never make that mistake.
Regardless of whether we’re looking at our personal or collective darkness, just like we began with the As – awakening, becoming aware and alert (and maybe a trifle alarmed) – we almost can’t help that next right step of getting active. But that first step, that all-important first step, is to shine the light of our attention just where it needs to go, to open our eyes and willingly look at what it reveals, no matter what ugliness – or beauty – we may find.
Peering into the darkness may not be comfortable. It may not be fun. It may involve a little more yuckiness than we normally like to allow into our lives or minds, to even admit exists, especially if we’ve gotten good at dissociation, at blocking undesirable things out, a protective mechanism that itself serves a purpose, until the point that the process becomes more prison than protection.
Yes, the first step, Gran said, is to bring those hidden elements to the light of consciousness, the light of day. There in the warmth of that brightness, the process will begin to percolate on its own, and our next right step will reveal itself.
More to come: Gran had a lot to say about this. But for now, the seed is planted. May its roots sink deep, and those ideas begin to germinate in winter’s crusty soil.