When I was a child, one of my mother’s favorite pastimes was to drive me to the local cemetery, walk the terrain, and read the epitaphs on the tombstones. She was originally from Austria, and this seemed to have been part of her own childhood so she wanted to pass it on to me. My friends found this ritual to be quite strange, but only years later did I realize how strange it truly was.
As I began to examine the rationale behind this ritual, I came to realize that my mother was a woman who more often than not embraced darkness in her life. My father and I were similar, in that we always tried to find a healthy balance between the darkness and the light, which can often be challenging. It has been said that many creative types are more inspired during dark times, but I’ve found that profound darkness hinders creativity, and that the creative juices flow best when there’s a balance between the darkness and the light.
In general, I’m the type of person who reaches for the light as much as possible. However, this past month has been filled with many dark moments in my own personal life and in the lives of several of my loved ones. Loves and losses are that way—these events seem to come in waves.
Some people easily move on or “get on with it” following dark moments, while others tend to linger in the darkness. I wonder if this has something to do with acknowledging or being mindful of one’s shadow side. The shadow may be thought of as the dumping ground for our undesirable traits or those characteristics that have not been brought into our consciousness, which may include obsessions with dark or solemn moments—such as getting over the loss of a loved one.
It has been said that we cannot know the light without experiencing the darkness, but at the same time, both dark and light experiences may be considered great teachers. Growth and transformation, in fact, are born out of darkness.
Carl Jung said that when light is made, so is the shadow, or what some might call “the darkness.” One cannot exist without the other. According to Jungian analyst Robert Johnson in his book Owning Your Own Shadow, there is gold to be found in the shadow, in the sense that there’s something to learn from it; however, many people resist wanting to mining that gold.
For the most part, we expend a great deal of energy focusing on our shadow side and often put the light on the back burner of our lives—one of the many reasons why there’s such a focus on negative or unpleasant reports on the news. In focusing on the darkness, we are also burdening others with it. By embracing the opposites in our lives, we’re milking the shadow, and that’s the saving grace. The important thing is to achieve a healthy balance.
Here are some suggestions for keeping your shadow in balance:
In addition, it’s important to be mindful of the signals that life offers you. Be confident in your ability to balance the light and the dark, and know that the darkness does not have to overpower everything in your life. It’s wise to remember one of the lessons in the I Ching, which says: “To persevere is favorable.”
Bly, R. (2009). A Little Book on the Human Shadow. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Coelho, P. (2004). Warrior of the Light. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Johnson, R. A. (1971). Owning Your Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Lesser, E. (1999). The Seeker’s Guide. New York, NY: Villard.