Spring has sprung, so it’s a good time to acknowledge the light in our lives, but for some people this is a challenging task. My mother was one of those individuals, because she taught me at a young age to look for the darkness. When I was a child growing up in the 1960s, one of my mother’s favorite Sunday pastimes was to take me on weekly drives to the local cemetery. Sometimes we’d get out and walk around to read the epitaphs on the tombstones.
My mother was born in Austria, and she told me that regular cemetery visits were a significant part of her childhood. My friends and I thought this ritual was weird, but children often take their parents’ strange habits and foibles in stride. It’s only when we grow up, move out, and become moms and dads ourselves that we tend to wonder about the things our own parents did.
As I began to examine the rationale behind my mother’s ritual, I came to realize that she was a woman who tended to embrace darkness. When given the opportunity, she went to the dark rather than the light. Like me, my father was a happy-go-lucky sort of guy, reaching for the light whenever possible. I suppose being a Holocaust survivor helped him be this way, although others with his background often went in the opposite direction.
It’s true that many creative types are more inspired during their dark times, but I’ve found that profound darkness hinders creativity, and that my creative juices flow best when there’s a balance between the darkness and the light.
People who know me view me as someone who reaches for the light as much as possible. However, the past two years have been marked by the loss of many loved ones, which inadvertently sends me down the path of darkness. I do understand that the mourning process is normal, so I try to be patient with myself and give myself enough time to grieve, believing that joys and tribulations usually come in waves.
Some people easily move on or “get on with it” following life’s darker moments, while others tend to linger in the darkness. Perhaps 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 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. Those traits that we find distasteful in others are often clues to the characteristics of our shadow sides.
It has been said that we cannot know the light without experiencing the darkness, but at the same time, both dark and light experiences are great teachers. In fact, both growth and transformation are born out of the darkness.
Carl Jung said that when light is made, so is the shadow. 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 mine that gold.
For the most part, we expend a great deal of energy focusing on our shadow sides and often put the light on the back burner of our lives—one of the many reasons why people gravitate to and talk about negative news. In focusing on the darkness, we’re 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 side 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 be overpowering. 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.