Shadows and Wizards

I’ve been writing for a while about the necessity, for each of us, of turning towards our shadow – all those parts of ourselves we started to push away and deny from the first moment we encountered disapproval from others.

We each acquired a shadow for good reason. It’s part of the necessary development from the wild everythingness of a new-born towards social acceptability – surviving as part of a clan or tribe, a family or society. We acquire a shadow in the name of appropriateness, approval and acceptability.

Beyond a certain point, though, the shadow is troublesome because it blinds us to ourselves. Whole aspects of ourselves become invisible to us, and we deny they are part of us. Often we’ll see them in others who become the target of our scorn, derision and judgment. “I could never be that way”, we say when, more truthfully, we are precisely that way but cannot see it.

If we are going to create lives in which we can respond fully, compassionately and creatively – families, organisations, societies too – it seems to me that we have a responsibility to turn towards our own shadows and learn about them, so we can fully understand and draw from what’s there.

And, as I’ve been reminded today by the wonderful Hollie Holden, one of the very best books on this subject is, in fact, a beautiful novel from 1973, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin. How this book became labelled only as ‘children’s literature’ mystifies me – it’s deep, generous, rich in narrative and characterisation, and spot on about what it takes to meet our own shadow and grow up through the experience. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Photo Credit: peasap via Compfight cc

1 thought on “Shadows and Wizards

  1. HI Justin, I really like what you wrote here, and what really resonated with me was that …” we have a responsibility to turn towards our own shadows and learn about them, so we can fully understand and draw from what’s there.”

    So true, but putting that learning into practice is not so easy sometimes!

    I have spent some time over the last few years in workshops exploring the shadow and have a gained a little learning and a few insights into my some of my own unconscious patterns. I am particularly interested in the ones that regularly and easily rise up in heated conversations and usually get in the way of me being fully present and available to connect with others.

    The challenge for me is how to bring such learning and insights into the real life situations that I experience, the ones where I really want to be more aware and present. These are usually the conversations where tempers can fray, and emotions can run hot, deep and unconscious, in the heat of the moment. I find them very confusing and hard to work out what happened afterwards- and what I could have done differently. To add to the confusion there could also be some unconscious manipulation going on, but its so subtle and ingrained I find it impossible to get a handle on whose “stuff” is whose, and so separate out what part I own and could work on.

    To give you an example- I was in a recent group conversation in which a very heated exchange emerged between two of us. I am not sure but I think in the interchange of words there were some labels and perceived judgments that unconsciously triggered each others shadow stuff, baggage, habitual patterns, defences and self images. My attention and awareness got lost in the flux of strong emotion, contempt, resentment and whatever else swirls around in me that I cant define, or currently control.

    For me the challenge is how to bring what is essentially some theoretical understanding and learning from self development work into these real situations, into the heat of the moment- the only place I can really work on my shadow stuff?

    Just when things get difficult and heated is the place where I want to improve my ability to manage my state, be more aware of what is happening to me. I don’t want to lose presence in reactivity and get emotionally overwhelmed [ though I know that ultimately I make a conscious choice to do this.] In such moments where my shadow stuff comes out to play I can’t imagine be able to manage my state and feelings. I find this very frustrating!

    My current developmental question is- How can I learn to hold my attention and stay calm and present in the heat of the moment- when my shadow has been triggered, notice my unconscious reactivity, and not speak from a place of agitation and unconsciousness?

    any suggestions?

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