“Evil is like a shadow – it has no real substance of its own;
it is simply lack of light. In order to cause a shadow to disappear,
you must shine light on it.”
As we move into longer nights and experience shorter days, and we get ready for winter, I am reminded of the internal dance of light and shadow that plays out for each of us inwardly.
Our shadow sides point us to our strengths. Instead of thinking of our shadow side as an enemy, what would happen if we thought of the shadow side as an ally? I believe making that essential shift in perception is what allows us to become our full and whole, vital and healthy selves.
Talking about this makes me think of a young woman who is dealing with this very issue. This woman is a lovely and vivacious person who is dealing with difficult things within herself. She came to me recently with concern that she is being very negative. This negativity in her was bothering her. I asked her for a concrete example so we could use it to directly help her. She told me that she has been very negative with her friends. She has a core group of girl friends which she enjoys. When one of them says something negative about another, it stirs something in her where she can’t stop herself from continuing the negativity and saying more bad things.
Listening to her, I asked her who she knows in her life that is negative. She thought for a bit, and then answered that it is her stepfather and then, her mother. As I asked her more about her mother, she revealed that her mother left her and her father when she was young. Even though she is now back in her mother’s life, the scars are still there.
If we go back further, we find out her mother’s mother had died suddenly when her mom was only twenty-one years old. This young woman’s mother leaves before she can be left. Not surprisingly, this young woman does the same. Since then her mother has had other men and husbands and has another child. As this young woman is actively working to heal her relationship with her mother, she still has areas in which she is very sensitive, and where she still keeps her mother at a distance. It is hard for her to be close to her mother. I asked her to take a look at this with compassion for herself, and wondered if she is a bit like her mother in her distance from others and her negativity?
She said that yes, this is possible. I then explained to her that when we are distant with a parent, we then often do some things inside of ourselves to keep them close to us because the truth is, we also yearn for them. One of the things we do which is unconscious is to be like them in some ways. Often the ways we are like them are the very ways we most dislike. If her mother is negative, then maybe she is blindly negative with others like her mother. She learned this, and in acting this way, her mother is close to her in a childlike way.
On the opposite side, I explained, she is exquisitely sensitive to negativity in others. When folks are not real and are being negative, she hates it; it drives her nuts. Instead then of acting in a reactive manner by responding in kind, in shedding light in this area, she can use her sensitivity to this negativity by understanding it, and by being able to transform this back biting to compassion. Her very sensitivity to this dynamic in others and in herself is her very strength in developing compassion for herself, for her mother and for others.
As she develops compassion and love for herself she can then change the energy of the past and can help others embody the light instead of the shadow. What we do for ourselves we do for others and as this young woman embraces her shadow she summons the light for all of those around her as well.
Small Lifestyle Changes That Promote Big Results
One small lifestyle change you can make is to start your day with asking yourself what makes your self and your soul happy. Follow this question internally throughout the day. When you are confronted with a doubt, a greed or jealousy, an anger or frustration for example, then take a couple of breaths and ask yourself this question:
“By allowing myself to feel this way and/or to react negatively, am I making myself feel good about myself and about life?”
That simple question is very helpful. At the moment, you might not be able to help yourself do differently or change the situation, but it sets up an internal framework from which you can learn and observe your own choices.
Then at the end of the day, do a five minute check-in. Ask yourself:
“Did I succeed in listening to my soul and what makes me better? Where did I do well, and where did I fall a bit short? How can I respond differently in the future? Can I embrace the places I fell short, and look at this shadow without judgment, or not?”
And then, take a moment to just thank yourself for caring enough about yourself to ask some challenging questions. And remember, the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of the questions you ask yourself.