Shadows dark and light

I’m pretty open about my life and my opinions. Not everybody knows everything about me, of course, but I don’t think there’s anything that somebody doesn’t know. I feel like me in all circumstances, whether I’m alone in the wilderness, or interviewing a lama or bishop at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, or having lunch with a good friend.

But the other day I found myself twice revealing aspects of my life that I usually keep hidden, not out of shame, but out of an unspoken concern that they’ll make me seem either too little or too much.

Carl Jung defined one aspect of the personality as the Shadow, that aspect of ourselves that we prefer to keep hidden. The Shadow is not necessarily some murderous part of you. It could be—an example I give in my book, The World Is a Waiting Lover—that an artist instinctively scorns business people because she thinks being methodical and orderly is antithetical to being creative. In reality, that Shadow could become an ally if the artist began to befriend the business person of herself.

Jung also believed that we fear our golden shadows as much as our dark ones. Or, as Marianne Williamson famously put it, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

So—my Dark Shadow and Light Shadow emergences from the other day.

  1. Dark Shadow. At breakfast with a good friend I mentioned—knowing full well that I’d never mentioned it before—that I get facials every few weeks. Facials! She was shocked, as I think many of my other friends would be. They—and I—like to think of me as a serious writer, someone often considered a wise elder, a person who leads workshops on grief and trauma and the inner beloved. And yet—horrors! I regularly seek out a service that would likely prove that I am vain (admitted), superficial (not at all), and wish only to attract men (nope, or women either).

Well, so now it’s out in the world. I get facials.

  1. Golden Shadow. Later that day, on a Zoom conference call with colleagues, we were all sharing what’s “blooming” in us this springtime season, in other words, what’s engaging our attention and passion. I talked about my Italian lessons. Many people know that I’ve been learning Italian for the past couple of years, but I rarely elaborate on how much I love this pursuit. I raved to the group about how learning languages is, to me, like doing a puzzle. (I also speak French, German, and a little Indonesian.) If you’re trying to communicate something in a language other than your own, it’s like having to make your way from one place to another, as if you’re on an interesting, unfamiliar trail. You have to use the words you know, even if they may not be as precise as the ones that would arrive so easily in your own language. I talked about how, after every conversation I have with someone in their language, I try to come away with at least two additions to my vocabulary, how wonderful my Italian teacher is and how excited I was to have found a two-hour weekly Zoom Meet-up called Gruppo Italiano. I was fiery with enthusiasm.

At the end of this day of admissions, I felt like a couple of places in my soul that I previously kept private had suddenly come to light. One expressed something I was embarrassed about it because I thought it showed me up as superficial. Another revealed something I tended to tone down, because I thought expressing myself with genuine enthusiasm might sound like I was showing off.

None of my friends or colleagues has abandoned me, I should add—and I am no longer embarrassed, but rather delighted to have welcomed into the open air these two aspects of me—vain enough to get facials, smart enough to relish learning Italian.

What an interesting challenge. Let us all open up more and more and more of ourselves and see what happens—not only to others but to ourselves as well.

(Photo above: my Italian study materials stacked up next to my chair.)

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