One day last week, the world seemed to be filled with people who irritated me. At a certain point during the afternoon, fuming while stuck behind a slow and absent-minded driver, the realization hit me: I do exactly the same thing at times!
As I went back and thought about all the people who had gotten on my nerves that day, I realized that each of them reflect back some truth about myself I don’t like admitting to… or even seeing. And the biggest truth of all is the fact that, in spite of all my ideals, I can be pretty critical and intolerant of other people.
Writing that last sentence makes me cringe. I find myself wanting to delete it or, at least, soften it. But this is exactly what happens when we catch sight of our own shadows. Your shadow is that part of you, those aspects of you, that you don’t see. And if you do catch sight of them, you will immediately try to avoid them. And so we usually only see our shadow reflected in other people. If someone is really getting on your nerves, you can be sure you are catching a glimpse of your own shadow.
One of my gripes with many current spiritual beliefs is that they focus on the light and on positivity. Even the word enlightenment seems to imply that we should strive for the light. Move away from the shadow, concentrate on all that is good and beautiful. Only then will you be free of the suffering in the world. That is what many gurus and teachers seem to be telling us.
But by refusing to see the shadow, we only turn it into something that haunts us in our weakest moments. And in our dreams. We can’t understand why we dream of spiders, rats, people chasing us, or other dream images that we associate with horrible, frightening things. And, when we wake up, we try to forget the dream as quickly as possible.
Of course, once we do see, and admit to, a shadow part of us, we immediately want to do something about it. I can’t be intolerant of others, I believe in acceptance of anyone and everyone exactly as they are! And so I grow impatient – and intolerant – of this part of me. I find it unacceptable and therefore I myself must change. And so we go to therapists, gurus, personal development workshops, etc. in order to become a better person.
Obviously, this is not going to work. When we do catch sight of one of our shadow parts, it’s important to understand that it needs as much love and acceptance as the rest of us. Only then can we become a whole person, shadow and all. We are exactly who we’re supposed to be. We are perfect, just the way we are.
Make no mistake, everyone has shadow parts. No matter how old and wise we have become, no matter how much self-knowledge we have gained, the fact that we are alive and walking on this earth means that we are made of both light and shadow. Like night and day, yin and yang, summer and winter. Anyone who claims they have overcome their shadow parts is probably kidding himself.
When you meet your shadow, invite him in. Treat him with loving kindness, thank him for being a part of you. In the long run, it might be the most healing thing you can do. And those people who get on our nerves? I guess they deserve to be thanked as well. Without them, we would never truly see ourselves.