They move with the time of day and make visible the dance of the breeze. Dappling the world shadows are darkly mystifying. When I paint shadows, I often use all of the primary colours, undiluted and concentrated, so that the eye reads them as shades. Darkness gives depth, or at least the illusion of depth. The world is flat and bleached without shadows. In art and life, we need a “Yin” or negative space to balance out the bright and dynamic ‘Yang’ energy. The reflective yielding light of the moon to balance the sharp rays of the sun. We need winters’ solstice to make space for the active growth cycle of spring and summer.
In spiritual terms, the shadow is neither good nor bad, it just is. It’s a part of us that has much to teach us if we let it. It contains spaces that we can only just make out, like something in the corner of our eye, hazy and nondescript. We see reality as ‘through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). Like the deep ocean, our shadow also contains things we cannot see at all. There is a universe inside of us. Often, we get snippets of our mysterious shadow selves when we remember our dreams, and wake, perhaps realising that there is a lot more going on in our psyches that what we are consciously aware. But we don’t need to remember dreams in order to gain the wisdom and insight of our shadow. It resides in all of our frailties, our insecurities and failures. It’s our very weaknesses that lead us to God, who is completely present both within our being and outside of us as an anchor for our soul. We discover the life of God in these hazy, elusive impressions. We come to understand that our worth is not found in achievements or the identity we have spent years trying to carefully construct.
Sometimes, every answer to every question seems to be a resounding “I don’t know”. Like tree in a storm, it’s delicate branches billowing in strong winds, we may feel that there is neither gravity nor ground. St John of the Cross says likens this shadow experience as ‘the dark night of the soul’. He says; “In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God”. The shadow place is being content in the mystery. Laying aside manipulations and grasping, and with open hands, we are fully immersed in the river of God.