Within the darkness, we may find our most beautiful attributes if we allow them to be illuminated in our lives.
Take, for example, our experiences of the darkness of night. Imagine sitting through the stillness of the night, looking out at the world around us. The world is quiet and undisturbed. The night air seems to breathe slow, motionless breaths. The moon shines high in the sky. Beauty and brilliance can be found in the shadows cast on the earth from the stark moon above. The world around us becomes calm and mesmerizing. One minute seems to stretch into an hour. Then, as we let ourselves take in the essence of the night, we begin to feel strong and steadfast. An owl hoots from a faraway tree while a coyote bays in the distance in this seemingly endless darkness of night. And then the majestic sun begins to illuminate the sky. The sun seems to shine even through our darkest times. The birds begin to chirp, singing their multitude of harmonies. The dew glistens on the strands of grass. The hustle and bustle of the day begins to take hold, as the sun begins to peer over the horizon.
The simplicity of the night turning to day can be a point of wisdom for us. It tells of the balance between light and dark; this balance can exist within each of us. It provides wisdom about finding a balance within our own inner darkness and light. Although we may find it easier and more pleasant to look at our inner light, the darkness remains. It is something we all experience, and yet, it can be frightening to examine. The darkness holds secrets, paradoxes and wisdom, ultimately leading us to our unburdened self. If we dare ourselves to peer through at both our darkness and light, we can find the beauty and wisdom contained within both.
Carl Jung described the inner darkness as our shadow, similar to the gradually devouring shadow that spreads across the earth at night. Our shadow contains the darkness that is within us. Our shadow holds the attributes we do not necessarily like about ourselves and the attributes society does not necessarily like about us. Our shadow holds pieces of us we are not always comfortable with or we fear. Just as we often do not stay awake to learn the wisdom of the night, we often do not look to our own shadow to learn of the wisdom it can bring.
Jung also described the concepts of the “anima” as the feminine and “animus” as the masculine. For a woman, her masculine is said to live in her shadow. For a man, his feminine is said to live in his shadow. These two sides, both feminine and masculine, are able to live harmoniously within us; they can bring us to a place of inner balance. However, particularly in the early years of our lives, our feminine and masculine sides are often separate and at odds with one another. This separation is further instilled by the lessons learned in society. Society often teaches us to separate our feminine from our masculine, and we are typically taught to act as our assigned gender. While there is value in learning to act as a particular gender, there is also value in learning of our remaining traits. As we grow out of our childhood and accept the role of being an adult, it is common to begin grappling with these pieces of ourselves and the pieces within our shadow. We are grappling with our own internal balance, and we are called to examine our darkness to find it.
How can we go about connecting with our other inner halves? Often the answers are nearer than we think. Here is an exercise to try:
Settle in with a notebook or a piece of scratch paper. Begin thinking of people or characters we have come across to whom we are particularly attracted. Think of individuals who are opposite of our identified gender, whether they are people we’ve met, characters from books, cartoon characters from childhood, or someone or something else. We are identifying individuals based on a strong attraction or connection; this does not mean we have to like or respect or honor that individual. Maybe we are attracted to them because of their sinister nature or because they are funny.
Try to cast away any self-judgments. Now begin to think of traits that connect these individuals. At first, this may not be readily apparent. Frequently the individuals on the list are different from each other. It may be helpful to jot down a few attributes by each individual, until we can begin to see the relationships. The list of attributes can usually be reduced to two to five. These are often the traits about us that reside in our shadow, either from our anima or animus.
The traits and pieces of us lying in our shadow often attempt to reach our conscious awareness. These traits are not meant to be stifled and shut down. They are meant to be integrated into who we are. Looking back at the list, consider ways we can start to integrate these traits into our daily lives. Our internal worlds call for us to find this integration slowly but surely in order to help us come into greater connection and harmony with ourselves. This allows us to offer our gifts, our true unique nature, to the world around us. Our answers lie deep within us and acceptance of the beauty and the wisdom found in the shadow and in the light can help guide us there.