While I was on my last full day in Ireland, we had a small Vision Quest, where we walked the grounds of the retreat center, being open to all it had to tell us. I had my phone with me, which functioned as my camera, and I wanted to capture a few pictures.
The sun was behind me, and on the trail my full shadow was cast before me. As I was at the beginning of my quest, it occurred to me that I was chasing my shadow – or, at the very least, allowing my shadow to lead the way as I moved into this.
Shadow is the part of us that we don't want to own – the needs and fears that keep us from being fully ourselves – and not because of themselves, but because of our denial that they exist. “That's not me” - and so they wind up having power over us because we don't want to admit they are there.
And yet, it is in opening to the shadows of ourselves that we are made whole. Each shadow is a lesson for us to learn, a pool for us to drink from, a teacher to sit at the feet of.
The real 12-step program should be for our need for perfection. It seems to me that is the root of all our apparent brokenness. The only reason I feel the need to self-medicate – be it liquor or drugs or food or shopping or sex or work or whatever – is because I don't “measure up” to a standard of perfection that I myself built up with input from parents, family members, teachers, other kids, spiritual leaders.
All of that input about right and wrong, pleasing and irritating, cool and uncool, good and bad, gave my mind a project to work on: “How to become perfect.” And, all of the bad, irritating and uncool things – even though they were some of the most authentic parts of myself – became relegated to Shadow and left to fend for themselves.
Someone once said our faults or flaws are only our good traits carried to an extreme – and they only go to an extreme out of a desire to be seen and heard – out of a need for love.
So the shadow carries within it all the natural and authentic parts of myself that someone else judged as wrong, and they grow there, calling me to attend to them, own them, love them, so that I might reaffirm my wholeness, reintegrate the Truth of me.