When light shines on form, a shadow is cast. Because we are both form and formless, dark and light, the shadow is always with us. Robert Bly, author of A Little Book on the Human Shadow, writes:
We notice that when sunlight hits the body, the body turns bright but it throws a shadow, which is dark. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. Each of us has some part of our personality that is hidden from us. Parents and teachers, in general, urge us to develop the light side of our personality…to become successful. The dark part then becomes starved.
The shadow is that which has been denied or repressed in our individual psyches. Over the years, many of us receive praise for certain qualities or behaviors and are criticized for others. We learn to hide the criticized parts of ourselves and to live out of the places within us that shine. We collect what has been denied in a “long black bag” as Bly describes it. To reclaim these aspects of ourselves, we must open the bag and explore what lives in the darkness. This is shadow recovery. If a person has not learned the tools to navigate darkness (or even for those who have), this inner landscape can be uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst. This is why we so often avoid it.
The more we explore the shadow creatively and courageously, the less dense it becomes. When we choose to become vulnerable, we tear open the shadow to let light shine through, and, from my experience, the light does not rest once it is known. It leads us more deeply into the darkness to know it ever more fully.