It was a sunny day yesterday and I took a short walk. At one point as I was looking down because the sun was so bright I saw the perfect shadow of a butterfly. The shadow was huge and flapping and caught me by surprise because you don’t expect to see a butterfly when you look down.
The shadow was this sign that there was something else, something beautiful if I could find it. I looked up and the sun was bright and at first I couldn’t see the actual butterfly, just the shadow, the sunlight obscured the butterfly as a silhouette. I stood patiently, and had to look away from the sun for a moment—and then I saw it. Bright orange and brown. Flapping toward the autumn trees, practically blending in.
I need to see my shadow, befriend it, and by doing so, find my own beauty.
Everyone has a shadow side, the side we don’t want to show the world. The things we don’t like about ourselves or others. Our shadow isn’t always bad, but it’s the part of us we don’t know, don’t want to know, are afraid to know, or don’t know how to handle.
And that brings me to this holiday: Halloween. It is the holiday of shadows—of bringing what most frightens us, what is hidden from us, what is unpracticed in us—out in the open. It is the opportunity to ‘come as you aren’t’—which children know instinctively. They dress as the most powerful beings they can: superheroes, princesses, ninja warriors—they dress in costumes that makes them feel all the power that they usually can’t as children and they revel in it. The bigger the cape, the longer the dress, the more weapons they carry—the better.
Halloween allows you to literally live and play inside your shadow—dress as your darker side, your lighter side, you more feminine side, your more powerful side. See if you notice an ability to do or say things that you can’t normally do. Ruth Reichl, in her book Garlic & Sapphires, talks about her experience as a NY Times food critic. She would dress in disguise as a variety of characters so that restaurants wouldn’t recognize her and she found that in certain disguises she had the power to do things she couldn’t as her ‘regular self.’ For example, in one disguise, she could assertively send food back to the kitchen –something she normally couldn’t do.
So let this Halloween be a beginning.: A new year’s celebration of your shadows. A chance to bring one of your shadow selves out for a dance—out in to the light for chance to see it’s beauty, it’s usefulness, it’s strength. You could bring it out playfully in costume, or simply in spirit.
And tomorrow when the holiday is over—you can still find ways to make friends with your shadows. Whatever you are working with right now. My experience is that something happens, some small piece of growth happens, some new view of the world occurs and something cracks. Something cracks enough for light to shine in on the hidden things and you can get a glimpse of the shadow. These cracks are permanent. And once light gets in, the shadow is seen, it’s attached, it’s connected to who you are.
Our shadows, the things we don’t like, can’t do, do too much of, can’t feel, feel too much, feel shame about, can’t tolerate—all these things over the years are hidden—they are our shadows. But they are also what makes us whole. Hidden in our shadows are also our butterfly wings, our superhero capes, and our dancing shoes. Take them out, get to know them, and twirl around.
© 2015 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD