Most of us experience self-doubt, writes Debbie Ford in her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. There’s something wrong with me. I’m not okay. I’m not lovable, worthy, or deserving.
We poison ourselves with self-loathing words that taint our psyches.
If we repeat the negative thoughts enough—or others slam us with them—we either come to believe their untruths or turn and run away from ourselves. These instinctive self-defense mechanisms undermine our feelings of self-worth, leading us to believe we have to be perfect to become whole.
However according to Ford, being “whole” consists of owning both the shadow and the light sides of our personalities, because they each contain their own wisdom to teach us—if we’re willing to pan for their gold.
The shadow is our growing edge, the part of us that’s fearful, selfish, prideful, or a multitude of other negative traits. It’s everything we resist or try to disown about ourselves.
The light consists of our good qualities. It’s those things we like about ourselves such as being compassionate, creative, and courageous. The light allows us to experience love not just for others, but also for ourselves.
When properly understood, the shadow and the light unite the human and divine parts of our being. They teach us wisdom and allow us to embrace our unique self-worth.
Most people are afraid to confront their shadow side because it’s the unacceptable part of our personalities. So, we often try to hide our shadow, or make it behave and go away.
But like panning for gold in a muddy river bed, when we take time to understand our whole self—both the darkness and the light—we find the happiness we’ve been looking for. We become enlightened.
The other day I was walking my dog Riley in subzero weather. The tips of my gloved fingers stung from the bitter cold. I wanted to retreat back to the warmth of my home to unthaw. But Riley wasn’t having it. He wanted to sniff every snow bank and leave his mark.
Fine for him, I thought. He’s lined with fur. I angrily snapped his leash as I grumbled, “Come on, Riley. Get going.
Riley stopped. His ears flattened. He tucked his tail beneath his legs as he looked up at me trying figure out what he’d done wrong.
My shadow side, my impatient self, had reared its ugly face again. What is my problem? I stood in the pelting snow searching for the light in my darkness.
I’m worried about everything and everyone. I let myself be overwhelmed by work, family, politics, and all the problems in our universe. I’m bent-over double with anxiety.
Remembering Ford’s invitation to ask ourselves what’s the light we’re being invited to embrace in the darkness, I realized I needed to let go of others’ problems. I needed to trust all is well—that was the gold nugget of wisdom waiting for me to discover.
In that moment I embraced my shadow self. I turned to the light within me, and whispered a prayer asking God to give me the grace of patient trust.
I then smiled at Riley as I patted his head. “I’m sorry, buddy,” I said, and we continued our journey home.
If we want to experience wholeness, we have to accept both the shadow and the light within us. Once the shadow is embraced by the light, it can be healed. When healed, it becomes love.
We let the light and the darkness within us become our teachers when we follow three simple steps of self-awareness:
Name the shadow—the negative emotion or trait we experience when we come face-to-face with our inner darkness.
Ask ourselves what is the opposite—the positive virtue—the light invites us to learn.
Introduce light into the shadow by asking the Creator for the grace to integrate into our lives the gold wisdom we’re panning for on our pathway to wholeness.
Don’t resist your shadow side. Be as open to it as the light within.
Let them transform you as you allow the light to shine more and more in the darkness.
And let yourself be Whole.
—brian j plachta
originally published in Converge Magazine.