Many mystics have told us that the purpose of creation is for God to know Itself. Spiritual philosophers tell us that our sense of separation from God and the ensuing search for reconnection with the Divine – the road back home – is for God to know Its own Divine nature through our eyes and our experiences. We are here to know God, for God.
In our quest to know God, we expound upon the attributes of the Divine, and whereas once human beings would have felt the Creator’s presence with a sense of terror and awe, we now focus on the goodness of God and trust that the expansion of life is Its purpose. Thomas Troward wrote that God’s nature is Light, Love, Life, Peace, Power, Beauty and Joy. Others would add Wisdom and Abundance.
So why do we experience the shadow: suffering, separation, fear, and death? Where is the Light of God when we are in the dark? If God is all there is, is God the darkness too?
I ponder these questions often in fall and winter, the darkening months of the year. It seems like an appropriate time to make an inner search for the answers. While summer nourishes our bodies with sunlight, activity, and the abundance of the earth, winter seems to be particularly suited for the inner feast that nourishes the soul. There is a power in this shadow time that I love.
What is a shadow? It can be thought of as the negative aspect of light (negative meaning: characterized by the absence rather than the presence of distinguishing features). It isn’t a thing in itself, but is the contrast that helps to define the thing. When you see a shadow, you know that there is a source of light that shines upon an object. Without both the light and the object it shines upon, there would be no shadow. When I see my own shadow side emerge, it must be present as a result of the light that is also present – but what is this part of me, the object, which casts the shadow?
I recently saw a photo of Michelangelo’s “Separation of Light from Darkness” and it occurred to me how like the Taoist yin and yang symbol it is. Darkness and light, black and white, day and night – I begin to see these concepts as being interconnected and interdependent instead of opposing forces – one gives rise to the other like the night gives rise to the day, like the Void gives rise to creation.
In the Judeo-Christian creation story at the beginning of Genesis each passage ends with a similar line “And there was evening, and there was morning, one day”. Creation begins in the Void, the dark of the evening, and ends in the light. So looking again to my own shadow, is there something within me that is ready for creation? What part of me is waiting for the dawn?
To me, the shadow is the combination of the negative aspects of the Divine (again, negative meaning: characterized by the absence rather than the presence of distinguishing features). So, suffering is the negative of peace, separation is the negative of love, lack is the negative of abundance, confusion is the negative of wisdom, and death is the negative of life.
Which parts of me, which aspects of God within me, are in the shadow in my life ready for creation to begin? This is the richness of walking the darkened path. The shadow, the Void, is the point of all possibility and the sign of a great awakening ahead. But only if I allow myself to step into it and learn its secrets.
I’ve heard the term “spiritual bypass” often in the past while. We employ a spiritual bypass when we avoid dealing with parts our human experience that we deem to be distasteful or unacceptable by using spiritual practices and our spiritual beliefs to deny our humanness. Ignoring or denying the shadow by focussing only on the light. While I always know that there is a spiritual solution to everything, and turning to Spirit is the way to Truth and fulfillment, I also know that my earthly experience is a manifestation of God within me. So to deny my humanness is to deny the Source from which my human life came.
In 1995, I was a young mother with an 18 month old baby. I was separated from any church or religious experience, by my own choice, because I had questions that the ministers and the teachings did not answer adequately for me. My sister Brenda was the one person, at the time, who I felt understood my questions. She never offered answers, but I knew that I could ask the questions and she would not judge me or condemn me. And she offered me some ideas, some routes towards finding the answers for myself.
And then Brenda died.
Brenda had been waiting for a couple years for a heart and double lung transplant operation, and when she finally got the call, it was already too late. Her body was shutting down, and the operation could not reverse the process. I was completely devastated and lost. It was by far the lowest time of my life, and were it not for my baby boy, I would have found a way to end the suffering I felt.
There was an immense and heavy shadow over my life for quite some time, but eventually, my soul’s urge to find its spiritual roots, overtook my sadness and suffering, and I began to explore my spirit again. With no one to offer ideas, or direct me to resources, I began to simply explore the spiritual landscape around me. My life meant more than mere existence; I knew it to be so by some deeply rooted Truth within me that I could not ignore. I explored many spiritual traditions over time, and finally came to the Centers for Spiritual Living. And after some years of study with CSL, I will be graduating as a minister in June 2014.
The shadow that presented itself in this case was the most striking example of separation from God that I have experienced in my life. And it has yielded the most sacred fruit. I thank Brenda often for leaving me to my own devices, forced to find my own way. The answer to the question of separation from God was found within the question. Feeling as if I had lost something integral to my soul, I undertook to find it, and in the process learned that it was always there, right where I was.
But this is a pretty extreme example of shadow work. There are many smaller, though no less significant, transformations in my experience – some of which are ongoing. For instance, when the shadow of anger comes up for me, usually it is because I have bought into some belief in weakness or powerlessness, and the anger is reminding me of my power. Think how powerful the emotion anger is. Used incorrectly it is certainly destructive, but understood and channeled, it is the energy of choice. It is the arising of transcendent fearlessness within a heart that has constrained itself to smallness. The choice to transfigure my anger into a healthy use of personal power is one way that I create my daily experience from the Void of my own shadow.
Some other personal shadow observations:
- Sadness is the feeling of my closed heart cracking open, and often precedes the remembrance of my ability to be unconditionally loving. Allowing, instead of denying, my feelings of sadness invariably creates a greater peace within me as I restore the openness of my heart to give and receive love.
- Fear is the mark of feeling separated from God, and is often the signpost for me to open myself to my innate creativity, such as writing, music, or ritual because these expressions restore a felt sense of sacredness within me.
- Loneliness happens when I am afraid to be vulnerable, and comes from a feeling of unworthiness. When I understand that everything I share with others is a love gift, both for me and for them, I open myself to be vulnerable, knowing that I am okay, I am safe.
I believe that there is always gold to be mined from the field of shadow. I have come to understand that my most significant personal work is found on this darkened path. This is my sacred adventure with the imminent God. Far from avoiding it or denying it, I choose to embrace it; I dive into it, and I find the treasures that it holds.
Tamara St. Amand, R.Sc.P.
Tamara St. Amand is a Licensed Practitioner and Ministerial Student with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna.