Do We See Our Own Shadow?
Groundhog Day is one of my favorite traditions. Do we see our own shadow?
My understanding is it is all about when a groundhog wakes up from hibernating early in February.
If the groundhog sees its shadow it will retreat back into its burrow and winter will persist for another six weeks. When a groundhog cannot see its shadow it is a sign spring will arrive in only another month and a half. The weather is usually colder when the sky is clear and can be a little warmer when it is cloudy.
I might be missing some of the nuances of the tradition.
We took winter and our groundhogs seriously where I was born and raised, in the Badger State near the burrow of Jimmy the Groundhog.
The part of the tradition which gets my attention, though, is the shadow.
Some of us can be afraid of our own shadows. We might prefer pulling the blanket back over our heads and continuing to hibernate. It may be a challenge for us to even stick our heads out and look for a shadow.
There are years when various groundhogs need to be rousted out of their nice, comfortable sleep.
Is it important to us to know whether we can see our shadows? Can we predict whether we are facing a continuation of winter or pleasant, warm spring days? When can we begin planting without anxiety for the new life we are creating?
As impressive as groundhogs can be, how significant are our own shadows to us? What can how we see our shadows tell us about our approach to life?
How familiar are we with our shadow selves? What are the shadows we do not want other people to see?
Me and My Shadow
One of the most significant ways spiritual life works in me is bringing my shadow self to light.
Each of us has unconscious aspects of who we are. Some of us work hard to ignore the shadows within us. There can be aspects of our shadow selves about which we feel embarrassed or ashamed. We may have an intuitive glimmer of these parts of ourselves but rarely pay attention to them. Some of us see our shadow selves in our dreams.
There may be pieces of who we are which remain hidden from us which are more visible to other people.
Our shadow selves can be as complex and layered as the parts of our personality which are more evident to us. It can be a difficult challenge for us to get to know our own shadows.
Some of us spend time and effort coming to terms with the shadow selves within us.
Spiritual life is at work within us helping us accept and appreciate our own shadows. When we develop a contemplative practice of listening to sacred stillness we consent to the presence and action of spiritual life. We practice being open to spiritual life’s work in us, bringing us together.
Many of us think of our shadow selves as negative or broken aspects of who we are. Our challenge is not necessarily fixing our shadow as much as integrating our shadows into a whole.
As writer Madeleine L’Engle once said, “A lot of the shadow self is the home of poetry, story, prayer. My deepest understandings are often released from the part of me of which I am least aware most of the time.”
Spiritual life is about restoring the wholeness of who we are and can become.
We spend our lives becoming acquainted with our own shadow selves.
Seeing Who We Are
Many of us believe there are parts of ourselves we need to hide from other people. Some of us feel afraid or ashamed or guilty. We may not know how other people will react to who we are.
Some of us have been told or taught there are things about us which need to be fixed.
Spiritual life is at work helping us become aware of all the aspects of who we are. As we become more familiar with ourselves we begin to see ourselves in new ways. Parts of us which we have tried to hide become things to celebrate as we become aware of our own shadows.
It is not easy. There are still parts of myself I am convinced I need to protect from other people, and from myself.
Growing awareness of our own shadow is part of our lifelong relationship with spiritual life.
Spiritual life is living and working within us and in the world around us. Each step we take or move we make toward who we can become is the next part of our relationship.
As we become aware of our own shadows the distinction between light and shadow becomes more blurred.
Embracing Who We Can Become
As we acknowledge and spend time with our own shadow we begin to find things to embrace. We accept the aspects of ourselves we thought we needed to hide, even from ourselves.
Spiritual life works in us to integrate all the parts of who we are and have the potential to be. There are times when we will need to struggle to embrace the wholeness of ourselves. Other times it will be most helpful for us to stop struggling and be still as spiritual life does its work in us.
The relationship between spiritual life and our true selves is dynamic and growing. Each day can bring us fresh insights and questions. As we see ourselves in new ways we can begin to embrace all of who we are.
There is no part of us which must be rejected or left behind. Spiritual life is alive and working to bring us wholeness of life.
As our winter hibernation comes to an end, we open our eyes and roll back the blankets.
Like the groundhog in our tradition we wake up and look for our own shadow.
How will we begin to see our own shadow today?
When will we be able to see our own shadow this month?
[Image by sf-dvs]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.