Between the Shadow and the Soul

Solar Term 12 | July 22 – August 6

I don’t tolerate the heat very well. As the days get hotter I seek higher and higher altitudes to escape the heat. This week I was fortunate to spend time in the high mountains riding my mountain bike through alpine meadows filled with blooming wild flowers, dipping in and out of the shade as I rode through the trees. By the time I was done I was hot and dusty and thirsty. I felt a slight headache come on from the glare of the sun at altitude. Coming home to a cool dark house was just what I needed to cure my impending headache. As I took the steps down to the basement searching for the coolest part of the house I was aware of how I welcomed the dark. In the heat of this Solar Term, the cool and the dark was just what we need to stay balanced.

Late July brings greater heat due to the quantity and quality of the sun. It’s hot, it’s bright, and it’s hard to be outside without some kind of shade. If, in the beginning of July, it was nice to rest outside, to enjoy peace and quiet in the shade, we are now forced to draw in from the intensity of light and heat. Drawn blinds and cool basements sound wonderful. We now truly appreciate the dark.

Darkness makes us whole

Darkness makes light whole because it is the counterpart to the light. In all light we are blinded. In all dark, well, we are blinded too. This is the origin of yin and yang – the light side of the hill and the shady side of the hill, which are always turning into each other in a constant cycle of change. Many people talk about the light within, but what about the dark?

The role of the dark and shadow in your life has to do with what you have hidden about yourself. When people talk about “shadow work” it is about seeing, learning, and understanding what you hold in the shadows – the unresolved past experiences that unconsciously influence your behavior today. This kind of shadow can create a crack in your foundation as a split between yin and yang. It is a split between who you are and who you want to be.

Having a crack or a split creates a place where you can get stuck. It can feel like a wobble or a hesitation within. It can be a place that you return to over and over, something you cannot get over or let go. This is a sign of not being whole. Holistic health, or holism, is the condition where your body, mind, and spirit are aligned in the same place at the same time, operating as a one. This means that the cracks are resolved, there is no separation. You are healed when your system is whole.

The body works as one is when the body can heal itself. – Zhuangzi, late 4th century Chinese Philosopher

How do we journey through shadow?

If part of the healing journey is to embrace shadow, how do we do so? How do you know that there is something lurking in your shadow that needs to be brought to the light? Again, go back to listening and feeling your body. What is the felt sense?

Typically when we are confronted with something scary we panic and try to run. How many times have you run back up the stairs from a basement with the hair on the back of your neck standing on end? Rushing through something when you are fearful? Maybe it brings up just a slight panic in your chest. Your heart rate quickens, your breath draws short, and your mind freezes for a minute in the “oh no”.

I notice this when I come across an obstacle while mountain biking. I watched my friend come upon a log lying across the trail. She calmly slowed down, pedaled deliberately, and adjusted her body as she went up and over without a hitch. When I saw the log I instantly hesitated. My mind went from being blank into a frenzy of fear. I panicked and stopped, unable to clear the obstacle. And this pattern happens over and over again. Forever the log will control my riding ability until I actually slow down and figure out what I need to do to master obstacles in the trail.

Watching for signs of shadow

It is easy to see and know what is in your own conscious mind; it is in the light. You cannot be as aware of things in the shadow, in the dark, subconscious of your mind, but you can observe your breath, body and mind to watch for signs of shadow. Some things to watch for can be:

  • Hesitation – It’s a block of not knowing what to do. What is blocking you?
  • Rumination – What is underneath the inability to let go of the thought, the worry?
  • Avoidance – I can’t handle that issue so I won’t talk about it. What can’t I handle?
  • Rejection – If it’s not “true” or “real” then I don’t have to deal with it.
  • Rushing – Let’s just rush through this thing so I don’t have to look at it too deeply.
  • Holding your breath – If I don’t breathe when I think about this thing I will stay safe, I don’t really have to take it in.
  • Heart palpitations – If I am out of sync then I can’t feel the emotion to the fullest extent.

Part of the human condition is having shadow. Facing our fears in the shadow is about paying attention to the felt sense of fear and thinking with curiosity, “what is that about?” I see this in my clinic people where people build up stories about what they think is hiding in the shadows. The fear, anxiety, and resistance around discovering what is there can be quite strong. It’s an internal fight that builds into a storm. To stop the fight and calm the storm, light needs to be shined on the situation. This allows for a shift to occur – the fight is over, the storm has passed. When this happens the relief is palatable – the breath releases, the muscles go slack, the eyes close. The shadow has passed, and we are ok.

Using shadow to connect to ourselves

Summer is a time for connecting. There is an opportune moment in the heat of the day when we can connect with ourselves embracing what is in the dark as we continue our journey to being whole.