November 10, 2014

Being Spiritual Does Not Mean just Living in the Light—We have to also Embrace the Shadows.


Being surrounded by spiritual people on a beautiful tropical island can be a wonderful and healing experience.

Sometimes, too healing! Wait, before you say “get thee off that nice nurturing island” let me explain…

The other day, a friend was enthusiastically recommending Arnica for a couple of mostly-healed bruises I had on my leg. I am not that big into creams and salves and such things, especially for something as non-life-threatening as a bruise, so I thanked her but I wasn’t going to try it.

She was very insistent that I needed to get some Arnica and raved about how wonderful it is—she seemed a little miffed that I didn’t rush out right then (we were at a wedding!) to get some.

Another friend, who is highly intuitive, seems to rush me into processing whatever I am feeling any time I am a tiny bit not-perfectly-happy and someone else was recommending I “throw my cough into the sacred fire” on the second day I had it.

Now, I love all of these concepts, and I truly believe that if you are stuck in something or can’t shift a feeling or health issue, then some work is needed. But do we need to instantly process and dissolve every little “negative”? What about just sitting in the shadows and finding the value in the less-than-shiny side of life?

Some of the biggest and most amazing experiences of my life have come out of grief and sorrow. I learned about grief pretty early on. My father died when I was nine years old. As kids do, I survived. The grief kind of hung around through my teenage years until I could do some real processing with an adult psyche and let it go.

I went on to work with families affected by a fatal genetic condition and later, victims of crime. My husband, with whom I was deeply in love, left me to follow his purpose. It set me on the path to finding myself. I lost all of my grandparents by the time I was in my early 30s, then my mother a few years later. I am now free to travel and express my most true self without being tied to a history.

So, yes, I have danced with grief and understand how it kicks you down, takes root in your heart and colors your days. I have also seen it destroy people. I have seen people who have never recovered from one or a series of griefs and spend their lives trapped beneath the unfairness of it all.

Because, you see, life is fair. Death only happens to some people—deserving, predictable and expected. Right? Of course not. And yet, we seem to have this visceral reaction to life being “unfair,” unexpected and unjustifiable.

What would happen if we changed our dialogue around sorrow, challenges and the shadows? What if we truly integrated the inevitability of the entire spectrum of life and could embrace the value of it all? I have sat in some shadows in my time and I have found the value, the purpose, the growth in truly accepting the so-called negative experiences of my life.

The Shadow is instantly seen to be suffering—a darkness, something to be avoided at all costs. Not only do we need to face our shadow—all those difficult and dark emotions and feelings—I think we need to own and honor it. The things that have happened to me are things that happen to pretty much everyone. People die. We get left. We get bruises and illnesses and hurt feelings and bad days/weeks/months/years. But we get them for a reason

My bruises remind me to be careful. I honor and appreciate that the lesson that gave me the bruises was not more serious. My sometimes sadness pays homage to loved ones or provides fuel for introspection and growth. My cough says pay attention to an unspoken truth, a repressed expression. I learn so much more from sitting in the shadows, allowing the darkness to dance across my view of the world, to contrast and enhance the light than I ever could from shoving it out of the way, from just being in the light.

Yes, the light is warm and lovely and I highly recommend spending large amounts of your time there. But do not rush out of the shadows when they come. Sit. Reflect. Be where you are, for the lessons are important at every point in the scale. Being spiritual does not mean just living in the light—we have to also embrace the shadows.


The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. 

Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? 

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? 

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. 

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 

~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


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Author: Tui Anderson

Editor:  Travis May

Photo: Pixabay

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