A tall wooden fence separates my back yard from my neighbors' yard. In their back yard grows a majestic, towering pine tree that drapes some of its branches over the fence. They provide shade for flowers that grow in my back yard.
Every morning the branches create a shadow design on the fence. They form especially artistic patterns between 8 and 9 a.m. If I wait until late in the morning to observe them, the shadows have become too big to create much of a contrast with the fence.
When I watch those shadows, I sometimes think they are a bit like the shadow within us. "Our shadow is made up of the thoughts, emotions, and impulses that we find too painful, embarrassing, or distasteful to accept," said the late self-help author, coach, lecturer and teacher Debbie Ford. She believed our shadow is one of the most valuable gifts available to us. Ford is perhaps best known for her New York Times best selling book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. In it she shows readers how to use spiritual practices and modern psychology to deal in a healthy way with their shadow.
Ford explained more about our shadow in The Shadow Effect, the book she co-wrote with Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson. "We have all hidden away and repressed pain-filled, shame-filled moments, and, over time, these emotions harden into our shadow," she wrote. "These are the unexpressed fears, the horrifying shame, the gnawing guilt. These are the issues of the past that we have never faced."
In the mornings, I enjoy looking at the shadows the pine tree forms on my side of the fence. If I want to see the shadows at their most visible, I have to do it at the right time. Noon will be too late. In the afternoon, everything is in shadow without any patterns at all. I must deliberately choose mornings to see the display of light and shadow on the fence.
In the same way, if we want to examine the painful shadow within us, we must do it in a deliberate way. "You have to confront the very parts of yourself that you fear most to find what you have been looking for, because the mechanism that drives you to conceal the darkness is the same mechanism that has you hide your light. What you've been hiding from can actually give you what you've been trying hard to achieve," Ford wrote in The Shadow Effect.
Our shadow contains both fear and potential healing. It isn't easy to face what's in our shadow, especially what we fear most. But it is well worth the effort if we want to heal the pain and shame we've experienced in the past.
I am constantly amazed by how the simple act of observing nature can lead to thoughts that provide me with an opportunity to heal. No matter how old or wise we get, we will always be on a journey toward continued healing. I am thankful for trees and for Debbie Ford and many other wonderful teachers who help us find a way back to wholeness.