All physical shadows are created by a mixture of darkness and light, and this is the only spectrum of human vision. We cannot see inside of total light or total darkness. Think about that… [We are] a mixture of good and not so good.
-Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation: A Change of Consciousness, September 13, 2022
Richard’s statement struck a chord. He captured how spirituality parallels the shadow work of Carl Jung, the exploration of saboteurs and the Leader Within of coaching, and the psychological changes that happen as we age.
We cannot see inside of total light or total darkness.
We never get rid of our saboteurs, also known as our inner critics, self-talk, limiting beliefs. And here’s why. Saboteurs provide the shadow (or nuance) we need to understand ourselves better. When we know our saboteurs – judge, hyper-achiever, perfectionist – we see our fears. Like a two-way mirror, our fears show us where the internal work lies.
We yearn for light – love – but often come to it after wandering in total darkness. While I’ve never been depressed, thankfully, I imagine depression as feeling seeped in total darkness. Without the nuance/shadow of light, we lack hope. We can’t “see” our way out.
We cannot see inside of total light or total darkness. We need light and dark. In fact, we are light and dark, both “good” and “bad.” The concept is hard to grasp because we spend so much time trying to improve our perceived weaknesses.
Mistakes as Weakness
Correcting weakness is the underlying premise of “performance feedback loops” and a term I’m sure you’ve heard: “radical honesty.” I don’t support radical honesty. It seems like an excuse for saying mean things and getting away with it. Bullying sanctified by using the word “honesty.”
The truth is, we’re not perfect. We make mistakes. Every single one of us. But mistakes don’t mean we’re weak. They only mean we’re human. We’ve conflated mistakes with weakness, so we stamp out our mistakes instead of letting them get revealed as insights.
Think about the times you’ve experienced the most emotional growth. Was it when things flowed easily? Or was it when you messed up?
My perfectionist saboteur has always wanted to eliminate mistakes. If I’m perfect, I won’t make mistakes, i.e. show weakness. Yet, its shadow shows me that growth happens when I try something new, which requires taking a risk and potentially making a mistake.
Shadow work isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s about seeing and accepting all the parts of ourselves. It’s the gentle reminder that when it’s sunny, we seek shade and when it’s cloudy, we welcome sunlight. The wonder of humanity is that we contain both within us.
When it comes down to it, though, I seek the light. Exploring the shadows ultimately gives more clarity to the light within me. As they say at the end of every yoga class, Namaste, which means the light within me salutes the light within you.