Shadows of Self

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In Winter the shadows draw in around us, we notice them more and we yearn for the light of Summer. In psychotherapy we speak about the shadow, and it’s a wonderful metaphor which Jung came up with to describe the parts of ourself we don’t know. Tucked away within the person you are so familiar with is a whole array of parts and characters which you don’t know about. These hidden parts make up the shadow or the unconcious. Without the light of conscious awareness, these neglected and rejected parts languish unseen.

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If we have courage, we can begin to shed light on these shadow parts of ourselves. We can if we chose, bring them into awareness and work with them creatively. Often instead, we project them outwards onto people around us. So when you catch yourself judging someone else harshly, you might wonder if that is something in you which you don’t like, which you are noticing in an other.

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This deer in the woods is half in shadow and half in the light, and this is probably the state of most of us. We recognise and love the parts we have chosen to embrace and show to others. We create an image and a self which is nicer than perhaps the whole self. We tend to let others see the parts we feel will be accepted and approved of. All the other darker meaner aspects of our nature we tend to leave hidden in the shadows, for fear of being unlovable.

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Yet there is a beauty and a balance in the whole. The light and the shadow together can be tolerated, but only if we are able to be real with ourselves and with the world. To allow the tension of opposites within, both good and bad, requires a maturity and an acceptance which doesn’t always come easily.

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So within the shadow realm of ourselves lie many wonderful unnoticed creatures. Like these deer, they move unnoticed most of the time, and yet they exert an effect whether we acknowledge them or not. Some of them might be real treasures, bringing their surprising gifts to us in unexpected and sudden ways, when the world forces us to do something new or different. Change has a way of working its way inwards and releasing these shadow treasures, whether we seek them or not. Whether we can be brave enough to embrace them and show them to others is a story for another day.

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About greenmackenzie

Hi, I'm Seonaid, and I share my home with my husband, my son and a collection of cats and dogs. I am forever snapping shots of things which catch my eye. I love art which is here now and gone tomorrow...like food and nature...but also have a passion for vintage and the ancient past! Nature is my favourite muse, with her wild ever shifting seasons. I have been using and teaching mindfulness and relaxation for over 12 years, and have yet to become any sort of expert :-) I'm a Psychotherapist, and run the Maggies Highlands Cancer Centre, in Inverness, Scotland.
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38 Responses to Shadows of Self

  1. Leya says:

    What wonderful oak trees, and the deer running in shadows and sun. A painting, and also you paint a picture of our inner self. This is a post to return to again and again.

  2. dunelight says:

    This is lovely, I especially liked the photos with the deer. Where is this marvelous wood full of ‘ancient ones’? Are they burr oaks?

  3. pommepal says:

    Those lovely old trees make such a perfect place for the deer to hide, you were lucky to spot and photograph them. The words and thoughts added another dimension to this post.

  4. colonialist says:

    Lovely thoughts and images both.

  5. restlessjo says:

    What a thoughtful post, Seonaid. I was flitting past, having admired your ethereal misty photos (so beautiful!) but I was drawn into this. Yes, it takes a lot of courage to recognise and embrace your whole self. The deer shots are enchanting πŸ™‚

  6. Tina Schell says:

    What a wonderful analogy Seonaid, and the photos illustrate it perfectly. Beautifully done as always – I love the way you wove the shadow concept into this one.

  7. I wrote my own “Shadow play” post today (thinking about the Jungian shadow but not verbalizing it because I am currently lacking my emotional energies due to a bad cold) and am so pleased to find your post expressing this concept so well. I like that you address that the shadow doesn’t necessarily only hold the negative, rejected aspects, but also the positive ones we admire in others but haven’t claimed for ourselves. I’ve heard it referred to as the golden shadow. Well done, Seonaid!

  8. LB says:

    I already have some of your words, from a previous post, written on a scrap piece of paper and stuck to a visible spot near my desk, and now I’ll add this, too.
    “Yet there is a beauty and a balance in the whole. The light and the shadow together can be tolerated, but only if we are able to be real with ourselves and with the world. To allow the tension of opposites within, both good and bad, requires a maturity and an acceptance which doesn’t always come easily”
    Bravo to you!.

    • Gosh what a wonderful thought, that words from my head have spilled across the Atlantic and onto scraps of paper seen daily, utterly amazing! Thank you for sharing that Laura, you just made my month πŸ™‚

  9. As always, words to live by. Good advice from someone who seems to know and who expresses her thoughts so well and in loving terms. Thanks Seonaid … I will try to do as you say. D

    • Oh David, I certainly don’t have it all sorted out….all we can do is try, and some days its better than others! Because we cant see our own shadow it can sneak up on us πŸ™‚

  10. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Seonaid anyone who gets to do therapy with you is truly blessed.

  11. gwynnrogers says:

    Seonaid, this is such an outstanding post! The beauty of your words and pictures clearly are united, yet again. It is interesting what we choose to see or not, about ourselves. What we choose to hide or not acknowledge. However, if we bring the dark into the light then we may allow a new part of us to grow as beautiful as the rest of us. Thank you for your wise words… as always!

    • Gwynn you are always so generous with your comments, thank you. The deer were a wonderful and unexpected encounter, which of course left me smiling for the rest of the day πŸ™‚
      I think we find a comfortable way of seeing ourselves, and so we can almost ignore the shadows, and then life throws somethingat us and the shadows leap forward surprising us πŸ™‚ We can also in a more measured way begin to grow those neglected parts, and so become our unique self more fully. Im so happy to hear that you enjoyed thinking about these things.

  12. icelandpenny says:

    “beauty and balance in the whole…” I lived briefly on Lombok in Indonesia, and saw our Balinese cook each day place floral offerings on high points for the “good” gods and on the ground for the “evil” ones, always acknowledging the reality & interplay of both. You might be interested in something Leonard Cohen wrote in 1966, touching on this subject: http://www.lib.ru/SONGS/cohen/cohen-index.html

    • Penny thank you so much for this link, I have read bits and pieces of his writing, but not this. Its beautiful and so true. Seeing a saint as someone who embraces the whole mess of being alive in a body, with all its choas and dark parts….wonderful!
      I also love the way your Balinese cook acknowledged both the light and the dark, embracing the reality of the world around them. A lovely thought provoking reply, thank you.

      • icelandpenny says:

        Oh I’m glad you like the Cohen quote, I think it’s wonderful — & from his young years too, 1966. He was still a Montrealer then, you can see it in the imagery — “He rides the drifts like an escaped ski…” An early sign of where his thinking would take him, over the years.

  13. Introspective indeed ! Love the running deer!

    • The deer were beautiful to see…..they would run a bit and then freeze…..perfectly camoflaged among the trees and shadows. They could smell the dogs I think, but the dogs didnt spot them, and so I got to watch them for a while before they dissappeared back into the depth of the woods.

  14. Amy says:

    Beautiful said about shadows and lights, Seonaid! Love these photos, especially the deer πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Amy, our shadows can be interesting places πŸ™‚
      Seeing the deer was such an unexpected gift, as I had gone to the old oak woods to photograph the trees. They are so well camoflaged among the trees and shadows, but had a lovely presence. Among the twisty oak branches I imagine I see all sorts of creatures which aren’t there at all…..a surprising place!

  15. So much beauty in your shadowy images, Seonaid. πŸ™‚ Interesting analogies too.

  16. In the second photo, what are the upright wooden structures? Interesting.

  17. xbabykennyx says:

    Stunning! Many of us look to the sun and fail the see the beauty in the shadows that fall behind!

    • Thats so true, we get dazzled by the beauty of the light and miss the subtle shapes and soft shade of the shadows πŸ™‚

      • xbabykennyx says:

        Absolutely!

        “Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.” – Junichiro Tanizaki

  18. poppytump says:

    I love the way this evolved … unwrapping shadows takes courage Seonaid .
    Those are beautiful woods for shy deer .

    • These are ancient oak woods Poppy, with such beautiful twisted branches and sturdy face filled trunks! I could hardly believe how well camoflaged the deer were here…I almost didnt see them moving through the dappled shadows!

  19. Sue Vincent says:

    Another beautiful encounter, Seonaid.

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