Mining the shadow self for gold

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Image by bs-matsunaga from Pixabay


One morning earlier this week, I kept being distracted from my work by the sounds of bursts of mad scrambling going on out in my sun room. Squirrels chase each other on the glass roof of the room all the time, so I assumed that's what this was at first and ignored it, but the sounds were different enough in their burst-like frequency to eventually draw me out to investigate.

To my surprise, I discovered a Cooper's hawk (much like the one in the image) on the roof instead! Morning light tends to reflect on the glass roof in a way that makes it more of a mirror from the outside than a window. He (or she?) kept eyeing his reflection with challenge, puffing out his feathers in an attempt to seem more threatening.

When the show of size and dominance did not scare his reflection away, he'd pounce on the "enemy," only to find himself scrambling about on unyielding, slightly slippery glass. Through it all, the "enemy" remained.

It was a little funny, but it was also sad to watch this beautiful, majestic bird waste its time and energy scrambling about posturing for and attacking its own reflection over and over again. Eventually, he either figured out that his reflection was no threat or decided that he had better things to do. He settled on the edge of the roof, let his ruffled feathers fall back into place, and soared away.

As I stood there watching, I was aware of how often I do the same thing. I catch glimpses of my own shadow (those parts of me that I don't like and don't acknowledge) in my reflection in others, and I go into my own version of attack mode. (I've written about my habit of attacking my reflection in that way before.)

It's bigger than that, though. I also catch glimpses of my shadow out of the corner of my eye all the time and attack myself and my awareness of those parts of myself all the time as I try to keep myself from seeing and acknowledging those part of myself that I'd rather not see.

I deflect those traits onto others. I try to spin my story of who I am and what really happened in any given situation to avoid looking directly into my shadow. I hide behind the masks I've developed. I push those pieces of myself away with all my strength to keep them hidden even from myself.

The ironic thing is that all this work I do to keep these parts of myself that I don't wish to own up to in the shadows is about as effective as my hawk friend's attempt to chase away his reflection.

Ignoring those parts of myself that I don't wish to claim doesn't banish them. In fact, it does the opposite. My attempts to separate myself from them gives them even more power over me since I refuse to take enough ownership over them to control them.

The very act of claiming those parts of myself that I wish weren't there and integrating them into who I am is the biggest step I can take toward taking away their power and learning how to shift them from liabilities to assets.

It's much like the work of mending the broken places in myself to create seams of kintsugi gold that go beyond mending itself to also adding something for me to give back to world around me. Likewise integrating these parts of myself that I've denied not only makes me even more whole, but the transformation of these parts of myself from negatives that control me to positives that I control makes me a better citizen of the world around me.

It feels scary and threatening every time I venture into my shadow to retrieve some shunned piece of myself—it'd be so much easier to keep up my unproductive attempts to chase it away, as my hawk friend was doing—but it's also like digging for gold. I never fail to come back from the hunt with something that makes me a little more whole and with a little more to give.

How do you react to glimpses of your shadow that you see out of the corner of your eye?

How similar (or dissimilar) is your reaction to that of the hawk I observed?

Can you think of a time when you integrated some previously banished part of yourself from your shadow self? What effect did that have on your life?

What might it look like to retrieve more pieces of yourself from your shadow to bring them into your life and integrate them into the whole of who you are?


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