We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. BuddhaI had dinner last night with two women -- one an old and dear friend, the other a new acquaintance, my friend's boss. It was an unexpected interlude. My friend and I had chatted earlier in the day and she was feeling stressed and worn out from life's journey. "How can I help?" I asked. "I'd love to get together," she replied. I leaped at the opportunity. I love this friend but her work life leaves little time for socializing. "Are you free for dinner tonight?" I asked and dinner was on.
I arrived first at the restaurant where I'd made reservations and as I sat waiting I stared at a large painting hanging on the wall beside the bar. It was a surrealistic depiction of Christ on the cross. Simple. Stark. Provocative. What made it most interesting, however, was what I couldn't figure out to be either a shovel or possibly a broom hanging from his left arm.
I wondered what it was. What it meant. Why it was there. I wondered about the deeper meaning of the object.
When my friend and her boss arrived, I let my wonderings go as I focused in on our conversation. We spent a delightful couple of hours chatting and connecting. Towards the end of the evening, during a lull in the conversation, I asked the other two women what they thought the object was in the painting.
"I keep trying to figure out why there's a shovel hanging from his arm," I said.
They both turned to look at the painting. My friend said, "I don't see it." The other woman said, "You mean that greyish section?"
"Yes," I replied. "It's slightly darker. It's almost like a floor lamp hanging upside down..." My voice trailed away. I looked at the lights hanging from above the bar. They too looked like floor lamps hanging upside down. "Oh dear," I laughed. "It's the shadow of the light above the bar. It's not part of the painting at all."
We started to laugh. I told them of how I'd spent the five minutes I'd sat alone wondering about the purpose of that image in the painting. About how I'd had all sorts of ideas of the artist's statement -- like, we hung Christ on a cross and then made him dig his own grave, or dug our own graves by hanging him on a cross. Some of my ideas had become almost metaphysical in their explanation of the object in Christ's hand -- when in reality, there was no object in His hand. It was just a trick of the lighting.
Like life. We cast a shadow and, as Debbie Ford suggests in her Shadow Effect work, have a shadow that casts a long pall on our lives until we're willing to look at it, really, really look at it and embrace what it is that shadow represents.
In focusing on the shadow of that lamp I took my attention away from the actual painting and put it on something that was not part of the 'real' thing. I kept looking for meaning in the unreal as I struggled to understand what the shadow meant.
In life, we look for meaning out there -- in the world around us -- often believing that if we can just figure out 'what it' means, the 'what it' being whatever is happening around us at any given moment. We focus externally rather than looking inside ourselves, to where the 'real it' lives and breathes and expands with every breath we take and every thought we create.
Within each of us there is a 'shadow' waiting to be discerned, seen, embraced, understood, faced. In that moment of seeing our shadow and embracing its presence, we set ourselves free of the past, free of the limiting beliefs that would have us question our right to live up to our greatness.
We do not know what we do not know.
In looking at the painting last night, I did not know I was being tricked by a shadow until I took my focus off of what I saw, and moved into where the light was coming from on the painting.
Within me, I do not know how my shadow is tricking me until I take my focus off what I tell myself I believe to be true about myself -- and face what I fear will happen to me if I face the lies I tell myself about myself and step into the wondrous truth of my being in freedom.
To create the life of my dreams I must be willing to look at what is hiding in my shadow. I must be willing to do the things I fear, to dig into my darkness and uncover the blocks, the limiting beliefs, the outdated ideas that keep me stuck, that keep me out of the light of living my best life yet.
That life can only be achieved when I step into my shadow, embrace what I do not know and find myself in the light of realizing, there is nothing inside me so terrifying as the darkness I refuse to uncover from the past.
The past cannot hurt me. The past only exists in my mind and in my mind is all the power, all the tools I need to reach inside my heart and love myself for all I'm worth.
In the end, there was no shovel. There was only darkness coming to light.
The question is: What truth is your shadow hiding? Are you willing to dig into it and uncover the light?