Shadows and Light a Zen Perspective

There is that image that says life is up and down and we are always dealing with highs and lows. When I was a Substance Abuse counselor the idea of ups and downs was pretty much ingrained when it came to assessing others. It came under that heading “How are you today?”

I would like to take a slightly different approach. We are not so much up and down as moving from shadow to light. The images I use are ice skaters or sailboats. Both are using side to side motion in order to generate movement forwards. We use the same movement to propel ourselves in life. We go from shadows to light, shadows to light, over and over. We don’t climb mountains and live on the peak. We don’t sink and live in the valley. Life is moving from light to dark over and over.

Shadow has lots of gravity. It’s the path of least resistance. It’s the quick and easy path. (Until you get stuck there, and as a recovering addict, it’s fucking hell.) Shadow is sadness, depression, melancholy, loneliness, hate, anger, greed, personality ego, and the need to be right.

The light requires that we develop the gravity that pulls us there. Light is a frame of reference, a perspective, and it has joy, acceptance, a feeling of being full and complete, and willingness to engage in life.

Humans don’t live in the light or the dark. They live in both. The ones who claim to live in either are just visiting. We all go from shadows to light. My practice in Zen is one that says I can spend more time in the light if I am willing to practice awareness, for me this is truthful. Light is reinforced in many ways, in many traditions, and on many paths. I work at having compassion for the times I and others are living in shadow.

We need to experience the shadow to truly know the light. Those who rarely experience the depths of the shadow don’t have a true understanding of what light means. It’s like being born rich and claiming you know the experience of poverty. You may understand and have compassion and have the purest intent, but you don’t know unless you are willing to experience. Oddly enough I don’t meet very many people who haven’t experienced the depth of shadow. It’s all about degree and perspective.

We learn the light by the times we live in shadow. My experience indicates the most dramatic changes come from the experience that is so dark you never thought it would end or there would ever be the light. But you kept going and the shift occurred.

When your in the shadow there is that light that filters through and says I am waiting. When your in the light is when shadows are really dark, solid, and real. We can’t run from the bittersweet, but we can have unconditional acceptance and love that we can apply to ourselves and others regardless if they are in light and shadow.

How do you stay in the light?



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