When I was very young, my mother told me not to be afraid of shadows, because shadows contextualize light. My vocabulary was limited then, so she explained this profound gem of wisdom to me in a child friendly way.
She flipped the lamp on and off.
"See," she said, "it's the light that makes us see the shadow. Light and shadow need each other. They are pieces of the same puzzle."
As a nightmare prone kid, her words comforted me when I woke from dreams about monsters with empty eyes and bodies made of blades. I repeated her words in my head - the shadow needs the light - as I traced my gaze across the trickster flicker of my bedroom walls.
I consider my mother to be one of the wisest women I know, yet she holds her knowledge modestly. She's rooted in a way that allows her to deliver high minded truths as if she were telling you what she ate for breakfast. I'm grateful for her esoteric earthiness. It has helped me approach the width of my own emotions with both feet on the ground.
I have fewer nightmares now, but I think about my mother's words in my waking life. I find as an adult, that everyone wants to beat their shadow into non-existence. We are all trying to attain an illusory perfection - be it puritanical or new age spiritual - we aim to scrub ourselves clean of vulnerability and darkness so that we may finally rest. We aim to rid ourselves of weakness, and in doing so, we negate the vast ocean of our humanness.
I visualize that lamp switching on and off in my childhood home when I am feeling particularly self-critical. When I experience a tidal sea of feelings because I am alive and in relationship to other free-willed humans, I remind myself that shadow contextualizes light.
I don't want to amputate. I want to integrate.
I want to consciously fold my arms around my wholeness and anchor myself in empathic grace.
I want to allow all of me to exist.
I want to befriend the beasts within, so they don't lash out of me like a caged, forgotten animal.
I want to know them instead of fear them.
In knowing my own shadows, I want to better understand the shadows of the world, so I can turn on the light, again and again, until everything is illuminated.