Integrating Shadow and Light

I am continually amazed at how art is my most powerful teacher, cleverly bypassing my bossy thinking mind and presenting me with important “aha” moments. This week, my art reached out and spoke to me about the importance of embracing my shadow. Sound ominous? Read on.

This morning, as I sat down to write, I had absolutely no idea what to write about.

Often times I have topics and ideas queueing up for attention. Not so today. It was another one of those “Crap, my creative tank is empty” moments when my orderly and linear right brain seeks to convince me I have to hunker down and mentally muscle my way through meeting a self-imposed deadline. Thankfully, I believe that big, fat lie less and less. So, I went to my photography vaults and started cruising through images to see if something would speak to me. You know, like going fishing and seeing if anything will bite. Today I got more than a nibble.

Quit running from your shadow

That’s what this photo said to me. I vaguely remember taking this photo a few years ago when we temporarily kept an apartment in Rome. It was taken in one my favorite spots in the city, Piazza della Minerva, just around the corner from The Pantheon. While the memory is hazy, I do recall being struck by the contrast and intersection of shadow and light, almost like puzzle pieces that fit together masterfully to make a beautiful whole. For three years this photo remained hidden from my view––until today, when the message was received loud and clear.

“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.” – Carl Gustav Jung

Now for a little context to help you understand why this message is so timely. I’ve recently returned from a long overseas journey, one that crossed twelve time zones. I’ve learned from my experience with jet lag that my disturbed sleep cycles and upended circadian rhythms stir up my neuroses and the darkness of my shadow. Even though I know this about myself, I run from the messiness (runaway worries and thinking) and end up in a cycle of futility trying to think my way back to the light and to feeling good. In other words, I soundly reject my shadow, which means I stay mired in a wrestling match with it.

Acceptance and surrender to the complexity of one’s psyche

Somewhere along the line, I was taught to banish dark feelings and unhappy occurrences. A Southern Baptist upbringing convinced me of my grubby little sin-filled soul, and society jumped right in condition me to push away the “bad” stuff while running from my shadow. The last thing society teaches us is to accept and integrate the yin and yang of our beings.

So, after a few nights of waking up at the most inopportune times and trying unsuccessfully to catapult myself into happy-land, I realized, yet again, the importance and power of allowing “what is” to simply be as it is. Don’t fight. Be curious. And know the shadow is a part of a beautiful whole.

Without the shadow, the photo above wouldn’t have power and beauty. As a photographer and painter, I know many of my best pieces come from the play of shadow and light. And herein is the lesson in life for me.

As a result of upending the status quo by moving to Italy I’ve been confronted multiple times by my shadow. It just happens with big life changes. But, if a person feels like a failure when confronted by their shadow, and runs, I believe they’re missing a huge opportunity to see a brilliance in the whole of one’s being. For me, a photo became a timely reminder of this lesson in my own life.

“To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.” – Carl Gustav Jung

By |2019-01-19T21:48:48+01:00November 7th, 2017|Black & White|12 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Tom November 17, 2017 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    Jed, another beautifully written piece. You feed my mind with positivity every time I read something you’ve written. You truly have a special gift. Never stop writing, painting, clicking…

    • Jed November 20, 2017 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      Always great hearing from you, Tom! I’m glad that, ultimately, the writings are positive and hopeful. To me, navigating through life often feels like navigating a jungle. Bottom line, life won’t be manhandled, but I’m finding that when I relax into it I have what I need and I know what I need to know (when I need it!).

  2. Debi November 16, 2017 at 1:32 am - Reply

    Bravo my friend! You speak not only metaphors of art and the interplay of light and shadow, but also of life and wisdom…I so enjoy your insights. Thanks for allowing me to live through your experiences! Such a joy…

    • Jed November 20, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      You are too kind! Art seems to keep giving and giving and giving. I’ve tried often to “reason” my way to wisdom, but I’m learning, more and more, that diving into creative expression tells me way more than rational, linear thinking!

  3. Kevin November 11, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    It’s not just in this photo that I find beauty….but also in your words.

    By the time I reached the end of this post I found that my tear ducts where more than willing to step up and perform. I like how both parts of your brain are working together! I also love the quotes…very thought provoking.!
    Perhaps this all hits me as I toil heavily with some of the more “heavy” questions of our existence. I marvel that I need only look inward, just a little bit, to catch a glimpse of the intricately built “temple of avoidance” that “protects” me from facing the fullness of my reality. Scary beautiful stuff! Well done!

    • Jed November 11, 2017 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Kevin. Sometimes it’s a little scary “journaling” so publicly. I also find that, when I write about a subject like shadow integration, things get stirred up, and I see my conditioned tendency to run yet again. And then I realize I’m being given an opportunity, a classroom of sorts, to be steadfast and to look at it squarely – even though my legs want to metaphoricaly buckle. I so appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. It certainly helps to know this resonated with you. My best, Jed

  4. Dale Henslee-Smith November 8, 2017 at 12:45 am - Reply

    Jed, this has been one of my very favorite of your blogs and so appropriate for some of the situations and people I have been dealing with lately. It really spoke to me. You never cease to amaze me with your wisdom and talent for putting things in perspective.

    • Jed November 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm - Reply

      Ciao Doodlebug! So glad you found this post meaningful! xoxox

  5. Diane Alexander November 7, 2017 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Goodmorning Jed, what a wonderful story to read this morning while enjoying a cup of coffee and how true shadows and light parrerrell with our lives. Hope you are doing well ????????

    • Jed November 7, 2017 at 2:33 pm - Reply

      Buongiorno, Diane! Always great to connect with you. Glad this post was a good accompaniment to your morning coffee. Hope all is well with you too!

  6. withiniswithout November 7, 2017 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this post. The outer journey is mirrored by an inner journey. Without inner movement and integration, the outer world becomes empty consumerism, hedonism, or deteriorates into restless agitation. And, we can only our own shadow work. We cannot thrust others towards their own soul.

    • Jed November 7, 2017 at 2:35 pm - Reply

      Well put! We must tend our own gardens, weeds and all.

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