When I wrote about the “time of pandemic,” I envisioned the virus and the ways it necessitated that we stop in our tracks as a larger metaphor for the opportunity to confront and explore all the disease, corruption, and inhumanity of our society, all of our cultural inequities, and our political rottenness, the wounds that needed to be cleaned out and sutured for deep healing.
Over and over in the months since the poem’s publication, I have been asked about the line, “Some met their shadows.”
My life, limited and confined to the almost-65 years it has erred and learned and moved and had its being, has taught me that all change starts within, and that we’re each responsible for our own healing, which allows us to then turn outward and offer healing to others. And they to us. Gift.
Another word for healing is wholeness. Healing is an active verb; I see it as reaching for the integration of all our feelings, experiences, failures, successes, losses, griefs and joys. It is never finished, and it is a conscious choice, a flow that we enter with eyes wide open and with hope and trust and willingness to forgive ourselves and others repeatedly. Or not. The quality of mercy we confer on the act of healing affects its outcome.
Along with all the parts of ourselves and experiences we acknowledge are the hidden parts that, for a multitude of reasons, we cannot. Carl Jung called these our shadow, the veiled or unconscious part of our mind and spirit where we conceal events and experiences, feelings, choices, and desires we fear confronting. We think that opening and sharing our darkness will open us to judgment. We’ll be found wanting and risk rejection by our many and various communities, which may also mean we’ve grown beyond them and need to find new communities. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge, who, in meeting his shadow and healing, grew beyond the company of the corrupted money changers he’d formerly considered worthy associates. Conversion and transformative healing invite us beyond old haunts, company, and ways of being. We see ourselves and the world differently; we are changed.
Shining light upon our shadows is the only way to widen and deepen our love for ourselves and others. It is the only way to integrate, to reach for healing/wholeness, and offer greater gift, which I believe is our unique purpose in the world.
And those “hidden” parts? Not so much. Refusing invitations to meet our shadows, avoiding naming their residents and offering them the bright light of scrutiny and the mercy to tell their story, means we’re just acting out from their mis-identification of who we are, unconsciously, and in participation with the collective shadows of everyone else. We see the splinter in others’ eyes, but not the log in our own. We project our feelings and actions out and away, becoming people too angry to listen, people who name our own flaws in others, people who blame and take refuge in self-righteousness rather than people capable of forgiveness and accepting the self at its deep, human, and vulnerable core.
We are a species that, despite an awareness of mercy and the grace it offers, are damn slow to offer it to ourselves and each other. We judge and judge and judge. We have always been at war. But we can choose peace. Many have. We can choose healing.
I’ve been speaking of wisdom stories. One that has colored my life is the story of the very wise Yeshua encountering the paralytic at the House of Mercy. The man had been lying there for 38 years, waiting for a chance to be first in the pool of healing after the daily stir by the visiting angel (all metaphor). The first thing Jesus does is ask a question: “Do you want to be healed?” I always hear the subtext as: Because, if you do, you might have figured out a way to be the first in the pool just once in 38 years…You could have rolled; you could have worked out a deal with others around you; you could have connected, made friends and been carried… Oh, the ways we cling to our shadows and brokenness, and the many ways they serve us.
Do we want to be healed?
In times of crisis, when language and left-brained thinking fail me, and I know I need to reconnect with my own healing, I turn to the other practices I mentioned in the poem: prayer, meditation, engaging with and creating art, alone and in collaboration. For me, these practices help us embrace our mercy and guide us to befriend our shadows, heal ourselves, and the earth. I turn to literature, poetry, dance/movement, the visual arts, music, gardening, photography, cooking…creating, renewing, and feeding my spirit.
It’s what we’re here to do and it’s how we heal. The arts speak to what we know far beyond language or, put another way, the arts are the language of the spirit and heart. Metaphor, symbol, non-linear, life-changing ways of knowing truth. Resting in the right side of the brain (“right” in more ways than one). We ignore the power of art at our great and lasting peril. Look no further than our current leadership to gauge what a lack of arts engagement and appreciation can do to a spirit.
So many people have been inspired to use this little poem to awaken their artist-spirit and create. To meet their shadows and listen. Here is a collaborative interpretation of the poem’s themes that I received today, and I want to share it to remind us that we’re not just a broken people in a broken country; we are also creative, loving, and healing people, beautifully and fiercely ready to unite and heal the world. Full of possibility.
Create and heal, in gentle peace.