Facing the Shadows

My mother’s favourite author was Ursula K. Le Guin. After many years of dreaming of it, she finally wrote a letter to ‘her Ursula’, expressing how important her writing had been to her, and she received a brief – but delightful and heartfelt – reply. I stumbled across it when I was back in South Africa for my mother’s memorials in June, as she kept it on the board above her work desk, and it was one of many moments that made me feel both tearful and joyful – tearful because she would never write another letter; joyful because she did eventually write that most important letter, and both the writing and the response were such positive and empowering experiences.

I have been feeling once again the importance of remembering that while we can and must plan for the future, it is not guaranteed. I have control only over the moment in which I currently exist – I can choose now whether to keep writing, or turn back to studying (as I must in a minute), or collapse into exhausted sleep as I will soon… but I cannot be certain what tomorrow, or next week, or next year will hold. As I wrote to my friend Cate earlier this evening, “My sciatica has been playing up again, and I find myself thinking that I should run a marathon while I still can.” I know we cannot keep this heightened aware of the unprectability of life constantly in our minds, but I think we need to remind ourselves and each other of it occasionally, just to ensure we don’t forget to write the important letters that make our lives just a little bit richer.

I will leave you tonight with two quotes from Ursula that encapsulate two of the many lessons my mother tried to embody, and to teach. The first is that it is that by turning away from our shadows – those aspects of ourselves we struggle to acknowledge – we increase their power. The difficult road is to face them, to talk to them, to try and integrate them; and the most challenging roads are usually the most rewarding in the end. I have struggled with this, as my mother did, over many years, and I know it is not a battle with a final conclusion; I know also, though, that it is one that can get easier with time, as it did for her, and moreover that it should not be a constant battle – because life is not all about hard work, but also about fun and pleasure. I need to find ways to keep my emotional development progressing, but also enjoy the ride – so maybe I should make some time to snuggle up with an Ursula Le Guin novel!

“A man who will not confront and accept his shadow is a lost soul. The shadow is on the other side of our psyche, the dark brother of the conscious mind. It is Cain, Caliban, Frankenstein’s monster, Mr. Hyde. It is Vergil, who guided Dante through hell, Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu, Frodo’s enemy Gollum. It is the Doppelganger. It is Mowgli’s Grey Brother; the werewolf; the wolf, the bear, the tiger of a thousand folk tales; it is the serpent, Lucifer. The shadow stands on the threshold between the conscious and the unconscious mind, and we meet it in our dreams, as sister, brother, friend, beast, monster, enemy, guide. It is all that we don’t want to, can’t, admit into our conscious self, all the qualities and tendencies within us which have been repressed, denied, or not used.”

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”


3 thoughts on “Facing the Shadows

  1. I’m not familiar with this author’s work, so it was wonderful to read that quote. I too will seek her out now. Writing letters while we can and not turning away from our shadow – your mother was a wise woman.

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