So if in future, when I am sitting like Freud on a comfortable chair, with a diary in my hand and I wait for my next patient to come to sit on the couch, tell me about their problems while I try to help them in the best possible way, what if instead of a person, a shadow walks in?
What will I say to that shadow? How will I address it? And is ‘it’ the right pronoun for it? For pronouns, doesn’t it need to have its existence? Is ‘it’ its own entity? How shall I answer all these questions?
As I fathom the nature, consciousness and existence of shadows, I start seeing how intricately connected we are with our shadows. A disproportionate essence of ourselves, casting onto a screen, with a change in sun’s position. That is quite a physical and philosophical idea of shadow.
So how do cultures view this shadow? Most of them view it negatively – as something dark, evil, following you constantly. Lurking in the shadows, as the term comes, is related to how all the miseries and evils of human society exist in the shadows of men and women. At the same time, we have used shadow for praise as well. When Lakshman followed Lord Rama in the forest for the hard years of exile, great poets and sages wrote that Lakshman was the shadow of Rama, following him constantly, never leaving his side. Also, one of the seven vows in Hindu marriage asks the partners to promise each other to be their shadow in good and hard times alike.
What is this shadow? Is it evil like its colour? Is it complicated and can be disposed of to the ‘grey concepts’ of society which we ponder upon from time to time and leave unsatisfied with many words and many, many more pages.
Now, besides the various disciplines that talk about the ideology of shadow, there is one who believes that shadow is not just the one that falls behind us; rather it exists within us too.
While Sigmund Freud talked about the unconscious as being that unknown realm of our personality that we aren’t aware of, his close associate who later formed his school of thought, Carl Jung had a different proposal for this unconscious. He used the term shadow to indicate the dark, mysterious and hidden aspects of our personality. He believed that shadow exists in all of us. We tend to ignore or keep at bay the emotions, traits and feelings of ourselves that we are not proud of. These are what comprise a shadow. The shadow safely keeps all our irrational, negative and disastrous traits hidden in it.
Does the shadow be so humble that it shall keep all our secrets safe? Not exactly. Carl Jung believed that this shadow tries to project itself in other people. We project our inferiorities, our fears and complexes in other people.
A simple example would be – If I am afraid of being in a relationship, I shall see the other individual trying to distance themselves from me. I shall see them as cold and distant while the problem may lie within me.
Finally, coming back to the question I posed in the beginning – what if a shadow comes in my clinic? How do I acknowledge it? How do I understand it? The answer is simple. The shadow exists within all of us. We need to learn to embrace it, accept our flaws that the shadow keeps hidden and we will be able to see the person hidden in the shadows.
A shadow, after all, is a reflection of yours. Known, unknown, dark, grey, good or bad – whatever we may believe. It is us, in the end.