Fighting the Shadows

I recently read a quote by one of my favorite Japanese authors, Haruki Murakami. In a speech he gave after receiving a literature award, he said “just as all people have shadows, every society and nation, too, has shadows. If there are bright, shining aspects, there will definitely be a counterbalancing dark side. If there’s a positive, there will surely be a negative on the reverse side.”

He added “At times we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts. Or else try to forcibly eliminate those aspects. Because people want to avoid, as much as possible, looking at their own dark sides, their negative qualities. But in order for a statue to appear solid and three-dimensional, you need to have shadows. Do away with shadows and all you end up with is a flat illusion.”

When we read children books or watch superhero movies, we usually witness light defeating the dark. We love lying under the sun and easily frown when it hides behind the clouds during cold seasons. Most areas of our society encourage us and our children to get rid of our weaknesses and make ourselves shine like a bright light. Self-development advice all around the place tell us to fight our fears and insecurities and be that perfect god that can make no mistakes. We bring up children in families and schools, telling them that they should get rid of their unsuccessful side, otherwise they will fail to be a good individual in the society.

Not that anything is wrong with it or I am advocating evil winning over good. I believe the point is not about good vs. bad here. We tend to forget easily what is all the time obviously in front of us. What the universe shows us all the time without having to put it in our heads.

We tend to ignore the fact that a flower cannot bloom all the time and it needs to rest in winter to bloom again in spring. We become blind to the fact that an autumn leave has lots of imperfections and dirt on it that can make it a candidate for the most amazing pattern we have ever seen.

How could the light exist without darkness? How would the sun shine without the dark sky of the night? How could we breathe if our noses had the perfect shape without any holes in it? Those and many other inquiries might actually reveal many teachings about life. Our life.

We keep running away from our weaknesses, our shadows. We are very used to avoiding or fighting them when they surface. We try to cover them with excuses or use external means to suppress them. Well, in the end, there is also great learning in that.

On the other hand, if we could gently be with them for a second, we might actually notice that all they needed was some tender light. Put some light on a shadow and it goes away without bothering you anymore. When we run away from our shadows or search for an external source of light outside of us, we are not escaping it. It is a simple fact of nature that we cannot escape our own shadows. Whenever there is light, it is also right there with us.

A beautiful thing about coaching is that it reminds people of their natural skill to shine a light on their shadows. In a coaching session, rather than forcing the coachee to focus on the good stuff and hide from their shadows, we have the privilege to just be with those shadows that make us imperfect. That dark place we step in with the coachee together gives birth to a new light, a new source of power that the coachee can naturally use, not only to charge themselves but also others around them. In the end, they usually recognize or “remember” how peaceful it can be to accept a simple thing: The reason they are perfect is thanks to their imperfections.

Like Murakami says: “Light that doesn’t generate shadows is not true light.”

You can read the whole news article about Murakami’s speech here.

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