Sitting in a dark room, I see nothing; but when I turn on a lamp, the objects that surround me become visible. Then I notice the angled shadows of the rocking chair, the tall black shadow of the old vase sitting on the bookcase, and the undulating shadows caught in the folds of the cloth on the table. These unique shadows reveal something about the shape and substance of the thing itself. I consider that without light, shadows can’t exist.
In the same way, a story is a light that shines into the dark psyche of a character, casting shadows, exposing all their weaknesses, their desires, their fears. We tremble with them when they face evil choices. We laugh at their foolishness, fear for them when they stumble and rejoice when they win out against all odds. We can see what they cannot as we follow them through their story.
This illumination of the human heart and psyche, with all its light and shadow, with all of its potential for great evil or great heroism is what makes us love stories. How might we deal with the same situation? What choice would we make? Humans simply can’t survive without stories, stories that make meaning out the seeming chaos and confusion of our existence.
Going more deeply into the shadow theme of stories and of our lives, Carl Jung talks about our shadow self and how necessary it is to bring the shadows within us out into the light of day. This is exactly what stories can do for us.
Stories help us approach and embrace our own shadow self, and thus allow us to face our own deepest fears and desires. Haven’t you read a book that changed your life? One that freed you from old thought patterns and gave you a new story; a story of hope?
Chogyam Trungpa, a Buddhist meditation master, suggests that that we find that ‘well ventilated, open, spacious and light filled room within’ and there invite all the shadows to enter and to embrace them when they arrive. If we cannot do this on our own, then stories may reveal the shadows that exist within us. If, because we recognize them as part of our self, we are then willing to embrace them with love (love your enemies) then true deep and permanent healing takes place.
As humans, we are tied to cycles of light and darkness. Day followed by night, the moons waxing and waning, winter followed by spring, and our own lives a flash of youth and beauty that fades and leaves an aged body in its wake. And even so, deep within our souls, we know that even the darkness is full of light, and shadows are proof of the light that fills us.
As a writer, I sit down in front of the blank page, turn on the lamp and wait for the shadows to dance and tell their story.