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Shadows. What is it about shadows that can cause writers to create stories of mystery or horror? What is it about shadow play that can make people giggle as they try to create wall shadow deer and birds with their hands? Shadows invoke horror, laughter, excitement, and unease. Shadows teach us a lot about ourselves.

My son has a cat who loves shadows. Nebbie will stare at a wall or floor as the shadow of moving trees and people dance across them. Her feet gather under her as she stares fixedly at the movement. A little adjustment and then POUNCE! It is a delight to watch her. She makes me laugh and puts a smile in my heart.

Animals know shadows. Some use shadows for places of safety while others use them to watch their prey unobserved. Plants use shadows too. Shadows tell plants where to move for more light or that the day is done and to shut down food production. Plants who live in shadows gather their nutrients differently, as sunlight is limited. These plants use the protection of shade to keep from being burned.

Humans have a love/hate relationship with shadows. Shadows can be beautiful and create amazing black and white patterns on sidewalks and ceilings. Shadows give us a place to get out of the hot sun and cool down. In Colonial Times, silhouette art was a way for people to get an inexpensive side portrait done. The person would sit between a candle and a wall. A piece of paper was placed on the wall and the person’s outline was traced and then cut out. When I was a kid first learning photography, black and white film was all that was available to me (color film was expensive). I had to learn how to frame a picture just right so that a person’s face was bright enough to see but not too bright, or a landscape photo that wasn’t too dark. It was tricky but fun.

Shadow puppetry is one of the oldest forms of puppetry that can be found in the history of most civilizations. It has become an amazing art form that uses moveable shapes on sticks to tell stories of history, culture, and religion. China and Indonesia are the front runners for amazing shadow puppet plays. While I don’t remember seeing one in person, I have seen them on television. Anyone who has had a sleepover or been to camp knows about the stories told after lights out using a flashlight and hand shadows.

When do shadows become difficult for humans? We all seem to have a cautionary feeling towards shadowed alleys, homes, and yards. Is this a leftover fight or flight response from days past? Shadows can hide predators and also be a place of safety. What of our shadow selves? Those places where we hide different parts of ourselves because we either can’t or won’t look at them? Sometimes the experiences humans put there are behaviors or acts that we aren’t proud of and want out of the way. Sometimes humans need to put experiences in the shadows because that experience feels raw, hurtful, and emotionally charged. In either case, it is important that we build confidence and a sense of safety so that we can pull these experiences and behaviors out of the shadows and into the light of day. To examine, understand, resolve, and let go of that which no longer benefits us. This examination is neither fun nor a quick fix. It may require assistance along the way; a journey that can take a lot of time. Why do it? Why come out of the shadows? Each time you are able to see how far you have journeyed on your way to positive change and inner strength, you will feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, confidence, and inner power.

May you experience the beauty that is shadows and the strength to face the dark shadows head-on.


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