I went to a pagan workshop in another state last month. In it, we were led in a beautiful guided meditation that brought us to a pool, where we met and interacted with our shadows and our brightness. Afterwards, the facilitators asked for comments, and every single person, including me, said that they were more comfortable with their shadows.
Shadows, I admit, are one of the things I love about my spiritual traditions. Throughout the Pagan movement, I see people standing up and acknowledging the power in our anger, our guilt, our sexuality, our sensuality, even our deaths – all of the parts of our lives and our selves that are too often denied or ignored in mainstream Western culture. It took me years to learn how to be really angry, and I value those lessons deeply. (A wise man told me that I would have to scream to do this. I told him I didn’t want to scream, which was true, but he was right.) But my experience at that workshop made me think about what we’re still excluding.
Taking on my shadow side felt to me like courage and power in ways that I knew how to identify. I thought I have to be brave and face your fear and do it anyway. Just do it! is a style of engagement whose virtues are sung from billboards worldwide. Often, its siren song helps me to avoid thinking of myself as a victim when in fact, I just don’t like any of my choices, and that is no small gift.
But for me, engaging my brightness is a much more difficult endeavor. My brightness holds my most tender parts: my openness, my willingness, my yielding, my yearning to see and be seen, to love and be loved. Even to write those words on a page is vulnerable. To try to feel them as fully as I learned to feel my anger sometimes seems impossible.
And yet, I find that this, too, is courage and power. Much of the deepest magic I have known comes from being able to stay with a practice or an experience that is uncomfortable, choosing not to set myself against it, but to make space for and breathe into it. The feeling of discomfort, I’ve learned, is the feeling of possibility shifting inside me, looking for a new shape to settle in. I always have the option to make a choice and shut down that potential, and I often do so, just to make myself more comfortable, but sometimes I try to make a different choice. I don’t get up from my chair when the writing gets tough, or throw my camera in the lake after the 500th completely boring photo. I say “that sounds so hard” to a struggling friend instead of changing the topic, and I mean it. I go back to my practice, again and again.
This is the challenge brightness offers: how far are you willing to open? To what are you willing to yield? I dare you.