Sometime in the late 1980s, I found myself studying inside Ahmadu Bello University Library. I love libraries. I particularly liked this one because it was well stocked compared to most libraries of universities in the Southern parts of Nigeria. At Ahmadu Bello University library, William Shakespeare, for instance, had three rows of book shelves dedicated to his works and works on his works.
In the course of my peeping into books, I came across this book of poetry called, The Hallowed Men by T. S. Eliot. As I flipped through this book, I found few lines that have stayed with me ever since. I have quoted them to virtually anyone who had the misfortune of speaking to me for an hour or more. The lines go thus:
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow…
I know that the shadow is important but I did not know how important it is until I saw the book called The Shadow Effect by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Marianne Williamson. This book written by three great teachers explains how the shadow is the primary obstacle stopping us from attaining happiness. They concluded that the only way to behold the potentials in us and reach our authentic self is to embrace our shadow and not to deny it.
The Igbo says that nothing stands alone. When something stands, something else stands beside it. It means that there is always something dual about us- the good, the bad, light and dark, night and day, the sweet, the bitter. They are both needed to achieve wholeness. They play complementary role in our lives. One cannot live without the other. The shadow is connected to the soul.
The unmanaged shadow is what keeps many of us in the past. It drags us down, crushes our power, softens our creativity and defers our dreams. It closes our physical, emotional and spiritual paths that we find it difficult to blossom.
“You only have to gaze around you at the natural world to see the proof that beauty, form, order, and growth have survived for billions of years,” Deepak Chopra said. “In dealing with your shadow, you are aligning yourself with the same infinite power. The shadow isn’t a fearsome opponent but a worthy one. Powerful as it is, the power of wholeness is infinitely greater, and by a miracle of creation, it is within your grasp.”
According to Debbie Ford, you are haunted by your shadow if you spend more time worrying about other people’s opinion of you. You are haunted by your shadow if you are deeply resigned about the conditions of your life. You are haunted by your shadow if you interpret your mistakes as evidence that you are incompetent.
“In trying to express only those aspects of ourselves that we believe will guarantee us the acceptance of others, we suppress some of our most valuable and interesting features and sentence ourselves to a life of reenacting the same outworn scripts,” Debbie Ford added. “Reclaiming the parts of ourselves that we have relegated to the shadow is the most reliable path to actualizing all of our human potential. Once befriended, our shadow becomes a divine map that—when properly read and followed—reconnects us to the life we were meant to live and the people we were meant to be.”
Do you feel phony at all times? Are you always complaining? Do you always do things you regret? Do you feel inadequate and unworthy? Are you unwilling to say the truth because it runs contrary to the opinions of others? Are you always trying to avert disaster in your life? Do you feel bad luck follows you around? Are you always misunderstood and taken advantage of?
If so, it’s your shadow that is haunting you. It will continue to haunt you until it kills you.
As a nation, we, Nigerians feel phony. We complain a lot. We do things we regret. We feel inadequate and unworthy. We fear the truth. We are always trying to avert one disaster after another. It looks as if bad luck is always following us around. We are taken advantage of.
Each time we refuse to hold a national conference to discuss the way forward for Nigeria, we are running away from our shadows. Each time we find the reason not to tackle corruption, we are running away from our shadows.
“We’re often afraid of looking at our shadow because we want to avoid the shame or embarrassment that comes along with admitting mistakes,” Marianne Williamson said. “We feel that if we take a deep look at ourselves, we’ll be too exposed. But the thing we should actually fear is not looking at it, for our denial of the shadow is exactly what fuels it. One day I looked at something in myself that I had been avoiding because it was too painful. Yet once I did, I had an unexpected surprise. Rather than self-hatred, I was flooded with compassion for myself because I realized the pain necessary to develop that coping mechanism to begin with.”
No matter how fast we run, we cannot run away from our shadow. We have to turn around and confront it. Until we do so, it will keep pursuing us.