At one level, it's a truism. Of course, we bring ourselves with us - wherever we are. But the deeper meaning is that the 'me' I find myself aware of in a more sustained or undistracted way is not always easy to be with. One of the poems that's been doing the rounds in the last few weeks is by Kitty O'Meara, 'The People Stayed Home'. One of the lines is: 'Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows'. There's undoubtedly a sense in which a more sustained time of isolation or solitude, fewer activities, allows space for what may be unresolved or 'unquiet' within us to surface. Things we thought were 'external' to us reveal themselves to be more 'internal' than we imagined. And this can be unsettling, if not distressing.
The idea that we meet our 'shadow' readily provokes the thought that we must 'deal' with ourselves in a deeper way, unpack what lies behind our experience, so as to enter into a deeper peace, a fuller wholeness. And clearly sometimes that's true. There can be wounds long ignored or suppressed that are asking for our attention; there may be habits of being revealed to be destructive, and so on. 'Meeting our shadow' implies an invitation to bring aspects of ourselves more fully to the light so as to be integrated in a new way - there is 'inner work' to be done.
But I wonder if this is always the appropriate or necessary response to meeting my more difficult feelings? A recent conversation, with another member of our community, has got me thinking a bit more about all this.
Could it be simply that some of these feelings and tendencies are the fruit of the life we've had, generated by the way life has 'tattooed itself' on our selves, our souls? Like the lines on our faces, there may be characteristic 'inner lines' created by our experience, and some of these tend more down than up, some are a little deeper or more tender than others. But that's just how it is. There's nothing wrong and nothing radically hidden; nothing that needs 'fixing' ... no deeper 'meaning' to be made of it. This is simply 'our face', the face of our soul, and once we've done the necessary work of integration, our freedom lies not in eliminating our 'lines' so much as accepting them as part of who we are, part (in fact) of the wholeness of us.
I wonder, then, if a little tenderness and patience towards our slightly bruised and careworn life lines might be the key to embracing in friendship and even with gratitude the self we bring with us into isolation?
PS. the pictures in today's blog weren't taken today, but about this time last year, when Neil and I had a week in the Snowy Mountains after Easter. These extraordinary trees are snow gums at Charlotte's Pass, and the water below is nearby Rainbow Lake.