The Shadow is the Doorway to the Light



Paradoxically, the shadow is simultaneously the obstacle to our light as well as the doorway to it. It is a profoundly important step in our individuation process—something we’ve all heard numerous times—to “own our shadow,” i.e., to recognize that the darkness we are seeing in and reacting to in others is reflecting the darkness within ourselves. There is no getting around owning our shadow, and yet, this is only one step in the process of becoming whole.


As humans, we are an intermediary species, in that we are situated and in suspense between two worlds. This is to say that we are potential angels or demons, not a composite of the two. Our true nature is not a mixture of divine light and demonic shadow. Who we are when we are most ourselves—when we are one with our nature—is not a summation of antithetical elements1, but a union, a co-incidence of opposites where something that contains and is greater than either/both of the opposites is revealed through us. To the extent that we haven’t fully connected with our true light, however, we are an admixture of light and dark that obscures the light of our soul from both seeing and being seen.


This is a roundabout way of saying that in addition to owning the darkness that belongs to us, we also need to separate out from ourselves the darkness that is not ours. I imagine we’ve all had experiences of having a negative perception of something or someone and then realizing that this is not how we actually feel. In this moment we are consciously realizing that we are taking on someone (or something) else’s perspective on the world that is not our own. Many of us suffer from unconsciously being overly identified with and wedded to either the personal and/or collective shadow, thereby blocking our inner light from shining forth (as well as stopping the light of the universe from being taken in and nourishing us).


Distinguishing ourselves from the darkness that does not belong to us is to cast off its shadow that has welded itself to our soul through the blindness of our own unconscious identification with it. Commenting on this process, the alchemical treatise Corpus Hermeticum admonishes us to save ourselves from our unconsciousness, saying “you must tear off this garment which you wear—this cloak of darkness.” Taking off the dark garment that has intermingled with and blocked our essential nature helps us to get more in touch with ourselves, allowing us to begin to commune in sacred partnership with the light that is our true nature.


If we are not owning, but rather, projecting our shadow outside of ourselves (which is itself the shadow in action), and/or if we are in unconscious identification with the darkness that isn’t ours (another strategy of the shadow), we are superposing a veil of darkness between ourselves and our own light. Overshadowing ourselves, we intercept our own light, disfiguring it (as well as ourselves), while rendering our light invisible to ourselves. Our vision is then obscured by our own darkness, which we are seeing in projected form reflected back in the mirror of the world while at the same time being the lens through which we see the world. Becoming opaque to ourselves, the light of our own soul doesn’t register to us, which is to say that we don’t recognize our nature.


The part of us that sees how the shadow works through our unconscious blind-spots, be it by projecting itself outside of ourselves, or by fooling us to overly identify with it, is itself shadow-less, which is to say it is a form of light—light upon light—that is free of and doesn’t cast a shadow. This is a higher-dimensional form of light—the light of our true nature—that includes, embraces and transcends the duality of light and darkness.


Paradoxically, recognizing our own darkness helps us to recognize our intrinsic light, a light that illumines us from the inside out and from the bottom up. Recognizing the light that is our nature helps us to rise up from, get over, leave behind and transcend the darkness of our lower self. No longer binding us or holding us captive, our lower self effortlessly and naturally falls away as though it had never existed in the first place. The more we put on our garment of light, the less need we have to project the shadow outside of ourselves or identify with the shadow that others throw onto us. No longer out-sourcing our own light, we become the source of our own light.




The more we step into our light, the more the mirror-like light of our nature reciprocally steps into and becomes us, as we more embody and become it. Continually orienting towards fully uniting with and realizing our light, the light of our nature summons us to the perpetual transcendence and overcoming of ourselves in the never-ending process of becoming who we are.





[1] Making this point in his own unique way, Islamic scholar Henry Corbin writes, “the redemption of [Goethe’s] Faust is not a ‘sum total’ of Faust and Mephistopheles.” Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 48.

About the Author

A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. Among his books are The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality (SelectBooks, May 2018) and Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over 35 years. He was the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years. Please visit Paul’s website His email is; he looks forward to your reflections.


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