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2013 Grateful 24

I was going through some photos this morning and found a couple that made me stop and think about shadows and mirror images.

IMG_6314 (800x592)Plutarch, that Ancient Greek author had something when he said: I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better. I’ve had cause to reflect on this in recent months and know that no matter how difficult it might have been at the time, having friends who don’t pull any punches when it comes to offering their (un)solicited opinions regarding something I’ve said or done definitely gives me a new perspective of my reality.

That’s not for one minute to say that I believe it all – it is simply their opinion, offered in the spirit of friendship. There’s a difference between empathy and sympathy and no matter what the dictionaries say, I’ve learned that for the former, you need to have lived through a similar experience yourself before you can ever hope to really understand the feeling, while the latter is guided more by concern about the effect the feeling has had.

IMG_6322 (800x592)I’ve been known to offer my two cents’ worth of wisdom, either solicited or unsolicited, and while I might stand convinced that what I say has value, it too is simply  an opinion. Whether or not you take it on board is a matter of choice.

But when I got to thinking about it, I was reminded of a George Bernard Shaw quotation that I had to dig 0ut: The only service a friend can really render is to keep your courage by holding up a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.

And then I looked a second time at the helicopter shadow and it became clearer. A helicopter is a complicated machine, big, bulky and capable of all sorts of aerodynamic wonders and yet for all its complexity, its shadow is a simple one. Too often, we make our lives more complicated than they need to be. We analyse and over-analyse a situation and turn it into something fit for discussion at a UN convention. More often again, though, we fail to reflect on issues at all and go through life in the hope that it will all come right in the end, sometimes shortchanging ourselves and not manifesting our true potential. It’s great to have faith, but faith, too, needs some work: finding the balance between the shadow and the self is as good a place to start as any.

While friends might appear to have all the answers and while the books might read as if they’re a blueprint for life, an honest conversation with ourselves about who we are and who we want to be cannot be avoided.

And staying with shadows: seeing such a small shadow might cause us to underestimate the size of the plane. The shadow of what we do and say stretches far and is often distorted to the point that it bears little resemblance to the original intent – for better or for worse. I can still remember snippets of conversation from 20 years ago that radically changed how I live my life. And I often wonder if the person responsible for what was said has any idea of the affect their words have had. No matter. I’m still grateful that I was there to hear what they had to say and aware enough to let those words take root.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

The shadow of life

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.
~ R.D. Laing

Quite a mouthful that. Try saying it aloud. When I read it today, I immediately thought of shadows. Now, I am not at all sure where the association came from (and has that ever stopped be ruminating ….), but intangible though it was, it sent me searching through my photographs to confirm a deep-seated suspicion that alongside closed doors and flowers behind bars, I also seem to have an obsession of sorts with photographing shadows.

It’s not the objects themselves that interest me, but the way light interacts with them and distorts what might otherwise be a mirrored reflection. Although far less solid and far more ephemeral, it is the shadow that attracts me. This realisation then made me wonder even more because it would seem that much of my working life is spent dealing with tangibles – texts, words, plans, structures , budgets, people – and yet what I find most interesting is the effect they create, the influence they have, their reach.

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel reckons that most people think that shadows follow, precede, or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses, and memories. The reach and influence of what we say and do, the shadow of our actions, if you will, can divide the indivisible. So often we have no idea of the signifance of a throw-away comment, a random act, a spontaneous decision. We see what’s solid, what’s real, and all too often fail to notice the shadow that realness creates. And yet, as Martin Luther King would have it, everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.

So if in noticing that failing to notice shapes my thoughts and deeds; if I see the shadows that surround my words and ideas; if I accept that everything is a shadow of what I do not see, then might I arrive at a meeting of minds with Frank Lloyd Wright and accept that  the present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.

While I attempt to figure it all out, I will still appreciate a shadow for what I believe it is – a glimpse of a parallel reality.