Reflections on life through Shadow Work...
Oh what a beautiful calm, balanced image.
There are highlights, shadows and colour. I decided to approach this contest differently and use it as a reflective moment to look at life through a photography analogy. I call this image The Full Picture. Everything is in view and there's depth to it. I suppose this is what a balanced life looks like if you had to take a photo of it.
But what are the effects if the image isn't developed correctly? Or the camera malfunctions along the way because it got damaged?
Oh gosh so many things are possible.
Let's remove the warmth from the image for a second.
It's still a photo, it's still pretty to look at, but it's missing a part that adds to the image. Can life sometimes feel like that? I've always admired monochromatic photography but I always felt that it was "cold". I've felt like that in times during my life. Like things are cold. That my soul has lost the embers that kept me warm, that there was a disconnect between my life purpose and where I was. Perhaps it was the perspective that got jaded, perhaps it was the losses in life that have chipped away at the fuel store that kept my soul warm. I've taken a lot of losses in my life, I've fought a lot of battles and in reflection now, I can clearly see and feel that they definitely muted the colour of life, some more than others.
Sometimes it's easy to stay in greyscale for a while and sometimes it's healthy to actively work through where the colour bled out of your life, the lessons that you learned about yourself and how you can turn those lessons into actionable items of using them to develop yourself a bit more, perhaps add depth to your personality, find traits and strengths that you never knew you had before. Use them to grow.
But I've also witnessed it change people for the worse. Where the greyscale gets ingrained and there are no lessons, there is only animosity and a growing bitterness - or a stripping of depth where someone loses focus on the full picture, completely denies and erases from history or memory any negative and/or dark influences, and simply reflects them in an idealized fashion, rewriting history to a light and fluffy version of what it actually was while everything surrounding it is shallow and monotone (I tend to see the shallowness linked to materialism and the image portrayed to the outside world) - perhaps it would look like this...
It's interesting to note here that each of these photos are templates from the original well balanced and calm photo at the beginning. They have the same structure, but they've been manipulated and tweaked.
And if life is overexposed to darkness (what photographers call underexposed which in itself is an interesting concept) would life as a photo look like this?
I think for me personally this photo is a good representation of what I feel like when I have a depressive episode. I have often tried to explain to people who don't understand depression that life feels dark grey. It's probably the simplest way to explain it. While I'm not going to go in depth about my personal experience with depression, through a LOT of really yucky shadow work, I understand myself so much better. I have been overexposed through my life to the darkness of the world. As a result I think that when things get really tough, this is my default setting I revert to. It's a horrible reality, but it's not permanent and with perseverance and self compassion, I've been able to somewhat re-write my own programming.
And as with all things in life, there is duality. The opposite spectrum of being overexposed to darkness is what I call toxic positivity. I think toxic positivity looks like this to me...
While I am not a fan of toxic positivity, I'm not averse at all to having a positive attitude when it is reasonable, possible and appropriate. I do however think that many people feel that they can glide over the darkness in life by simply trying to brainwash themselves into believing that things are better than they are in reality. This is a form of self deception that has invaded the "self help" world. I have never been able to pull myself out of the depth of depression by lying to myself that life is awesome and I am beautiful and the world is a wonderful place and all people are good by nature. I call bullshit. I'm a realist at the best of times and a balanced pessimist at the difficult times because I have learned now that black and white thinking is rather detrimental and while it is always a good idea to consider the probability of the worst case scenario in order to be prepared, it's often not the reality that comes to pass. What's that saying "Expect the best but prepare for the worst" - this in itself is somewhat black & white and what comes to pass is often somewhere in between the two.
Life is fluid. It's not a set photograph because at the core of it, we are the developers and we hold far more power within us than we
sometimes often realize.
So you may have once been a full picture, life may have been warm and balanced, but life changes and so do we. We may have been overexposed to darkness, we may have tried inverting that into toxic positivity, may have worked for some, didn't work for me. We may have had shallow moments where we weren't ready to delve into the depths yet. Some of us with age and experience can take a bit of each of these and use them to transmute our life as a photo, learning from the hard parts, developing from the dark parts, using the shadows and the highlights to gain a slightly more balanced photo again.
Perhaps it may have jagged edges, the colour may be faded or muted, it may be slightly blurry or look a bit strange to the art critic, but it can still be beautiful or at least far easier to live with than some of the others.
Perhaps that is where I am now. I'm at peace with my jagged edges, my dark overexposed parts of my life picture, my dark grey moments and perhaps, just perhaps I've forgiven myself for some of the skewed perspectives, the lack of focal point, the parts that I would love to mask in photoshop and remove with the blemish tool. They are all still there and all still part of my life photo. I superimposed a percentage of each of the photos above and today it looks like this, but perhaps other days it will look different.
Whatever your current life photo may be, remember to develop from the negatives, you may learn far more about yourself than you could imagine.