Shadow Lives

By Colleen Yorke
Navigational Art and Directions By Colleen Yorke, © 2020.

Enter any bookstore, and we find shelves laden with self-help books and guides for leading meaningful, happy lives. Row after row, experts claim to have found the key to bliss and fulfillment. Last week, the duo that calls themselves "Minimalists" pitched their lifestyle concept for "lasting happiness": By clearing the clutter from life’s path, Ryan and Joshua argue we can pursue purpose-driven lives. 

"What Minimalism is really all about is reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff – the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities – that don’t bring value to your life."

While their proposal is an intriguing one, I am not entirely convinced. Maybe I do only need "55 essential things", but reducing my living space to an empty room with white walls and no furniture for example, or discarding photographs because "they are not real memories" seems too simple a solution. A "filled" space and photographs capture the essence of a lived life. It is what remains, and it is what we share. "Real freedom", as Joshua puts it, that "comes from ridding ourselves from the past" to me seems like "just another word for nothing to lose". The past shaped who we are today. Stripping away and severing ties to the past in my opinion is similar to being a person without a shadow. And for some our shadow represents the true spirit of life. Writers such as Hemingway and painters such as Van Gogh in their lifelong struggle against emotional shocks, scars and darkness, created some of the most beautifully and powerfully told stories of our time. Even Disney's Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up, is not "a whole person" without his shadow. 

Colleen Yorke
Self-Portrait, 2018.
When I run, I am accompanied by my tall shadow on the ground mirroring my footsteps. Life is a balance between the ying and yang, the light and the dark. In coexistence they add value to the other. Priorities change. It is by "having something to lose" that we add purpose to our lives. It is our scars that set us apart from everyone else. And often ideas and relationships seem rather heavy to carry and perhaps even of no value at all.  Only later we find out how much we have grown and learned. Our baggage becomes a toolbox to "do better next time".

"It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl." — Stephen King