Saturday, August 7, 2010


Last Friday was the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I was asked to give a reflection at the Educating for a Purposeful Life Conference at Kingswood College on this important historical event, and how it might have ongoing meaning in our lives today. Greg Beck reminded us of the atrocities of the bombing, and showed excerpts from a powerful movie called: White Light Black Rain. I then went on to speak about how the shadows left on the pavement of the city of Hiroshima can act as a reminder of the personal shadows we carry with us everyday. A few people asked for the text from this presentation and I have made it available below:

“The city of Hiroshima was reduced to ashes”

“A person who sat on the step evaporated, leaving only a shadow.”

A shadow, permanently etched on the steps of the city of Hiroshima, reminding us of these painful memories.

When I see these photos, I feel a deep sense of dread. A fear that I can’t really explain. How do we get our heads around the fact that humanity is capable of such atrocity.

I am terrified,
I look away,
I avert my eyes.
What are we capable of?
What am I capable of?

I know I’m capable of many things, both good and bad. My personal story contains pain and joy. Helen McGrath and Julie Perrin both reminded us yesterday that grief and pain are part of each of our stories. My story has made me afraid of things. Some of these things seem small and inconsequential:

1/ I’m scared of heights.
2/ I’m absolutely terrified that my husband will beat me at board games.

These concerns are indicative of some of my larger fears:

1/ I am scared of my pride being hurt.
2/ I have a fear of abandonment
3/ I fear the damage I could do to those close to me. I worry about what happens when I act in my own self interest. There are small examples of this – (eating the last bit of chocolate) to large examples (like finding myself letting down those close to me or skewing the truth of a story to paint myself in the best light)

“Everyone carries a shadow…and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the bigger and darker it is.”
Carl Jung

We rarely share our fears. It’s not the most popular opener in the staff room or at a café:

“What’s your deepest darkest fear about yourself?”...
"I'll tell you about my shadow if you'll tell me about yours"

We are terrified.
Are we bad?
We stop ourselves from speaking our own inner truths
We fear our own feelings
We push down our struggles, but they don’t go away
We can’t run from our own shadow

I came across an artist recently who makes large scale murals in which he lists his fears. These pieces are part of an exhibition called "Visions and Fears", currently found at a gallery in Barcelona. The artist, Brian Rea says that he had realised that his fears had started to define his behaviour. His fears fill up a 7-meter-by-3.5-meter chalkboard. He says the time it took to write all these words made the process particularly rhythmic and reflective.

“What seems bad to you within yourself will grow pure by the very fact of you observing it.”

We must discover our shadow as well as our gifts in order to become effective and whole. Our fear is interconnected with our deepest longing.

When we stop to consider our shadows, our fears, we start to better understand ourselves, our capacities and our limitations, our longing, and can live the lives that we are called to live.

“If we are to live our lives fully and well, we must learn to embrace the opposites, to live in a creative tension between our limits and our potentials.”
Parker Palmer.

And then:

As educators, we can encourage fragility as well as success in those we teach. We can allow the spaces we create to encourage vulnerability as well as zest and passion for life.

“What happens if I do not welcome some aspects of myself and banish them to a life outside? How can I find wholeness if some of the pieces are missing?”
Michael Lindfield (Psychologist)

“I’d rather be whole than good”
Carl Jung

It is only when I come to terms with my own shadow, my grief, my fears, my mistakes that I can even try to understand others. My shadow loses its power over me. Compassion for others only comes when we find compassion for ourselves.
we join our grief, our pain, to the larger story.
to each others’ stories.
we yearn for wholeness, for peace, for meaning, for home.

today we stop.
we acknowledge the shadows left at Hiroshima.
we remember the people who were ripped from this world.
we turn around and face our shadows.
the shadows found in all humanity.

The reflection ended with a piece of spoken word and a song by Pádraig Ó Tuama . His CD can be purchased for download here. A huge thank you to Cheryl for giving me his CD a few months ago. It is earth shattering.  

Please feel free to email me if you would like a copy of the power point that I used with this presentation. More than happy to send it on...