Shadows in Reflections




Oftentimes its very easy to separate shadows from reflections. Shadows are negative / antithetical by nature - they are engendered by blocking radiance and luminescence. Shadows are obscurity created by light being obstructed by an opaque body. A shadow has no colour, no gradient, no character - its just plenty shades of gray. Shadows are of three types - self, umbra and penumbra.

Self Shadow is the part of the object not exposed to light - this are like parts of ourselves we hide from others, deliberately. Then comes the Umbra. This is the binary image others have of us, mostly from a distance. It is generally good or bad, black or white. It shows our outline in the society, how we are perceived in a social setting and placed in social hierarchy. Last, is the Penumbra. This is the ‘blind spot’ - neither known to us, nor to others. It only shows when enough light is thrown on an object, from various angles and distances. In a perfectly lit room, or a perfect information based transparently honest society, we would see all shadows of an individual. But seldom does this occur. Individuals not just not explore their shadows, they are living under shadows of other men, women, corporations, governments, cities and societies. These shadows often overshadow an individual and get muddled enough for extricating an individual shadow out of it. Shadows don’t have details, and the devil lies in the details. If we don't know the devil, let alone fighting it. As Stephen Hawking once said, “there could be shadow galaxies, shadow stars, and even shadow people.” We often encounter shadow people in modern societies, lurking under pseudonyms on social media and scavenging for small hits of cheap dopamine.

Reflections, on the other hand, are throwing-back, of that radiance. Reflection is beaming of energy, projecting one’s personality outward, in every direction. It encompasses physical features, physical imperfections, thoughts, ideas, fears and vulnerabilities. Reflections can be of two types - Specular and Diffuse.

In the former, light is reflected from a smooth surface with a definite angle. This type of reflection is often difficult in life and work. We are not always at liberty to shine the brightest and speak the truest, even to ourselves. We mask some brightness and euphemize the spoken word to suit social narratives and more importantly personal narratives that are forcedly aligned with social narratives. Thus reflections in reality tend to shift towards the latter. In Diffuse reflection, the surfaces are jagged and rough - they tend to deflect light in all directions and at varied angles and intensities. This is what generally happens when we are muddled with ideas, befuddled with opinions and cuddled in the arms of convenience and mediocrity. We see a distorted version of ourselves in the mirror of life, that belies the truth and presents a version of oneself that is unclear and distorted. This perversion to fool oneself by fooling oneself is a curse best not suffered. This sort of reflection, reflects in our values, decisions, desires and judgements - often clouding it in self doubt, soaking it in misery and thundering it with bolts of fear and irrationality. This thus leads to a phenomenon that is the centre of our discussion today - shadows in reflections.

Shadows in reflections. If one can identify these distortions or shadows that are not allowing us to have a clear, transparent and true reflection - and find out root causes for these shadows - lights, angles, blockades etc - one can begin the journey to pure reflection. We must remember that such reflection will not be a point-in-time event but a constant and continuous effort at improvement. The lights will change, the colours will change, sometimes even the mirror and its size may change.


The idea is to put one’s true self out there and attempt for a true reflection at all times. Paraphrasing Marcus Aurelius, “the true destiny of a human being is to fulfill the obligations of being human by living in accordance with nature and performing the tasks one is supposed to, as a human.” One of those tasks is reflection, to achieve one's full potential. Unfortunately, most of us are certainly more than shadows, but often - less than souls. We are distorted somewhere in between.

John Locke said, “The picture of a shadow is a positive thing.” Stretching the argument, reflection of the shadow, is too, a positive thing. Atleast, it brings the shadow into light. These reflections and shadows should serve as the friends we crave. Friends that can be honest to us without fear or favour. It is up to us to shift the perspective, dance with the shadows, soak in the sunlight, bask in the rain, light a candle at the start that casts a shadow and finally, begin at the end .

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