The Shadow World
“They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.” Sandra Cisneros, House on Mango Street
I read House on Mango Street in 10th grade and I remember that line struck me so clearly. I want to talk about it more but first a quick detour.
While I was looking through my book of quotes (a useful tool that helped me survive some of the worst moments in my life—I highly recommend keeping one yourself if you find those kinds of things helpful) where I had written the above quote down I found another quote I had forgotten about but that seemed related to what I wanted to say.
I don’t know who came up with it. I saw it on a bumper sticker and thus the bumper sticker got credit when I wrote it down:
“Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.”
I am aware that this second quote has the ability to be offensive and divisive which is why I didn’t lead with it. That’s not my intention at all. I believe in my own spiritual path (I’ve tried religion but that didn’t work for me). If you are religious and it works for you then I think that’s great and you should practice whatever you believe (more on that in a later blog). I actually saw this quote when I still considered myself a Christian and wrote it down because it struck me as important even then.
So to clarify, I don’t mean to offend anyone. I know that not all religious people are religious out of a fear of hell just as not all spiritual people have (literally or figuratively) been to hell. I just liked that it made me think.
End of detour.
Back to the original thought with the House on Mango Street quote.
House on Mango Street was about growing up in poverty (I believe), but when I read that quote I related to it in a different way. At that time I was still in an active phase of undiagnosed schizophrenia (or was I? More on that later) and really struggling with all the things happening in my head.
One of the struggles that I was having frequently at the time was what I think of as “world slipping”. I hallucinated, but my hallucinations didn’t always take place in the physical world—more frequently the physical world would turn dark and I would find myself in a completely different world—a shadow world. Other times the shadow world would leak out into the physical world and the physical world would become the shadow world—it’s hard to explain. My worst experiences occurred during these times.
There was one figure in particular who shook me and the memory of her still does (I haven’t seen her outside of my memory in a while now). I didn’t always have to see her, sometimes I could feel or hear her. She was usually crying, a soft pained cry. It seemed like she had been crying for eternity.
I don’t know who she was, maybe a fractured part of myself. When I did see her she had long black hair, that was tangled and greasy. There was red associated with her (though I never could figure out where it was coming from) and big blue pools in her eyes (but not necessarily the color of her eyes). I’d only see her in glimpses but the feeling she left me with… I still can’t think of how to describe it. My best attempt is to say that it felt like being pulled down into an ice pit. There was coldness, despair, grief, and sometimes rage. That feeling was more real to me than almost anything I’ve experienced in “the real world.”
Sometimes when I heard her crying I went to go look for her. I’d walk down the streets at night trying to find some way to save her. Of course, I never could find her. She wasn’t part of this world. Sometimes when I was looking for her I would catch glimpses of a cabin with pine trees and a full moon. Something horrible had happened in that cabin.
She wasn’t the only person (creature? Image?) from that shadow world that I saw. There were many, sometimes too many for me to keep straight and I had this idea (delusion of grandeur maybe) that I was supposed to free them. I couldn’t let go of the shadow world—I couldn’t leave it until I had found a way to help them all heal and set them free. How could I abandon them? I was, I believed, part of that world too.
The quote from House on Mango Street was something that helped me loosen my grip on that belief. It told me that maybe it was okay for me to let go, to leave. I couldn’t help anyone in the state I was in. Maybe I could go away so I could come back and actually be of help. It still took another decade-ish for me to actually let go of the world, and maybe I still haven’t let it go completely. Part of me still searches for some answer. How could that experience be so real to me? It consumed a huge portion of my life. How could it not exist at all?
As I’ve delved deeper into the world of spirituality I’ve learned about going into the “void” and finding my shadow self. Often I draw the card of the Raven or Black Panther both talk about this concept. The darkness isn’t evil. It can’t really be avoided, it’s part of everything. I want to believe that there was a purpose to those experiences. I try to figure it out—here’s what I think right now (maybe another delusion?). I think that before everything happened I had spoken to the spirit world wanting to go on a journey to find magic and healing (as a kid Native American myths and legends were intriguing to me and I wanted to go on my own medicine walk). I think that that request was responded too and I had to walk for a long time in the darkness so that I could find myself and my way back out. I think that maybe at some point in time I will help others walk through their own darkness (a kind of guide of the shadow lands).
However, I’m not going to rush into that world again. Rushing into it unprepared only brought pain. If I do go back in and look for a purpose I need to learn more. I need to learn more about myself and about how things work together in different ways and I need a mentor or teacher who would help me.
I don’t know. It might all be a delusion—an attempt to make sense of a senseless experience. I try to keep multiple perspectives in mind simultaneously. Maybe one day I’ll know the answer. Maybe I never will.