What we can glean from the shadows

According to the web-based Urban Dictionary, the term shadow casting is defined as, “a group of people that performs a movie in front of a screen while that movie is playing; they essentially pantomime the movie. Most often seen during showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” This term is also utilized in fly fishing circles for a particularly elegant and complicated cast, incorrectly portrayed in A River Runs Through It. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the practice of using shadow puppets in performances of morality plays is known as wayang kulit, where “wayang” means shadow, imagination, or spirit. Many practitioners in this part of the world believe that the characters’ true spirit can only be conveyed by the shadows—the puppets, themselves, have diminished significance.

Each of these highly divergent uses of the term “shadow casting” suggests a more intriguing meaning than is apparent on first glance. For example, to pantomime makes us think of ridiculous mimicry, but there may be unusual or unexpected interpretations that can exist only when seen in conjunction with the original work. In contrast, while fly fishers have an appreciation for the finesse used to drop a line, the fish doesn’t care how the lure lands in the water, only whether or not it is caught. And for audiences of Indonesian puppet plays, drama and meaning are found in the elongated visuals appearing on the stretched canvas backdrop, not by watching the puppets.

One of the quotes from the Bible which I always remember is taken from 2 Corinthians, which says, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” I love all the possibilities presented by this sentence. Regardless of one’s religious affiliation (or lack thereof), stay with me, because I have a point directly relevant to our present day experience. The value of shadow casting reminds us that there can be (unexpected) meaning far beyond the original effort or intention—this statement applies equally to people of faith or not! Take my first example about pantomime: we may gain insight into the characters being mimicked that we’d miss were we only to watch the film—any political satirist or SNL actor will attest to this theorem. Next, the way in which a fishing line lands on the water suggests an artistry and mastery of technique that no actual caught fish could confirm. And lastly, shadows often convey a sense of menace or heroism that the puppet, itself, could never hope to achieve.

Keep in mind that all three of these definitions rest on the prerequisite of our acting as witness. We aren’t shadow actors, we’re shadow watchers. The shadows tell us things we’d never see were we onstage. Isn’t that interesting? I just love the possibility of all this wisdom and insight that can be gained if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. In other words, a vast portion of what we may learn in this life requires us to be still, to listen, to watch, and not to act.

As a Re-booter, I believe it’s important to remind myself of this because there are moments in all our lives in which we are powerless to act. There’s nothing we may be able to do about X, Y, or Z, but we can pay attention. We can watch the shadows… and learn.

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One Response to “What we can glean from the shadows”

  1. Steph Rakowski Says:

    This reminds me of the lovely Japanese book titled, In Praise of Shadows, which examines the Japanese aesthetic appreciation of things in relation to subtlety rather than just that love of light & clarity found in the more Western art/architecture philosophy. Over-simplification of the concept of course but how much can one sentence convey? It was written in 1933 by the way 🙂

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