Book review: The Shadow Effect

cover of "the shadow effect" + pix of authors + pic of human shadow

There is a truism in acting that you cannot play a villain if you view him as such, because every character is central to his own life story and never, ever sees himself as a villain. The first thing you are supposed to do as a good actor doing responsible script analysis is to comb through the text looking for ways in which you and your character, villain or hero, are the same. Only once you've grounded yourself in those do you go back through and seek out the differences, to add color.

And if you're honest, whether you're playing a villain or a hero or, most often, for most actors, something in between, you will share most if not all of the qualities of that person, although they may manifest themselves in different ways. The most common example, thrown up the first time you have to play a killer and wonder how you can do it if you've never killed, is to take yourself back to some moment of murderous rage: in the car, at being cut off; at a mosquito who will not leave you alone; at a bully who humiliated you one too many times. (Once was usually sufficient for me.) With the possible exception of sociopaths, we are all made up of all qualities and all possibilities; we just act on them, or not, differently.

The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Power of Your Hidden Self is a collaborative effort on the part of three modern self-help authors to address the parts of us we don't or can't look at. From their individual perspectives, M.D. with a spiritual bent, recovering addict and teacher, spiritual seeker and teacher, respectively, the authors discuss the common threads in what holds us back from finding peace and joy, both as individual entities and humankind. If it can be boiled down to one thing, and maybe it can't, since the book is a little disjointed, it is that we suffer because of the way we divide and separate: ourselves, by not embracing the truth that we contain all kinds of impulses within us; and ourselves from others, mainly by denying our common humanity, looking for the differences between us, projecting and even magnifying them unduly rather than starting from the rather terrifying premise that (sociopaths excluded), we are mainly the same.

The process of re-integrating begins, as I'm finally realizing most things do, with noticing. (Damned meditators: they had it right all along.) You can start anywhere, but the authors seem to agree that a very useful place is to begin by observing how you project your own behavior onto others: he's a selfish ass; she's stuck up; they are imbeciles who refuse to listen to anyone. Very, very easy to demonize someone else. Much harder to use them as a mirror in which you view your own, horrifyingly unsaintly behavior. But really, any sort of embracing of truth will work, and there are multiple suggestions for getting started, as well as for understanding why we bury and cover and isolate in the first place.

As far as accessing the central theme of the book, that we contain multitudes, and that acknowledging the suppressed voices among them, however terrifying at the outset, is critical to becoming whole, which is critical to self-actualization, I found the first two sections, by Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford, to be the most useful. Portions of Chopra's were actually thrilling/chilling to read, and Debbie Ford is an easygoing, super-accessible writer. Try as I might (and I did!), I can't fathom the appeal of Marianne Williamson, on the page, anyway. She seems like a lovely and compassionate human, and she certainly has a large and loyal following of people for whom her words resonate, so it's probably just me. (I feel like the same obtuse maroon reading those other giants of self-help, Wayne Dyer and Eckert Tolle, too. If someone can 'splain it to me, please do.)

If The Shadow Effect as a book is a bit fractured, the messages relayed in it are of a piece, and the range of techniques and tools fairly ensure you'll find a way in that works for you. I'd suggest letting significant time lapse between reading the three segments, and picking the one to read first that resonates with you. The very practical, carefully laid out "diagnosis/cure/prognosis" method that Chopra takes works best for me. If stories are your way in, I'd maybe start with Debbie Ford, and if inspirational writing is your thing, by all means, start with Williamson.

It's valuable work, worth doing. Hopefully, one of the ways of doing will work for you...


Image by Horia Varlan via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. Cover © HarperCollins, designed by LeVan Fisher. Photos of Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford by Jeremiah Sullivan; photo of Marianne Williamson by Lisa Spindler.

Legalese, etc! Book furnished as a review copy, and links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links: if you click on them and buy something, I get Amazon dollars. Which is great, as it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.