During my toddler years, I was often pre-occupied with my shadow. It intrigued me that there was something that obeyed my every command. When I marched, it marched with the same beat, when I kicked, it kicked with the same vigour. If I punched, it would not rebel, it punched as hard. When I jumped, it instantly jumped, as if it could anticipate my every thought and every action. Not only were we perfectly synchronised, we were inseparable out in the field during the day. It became my best buddy until Shiny, my shiny black pup, replaced it a few years later. We incessantly conversed quietly between ourselves during my childhood, my shadow self was a shadow of myself. There was never any outburst from it; it kept itself in tune with me at all times. No dissent, no debate, no expression of doubt. A good mate.
It was not until when I was in Form 1, at aged 13, that I had my first close encounter with my dark shadow self. Having passed the Standard 6 exams, the following two years should have been honeymoon years when the slightest scent of the opposite sex would ignite untold passion and red-hot interest in the female body. Instead, my parents who had a strong hold on my freedom, had a restraining order on the whole household. Apart from official Boy Scout activities, I was not allowed to venture far after school, which effectively meant the opportunity to survey the neighbourhood for pretty girls was much curtailed. My hormones were raging inside but all I had to occupy my after-school hours were the scrunched up paper balls in my parents’ dry-cleaning shop. They became the soccer balls that I dribbled with, my faultless technique as impressive as Pele’s. Newspaper accounts described that the ball seemed tied to his boots as he waltzed past three, four, five defenders. Similar headlines were imagined in my mind, my paper footballs seemed tied to my Japanese rubber slippers. All the while though, my shadow self was protesting, turning dark. Beneath the surface of my being, deep under many layers of my psyche, lurked the awakening shadow self. I attributed it to the shadow self maturing faster than me. It was not accepting at all of the imposed house rules whereas the more docile me was content to obey the authority of the adults, any adult to be precise. It was Carl Jung who explained to me what the shadow self is. It is the entirety of the unconscious, that which the conscious ego does not identify in itself; the shadow is the unknown side of us. “The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself”. It is therefore usually the dark side of our personality, the repressed memories, negative thoughts and emotions, and the bad characteristics that we refuse to see when we look into the mirror. Of course, for those with low self-esteem, the unknown self could in fact be the positive traits that are hidden in one’s shadow. As time passed by, I was aware of the growing conflict between the two personalities. It did not matter that I tried to keep the dark shadow from the truth. It knew all the goings-on in my life, and uncannily, also all that it missed, such as the beach gatherings, hiking excursions to Pantai Kerachut and up Penang Hill. It was especially vile and livid at missing the very few dance parties that I was invited to but declined. After the night when I walked out of a disco party in Hotel Merlin without even bidding the host goodnight, my shadow self and I had our first major altercation. As I think back about this, a searing regret impugns my self righteousness. Wow. It was right after all. It was impolite of me not to thank her for the kind invitation and I should have spun a yarn about a stomach-ache or indigestion before excusing myself. But, no. I just sneaked out without a word, as if I had walked into the wrong birthday party and knew none of the revellers. The dark shadow was violently confrontational, it tore up my ego and destroyed my self confidence for the next few years following that incident. The host was a lovely girl who had, I believe, taken a fancy of my Dirty Harry persona. It was all acting, of course, but she would not have known that. A pretty girl with the most sparkling eyes and shortish curls, she was forthright, gregarious and witty. Atypical in the 20th century, she was like today’s modern women, packed full of self confidence and vigour, they stride the limelight and procure whatever they fancy. My shadow self liked her very much but my conscious mind mistook her outward manner as wayward. She, a lawyer’s daughter, had a few days earlier invited me to her home near a beach in Tanjung Bunga. An architecturally designed home, the 60’s feel was evident throughout. The portico had skinny metal posts which complemented the skinny silver painted metal fencing that divided a big sparkling kidney-shaped pool with a spa from a multi-coloured mosaic tiled courtyard where they were starting a barbecue. The large expanse of floor-to-ceiling gleaming glass windows in the family room let in bright playful sun rays which bounced off colourful bean bags and canary yellow coloured lampshades. The showcase furniture in the lounge was undoubtedly the white baby grand. ” Guess who plays the piano? I do!” she cheekily answers her own question. As I surveyed the interior of her home, I immediately felt the urge of wanting a pair of sunglasses, the kind that Clint Eastwood wore in Dirty Harry. But, I didn’t know where to buy them, and did not have any pocket money anyway. She was happy to see me and said so with her body language. She introduced me to her friends who were sipping beer whilst skewering meat and shrimps for the barbecue. I ran out of words very quickly, subduing the shadow self from making its appearance. It was up to no good, keen on breaking my resolve to remain a vegetarian. (I was not familiar with the word pescetarian at that age.) I left the party without partaking in the beer, excused myself and made a quick escape, using my vegetarianism as a perfect excuse to leave the party. For many weeks after, my shadow self and I clashed heatedly and repeatedly over my hasty and unsocial exit. The dark shadow was beginning to overwhelm the conscious mind, the latter becoming paralysed with indecision and inaction. The lawyer’s daughter made another indirect contact, via a mutual friend. This time, it would be a weekend in an Englishman’s bungalow up in the cool green surrounds of Penang Hill. The dark shadow won the battle of the mind, the conscious mind reluctantly accepted her invitation. “It’s fine, there will be dozens of people there, just keep a low profile.” It was a miserable weekend to forget. The dark shadow tried desperately to stop me but at the end of the stay, I wrote her a short note to thank her for her attention but we simply were not of the same world. I was uncomfortable outside the confines of a dry cleaning environment. Her parents were English-speaking, professionally trained and adopted a western culture in which the Beatles and Elvis ruled. I was at home with Cantonese songs and Cantonese profanities, normalised by the workers in the dry cleaning workshop. The acknowledgment of the shadow and therefore the eventual assimilation of the shadow was necessary to break the impasse, without which the conscious mind was being bogged down by paralysis of logical decision making. Every event incurred the consternation of the shadow, it was almost debilitating for the conscious self. I wasn’t day-dreaming, I was fully engaged in mind games with the shadow self. Awareness of the dark shadow wasn’t enough. It required its integration with the conscious mind to enable a peaceful if not productive existence. I believed that the combined forces of the shadow self and the conscious mind substantially improved and broadened the individual’s character. I was right. I recently discovered this quote from Carl Jung. “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”