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  • Fiona Holiday

Where the light lands and the shadows fall: how we get through when things are tough


When I talk about trauma (and I do that a lot!), I always start with the idea that we are all human. As a species, we humans are remarkably adaptable. We find ways to survive even when conditions are harsh and things happen that overwhelm us.


When we have experiences that teach us that the world is a frightening and unsafe place, we become particularly alert to where danger may come from in the here and now and in the future. We are always, on some level, on the lookout for anything which might give us the heads up about approaching danger.


To be honest, this is a pretty exhausting way to live. Being so vigilant for cues of danger means we can sometimes miss the signs of safety, the presence of beauty.


I have a strategy for this self-protective tendency: whenever I am outside I look for the light. I try to see where the light lands and notice what it illuminates. Even in the darkest of days, there is light to be found.


When light falls across the landscape, shines through buildings or dances on water, we get a chance to experience awe. Awe is a connecting emotion and helps us feel that we are part of an amazing world. Awe locates us in the present and finding a way to firmly plant our feet in the here and now (rather than in the past) is an important part of recovery from trauma.


The other thing that happens when we look for the light is that we are also able to see where the shadows fall. We can notice the places they inhabit and make sense of them because the light provides a contrast to make them visible.


We need both light and dark, but when we decide to notice where the light lands, we can make a choice. We don’t have to stumble in the shadows.

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