Your response to my article on Winter Solstice a few weeks ago was heart-warming and inspiring. Thanks to those who took the time to read it and leave your thoughts.
In response to your comments, I promised to write more about the inner journey. This first post of the New Year seemed like a good time to begin, since winter naturally invites us to slow down and reflect. So pull up a cushion and settle in. The soul of winter beckons.
I wrote Winter Solstice: A Paean To The Pregnant Darkness, to invite readers into the deep, fertile well that dwells within each of us. Just as the meaning of "Solstice" is "standing-still-sun", and we know it as the time when our northern hemisphere has reached its outermost point in Earth's journey around the sun, it is therefore, the time when Winter comes, a time when the growing things also stand still.
Winter: a season of stillness. Plants go dormant now. What we see above the earth's surface appears lifeless and dead. Yet the roots survive, unseen by the human eye. In the darkness of the earth, they extend deeper, far beneath the earth's frozen crust, winding their way to the fertile place, where life is regenerated.
In winter, the human psyche is naturally drawn to sync up with the slower, quieter rhythms of life and to deepen. Indigenous people have always known this, yet modern man is far removed from his connection with the natural world. In our 24/7/365 multi-tasking lives, there is no time, or space for going dormant. Modern technology that keeps us always connected, also keeps us separated from ourselves, rendering us unable to hear the soul's call to deepen.
Our urban lives move at an ever increasing speed. Faster and more is assigned a higher value than slower and less. Slow is not a pace we know or a place we live from and we've come to look at less as a form of deprivation. And yet...
The soul continually calls us to make the journey to the farthest reaches of our own interior, to places the light of awareness has never reached so that we too, might be rewarded with the riches of renewal and restoration. However to do so, we must be willing shed the skin of the ordinary world in order to enter the darkness.
Dr. James Hillman, founder of Archetypal Psychology, an extension of the work of Carl Jung, has written many books on the subject of the soul including his most important work, The Soul's Code, a highly recommended read for anyone interested in learning more about this area. Archetypal Psychology is devoted to the study of world mythology, which includes soul process and evolution.
Two other important writers in this area: Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion, (I've included a brief video of Moore's at the end of this article in which he speaks about the "Dark Night of the Soul" ) and Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces , who became especially known for his PBS series with Bill Moyer. All speak of the soul's process as characterized by the necessity to descend repeatedly into this inner realm of darkness.
A "soul descent" or "dark night of the soul" is sometimes diagnosed as clinical depression, for indeed, on the surface of things, the descent process can exhibit signs associated with depression. Western medical doctors usually prescribe anti-depressants to alleviate these symptoms, which in some instances, renders a person unable to perform the daily tasks required by their life.
These symptoms can include an absence of motivation or desire to engage in normal activities, a sense of hopelessness and resignation, a need to isolate and disconnect from people. Loss of appetite and insomnia may be present.
These are hardly conditions one is inclined to embrace and move towards. And yet, might it not also be an invitation to consciously turn inward ? A season to explore what lies beneath? Could it be that loss comes as a "wake up" call, an attempt to get our attention?
What is far less familiar to us is our ability to actually embrace this descent process and fully experience it, to bring to the experience our conscious awareness, to be present with ourselves here, breath into it, allow the heart to open and receive the wisdom waiting to reveal itself. In the midst of the deepest pain lies the greatest awakenings.
Instead of seeing depression as a dysfunction, it is a functioning phenomenon. It stops you cold, sets you down, makes you damn miserable. James Hillman
The destination of this journey is the unexplored territory that lies beneath the surface of our conscious minds. It is not easily accessed, thus most people don't readily go there. Until, that is, life delivers an unmistakable call to deepen, thus in a way, "forces" one to begin the work.
The call may come in the form of a loss: perhaps the loss of a job or death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship or a life-threatening illness. Or perhaps it's a betrayal or deep disappointment that pierces the veil of our resistance and renders us ready to deepen. When all the usual outer-oriented coping mechanisms no longer work, when we've run out of ways to avoid or means to distract ourselves, the call to begin the inward journey can finally be heard.
Loss means losing what was. We want to change but we don't want to lose. Without time for loss, we don't have time for soul. James Hillman
Although most people fear the unknown, there's no need to fear this darkness. It's all you. However, be prepared to do the work that awaits you here. The work is why the soul calls us to descend. Soul work is demanding, and cannot be accomplished at the surface. There are some things that can only grow in the dark. Such is the work of the soul. Its purpose is to evolve, deepen and heal. Just as the heart has its own reasons, the soul has its own agenda.
The work is not for the feint of heart. But it's what you came to do. So sooner or later, you will take it on. And if not, your unfinished business will be right there with you when you take your last breath. You can choose to face it and move into your life with courage, freedom and passion or allow your fear to have the final say. It's about what kind of life you wish to live and whether or not you're willing to pay the price for freedom.
Know however, that the soul is infinitely patient. If we refuse the invitation to deepen, it will keep extending that invitation until we answer the call. And it might indeed be on that final breath. To the soul, there is no future, no past. It exists beyond time and space while we mortals are bound by both.
Stay tuned as we pick up this thread in future posts. Next time, we'll look at The Hero's Journey, exquisitely described in Joseph Campbell's work.
Have you experienced a "Dark Night of the Soul"? What were the circumstances and what did you learn? How did you handle it? Please consider sharing your experiences and/or comments in the Reply section below. And thank you for being part of this reader community.
If you have questions you'd like to direct to me personally, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.