Sometime we feel we are being enfolded in a cloak of lethargy. This may manifest as depression, general apathy and tiredness toward life in general, a nervous breakdown, exhaustion, chronic fatigue or an episode of mental illness. In ancient women’s wisdom, this is seen as an initiation to get to know our inner wise woman, known to the ancient Greeks as Hecate – the Goddess of the Underworld through learning to navigate our own shadow.

Without access to ancient women’s wisdom, the mainstream way of responding to these soul sicknesses is often to medicate the symptoms in an attempt to return the ‘patient’ back to outward productivity as soon as possible.

Embracing The Dark Night of The Soul

Artwork: Susan Seddon Bolet

But it is these very symptoms that are our soul’s way of asking us to sit down, journey inward and learn to access our inner guidance. For when we truly surrender to how we feel and express it, we then clear our ability to channel the insight needed to integrate our past experiences, giving us renewed energy to continue forth with our quest.

Symbolically this is shown in most heroic tales where the protagonist enters a dark place such as a cave, swamp, dungeon or poppy field and is temporarily impeded from further activity until they solve a riddle by coming to terms with the darker side of human nature. This is how spiritual wisdom is possessed, through the conscious seeking of higher truth or meaning. Often grief and loss of our ego’s desires mark the beginning of this stage of the journey – the death phase which precedes each psychological birth.

The test at this time for the hero / heroine is to find and maintain hope in the darkness, to literally learn to see in the dark. Just as the hero’s journey is motivated by a need to venture outward to find one’s life purpose, the feminine journey is by contrast, one of surrender. We must therefore allow time and space to spiral inwards to the depths of our own subconscious so we can discover our ultimate truth and regain a sense of reverence for the synchronicity and mystery of the Divine Plan (as well as a deeper appreciation of our own soul gifts).

It is important to add that the light cannot be reached without first venturing into the unknowable darkness. This process happens periodically throughout our lives, usually in accordance with the seasons, i.e. turning inward during Autumn and Winter. Although we may return to this place of despair on a regular basis, each successive return grants us with a deeper understanding of ourselves and of life in general. In other words, if you are feeling despondent, it’s important that you give yourself full permission to express your negative feelings through mediums such as drawing, dancing, chanting, crying or swearing like a trooper in the back yard.

To express your dark side in a creative and safe way keeps you from imploding or exploding when the pressure becomes too great to handle. Depression is therefore the result of suppressing those negative thoughts and feelings that we feel uncomfortable acknowledging and expressing for fear they will overwhelm us. The result usually means that we remain stuck in that dark polarity until we allow the energy to shift by venting it.

Traditionally women have met regularly to express their collective ‘madness’ through sound and movement, to free their body of negative energies under the light of the moon. I used to run a group in a church hall where we would do this to Gabrielle Roth’s Five Rhythms CD – trance music designed to take you through five different emotional states. No doubt to innocent passers-by we sounded like an insane asylum, but we would all leave feeling refreshed and liberated, ready to face the unacknowledged madness in the world with renewed vigour. After all, madness is merely the result when our wild, free and instinctual nature is given no voice. It is this part that acts as a release valve when our rational mind is overwhelmed with the irrationalities that life has shown us.

If you have experienced the darker side of human nature in any way, shape or form it is imperative that you set aside the time to revisit it in order to fully comprehend its impact and lesson in your life. ‘The dark night of the soul’ is a stage we must all undergo when we feel that life is meaningless and experience complete disillusionment with all that we know to be true. When we feel this way, all we can do is surrender to our grief.

It is interesting to note that the death and rebirth process a butterfly undergoes within its chrysalis involves a trinity of energies where the caterpillar is reduced to liquid before reforming as a winged creature. This dissolving of one’s original form into water is also the symbolism of baptism and re-birthing ceremonies, where a person is submerged in water signifying the surrender to one’s one grief which will in turn soften our rigidity and make moist and fertile the foundation for new growth. Just as in each Spring season we need the rainfall to fertilise new growth, so too we need to release our tears in order to lubricate the process of internal alchemy otherwise we remain detached from our heart and emotions, rationalising how we feel instead of moving through it.

Tanishka

Photo Credit: Manou Staedel-Arnould

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