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The cave you most fear to enter contains the greatest treasure. Joseph Campbell

It’s always darkest before the dawn. We feel like giving up. Our work doesn’t seem to be noticed. We feel unappreciated, we feel we can’t do anything right, our best still isn’t good enough. Our strength and confidence wane. Starting over seems easier than plowing through. It wouldn’t take much to quit.

We’ve all reached this point at some time. Some of us have spent quite a bit of time here. Some of us have quit, and we had to work hard to get going at whatever again. If we quit we can be like starting a diesel engine in the cold. If we keep going we feel like even though we are still going forward it’s probably pointless.

These times can be our “dark night of the soul.” This is different than depression. Saint John of the Cross wrote, “If a man wishes to be sure of the road he’s traveling on, then he must close his eyes and travel in the dark. Dark nights of the soul are not strictly religious experiences although they can be that. We may feel betrayed or forsaken and have no solid or stable ground to stand on.

Somehow we need to reconcile ourselves with whatever dream or fantasy we had about life that is no longer or was never true. Maybe we have become disillusioned by someone, something, a career choice, a life path; we actually reached a pinnacle or milestone and found it less than we thought it would be. We may be coming to grips with our mortality, our shortcomings or shortcomings of someone we love.

The truth it seems is before great things happen there is destruction. We need to somehow make peace that even though things are not what we thought they were, it’s okay. We are growing and changing. We need to make peace with the fact we are not in control, it may be better or worse, but it will be different.

People rebuild their lives, marriages, families, relationships, homes, businesses, communities, and countries all the time. When it is our turn we feel we’d like to pass this round. We were comfortable; can’t we just go back to bed and wake up to our old life?

Our dark night of the soul may seem insignificant compared to what other people are going through. Many people may think that’s hardly anything at all, do you know what I went through? Comparisons are odious. Our reality is our reality, our challenge is our challenge, and what shakes our life to the core may hardly cause a ripple in someone else’s life. We may look at what brings them to their knees and wonder, what, over that?

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. Khalil Gibran

They say a dark night of the soul leaves a lasting impact on us. We are changed completely. When we exit a dark night of the soul we will discover that something was taken from us (for the better) our mistaken beliefs, our mistaken perceptions,  or our mistaken view on things.

The dark night of the soul is the Herald, the omen of change, our call to adventure. We are on the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell describes the hero’s journey. “A hero ventures forth from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

The steps on the hero’s journey are:

Separation

We experience a call to action. Something shakes up our ordinary world, divorce, illness, the birth of a child, the death of a parent or someone close to us. Some form of crisis or suffering forces us from the comfort of our complacency. Our journey begins. If we refuse this call to adventure our life stagnates. For those who accept the call to adventure, life will never be the same again.

We may meet a mentor who guides us. We may pick up the right book, or watch the right video, or listen to the right podcast. We cross the threshold into unfamiliar territory. There is no going back. We are leaving behind who we were and opening up to what is waiting.

Initiation

We are joined by more allies, or we acquire new skills or develop an aspect of our self we’ve had on hold or previously ignored. We face the monsters. We are tested. This is the dark night of the soul. We must acknowledge our worst fears and use all of our skills and wisdom to overcome the challenge. We may be victorious, or we may not be.

Return

We have survived the initiation, but our journey is not over. We must take what we have learned and integrate it into our lives. We cross the threshold, we are different, we are more aware, and we have something to offer those around us. Maybe what we bring back is the knowledge of how to get through the obstacles and challenges. We may be called to teach others the skills we have learned. We resume our life in its new upgraded form.

We faced inner or outer demons, the feeling we can never be enough, that we must constantly strive to do and achieve to be worthy, we find our authentic self. We learn to listen to our self, our intuition, and our body. We find community among other seekers, and we feel reborn, healed and whole.

There are those who may take umbrage with the fact that many myths and stories of the hero’s journey are about men. The man goes out into the world, kills the monster, frees the maiden, comes back a hero and the maiden is his reward.

We don’t have to belittle the male journey and exalt the female journey. There are journeys for all of us, the whole point of this is we didn’t want this journey, we were forced into it. The take away is we were forced on a journey, we learned things we didn’t know, survived, thrived even, and now our life is better, stronger, different, and we are better, stronger, and different.

Do we all have a ‘dark night of the soul’? Have you gone through one? What were the rewards, lessons, and changes it brought to your life?

The hero’s journey always begins with the call. One or another, a guide must come to say, “Look, you’re in sleepy land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.” And so it starts. Joseph Campbell

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" by [Brown, Brené]
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You Are a Heroine: A Retelling of the Hero’s Journey by [Liller, Susanna]
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