The Dark Night of the Soul and You

Sometimes the road we are traveling down becomes bumpy. The path narrows, the sunshine gets pushed out by the brush surrounding us. We trip over rocks that pop up out of nowhere. We can find our way through, but it feels like real effort. Every step takes thought and consideration and your mind feels full to the brim and overflowing. Am I going the right way? Did I remember to pack water? Did I pay the electric bill and find a sitter for the kids' day off and call the doctor's office again because they never called me back? 

Sometimes this is a stage of life we are passing through. It's a tough climb but we know that after we get through this tricky portion of the path we will see the sun poking through the trees in the distance.

Other times, though, we find the brush getting thicker. The rocks are becoming boulders that we need to scramble over to get by. A mile takes hours. The trail markers have disappeared and we are out in the wilderness alone. We are hungry. Hungry for sustenance and light and ease. 

We think to ourselves: One more night alone in this tent on the edge of the cliff and surely, the path will clear tomorrow. 

But it doesn't.


This is the Dark Night of the Soul from Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. I love teaching the Hero's Journey because it feels so relatable. If you reflect on your own life, have there been times of the Dark Night of the Soul? 

The thing about the Dark Night of the Soul is that what comes after it can be life-changing. Curious about that part of the journey? Sign up for my Hero's Journey workshop where we will be talking all about it.

Marathon Monday

On April 16th my husband, Curt, ran the Boston Marathon. Throughout the entire training process, every time I talked about the marathon I said "we," as in both Curt and me, as if I was running the marathon too. It just came out. I am not a runner and in fact I can't quite stand running. I think it's because when our partners decide to commit to something big, we feel a stake in it too. We want it badly for the person we love and we often have a significant shift in our daily schedules too.

Because he was running for a charity, Team Frannie of the Ethan Lindberg Foundation, this added to my feelings of connectedness to the race. I wanted to give back to this organization that had been alongside us since my son Griffin was diagnosed in utero with congenital heart disease (CHD) seven years ago. 

Also, the lives of several children who had died of CHD were integrally woven into this race: Ari, Chase, Ethan, Frannie. Their moms, dads, and siblings would all be present on race day. 

On race day, Curt got up early and headed out. The weather was as bad as predicted. The kids and I sat in the hotel restaurant watching the elite runners and wheelchair athletes at the starting line.  The rain was already gushing in torrents over the hotel entrance, soaking passersby. I was anxious about Curt having to stand in the wet and cold for hours before he started. I was anxious about all of the runners having trained so intensely to show up for this weather. Then they did a tribute on tv to the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and my kids starting asking what had happened. Yes, I was anxious about that too.

We headed up to the hotel pool and I watched Carly and Griffin play. My heart was hurting, confused and joyful. Hurting for the pain that CHD has caused these families and my own. Confused about how some kids make it and other kids don't. Joyful that we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to be in Boston that day and participate, in our own way, in the race. 

A little while later, we arrived downtown. We stepped out of the uber and within ten second we were drenched. The kids starting complaining immediately but we went up to Beacon St. to watch the elite women pass. At mile 25, they were almost done. 

We stayed inside for a while, keeping warm. But, I had only one chance to see Curt and I didn't want to miss him. So, the Team Frannie crew headed out to Beacon St. Again, fully drenched within seconds. The rain was coming in sheets, sideways. By now the runners were slowing down. Many were walking. Several were already wrapped in the silver thermal blankets they normally receive at the end. Some were in between two runners who had their arms wrapped around the middle runner, almost carrying the person along. A double amputee made his way by on his prosthetics. I could see the pain in his clenched face.

About 15 minutes before we expected Curt, I took my hand out of my glove and held my phone, with the camera open. I wanted to capture the moment on video. This meant that my hand and arm were sopping wet and frozen and that I couldn't follow Curt on the tracker app because I wanted to keep the camera ready. 

The 15 minutes came and went. By this time Griffin was crying hysterically. He was freezing and wanted to go inside. Carly was ready to give up on seeing Daddy too. I couldn't hug them because we were too wet and I was holding an umbrella and the Team Frannie sign we made and the phone. I tried picking Griffin up and putting the umbrella down but that made things worse. 

I needed to make a decision and quick. Should I let them go inside and get warm? My mother's instinct said yes, especially for Griffin whose health could really be affected by this weather. But my human instinct said no. Their dad had undergone a grueling training for this day. The families standing next to me had undergone weeks and months of hospitals stays for their sick children. And, even if they didn't feel it right then, my kids would always want to have the memory of seeing their dad at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. So we stayed out.

I started wondering if we missed him. What is he wearing? the Team Frannie supporters wanted to know. I didn't know or couldn't remember, the anxiety getting the best of me by this point. Is Griffin ok? they asked. I wasn't sure.

Finally, we spotted him through the driving rain. He looked fantastic - a big smile on his face and a great energy in his stride. I instantly felt ten pounds lighter. The kids switched from crying to cheering. I pushed the red video button on my outstretched hand. 

He gave us a each a kiss and then he was gone. I looked at my phone and realized it hadn't recorded the moment. I tried again as he ran off towards Boylston St, the final stretch the runners dream of. 


All the struggle and pain and beauty and transformation of life was happening right in front of us that day. Feeling so many emotions at the same time IS life. I was filled with pride and love as I watched Curt run past. Then I turned to take the kids in and caught the eye of my friend Jessica, mom of Ethan, and became filled with sadness for the loss of his life. 

Life is not black and white. It's not either or. It's messy and gray, confused and beautiful. I'm lucky to be here, right in the middle of it.

What's the shape of your journey?

What's the shape of your heroine's journey? 

Before you examine this question for yourself, have an understanding of your particular journey in mind. Ask yourself what you feel you've been called to do in this life. If that doesn't sit quite right or feels too broad, try looking at your journey as your path to finding your truest self. A journey of self-development. I love how author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her own journey in this way. 

In the work I've done investigating the Heroine's Journey, I've come across three shapes of the path: circle, spiral, labyrinth. 
 

circle.png

Circle: This is the traditional representation and the one I tend to relate to the most. The reason is that there is a closure, a sort of ending as the circle comes back around to the top. To me it suggests that there is an end in sight to the journey. We will come to a completion. 
Of course, the flip side is that the circle might represent a never-ending journey of coming around and starting back up again. So that just as you have reached a sort of ending, you are thrown back into all of the hard stuff that comes with being a beginner. 

spiral.png

Spiral: Another representation is the spiral. Think spiral staircase. We make progress and our view changes as we grow, with each step we take. We continue up the staircase as we age and mature; we can look down and see the many stairs we have climbed to get to the place where we are currently. I think this is a beautiful and peaceful representation, but one that maybe feels a little daunting (I'm gonna be climbing these stairs forever?). If the spiral feels like you, check out this article. I love the idea of our highest self reaching out to us from above to lend guidance. 

labyrinth sketch.png

Labyrinth: When I heard Elle Luna and Susie Herrick interviewed on the podcast Heroine about their new book "Your Story is Your Power" I almost fell off my chair. Wasn't that my book? (My tagline is Your Story is Your Strength.) I got over myself and bought it that day. Partway through I've already learned so much from these brilliant ladies. They are the ones who introduced me to the template of the labyrinth for your journey. Here's what they say about the labyrinth: "It is not a direct line from one point to another, but an organic, evolving process that takes time and moves to its own rhythm." Soothing, right? 

It feels good to step out of the go, go, go for a moment to reflect on our path. If you found yourself nodding along while reading this, please join me for the workshop I'm leading on Sun April 8th in Vienna, VA (and share with a friend). 

Find Your Helper Along the Road of Trials

As you (our heroine), find yourself along what Joseph Campbell calls, The Road of Trials, you will be encountering lots of suffering. That's one of the reasons I like the Hero's Journey - the suffering is an acknowledged part of it. The Road of Trials is represented in the image as Challenges and Temptations. You'll notice there are also Mentors and Helpers along this road. These figures vary in their description depending upon whose writing you read. But I like to think of them pure and simple as helpers or teachers. 

Thanks  Wikipedia!

Thanks Wikipedia!

So, as you are working on re-writing your story (you're doing that, right?) the template of the Hero's Journey can be really useful. Especially if you aren't sure where to start and how to organize. The more I dive into this, the more I like using it as a template because of these Helper figures. The thing is that when you re-visit your story, you are likely recalling a lot of pain. After all the reason you want to re-write your story is so that you can find the glimmers that existed amongst the pain. 

While you are re-engaging with the suffering you experienced, recall a Helper. Who was there to hand you a flashlight in the dark? Who called you out of the blue when you were driving along the highway, tears streaming down your face? Your Helper might be a good friend or your Helper could be a complete stranger whose gesture reminded you of the goodness in the world. 

I know re-writing your story isn't easy. The Road of Trials can be dark and scary. There is no way around it though. The only way to get to transformation is to keep going down your Road. In doing this work, remember a Helper who nourished you along the way, who provided you with sustenance to keep going.