This month I am exploring those difficult periods in life when we aren’t maintaining a healthy relationship with our self. The ‘dark nights of the soul', as entitled by Thomas Moore, when things seem more of a struggle than usual or when we are going through a period of crisis; those times when it feels as if we are continuously running the wrong way up a downward escalator.
Sometimes we may choose to temporarily give up the uphill struggle – but then we realise all that happens is that we sink to the bottom and need to start all over again next time. Other times we can put all our efforts into running faster or try and take two steps at a time but this can be very draining and there is no guarantee we will make it to the top (maybe there isn’t an actual ‘destination’ to reach). So what do we do?
I think sometimes it is easy for us to subconsciously accept the situation we are in and just try to make the best of it when really we need to challenge the very path we’re walking on. For example; do you ever find yourself wondering how you end up back at the same place emotionally? You may have changed jobs, houses or even relationships but find that you are facing a similar dilemma to the one you were originally quarrelling with; just in a new place or with a different person? This may be because while you challenge the external factors you aren’t actually putting the work into changing the internal drives and beliefs that are the cause of repeated patterns.
For example, you decide that you need a bigger house because the your current one feels so cluttered. Say you managed to get that bigger house and it did in fact look less cluttered for a few months, if you haven’t had a clear out or challenged your noisy/busy ways, in the end you will simply have a bigger space to cover in additional mess! I think this is illustrated particularly well in a favourite film of mine called Wild. It is based on the true story of a lady called Cheryl Strayed, played by Reece Witherspoon, who went on a solitary hike for 3 months after finding that her demons were becoming too big to manage when a particular incident finally pushed her over her emotional edge. It seems very common in modern life that we continue to struggle up that exhausting escalator until one last event finally causes our energy to completely run out – and we fall over. Cheryl recognised that an intervention was needed to finally face the underlying causes of the way she had felt throughout her life so she decided to literally walk through it, alone, and not stop until she had gained some clarity. Being away from her usual environment also meant that the distractions and unhealthy habits she had created to deal with her inner pain, were no longer available to her. As we follow her journey in the film, she experiences painful flashbacks, challenges her usual ways of thinking and pushes herself to the limits knowing that without this change – her life will continue in the way it is heading. Not all of us can just take 3 months off out of our lives to go on a hike next time we realise we need some clarification (can you imagine just saying “yeah, bye kids – don’t drive Mum/Dad/Nan too mad”) and neither would we all want or need complete silence in order to finally listen to our inner selves. However next time I feel lonely I will remember how brave Cheryl was camping in the desert at night time and reassess my definition of being ‘alone’.
Another message we can take from the film is to recognise when we need to reassess the subconscious patterns or thoughts in our lives which are actually the cause of the escalator moving downwards. It can be hard work to really challenge these factors which direct the flow of our path but so beneficial. This could turn the escalator into a staircase in which we move at our own pace, but one which isn’t taking us back to the starting point over and over.
The book ‘Why this, why me, why now?’ written by Robin Norwood offers a positive perspective and claims that these challenging periods of life, while painful or emotional, can also be the very moments in which we grow and learn new things. The book says that if we stop resisting change, our lives can evolve and we can move on to a more peaceful place in our lives – it’s actually the resisting, which can go on for years and years that causes the most difficulty. But in the end we will still have to deal with feelings or events that are bothering us, even if we pretend they aren’t, so the sooner we get the courage to face them the better. Obviously if there is an issue which is particularly traumatic for you to deal with then it is best to seek a professional’s help so they can help guide you through the journey.
Whichever way you decide to personally deal with a continuing downward escalator; the first step may simply be the acceptance that conflict is present within your relationship with yourself. Whether this is because your conscious mind is denying something your subconscious won’t let drop, your logic is trying to ignore something your heart desperately wants sorted or that you are living a life that suits society (or someone else) but your soul knows isn’t right for you. Life is a journey not a destination; and sometimes the easiest way to find the escalator STOP button is simply to admit things aren’t entirely right and to make a decision to explore what the ‘fault’ could be. For you the beginning of this process may be a much needed vacation, counselling with a partner, spending time in nature each day, starting a new hobby, learning how to meditate or beginning a course of therapy on your own. Whatever starting point you choose will depend on your personality and unique situation.