In a post-pandemic world where self-help has gone from a section at a bookstore to full coaching programs promising a new version of us, transformation seems to be #trending. And while branding ourselves with a new identity can seem like the solution to all our problems, transformation is not all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, our desire for transformation can lead us into the depths of self-discovery, triggering a “dark night of the soul”.
The phrase, “dark night of the soul” is often used informally to describe an extremely difficult and painful period in one's life. For example, the death of a loved one; the break-up of a marriage; the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness; or even the questioning of our values and intentions. All of these lead us to confront a collapse of perceived meaning in our conscious experience.
To understand why this is so, let’s explore Newton’s 1ST Law of Motion: A body will remain at rest or in uniform motion, in a straight line, unless compelled to change its state when acted upon by a force.
What does “uniform motion” mean in terms of a human life, and what is the “force” that alters that motion?
Most of us go through the motions of life unconsciously. We go to school. We strive for good grades to get to college. In college, we pick a subject to study for a few years to get a good job. We graduate and get a “good” job. Eventually we find a partner. Buy a house. Have kids. Continue working, even if it’s unfulfilling. Retire. And die. In this scenario, it’s easy to see how life can remain in “uniform motion”.
Now let’s say, along the way, we encounter the death of a loved one which triggers us to reflect on our life choices. We begin with questioning why we’re continuing to work at an unfulfilling job that may be draining. And in contemplating this self-inquiry we begin to realize perhaps we’ve never asked ourselves why we’re doing any of the things we’re doing. In fact, we notice that our choices have been guided by our fears and material desires and we begin to question, ‘what is the point of it all?’.
This questioning is the “force” that begins to alter our “uniform motion”.
It can lead us to experience feelings of confusion, bewilderment, anger, desperation, helplessness, and hopelessness. Paradoxically, it is during this all-consuming space of cognitive dissonance that things will begin to make sense to us for the first time. It may be hard to understand, but while we are in the darkness, we don't have to “do” anything. Transformation is taking place simply by observing our inner, non-physical world.
However, it is important to not get stuck and keep moving forward as we navigate these dark waters. Forces that alter our uniform motion aren’t only external. When the power of Self is concentrated and directed into the physical, mental, or emotional realms, it creates an internal force that we call “will”. Will allows us to responsibly choose the direction of our transformation.
Once we look inside ourselves and start to own this, we see that we have two fundamental choices. One choice is to leave the pain inside and continue to struggle with the outside. The other choice is to decide that we don’t want to spend our entire life avoiding the inner pain; we’d rather get rid of it. Few people ever dare to turn the process inside like this. Most people don’t even realize that they are running around with pockets of pain inside that need to be resolved.
One of the essential requirements for true spiritual growth and deep personal transformation is coming to peace with pain.
It’s not about moving on.
It’s about working through. We don’t let go or move on from our past... we work through it with intention, emotional intelligence, and the decision to heal. We always have the will to choose which direction we move. We are a “force” to be reckoned with.
How do we know we’re ready?
When we realize, we don’t want to live in the past anymore. If we beat ourselves up about our past, our present will never be free of criticism.
We decide what we remember.
We remember the bad times more than the good times. When we lose, we cry for a month. When we win, we celebrate for a day.
These are the stories we tell ourselves in our head. And we can choose to tell stories that give us purpose, or stories that give us pain.
There’s always a new story we can tell ourselves.
It’s important to acknowledge the pain and hardship of our past— but also realize that our story can change. The worst thing that ever happened to us can become the best thing that ever happened to us. Our challenges can become our superpowers. We just need time to heal, reflect, and change course. Momentum will follow.
We’re not lying to ourselves.
We’re choosing to align ourselves with positivity rather than negativity. We understand that solely focusing on our pain isn’t a useful thing.
How do we feel at peace with our thoughts?
Work through the bad thoughts to get to the good ones. This means pay attention to what’s coming up, don’t just avoid it. Clear the mind through resolution not repression.
Put in conscious and intentional effort to experience loving, useful thoughts. We are healing, We are safe, We are capable. Remember transformation doesn’t happen overnight. The pathway is a ladder, not a leap.