It hits every one of us at some point in our lives. Loss, be it sudden or slow. Loss of job, partner, child, health, home, success, financial security. Sometimes all of these at once.
And that external loss precipitates the loss of everything we navigated by, everything that gave our lives meaning. Pluto pulls Persephone down into the underworld, and we find ourselves in the dark night of the soul.
We try desperately to find something to hang onto – our health, our savings account, our sole successful or least-floundering child. But even these betray us. “Everything I relied on is gone,” we say. “My professional identity, my financial security, the sense of knowing where I’m going …”
It is distressing, to be taken down to the bones. Stripped to the studs.
From this bleakest of landscapes, the question emerges: What do you rely on when everything else falls away?
What do you know for sure?
Janet says it’s hard to know what she wants to do. Everything’s shifting. She picks up a project and drops it multiple times during a day. It’s hard to give up doing, but sometimes that’s the season being offered up. Not a time for harvest, or growth, just the bare bones, the dormancy, of winter. Everything is frozen, life’s gone underground.
A roughly sketched road map for this territory:
*Acknowledge the enormity of this process. And the rightness. The leaves drop away and the tree stands bare for a season so that new life can come through. We don’t mourn the loss of the leaves: we accept the rightness of the seasons, even the barrenness of winter.
*Take care of yourself. There can be an extraordinary comfort in simple actions: a conversation with a friend, a walk outside, a consciously made cup of tea. Nature can provide an enormous amount of solace. Go and hang out with the natural rhythms, soak up how they move – in their own time, their own cycle of completion. It’s when we lose touch with these that we lose our ability to navigate through the underworld.
*Grieve the loss of what you’ve known. If it was worth having in your life, it’s worth grieving.
*Be courageous enough to let go of that which is being taken away, open enough to surrender. Brave enough to trust in the process. Wise enough to sit patiently with the empty and sometimes achingly lonely space.
*If painful parts of the past show up, work with them with kindness and compassion; give them what they need so they can be put to rest. Clear your path so that no obstacles block the new impetus that will eventually come.
*Cultivate your receptivity, your intuition, your awareness, your connection with your body.
*Get to know the territory of the dark night, however unwelcoming it might seem. Treat it like a dream, with the same respect, curiosity, open awareness, mindfulness.
*If you’re stuck, explore that stuckness. Really well.
*Surrender. Trust the process that is taking place, which may be bigger, deeper, wider than you can yet see. Sometimes it’s necessary to trust the wisdom of the dark to work its way through.
Here’s a poem called ‘Lost’, by David Wagoner:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.