Personal Development and The Dark Night of the Soul

Personal Development — it’s all the rage right now. Like a new iPhone or fashion craze, it’s sweeping across our globe with millions of people spending billions of dollars on the need to “self medicate” on the teachings of gurus, books, seminars and retreats.

I am one of them and quite honestly, personal development, or PD as we lovingly call it, has changed my life and awoken me from everything that had kept me asleep — social conditioning, limiting beliefs and religious conformity, just to name a few. But despite all the hype, I fear there is a dark shadow hiding behind this world of seemingly endless silver linings. And there is a simple explanation for this fear. The deeper you go internally, the darker it can get emotionally. 

Several teachers, such as Caroline Myss or Thomas Moore, call this place the place where our true potential lies hidden the “Dark Night of the Soul”. It’s a place deep beneath the ‘pretend us’ that we portray to everyone, especially ourselves.

The truth is that the journey to knowing oneself is not all silver linings, rainbows and sparkles, and it’s not all goals and mantras. Indeed, those things help but as I’ve discovered they are not enough.

I’ve walked on fire, smashed through boards, danced naked in front of others, even howled at the moon. As much as they were a huge part of my growth, they have also led me to the depths of my despair. And, I believe, that’s where the world of PD can fail us. Fail all those who are swimming in that ocean enjoying the delights of seeing things with a new vision — unaware that there are riptides that have the potential to catch them and drag them deep-deep down. In fact, so deep that no matter how hard you struggle against it, the journey down is inevitable.

So, if you’re serious about changing your life, then be prepared! Because, and this I promise you, it will happen.  In fact, it needs to happen. It’s the stage of PD no one dares and wants to talk about, but it’s a place that exists. I know because I’m there right now, dragged so deep down where it’s so damned dark, I sometimes don’t know who I am any more. Sure, I have good days, great days even. Yet if I’m truly honest, that’s just the rainbows and sparkles bit. I’m just playing pretend and the darkness I’m living with never stays quiet for long. That’s the nature of the beast. If you want a new shiny life, just know with all your excitement at the beginning, you will awaken something deep inside that has been lying dormant for centuries. 

Although this is a necessary stage to go through on your PD journey, it’s easy to feel a little let down, a little alone, disappointed, tired even. Maybe you’ve even been there yourself. There are days on which I kind of wish I had stayed ignorant, stayed asleep. It’s too late though. I have been woken, and as we all know, there is NO going back.

I remember a great teacher once said to me: “Which pill are you going to take? The blue pill or the red pill?” I made my choice, took my pill and now my eyes have been opened far more than I ever conceived to be even possible. And it’s great because I have learned so much about myself, my beliefs, and the world and the people around me. But with that, I have also awoken the darkness inside.

So, I write this today to say that I believe that as great as PD can be there is a huge hole that is not adequately discussed or covered. There are many teachers with many keys to awaken others, yet they provide little to no support for the depths people can go to.

The promise of the world of PD is to make us stronger and more resilient, yet it can still lead us on the path of “I’m not good enough” as we are constantly striving to improve, improve, improve. You will notice this when the little voice deep inside of you starts whispering things like:

  • I must set that goal
  • I must exercise more
  • I must learn how to invest
  • I need to open my heart more.
  • I need to control my temper
  • I want to be a better parent.
  • I need to find my life passion.

The list is endless for the desire to do more, be more and live more. And that is what awakens the dark inside through which we walk alone. That’s a damn scary place to be, a place not many understand.

When walking through the dark, I’ve been told to “simply change my state”, that I should know better and to just jump out of bed in the morning and “be” happy.  I get it, I do. Those things can help, like changing a habit, to think differently helps. But it also takes time and consistent effort. This world of PD is hard work!!! We all know that.

I just wonder though if we are putting in the effort on the longest road there is in this new life. What, if instead of fighting that Riptide, we just sank into it. Let go. Allowed it to pull us down, surrender to who we are – right here, right now. Not who we were or who we want to be. Who we are! The happy you, the sad you, the angry, the tired overworked overwhelmed you. The you who is constantly belittling who you are with your need to improve. What if we simply embraced it all?

Of course, growth is integral to us as humans, as spiritual beings. But I also see that growth is accepting myself for who I am. I feel with the new awakened me I HAVE TO allow everything that I feel to be OKAY – not just the silver linings and not just the rainbows!

So, I’ve let go and sank deep, and it hurts. It’s painful and scary and sometimes seems like it may never end. I feel alone and confused (yes, yes, a sign that I will learn something new) and that I don’t have any more to give. And it’s in those moments that I have to let go again.

But what makes me really sad is that I feel that – quite possibly – so many of us are at the exact same spot: lost, confused and feeling oh-so alone. Yet no one dares to speak about it in an industry that advertises rainbows, sparkles and silver linings.

So I’m sticking up my hand, sharing my true feelings, shining my tiny light and am saying: “I’m here, I’m here too. You’re not alone. It’s going to be alright and you are perfect exactly the way you are! Let’s walk this path together. The true path of personal development.

Author: Holly

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