Descending to Ascend

Sometimes we have to descend to ascend. I find through these dark nights that I am endlessly humbled, in the best possible sense, a continual casting away of arrogance and false pride. If you ever find yourself in your own dark night, persevere with strength, courage, faith and self-love. Remember there is gold at the end: your own liberation and growth and more and more well-being.

Marla Estes M.A.

January is never an easy time for me.  I am aware that as the start of a New Year, it also heralds the start of new possibilities, but those in my case are dependent upon me navigating the terrain of trauma which January holds for me and grieving, so that a new feeling of life can come out of the wreckage of the old.

I’ve been like the deep sea diver to my soul for quiet some years now ever since my own dark night experience began around 2001 with the first plunge into therapy.

I have just been reading an article on the Dark Night by Maria Estes and really identifying with it. She writes :

I think typically dark nights tear down old systems of being that aren’t in sync with reality or our own growth. In my dark nights, I felt forced to let go of the illusion (or delusion) that I have any control over others’ decisions or actions or feelings. And I have had to face that during the whole of my life I had organized my personality, my ways of being, to try to stay in control.

This was part of my dark night but the other part was that by the time I launched on therapy in 1999 I had undergone so many significant experiences of trauma and loss, the truth of which I had buried from myself deep in the unconscious, that I was due for a kind of breakdown of the false self that was trying, so ineffectively to contain that.

For me from about the age of 17 when a lot of traumas hit I looked to alcohol to take the edge off and numb the pain and grief I had felt.  At the age of 22 when my father became seriously ill and died suddenly I went off overseas and launched from disaster to disaster.  Many things happened over the next nine years which were devastating and painful, I drank through them all.

By 1993 I got sober and I was aware that things were seriously wrong but it took another 6 years before I pursued effective therapy and about 12 months of that therapy, working to build a relationship of trust (I had been abandoned so many times before, believe me this was not easy) in order to begin to feel the pain and feelings I had buried.

My first therapy got aborted in 2001 and an accident occurred in which the subconscious triggered a repeat of an earlier trauma at age 19 at my second attempt to resume therapy in 2005.  It is only in the past year that I have managed to find an effective therapist to help me feel the true grief and loss of all I suffered in the growing years, up until my sobriety in 1993, and then the trauma that followed from the terminations and the need to tear down what was standing in the way of me going on my deeper journey into the unconscious.  Along the way relationships had to be stripped away.  It has taken me some time to see this.

During the dark night experience we work to bring what is buried and unconscious into the light.  My therapist used the metaphor yesterday, triggered by my image from an earlier blog of the deep sea diver, of that diver diving down to collect deep feelings and residues of experiences from the unconscious.  For a time we are submerged, we have to travel deep and then we bring that hard won treasure up into the light.   This process involves being present with very powerful feelings we have no real control over, that can and do feel overwhelming at times.  As we begin to integrate these we begin to feel solid ground under our feet once more, but the ground can and does disappear again on each excursion to retrieve feelings and memories we may have buried in the unconscious.

I once heard a taped talk by the poet Robert Bly it was on depression and grief.  He made the following distinction between the two.  He said that with depression we often refuse the call to dive down and so we are dragged down into the unconscious unwillingly by a depression, when we grieve we choose to go down and feel the feelings we have buried, painful as that is and in time we find relief from our depression (our repressed life energy held hostage in ungrieved trauma).

It seems fitting to explore this subject as Mars in Scorpio calls us to look deeper below the surface into what we have hidden of our true feelings beneath our conscious mind.  Soon it will be passing into contact with my own natal Neptune in the third house of mind and communication which is a place of deep, dark night for me, which I am now seeking to shine a torch on.

One of the things that has hurt me in growing up was that in my family which was very externally and practically focused my need to explore things deeply was never valued or honoured. In fact I often used to get told “the problem with you is that you need to lighten up”.  It was considered strange to be interested in the subjects I was at such a young age.  My last partner often used to put me down for reading and exploring subjects such as astrology and psychology.

Finally after some years I have managed to find a therapist and friends who value this side of me.  I realise that I am most comfortable when I can go deep.  That does not mean that there is not also a light and happy side to me that loves comedy and sees the irony in life.  My own feeling is that the more I have been able to be real about and connect to my own true feelings of grief, confusion and pain over all the losses and trauma in my life, the deeper I have been able to descend the more capacity I experience to feel true feelings of connection and joy.

What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes. Most people don’t know this. They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways they make themselves good. On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year. A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change. If there is in you something bad or sick or unsound, let in inwardly be, and breath. That’s the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs. – Eugene Gendlin

One of my favourite psychological writers is James Hillman he has explored the subject of the soul as the key aspect of ourselves that we come to know on a path of true enlightenment which lead us down, down, down into the depths of what many other psychologists would pathologise or discard, seeing it as a symptom of sickness or malaise.

In these deep places where we undergo the protracted labour of soul work the so called “Swamplands of the Soul” something essential is formed.

In time we ascend again to see the light and find the landscape of ourselves more completely understood than it was before we started.

In the work of the Dark Night, we descend to ascend, we reject nothing, we transform, we no longer run.  We confront the parts of ourselves that strike a poor bargain to delay the journey.  We find the ways in which we self sabotage.  We learn to accept and look on them with love, but we also undergo a death.  We burn and burn until part of us is reduced to ash and this ash is them formed into clay perhaps through all the tears we shed.

Something essential is formed as everything we went through is integrated.  We are birthing through our willingness to descent and die.


7 thoughts on “Descending to Ascend

  1. This is a great post. I found myself making notes so I don’t forget and I can come back to it. Going deep is so so hard, because all around people deny, repress, pretend. My ex-husband often told me to “lighten up” and that I was too serious. I find parties and small talk excruciating! Although I can be light-hearted and funny and have a good sense of humour, This January is going to be hard because I am preparing to move to another country and change is hard enough but inevitably it triggers all the residues within of the past trauma. I am moving closer to my ex-husband and I am leaving behind a lot of financial comfort but I am moving because I want to live in London and the job and place I live is not aligned with my values of self-expression. It’s just a place to be comfortable. I have always been one to move out of my comfort zones and have never regretted those moves before as hard as they have been. But yes,to stay committed to yourself and feeling those powerful feelings is hard hard work. Thanks you for sharing this.

    1. I think you are very brave to make that move…London is a great place…i miss the UK alot althougj its tougher there financially…sometimes you need to choose for your heart. I will be following how it unfolds with real interest…its a sign you have grown alot…i hope it will be a really positive move for you…:)

      1. Thanks so much for your kind words. 🙂 It’s been a lot but I am managing. I have a strong primary relationship and the move was out of choice. I just wasn’t expecting so much else. Life can certainly show you who’s boss sometimes.

      2. Yes its interesting how at times life just forces a lot of change onto us. We can and do adapt over time. Some changes are chosen like your move, others like death are not. Its great that you have a loving healthy relationship though. I am sure that makes all the difference in the world.

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