Navigating the Dark

Photograph by Sarah Treanor

Photograph by Sarah Treanor

Navigating the Dark by Michelle Katz

There are always moments of deep uncertainty in life.  These moments hit me suddenly –doubt sneaks in like a quiet creature in the dark. Out of nowhere I find myself in shame, feeling intensely vulnerable, then shameful about being vulnerable. An infinite spiral into confusion and pain. With no energy to fight, the urge to flee becomes overwhelming. 

Doubt is a powerful being.  It can have us spinning in our heads, or falling down to our knees in tears, crying out, “What have I done?”

This happens acutely in moments of passage: relationship and role changes, moving to a new place, or on a more daily basis, it happens when making decisions that are unpopular or speaking out against norms.

Navigating these situations is challenging. How do I make the transition without abandoning myself or my knowing?  Do I want to conform to what is popular to keep the peace and create ease?  Do I stay in a relationship when I know it’s not right for me, because the unknown is more terrifying?  In a new relationship, how do I merge well?  Do I move to a new place where I am challenged in new ways, or where I know I will feel more supported or do I stay with what I know simply because it’s familiar? 

How do I change my relationship with doubt?  Can we come to be comfortable with our uncertainty? Can we turn the “enemy” in to an ally?

This is the territory of the West Shield in the Four Shields Model.  Growth requires change, change requires stepping into the unknown.  When we sever from what is known, we enter the strange world of liminal space.  This is new territory – disorienting and frightening.  Though fear is natural in new territory, it also has the ability to block us from becoming who we are meant to be.  We must turn our fear into an ally, for very little can be accomplished if we do not leave the easy road and turn our psyche toward the dark forest.  Our fear and doubt is actually an opportunity to meet our capacity for great courage. 

On a night walk, once known spaces quickly become unfamiliar terrain, and what we relied on once is hard to rely on again. What is familiar in the light of day becomes strange, frightening figures in the dark. We must find a new way to navigate in order to meet the ordeal of uncertainty and doubt. 

When I step into the darkness of the woods, alone, my pace quickens. I watch myself walking as if to run through the unknown and fear, hoping to make it pass quickly. But I try to pause and remember that what is required is slowness, to embrace the uncertainty.  Taking my shoes off ensures my pace slows.  I do not trust my mind – at night the trickster is out.  Every sound is a snake in the bush, a pack of coyotes circling, or a mountain lion ready to pounce.  Trepidation accompanies every step for fear of what may puncture the skin. 

Boundaries are lost in the night.  Safety is left behind. Here there are no wall and no light. We must find a way through to something a little harder to hold on to.  We must trust our footing, our ability to find balance and stability in uncertainty. Be value neutral and let friends be friends and enemies be enemies. Not make the world our adversary. I must surrender to the world around me as it is, not as our fears dictate.

Most importantly, I am part of it. Good and bad. I help create and shape this world. This is the most courageous act – radical acceptance and responsibility.  In the face of doubt, I feel asked to step into the world with all its unknowns and know I belong here, as I am. I am it, and it is me. 

This the mystery of life, and the answer is only found in the journey itself. We must rest in that unknowing to find a space of knowing. No one can do the work for you or give you your answers. That would be too easy.  It is a daily adventure into the unknown, with all the terrors, joys, and opportunities to grow.

If we refuse to step into the dark woods of unknowing, we can never find ourselves, know who we truly are, and who we are called to be.

Join Oaks Counsel in navigated to your knowing during time of doubt.  Check out our programs and offerings.