“One does not discover new land
without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time”
Going through my 2001-8 “night sea journey”, to use Jung‘s terminology, took seven long years: a nightmare experience of very slow recovery from total burnout triggered by a year-long family crisis. At several points I very nearly drowned, in darkness without any apparent navigation points. But the steadfast love of those closest held my head just above the cold dark sea, and I called for aid to that level which I have learned to trust. Every time, my call was answered, one way or another.
Every time, the deepest message was ‘Hold on. Try not to be afraid. Be patient. This is necessary – but it will pass. You will be all right.’
And I am all right, all right and deeply enriched.
Perspective on a prolonged ordeal which removed me from the world shifted and changed as the journey went on. I reached the heart of my own darkness, understood it, accepted how my life had been both blighted and enriched by conditions in place from the beginning. Quite quickly after that act of acceptance, I returned to being well again.
I recognise now that a lengthy retreat from the world was requisite for the kind of person I am – it is not necessary for most people to go through a mid-life summing up of such drastic dimensions, thank goodness! Having practised as an astrologer for nearly twenty years by the time of my collapse, I could see from my horoscope, when I was well enough and brave enough to reflect on it again, that periodic bouts of retreat seem to be part of my necessity. One of the great advantages to being an older person is that one has several decades to look back on, in attempting to make sense of one’s own patterns.
Gradually regaining the strength, energy and inclination to lead a “normal” life again, along with a profound sense of gratitude that good health has returned, I am left awestruck at the sheer power, depth and mystery of the human psyche. The sense I already had of being woven into a meaningful cosmos – tiny thread though I am – has been amplified and deepened by many of the experiences I had whilst on my ‘night sea journey’. These experiences certainly challenged my rational, sceptical self. They are all recorded. The added perspective gained by wide reading in spirituality, religion, mysticism, science and cosmology enables me to sum up what I now believe in one sentence:
We live in a meaningful, multi-dimensional cosmos where anything is possible.
The last couple of years of the retreat were spent in a state which I recognised from before, which one might call liminal: not quite having emerged from one life phase, not quite having entered another. This felt uncomfortable and frustrating at one level. But at another, it offered an opportunity to practise the art of trusting to the unfolding process of life, or Spirit’s call, to put it another way; knowing that, in due course, the shape of the next phase would become more clearly defined, the time to take action become evident. As indeed it has.
Having spent four years on the Web running “Writing from the Twelfth House”, then a year as a part-time university student – something I will continue for the sheer pleasure of learning – I have now just completed a two-month process of re-contextualising my former professional life. I’m happy being a writer, a teacher, an astrologer and a counsellor/mentor. It feels good to be reaching into a lifetime of experience, to offer what modest help I can to fellow pilgrims along the road.
So – I feel full, happy, grateful, sitting writing this post tonight in my adopted home town of Glasgow in Scotland. After months and months of interminable cold and rain, summer has at last arrived. It is a clear, balmy summer’s eve with just a hint of a cooling breeze. We live high up, overlooking the Botanic Gardens and the river below. Leaves are rustling faintly; I can just hear the river’s flow. Luminous against the darkening blue sky, the delicate sickle of a Gemini new moon beguiles me. I will keep on writing, of course….
750 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page
8 thoughts on “After the Night Sea Journey….”
I just was pondering today how none of the important changes I’ve made have been planned. One thing led to another, and then there I was – in the middle of living a new life.
But as you say, one of the gifts of age is perspective. It’s quite easy for me to see now that the first third of my life was dedicated to “absorbing”, the second third to “doing”, and now this final third to what I call for convenience’ sake “reflecting”.
There are times when I think I made some very bad decisions, particularly involving career and finances. There will be no retirement at 65 for me, as I will have to continue earning money. Strangely, I don’t feel resentful about it at all, because those same decisions that reduced my income enriched my life – I’ve already done many of the things retirees spend decades longing for!
There’s much to be said for re-gaining a normal life, isn’t there? While I was in the midst of making some necessary career decisions back in the 70’s, a colleague asked, “What do you want?” I didn’t think for even a second before I said, “I want to be ordinary.” Well, I seem to have managed that, at least. 😉
many thanks for your thoughtful comment – and for letting us see how one can remain open to the unfolding of life whatever it may bring. And when my whole hormonal system was in disarray, producing exhaustion, anxiety and a range of minor ailments, all fortunately now gone, I used to LONG simply to walk down the road feeling ordinary, feeling normal….
….From Frances M, 2.7.12, by email….
“I just wanted to thank you because hearing about your night sea
journey and how long it lasted has given me fresh confidence that
my life will begin to take a recognisable shape again one day.”
Thank you for this affirmation of the value of my writing to you. It is largely to offer inspiration, perspective and hope that I write about what have for me been profound and at times difficult, but enriching experiences….
Anne, I can relate to your journey, having shared a similar life experience. We never know our strengths until we are forced to reach into those inner recesses to find it. Glad you found yours and made your way back to the life you were meant to live..
Many thanks for your affirmation and support, Bev. You are so right about extreme experience revealing deeper levels of strength to us…I am gradually seeing how much my ‘night sea journey’ has deepened and enriched my practice. There is a wonderful book you may have read by Jack Kornfield – ‘After the Ecstasy, the Laundry’ – which amongst other things presents people’s experiences of Descent and Return across the spiritual traditions. I’d urge you – and anyone reading this post and this comment – to read it. It was a great support to me during that intense and difficult time.
Thanks for the reference Anne…I will look for the book at the library.