"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost."
- Dante, The Divine Comedy
Midlife is, for many, a time of profound reexamination. For some, it's also a time of darkness and lostness. As children grow and become more independent, identities can shift. As careers plateau or work becomes rote, disillusionment can set in. A feeling of staleness or even alienation can arise between longtime spouses or partners. And a sense of frustrated bewilderment can accompany the process of adjusting to one's own aging body.
If you find yourself in a dark wood in the middle of your life, how do you make your way through it?
Recently I've been reading up on bats. (Stay with me, I promise this will connect.) Bats are experts at making their way in total darkness. Through the amazing process of echolocation, they use their larynx to emit high-pitched vocal calls that bounce off objects and tell them where the obstacles are. If you're a bat, and you want to know the way forward, you just need to open your mouth and use your voice. The way immediately becomes clear.
Call me wacko if you will, but I think the navigational system of a flying rodent offers a profound spiritual lesson for anyone who feels lost. If you can't see which way to go, make like a bat and use your voice. Speak your deep truth. Say out loud the things you've long held back. Ask the questions you've thus far been too afraid to broach. Name the hopes and dreams you've held in your heart but haven't yet revealed. Disagree with someone instead of nodding your head nicely. Lay bare your loves, longings, and loathings in stark and courageous terms.
And then, listen. What's it like to hear yourself boldly speak your truth? Do you now see some obstacles - barriers that were previously shrouded in inauthenticity or timidity? And can you now discern the way around, over, or through them? Has your voice begun to clear a pathway?
If you are feeling lost in a dark wood (midlife or otherwise), may you hear and accept the invitation to speak your deep truth with your beautiful voice. And as you listen to its echo, ricocheting off the things and people around you, may you be shown the wise way forward. May you find the path that leads you home to your authentic and beautiful self.
Recently I came upon these lines by the 13th century Persian poet, Jalaluddin Rumi:
I ask my heart, Why do you keep looking
for the delights of love?
I hear the answer back, 'Why will you not
join me in this companionship?
This is the conversation of being
a human being, the living doubleness.
Rumi believed sensuality and spirituality belong together. He called this, "the living doubleness." We are, on one hand, base, earthy, desirous. Our hearts and bodies want what they want, there's no denying it. We are "passionate like fire ... made of the ground." On the other hand, we are cool, subtle, tempered. Our highest aspirations are clear as water, subtle as wind, radiant as eyelight from a calm and kindly gaze.
This "doubleness" need not be a source of inner strife. There is incredible beauty in it. Each time you meditate, using your mind to observe your beautiful body's breath, you indwell the doubleness. Each time you feel pulled toward a sensual overindulgence that you know will bring you down, yet, you lovingly resist it, you indwell the living doubleness. Each time you allow yourself to be swept away in a passion that you know flows from the pure joy of being alive, you indwell the living doubleness. Each time you willfully refuse to shame yourself for the lusty and earthy parts of your being, you indwell the living doubleness. Each time you redirect and place limits on behaviors and choices that are bringing desolation to your soul, you indwell the living doubleness.
Let there be a "companionship" between the part of you that comes in hot and the part of you that seeks highest good. As Rumi says, "you can be trusted to hold beauty." All of you.