Embodied Transformation & Evolution

The Soul’s Long Journey ~ Inside the Belly of the Whale

Posted by on Jul 10, 2018 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 3 comments

The Soul’s Long Journey ~ Inside the Belly of the Whale

Thirteen people: one man, twelve boys, trapped in a cave, deep underground, water blocking all possible exits. The whole world has watched for the last two weeks, as this mythical, archetypal story unfolded in Thailand. Parents stayed by the entrance of the cave, praying day and night for the safety of their children, accompanied by Buddhist monks. The coach who led the boys into the underground labyrinth was a former monk who taught the boys how to meditate, to calm them, ground them and conserve their life force. He also gave his own food to the boys, sacrificing his own needs for theirs. The Navy Seal divers, who carried out the entire rescue operation, also spent hours with the boys in the cave, keeping them company, boosting their spirits. One of them died, on his way back from the cave one day—his oxygen ran out. He gave up his life to rescue those boys.

This is a story you might read in a Harry Potter book, or in Lord of the Rings. The tale is full of spiritual energy, powerful warriors, life and death encounters, sacrifice and heroism. Joseph Campbell would have recognized its mythological proportions. In Campbell’s view, once you cross the threshold of your real journey, once you dare to leave behind what is safe, secure and familiar, you end up in the belly of the whale. It’s the first major test, each time we cross a new threshold. We all know what it feels like to be in the belly of the whale. It’s not a place we would ever chose to go, and it is part of our soul’s journey.

This life and death drama, played out in Thailand, is a beautiful mirror for this moment in our human history. What worked for us up until now, everything we have known about being human-our structures, traditions, cultures, habits-are breaking down. We’ve left what is safe and familiar far behind, and are standing at a very edgy threshold. We really don’t know if we will survive as a human species. We are all in the belly of the whale.


How we are at these thresholds, whether they are individual or collective, is incredibly important. If we don’t know how to be, we’ll avoid crossing the threshold, or we’ll get lost in the belly of the whale, lost in the chaos, darkness and disruption.

When we dare to leave an old way of being behind, and we reach that place where our previous resources are no longer available, or no longer nourishing, what do we do? If we look at the boys trapped in the cave, what they had to do was nothing. They had to sit. They had to wait. They had to learn how to meditate, they had to access some space inside themselves, a capacity to witness the mind and the feelings. When we don’t know the way forward, this is a very intelligent option: to get quiet, to listen, to drop inside ourselves. To stop struggling. To move from doing to being.

This usually feels very difficult, because our whole survival system struggles against it. Our conditioned responses in a place like this are really quite limited. Our nervous system wants to fight, flee, or collapse into numbness. We do not want to stay present, stay awake and embodied, and feel our fundamental helplessness.

The real journey of the hero or heroine is not at all what we imagine it to be. It’s not very glamorous, in the belly of the whale. A true heroine has to be able to surrender, not just keep pushing forward with her will, struggling to find a way out. Sometimes will, effort, and determination are life saving and essential. At other times, they are not what is called for at all. As we evolve, we develop capacities that allow us to discern what is appropriate in each situation, in each moment. Until we are clear, until we are able to open ourselves to a deeper intelligence, a higher consciousness, we stumble and blunder a lot. It softens my heart and fills me with reverence, to see every human being as the hero of their own long journey. Our struggles, our passions, our suffering, and even our blunders, are all sacred, all an essential part of a mysterious unfolding into wholeness.

A true mythic journey always involves forces and dimensions of life much larger than we are. Everything changes when we can begin to make room for what the invisible field of life has to offer us, when we can surrender enough to receive the help and support that is available.

The story of those boys in the cave gave us all a taste of that gesture, the humility that is needed when our own power is not going to take us home.

Surrender looks and feels different at each level of our human development. And so does the help that comes. It could be Navy Seal diver, or it could be a dog, a family member, a stranger, a startling revelation, a therapist, an angel, a bus driver.


Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up..
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.

with love,


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Michelle Wilsdon

    My cave
    a hot storage room
    my struggle
    letting go of long dead
    family history
    Moving from heavy
    into Light
    plant finding own roots

  2. Jim

    Thank you Shayla, beautiful.

  3. Fred Pockrass

    Shayla thank you for so brilliantly speaking to the journey of our humanity

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