Creative Status: Episode 46: Petra Bregović: Dark Nights of the Soul & Creative Integration

Creative Status is a podcast about using creativity as a vehicle for improving your life by deconstructing ego, integrating the shadow self, and designing and manifesting a real life.

Every episode explores how the creative process can help you GROW REAL by moving towards wholeness in yourself by making the unconscious conscious.

In today’s episode of Creative Status, I talk to Petra Bregović about the DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL.

Petra is a climbing instructor who went through her own dark night of the soul a few years ago and came out the other side stronger and more connected to life than ever before.

In this conversation, we essentially break down the psychology and philosophy behind this process and what it can tell us about the human condition as a whole.

If you want to get to the other side of whatever you’re going through or if you want to understand where you’ve already been then check out this episode!

Thanks a bunch,

Oli

(Scroll down for show transcript)

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Show Transcript: Dark Nights of the Soul & Creative Integration

Intro

Oli Anderson: Oh, hi there.

Oli Anderson here. You’re listening to Creative Status. I’m a Creative Performance Coach. Help people to bring more realness into their lives and our businesses. This podcast is a place where we talk about how the creative process is ultimately a vehicle for allowing us to move towards more wholeness, more realness in our lives as we make the unconscious conscious, see what we’ve been hiding from ourselves, seeing how we can become more integrated, seeing how we can step away from the social programming that tells us we should be a certain way or that we should do something that we don’t really want to do.

Step away from the self-hypnosis that tells us to believe some bullshit about ourselves like we’re not good enough or whatever it is. Today’s episode is an interview with Petra Bregović. She is a very interesting person who has a lot to say about the dark night of the soul.

We break that down. We explore what’s going on when people experience this phenomenon known as the dark night of the soul. The short version is, it’s the end of one version of yourself and it’s basically asking you to step into the next version, which is always going to be more real if you’re doing it right. Sometimes it seems like a baptism by fire because it’s going to be a lot of difficult turbulent things that you need to ride through. But that’s the short version of what that is. We also talk about nature and climbing and practical things that people can do in order to get to the other side of that process or just to grow more real in general.

Petra is a climbing instructor, so she has loads of cool stuff to say about that. So that’s pretty much it. Here’s the interview coming up. Petra, thank you so much for all the time that you put into helping us organize this conversation. Everyone else, hope you get some good stuff out of this and I’ll see you next time.

So yeah, thanks a bunch. Boom.

Interview

Oli Anderson: Oh, hi there Petra. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of creative status today. We’ve had quite a lot of conversations, kind of. And in this episode of the podcast, I have a feeling that we’re going to dive deeper than we have done before into the dark night of the soul, how that may play a role in the creative process and then some stuff about nature and all these kind of things because we’re both hippies. Before I start asking you questions, do you feel like introducing yourself and can you also tell people what you want to get out of this conversation yourself?

Petra Bregvic: Oh, hi Oli. Thanks for having me in this podcast. So my name is Petra Bregovic. I’m 37 years old. I come from Croatia.

I’m doctor of science in biology, but my work now is I work as a climbing coach and work in climbing therapy, working with kids with special needs and motorical difficulties. Wow. Well, and what I hope to get from this conversation, I hope I will motivate somebody to live life with more present life with more joy, with more courage and to be more creative.

Oli Anderson: That’s awesome. That’s a very noble ambition. So hopefully we will attain that as we unravel this conversation. So one of the first things that we started talking about is this idea of the dark night of the soul. So people all over the place, especially online, love talking about a dark night of the soul. Things go wrong in their lives and wham, bam, thank you, ma’am – they go in through a dark night of the soul.

So what I wanted to do at the start of this conversation is to kind of unpack that a little bit. So two questions for you. One, what is a dark night of the soul according to you? And two, how have you experienced it and what did it teach you? If anything?

Petra Bregovic: Okay. So I can tell you for from my experience, the dark night of the soul for me, it is when your whole world just crashed down and you question everything you believe, your thoughts, your emotions. In those moments, you have a very low energy.

You don’t have a will to live. So it’s a very painful period. For me, they say I was like walking pain. You could see pain on my face and I felt it also in my chest everywhere. It’s a very hard period.

But yeah, sometimes maybe you have to dive deep.

Oli Anderson: Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. So based on what you’re saying, some external thing happens. And normally it’s a bad thing. So like maybe we lose something or we might have an illness or whatever it is. Something happens that ultimately causes us to hold a mirror to ourselves, I guess. And when we look in that mirror, maybe we don’t like what we see straight away. And so we have to go through some kind of a transformational process of rebuilding our relationship with ourselves, but also rebuilding our relationship with life.

Is that true? And I know you didn’t necessarily say that and I kind of put in words in your mouth, but is there something there?

Petra Bregovic: Yes, first there are some triggers in my personal life. Like there was sudden death of my father who died of brain cancer. And then I realized the problems I have in my life are really not the problems.

But because, for example, he just wants to live longer with us. And the second trigger was also in my life I ended 15 years long relationship. So there was sudden change in my life. And I really, in those moments, I was struggling to accept that changes and to accept the transformation.

But also it was changing in my beliefs, in my values and what motivates me in my life.

Oli Anderson: Wow. Yeah. So in both of those examples that you’ve given, the sudden death of your father and the end of the relationship, both of those triggers are basically an example of you losing something that’s really important to you. And one thing that I found is that that is the key thing that sends people into these dark nights of the soul. The idea of loss. We lose something external, but in losing it, the deeper thing that’s going on is we also lose a certain version or a certain relationship that we have with ourselves.

So for example, in the case of a relationship ending, I think, OK, once, you know, I’m speaking from experience here as well, like once the relationship has ended and the person that we were with is no longer part of our lives. OK, we lose them as an external thing, but also we lose a lot of our internal stuff as well. And by that, I mean, you know, we lose the image that we carry of ourselves as a person in a relationship. We lose the image that we have of the future. We lose all kinds of things, basically. But all of those things that we lose are actually unreal, because, for example, that image of the future is just an image or idea in our heads.

It’s not actually something that exists in reality. And I think these dark nights of the soul are ultimately a process of just letting go of an unreal identity that we were carrying and hitting rock bottom because, you know, the carpet is swept from under our feet. And we find ourselves in a place where all of the illusions and ways of identifying all the fragments that we were holding on to to make sense of life have gone and we have to rebuild something in the chaos. And I think if we do that right, not that it’s a matter of right or wrong, but if we if we trust that process and we go through it, it always leads to us feeling better in the long run. But whilst we go into that process, it’s very hellish. So does any of that kind of resonate with what you went through?

Petra Bregovic: Yeah, I can agree with you. You you let go of all the stories you were making in your head and you ask yourself, so what is real? What is staying?

For what can I hold on? Yeah. And you also in those moments, you have like, like in gold, lots of things, but also like the clattering of your life.

I don’t know how to say it.

Oli: Yeah, yeah. One thing I’m always saying is what’s real is always real. So a major theme of this podcast and all the other stuff that I do like is really the moving towards wholeness or we’re blocking ourselves with fragmentation, ideas and illusions that causes us to feel separated from ourselves and life, blah, blah, blah.

And because wholeness is just always whole, you can’t add to it. You can’t move from it. What’s real is always real. And so I think there’s something going on with these dark nights of the soul where even though we’re losing all these things, we’re letting go of all these things.

What we find is that there was something real to hold onto the whole time, but maybe because our perspective, our sense of perspective was distracted or, you know, we just weren’t paying attention or we thought we needed to put our happiness elsewhere, we became attached to all of these things that weren’t real. And it’s a case of what goes up must come down. And eventually, because life is just always life.

If we end up being reunited with it, and that’s ultimately what we all want. And there’s something, you know, on the surface, it seems kind of, there’s something that doesn’t, it seems counterintuitive, because basically, you know, human beings need each other, we need other people, we want all these amazing experiences and we want to be connected to people and stuff. But the attachment to that is always unreal, something like that. So it’s about learning to live in a way where we can appreciate people and things like that, but we’re not attached and we’re grounded in whatever that real thing is.

So I’ve just said loads, and I don’t know if it made sense, but does that feel right to you or does it make sense based on what you…

Petra: Yeah, definitely. When you go to the darken heart of the soul, you connect more with yourself. And you find, I’ve said, some power strength in you. And also that you can build your own happiness.

It doesn’t depend on any other person. You have a choice to build your own happiness on real values. And for me, it was also in those moments, learning how to be present, present for myself and more present in life. And also learning that happiness is in small things, to be happy with small things and to see really that ordinary moments are really sometimes extraordinary and be grateful every day for it.

So you connect more with yourself and then by connecting more with yourself, you can connect more with others and eventually again trust others and trust a life that it will be all as it should be.

Oli: Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about those little moments you just mentioned. So you said, I can’t remember exactly how I said it, but like happiness is in these little moments and they can be quite extraordinary because they’re so real. Something I was thinking the other day is a lot of the time, we’re running around chasing all these external things, trying to be happy.

But ultimately the lesson that everybody seems to keep learning is that in order to be happy, you don’t need to do anything because it’s more about what you said, it’s more about being present, about being. You still need to do things like I’m all about taking action that’s inspired to change your life and grow in the way that you want to. But ultimately, all these things we do don’t necessarily need to be something we do to try and become happy because I think when we’ve been through these night nights of the soul, not that that’s the only way to do it.

But when you’ve been through that purification process or whatever you want to call it, you realize happiness was there anyway because happiness and wholeness is the same thing. And so can you tell me more about these little moments and what’s going on there?

Petra: Yeah, it might sound funny, but sometimes in those moments, I felt so much joy that I started to laugh without no reasons. But I think it was like connecting to presence, connecting to that stillness and that dissolution of those old stories, old beliefs and really finding the strength inside you that you can do whatever you want, that you can do what you love and live a joyful life. These little moments for me was first was taking care of myself, how to raise my energy. It was doing yoga, it was going out in nature, nature has always some grounding effect on me and also make me present.

It was also climbing and eating whole food because you have to raise your energy first. And then when you take care of yourselves, you can do as you always told, I think some inspire action and go for your dreams. But definitely you have to realize that in the moments of presence, you have all you need.

Oli: Yeah, so there’s two things that I think are really interesting and important that you said. The first thing is about raising your energy first or doing things that are going to support your energy. There’s physical things you can do, mental things, emotional things, we’ll get into it in a second. But also this word that you used, dissolution. Like dissolution is one of my favorite words for describing the energy.

This transcendence that you’re talking about where you get out of your ego, you get out of your mind, and you’re just in the present moment and you become one with everything. And I think that is our true identity. And when we feel that, even if it’s just for a moment, then basically it reveals and reignites the passion and the energy and the joy and all that stuff. There’s always there anyway, the real stuff, because what’s real is always real.

You can’t lose anything real, like you say. So let’s break those two things down. So in relation to raising your energy and everything, I think that is a foundational step. And I think a mistake that I’ve seen a lot of people make is they jump right into all these philosophical, spiritual, esoteric ideas and theories, and they look for all these complicated things that they can do to try and change their lives. But actually, if you exercise, you sleep well, you drink water, you eat good food, that is a very effective way to build a solid foundation.

And if you manage your mindset as well, so you’re not stressing yourself out with unreal thoughts and bringing friction to your life by attaching to this fake image that we were talking about earlier, then you can be in a very good position to start taking those inspired actions and doing all that other stuff that is obviously very important. So in a practical way, I know you’ve mentioned some of them, like what kind of things did you do to raise your energy and get out of this kind of sluggish state you’re in when you’re going through the dark night of the soul, and you were a bit depressed and all that kind of stuff.

Like what practical things did you do to raise your energy and how did they help you specifically, I guess?

Petra: Yeah. Well, first, I slept. I needed the rest. I didn’t have energy for anything. Then I started cooking and I also took some internet classes about macrobiotics.

And yeah, I spent like three hours in the kitchen every day to raise my energy. But also in those moments, I embraced solitude because I really had to connect with myself and try to see what I love to do.

The second thing was yoga. And I don’t mean like yoga stretching. It was like the main thing I like about yoga was breathing during the exercise because it stopped the mind chatter, the everything you are thinking. And the third one was just going out in nature because I feel more at home in nature than in any city.

And that’s where climbing goes in because you always climb some rock in the nature.

Oli: So most of those things that you are talking about that helped you. They’re all basically about getting you back in your body.

That seems to be the main theme, right? So you’re in the kitchen, you’re making healthy food, not just eating processed crap or whatever by the sound of it. You were sleeping well. And then you’re going out in nature, which involves getting in your body if you’re walking around climbing all that kind of stuff. But also it’s connecting you on a deeper level to who we are as animals and all this kind of stuff.

So what do you think it is about getting back into your body that’s so important in those early stages of coming out of the dark night of the soul or when you’re going through it?

Petra: Well, movement is definitely medicine. And by getting back into your body, you connect more with your spirit and leave the outer world. I don’t know how to better answer that.

Oli: No, that’s not amazing. So the second thing that you said earlier was about dissolution. So I really love this word dissolution because like it really describes the experience itself. Like, ultimately, if you have these little moments, these extraordinary moments that you’re talking about, where for whatever reason you are taken out of your head and you go immediately into the present moment, you feel this sense of dissolution where your mind and your identity and your body, I guess to some extent, like they all kind of merge into or meld into whatever it is that you do.

So for me, I’ve experienced this, you know, when I do yoga, like, I’ve probably said this a million times now on the podcast, but like at the end of a yoga session when I’m in Shavasna, I dissolve. And for that moment until I get up again, I’m basically gone.

Like it’s just me and life, or just life, because there is no me. I’ve had it when I go hiking. And, you know, I’ll be like in the hills or whatever it is. And I’m just, I just look around me and in certain moments, you know, there’s no distinction really between me and the environment is all just one system. And I’m part of it. And in that moment, where I’m just experiencing that, I just feel totally connected, like to everything.

So I could run and rave about that. But dissolution is the process of going from your mind to the present. That’s how I see it. So the question for you is one, how was this dissolution showed up for you?

And two, why is it so important to experience that do you think?

Petra: Well, I agree with you. It’s like the solution of self and connected to wholeness around you connected to, I don’t know how you call it to one is. And I also think it is connecting to our natural state that we forget in this modern life.

Because we are always in a rush, always in some kind of routine, always have some mission to do. And it’s really our natural state that stillness and that connecting with wholeness.

From which, which should be always our, our base, our starting point for anything in life.

Oli: Yeah. That’s 100% what’s going on, I think. Like ultimately wholeness is our natural state. But for whatever reason, as we go through life, we forget about it. So we hypnotize ourselves with all these beliefs based on our emotional stuff, that we’re not good enough, or that we can’t do this and we can’t do that and blah, blah, blah. Or we pick up a bunch of social programming from the world and our culture and etc.

telling us how we should be. And then we start living according to these unreal scripts that causes to be fragmented. And basically we’re just running around shadow boxing, because we’re not in the real world once we’ve reached that state. And I think the longer we go in that state of being unreal, unconsciously, because most of the time we don’t know it, the longer we, the more time we spend being unreal, the darker the dark night of the soul will be. If and when it shows up in our lives. And I think for most people, if we are being unreal, then it’s basically inevitable that you will have a dark night of the soul.

Because if you’ve been unreal, you’re basically disowning so many parts of yourselves, parts of yourself that exist still deep down there in your shadow. And the shadow is always going to be screaming for your attention. And ultimately, if you keep ignoring what’s going on inside yourself, or you keep distracting yourself with this unreal life that people end up living, then you will get to a point where you have to have a dark night of the soul because through self destruction is self resurrection.

That’s the way I look at it. So a dark night of the soul destroys our life on the surface as we lose things that we’re attached to and so on and so forth. But in that process, the unreal self dies, not that it can die because it’s unreal, and the real self emerges. So would you say that in that sense, self destruction, I know this is a bit of a curveball question, but self destruction is often part of the healing process, if not always, but often.

Petra: Yeah, definitely.

You can say you have to lose yourself or as you say, self destruction to find yourself again.

Oli: Yeah. Yeah. Do you think it’s something that’s just going to happen naturally? Or, you know, because of unconscious drives and all that kind of stuff? Or is it something that some people can escape? And I know we’re just kind of speculating, but like based on what you’ve seen yourself and been through.

Petra: Well, everybody has problems and struggles in their life, but sometimes, People are very scared to dig deep when those things happened. It can be like… In our culture we don’t talk about that. We don’t talk about… Like if you show a fear, that’s something wrong or… Like you’re not supposed to be vulnerable, sorry for English.

You have to all the time be brave, manage to do everything, don’t cry, deal with your problems. But sometimes you just have to show your weakness and go to those dark nights of the souls and accept that something is changing in your life and you have to move something out. People sometimes have fear and they just try to live their normal life like they did before.

They don’t want to deal with it.

Oli: Yeah, yeah. Like this is really important and I’ve seen it quite a few times. Like sometimes people are so close to having a breakthrough that could change their lives forever but they don’t allow the things that need to break to break because of the fear that you’re talking about. And so they don’t quite hit rock bottom that the dark night of the soul requires them to hit because they put systems in place to basically just hold themselves a few feet above the ground in this kind of illusion. Basically it’s the ego fighting to stay where it is.

So for example, instead of hitting rock bottom and going through this process we’re talking about, they I don’t know, they might start taking drugs or whatever it is to distract themselves. They might start having meaningless relationships to distract themselves. They might go get therapy or something like that with the therapist that is just going to talk about surface level problems instead of digging deep.

Whatever it is, there’s a million and three different things it could be. But the point is sometimes people are really close to having that breakthrough and hitting rock bottom so that they can self-resurrect after the self-destruction thing we were talking about. But they can’t do it. They don’t do it because of the fear. So in those cases, what do you think people need to do? Like how do we know if life is just shit or if we’re on the verge of being able to change things dramatically if we can push through that fear?

Like is there anything there that you might have learned like about the difference between a bad situation and an opportunity basically?

Petra: Yeah, that’s a very good question. I think you don’t have to push fear. You just need to accept it and then try to do something with that fear.

Try to go into the uncomfortable zone. And for me, climbing, now I will return to climbing, has taught me that really life begins out of comfort zone. And we make ourselves those borders, limits in our head and we are very afraid to go beyond them. But really, like every day you should do something that is out of your comfort zone and just from curiosity. See what happens, what will change. Maybe your fear was just some…

It was not real.

Oli: How do you find the sweet spot? So in coaching, we always say there’s like three levels. There’s the comfort zone. If you stay in your comfort zone, well, like you said, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re going to stay in the ego. You’re not going to grow.

You’re not going to expand. Probably you’ll stagnate. In fact, you definitely will if you stay there for too long. If you go too far out of your comfort zone, like let’s say you, I don’t know, you were free climbing Mount Everest or something and you’re not ready for it. Well, that’s too far.

So you’re going to panic. But the zone in between is the stretch zone. So you’re just stretching yourself just beyond your ego, what you think you’re capable of, you find the edge of what you think is possible. Your ego meets reality and somewhere there, some new truth comes into the equation that is going to allow you to go deeper into life and to do that in the work you were talking about. So maybe we can use climbing as an analogy, but like, how have you found in your life that sweet spot where you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re stretching, but you’re not panicking and basically dealing with a lot of real fear, not the unreal fear, because we’ve gone too far.

Petra: Yes. You will have a responsibility to not go free climbing. Some people are ready for soloing, I mean soloing, free climbing, but if you’re connected more to yourself, you will know more what are your possibilities, what you can do, what you cannot do. Definitely, sometimes you have to dream big or dream more than you can think or do things. Sometimes you feel like you don’t have energy for that, you’re set, but you have to see that you’re something behind your emotions.

Then you put that your emotions, but you don’t ignore them, but put it by side and you try to do something, un-comfort.

Oli: Yeah, so many important things there. So what you just said about presence, that is key. And like I never thought of it in these terms, but if you’re in your comfort zone, you’re not present, you can’t be, because your ego is the opposite of presence and the ego is the thing that keeps you in the comfort zone.

If you’re in the panic zone, well, obviously you’re not present because you’re panicking, you’ve gone too far. And so that sweet spot means you’re in a real place. And the reason the presence and stretching ourselves or pushing through the edge are the same thing, because reality itself is always moving.

We are always expanding as human beings, we’re always growing, going deeper into wholeness. And so being present is about working with that flow. And so that is a super important thing that you just said. And the other thing has slipped my mind. But what do you think about that, the presence thing?

And balance. Yeah, I like it. Thank you very much for putting this thing out, because I think it’s very important. Yeah, well, it was you that says it. And the other thing I’ve remembered. So the other thing that’s important is what you said about feelings. So a lot of the time, you know, feelings are important, but feelings are temporary.

They’re not real. And so a lot of the time we can be more real if we focus on what we want rather than how we feel in the moment. And so in relation to what you said about, you know, stretching ourselves and presence and all this kind of stuff, having a vision is another key thing. So let’s say you have a vision based on your real awareness of what you truly want to do your true intentions, your true values. You have a vision that you want to climb some crazy high mountain without any ropes or whatever it is. Okay, that’s a vision based on your real potential and everything. But in the moment, your feelings might start talking you out of it. You know, there’s Petra, you know, you’re crazy is never going to happen. I’m scared, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Okay, maybe there’s some validity there. But if you only ever focus on the feelings, you’ll never move towards the vision. And so reminding ourselves of what we want by being present is another key part of this puzzle of, you know, moving in the real direction. And you could apply it to the dark night of the soul as well. Maybe.

So is that something we could do? How do presence and vision, which we’ve basically learned from the climbing thing, help us to understand all these things we’ve been saying about the dark night of the soul? And I know that’s another big question.

Petra: Yeah. I used to tell myself in those moments when I was in dark night of the soul that I’m not my emotion, my thoughts, or beliefs. I’m something behind that. That was maybe some kind of mantra. But afterwards, when you connect more with yourself, then you find like, You can believe your emotions at loss because those things, how they said, there is one line between them.

But definitely if you have vision, trust that you can really do some great things that you cannot see clearly in the beginning and the vision will get more clearer when you start, as you said, to be real. But definitely maybe we talk about it, you have to trust yourself first and like nobody can tell you who you are, you have to trust your vision and then trust the whole process that you could make it. I don’t know if I answered your question.

Oli: No, you did. So ultimately the vision, if we do it in the right way, it’s going to be real. Like you said right at the start of this conversation, you need something real to hold on to. Because the only thing you can hold on to is something real. So normally at the start of these journeys we’re talking about, when people go into the dark night of the soul, they feel like, because it’s a kind of misperception because of what they’ve been through, they feel like there is nothing real to hold on to. And so they start to panic because they’re scared and all these kind of things.

So they’re not present in the way that we were talking about. But ultimately as they go through that process and they start to learn more about themselves, they can go from a state of panic to a state of stretching and expanding and moving with life and in that presence somewhere normally there’ll be the revelation of some kind of vision, which is actually, you know, I’m going to sound very poetic, it’s going to bring the light that is going to start dissolving, to use another one of our favorite words, dissolving the dark night of the soul so they can start to move towards life again, something like that. And so all of these things we’ve been talking about are interconnected, but it basically boils down to that, be present, choose a vision that’s real and then trust the process, something like that.

So we’ve covered a lot in this conversation, Petra. How would you basically sum up all of this? We’ve brought into it a lot of little pieces like vision and trust and getting in there, stretch zones, we can dissolve our ego. How would you sum all this up basically? Like what are the main lessons that you think this conversation has shared with people?

Petra: Okay. For final words, I would say try to be more present in your life. Try to connect more with yourself and trust yourself. Be brave enough to go into a comfort zone and also take responsibility for your own life.

You can do everything what you can imagine and definitely be brave and courageous in your life and trust the process that everything will be okay.

Oli: I think ultimately life is just always trying to bring us back to present. And we resist it because of the things we think we’re going to lose along the way. But like you’ve shown, happiness, being happy is in every one of these little moments that exists for moments are next.

And I guess the only thing stopping us is us. So Petra, thank you so much. Have you got any links or anything like that? Is there anywhere people can find you if they want to talk to you or anything?

Is there anything like that?

Petra: Thank you, Oli. So you can find me on Instagram page, it’s climb.away. And there are some quotes and pictures.

So maybe it will motivate you to live life with more presence.

Oli: Okay, well Petra, I will share those or share that in the show notes. But thank you so much for sharing all this.

And maybe we’ll do it again one day because I had a really good chat with you. So thanks a bunch.

Petra: Thank you, Oli. It was nice sharing. Thank you.


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