Isolation…Dark Night of the Soul. No…not Batman, not that Dark Knight of the Soul.
Dr. Shelley Trebesch reminds in Isolation–A Place of Transformation In The Life of a Leader that trials produce character. This time of forsakenness that metaphorically mirrors the tribulations of many biblical characters creates maturity in a person if the “dark night of the soul” (as St. John of the Cross calls it) or “desert experience” is endured. Of course, the sufferings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross or the temptations of Jesus in the desert readily come to mind. And from both of these examples a sense of hopefulness also arises in that these times of trial launched Jesus into the beginning of the ‘new life’ of his public ministry and of course also the ‘new life’ of the resurrection.
In many senses aspects of isolation is a burden experienced by leaders as they sense need to launch outward into new territory before many of those with whom they work and over whom they have charge have grasped the vision that they are already leaning into implementing.
Of course, some leaders are their own worst enemy from a communication perspective and fail to bring their people along with them due to simply not offering needed information that would aid people in more quickly arriving at a conceptually similar spot. However, there are numerous times where leaders have done essentially all that is possible in collaborating with their people and still need to forge a new pathway forward. This is very akin to a prophetic moment and tends to certainly produce a “paradigm shift” in the leader and in the best cases also begins to filter through to altering the worldview perspectives of staff as well.
For me, Trebesch’s text is helpful, but at times it seems a bit too much like some leadership and/or business management texts that tend to place everything in a “just do this and it will all work out” lens. Of course, in many senses that is the point. How do we not let isolation become completely debilitating, but instead use it, leverage it as a means of personal growth and subsequently as a means for further enhancing social good?
I tend to think of monasticism, particularly the life of a hermit, when I think of isolation. I do not in any way mean to suggest that the monastic life is bereft of healthy interactivity, but only that its general rhythms are quieter than most of the rhythms of the non-cloistered world and so my mind drifts toward thinking about this. From this pushing-off-point, I tend to think of the 4th century desert fathers and mothers and all that they were able to teach us in their Zen-like teachings that arose from spending significant proportions of time alone. The creativity that is produced from “hitting bottom” per se and moving into a newfound freedom can be exhilarating.
Thus, overall, with critiques noted, I recommend giving Trebesch’s text a read. The text will remind you that it is okay to experience disconnectedness and that there is a path forward through such disorientation that leads to a brighter tomorrow.
 Shelley G. Trebesch, Isolation : a place of transformation in the life of leader (Altadena, CA: Barnabus Publishers, 1997).
One response to “Isolation…Dark Night of the Soul. No…not Batman, not that Dark Knight of the Soul.”
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Hey Clint, just catching up on some comments to finish up the spring semester. I agree with you that the book at times felt like a “to do” list and yet she fought against this attempting to emphasize that isolation can be either chosen voluntarily or thrust upon us. I do believe a healthy separation from the world and a purposeful time of isolation in a retreat type setting is beneficial for every minister seeking to work with people.
I know personally that when I pastored I began to get disillusioned with being around people. Though I attempted to get away from it all, such a luxury was not an option for me. I also learned that it often takes the very people that the leader is attempting to lead to see that the leader needs to get away from it all and just have time alone. After my dissertation is complete this December I hope to reengage in a routine practice of isolation. Bless you my friend after my dissertation is complete this December I hope to reengage in a routine practice of isolation. Bless you my friend.