The tools I use for Exploring the Dark Wood have to do with mapping a narrative from weakness to strength, from current location to where you want to go, and acknowledging that often before we can get where we want to go, we have to enter bodily into our wounds, traumas, and fears. This is true for characters too.
The Writer's Journey
When I coach writers who are having trouble finding their voice or overcoming anxiety or self-doubt, exploring the dark wood is about looking at and healing trauma and limiting beliefs.
Beautifully, and by design, all characters go on the same basic journey. They have different weaknesses, different goals, but they all must either overcome their weaknesses or be defeated by them.
In the Aristotelian sense, all stories are either Comedies or Tragedies. That means that all stories end with the protagonist overcoming a fundamental flaw to gain its opposite strength. Tragedies are when the protagonist does not ultimately overcome that fundamental flaw.
The dark woods is where the shadow is. That deep weakness. Where the wounds are. Where the character must journey directly INTO the pain they feel so as to learn from it and ultimately transmute it. In trauma healing, EMDR and TRE and EFT all do this sort of thing, but in a somatic way.
Every hero and protagonist must journey into the unknown, and that mimics the process the human goes through of learning. There is a goal, a destination set, and what obstacles we encounter along the way will test us, show us where we are weak, where we are strong, and hopefully allow us to grow enough to ultimately overcome them.
Healing the wounds we carry is no easy feat, and it is by no means a one-day, one-month, or one-year thing. But for me, and I suspect for people like me (empaths and HSPs) who carry a lot in our central nervous systems, talk therapy is not enough. Not by a landslide.
The problem is that much of what we experience is actually filtered through the energetic body and therefore the physical body. We may think we are very mind-oriented—in fact most of us feel very language-and-concept-oriented. But this is, I think, a sort of defense mechanism.
A barrage of constant thoughts keeps us distracted from the pain body. There are things we are carrying in our bodies (tensions and traumas) that aren't due to being in a war or undergoing massive abuse, but simply being highly sensitive, living in this world IS a sort of abuse. It's just too much. And if we weren't given tools and love and space to fully process our feelings, we end up rigid and mind-bound and full of anxiety and psychic pain.
Talking about it doesn't fix it, though of course it is good to have someone to talk to. But I truly believe the fixes for people like us come somatically. Come from releasing trauma from the body. Trauma that simply means we had an experience we couldn't process and so our body stored it and that unprocessed experience becomes a rigidity in the body. A pocket of pain that keeps cycling through.
Thankfully we live in a time where psychology is starting to develop real tools for accessing and reprocessing trauma and tension. There is EMDR, EFT, and TRE, to begin with.
Have you ever had something just hit you so deeply, the death of a loved one, or a realization, a moment of forgiveness, or just the overwhelm of it all, and you broke down and sobbed from the depths of your being? When you were done, you felt something lighten in your. In your body and also in your spirit.
That IS the natural process we are supposed to undergo to release emotion. Shaking, tears, yelling, laughing, running, screaming, dancing. But we are taught to be so in control of our bodies that it's all repress, repress, repress.
As you heal the body, you will find of course that emotions come up, memories, and you won't always feel immediately great. You are in the process of removing what I consider psychic toxins from your body, so I say to rest and drink lots of water after a session.
All in all, look for evidence of your healing over the course of months and weeks, not days. This work is so deep and lasting, but it's subtle at first.
These are the processes that have worked (after much suffering and illness and wrong roads) for me, and I think there is wisdom in them as a general set of processes. However, my job as your Wayfinder is to help you find what works for YOU. So please, as you go on this adventure, be cheerfully stubborn about only doing things that feel good. If it's right for you and it's the right time, it'll feel good, even if it is bringing up pain, it'll feel cathartic.
My real job is to help you develop your internal GPS as you travel your path, so the ultimate value of all this is that you take your time and learn to trust that inner voice that tells you where to go.
But it's so important to differentiate it from the voice of the Critic. The true voice will always feel good and loving and excited about life. The Critic say things that make you feel tight, constricted, angry, defensive, small.
It can help to remember this. It may sound irrational, but it can change your life if you give it a try: IF IT DOESN'T FEEL GOOD, IT ISN'T TRUE.
As you start to heal the wounds (the thing that triggers the Critic to rear its ugly head) you will start to feel up swaths of good feeling and grounded spiritual guidance in yourself. I'm sure you've already done much of this in your journey already. But it's really good to have names and imagery for these things that tend to otherwise just be a psychic chaos.
A way to frame a story arc by understanding the key weakness and opposite strength of the protagonist.
Healing your central nervous system with EMDR, TRE, EFT, or other somantic healing modalities
Meeting your Monsters
Looking at what shadow aspects exist along your path to keep you from your desination.