This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Pivot Points
It is a description of one key part of a story that we can all identify with.
There is a point in our stories where we have been preparing for something, anticipating it, training for it. Hopes are high and confidence is up. We rehearse and rehearse and then finally we take on the new challenge. It may be a new job, relationship, leadership role or shift to a new culture. If you are an artist it might be showing your work in public for the first time. You have had to get through some hoops to get here, but now you stand on the edge of….something.
The show is about to begin. Finally you are going to step into the light as yourself. This is not to please others or enact some old script of ought’s shoulds and musts. This is you being you. To use theatrical language this is first night. You step out onstage as your new character, you know the lines and the story. You may feel afraid or you may feel confident. But then something goes terribly wrong. You forget your lines. Another actor doesn’t come on when they should. You panic, fear grips you. This is not working out the way you thought. All that preparation and rehearsal fades away as the old wound reopens and you wish the ground would open up and swallow you.
In movies, this is the point late in the story where there is a huge setback. This is near the end of the story and the stakes are high.
The girl is going to marry someone else.
The hero diffuses the bomb downtown only to realize a bigger bomb is just about to blow uptown.
This is the moment you realize you have gone onstage and forgotten to put your clothes on.
In the Christian faith this is the moment when a dying Christ cries out ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
It is the moment when the knife goes in. This is the shadow that has haunted us down the years finally overwhelming us.
JUST WHEN WE THOUGHT WE HAD IT ALL FIGURED OUT!
This is when the old wound from our origin story, the original defacement of the beauty we once were, comes back to get us. This is the moment when our worst fears come true.
I remember a sweltering summers evening in Earls Court, London. I was acting in a fringe play in a theatre above a pub. It was my first professional show and I had just got a good review in Time Out. I knew that it was probably only a matter of days until Hollywood would be calling. I was excited. I was ready. I was up for it. That night I walked on stage and felt the heat from the lighting beat down on me. This was it. My moment had come.
As I opened my mouth to utter my first line a roar of cheering bust through the silence. And then I remembered that England were playing a big match in the European Cup on the TV in the pub below. They had scored. I looked up and saw two people in the audience EATING CRISPS. I had apparently not scored.
In a split second, in a moment of clarity, lightning struck and I was jolted back to the ‘truth’. This was all just one big horrible mistake. Of course I couldn’t act. Of course I had nothing to say to the world. What the hell was I thinking? The ancient shame rose up from within and confirmed that yes; I AM ONE BIG HORRIBLE MISTAKE.
That is the way beat 9 in a story works. It is the moment of greatest loss and it is usually followed by a rapid drift into what we will call the Dark Night of The Soul. Or what screenwriters call The All Is Lost Moment.
It is my belief that the darkest night often precedes the dawn. These moments often occur before the breakthrough into a new story. Of course we would rather not have to traverse these shadowlands but the fact is, we do. All of us. I have come to the conclusion that these moments of failure are an essential part of the process. This is the process of leaving our old narratives behind and stepping into a new way of living.