Why We Need to Embrace the Middle Place

“The light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion. The tunnel is.” ~Unknown

A dream: I am in a woman’s prison. The cells and halls are dark and dirty. The prison looks like a damp dungeon. Inside the cells are women dressed in rags along with their children.

I am not in a cell, but walking around, observing the faces of desperate, imprisoned women. I need to get out, and find myself in an empty corridor, long and wide.

At the end, I see a glimpse of light: freedom through the corridor. After a long walk, I arrive at the place of light, an oasis, an ocean retreat filled with sunshine, laughter, and happy people wearing white.

But before I enter the long tunnel, I see a girl crying, and I ask her why. She tells me she has a feeling something bad is going to happen to me.

This dream has become the metaphor of my life. The quote above resonates with my dream and the journey I have walked, but what has inspired me to write this post, is this: the tunnel is the illusion.

It would seem that since the “new age” movement, we have heard a lot about illusion—about what is real and what is not. What we should focus our minds on and what we should not.

How we have a choice that we need to make every day, perhaps every moment, between fear and love. Between prison and freedom. It makes us think we might have some power in a world that often does not make sense or brings us to places we would never want to be.

Here is another quote by Carl Jung.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” 

It is not that I don’t agree that the tunnel is an illusion, but it concerns me that this word, illusion, gives us permission to not care about the tunnel—to not care about the process, which brings us from where we are to where we are going.

I mean, if it’s an illusion, than it doesn’t matter, right?

The light at the end of my tunnel was Maui—an oasis of ocean, sun, breezes, and people waving and smiling Aloha. But, I was a long way from Maui. I was living in a two-story home in a suburban cul-de-sac in Minnesota.

I had the husband, the dog, the two kids, money, and the white picked fence surrounding it all. And I felt imprisoned. I thought it was my external circumstance confining me, but it turns out, it wasn’t.

After a brief stay in “The American Dream,” we sold our home, found a lot and a builder on Maui, and began to change our external circumstance. But, we never got to Maui. Instead we ended up in a small town in the middle of a gray, Minnesota winter.

She tells me she has a feeling something bad is going to happen to me.

This began my experience in the long, dusty corridor. Every restricting and confining structure that was deeply embedded within was beginning to surface in this tiny, isolated town.

Here I found my pain, my loneliness, my bitterness, my abandonment, and disappointment. The only way through the pain was to bring my eyes within, and look deeply—to make the darkness conscious.

What I learned there, what I discovered, illusion or not, has become the foundation of wisdom and perspective on which I stand today, and it is not over. The lessons and discoveries continue to unfold and expand, further deepening me within the truth of who I am.

This is why the tunnel matters. In fact, I believe it matters a lot. The tunnel is the longest road most of us will travel.

The tunnel is where we find the pain. Where we find all that is unconscious in us, and if we continue bravely and openly, staying focused on this, and not the “figures of light” we will get through and have a foundation of wisdom that will never fall away.

A foundation cannot be discovered by imagining “figures of light,” but the foundation can be found my making the darkness conscious. And as Jung says, we will do anything to avoid facing our soul, and what’s inside.

It is easy to become swept away in the light, in what we really want, and tell ourselves our pain is an illusion, so why bother with it. We can be shamed into thinking our pain is negative and we should be more positive. That we should choose love over fear. That the tunnel is an illusion.

To walk through the tunnel, illusion or not, is not a choice. We don’t have a choice if we will go or not go. It’s a matter of when are we willing and ready to go, and understanding it is a process we may go through time and time again.

The tunnel and the light are not separate. It is almost as if they work together, and it is by facing what is in there time and time again that we find something beyond it. Where we might find fearlessness. Where we will find the never-ending light.

To only focus on the light, however, is not our work because the light never fades. It never leaves us. It awaits, no matter how long we are in the tunnel, or no matter how many times we go through.

What the illusion might be is when we find our self in a ray of that light, on a mini-vacation at the oasis in the sun, and we think that we are done. We may be, but we also might not be.

My point is that it all matters. The beginning, the middle, and the end—and especially the middle.

Photo by ToastyKen

About Nikki Di Virgilio

Nikki Di Virgilio is a writer working on a spiritual memoir and guidebook. She also is a guide for others who are in “the middle place.” You can find her at (or and subscribe to her Daily Soul Reports.

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  • Linnaeab


    Thank you for introducing me to this quote.

    I see how it inspired your sharing your experience of the dream, and its meaning in your life. You have expressed it very powerfully. A beautiful and real story.

    The quote inspired something very different for me. It describes the experience just after death of “seeing” dark before the ever-present light surrounds one.

    This experience is not limited to after death. Sometimes in meditation, my awareness of time evaporates. There is only stillness, lightness, ever-present emptiness that cannot be described in words. It could be labeled grace, light, spirit or many other terms.

    I have also experienced this state when an incident happened that could have ended in death: a car accident, a drowning, a rape. Awareness of my own being disappeared, replaced by timelessness.

    I thank you for this quote. Today it reminds me that the surroundings, including my body, my thoughts, beliefs, perceptions are illusions. What is not illusion is my Buddha nature, such as experienced many times in my life. I forget. At this moment it is again present.

    Thank you.
    linnaea bohn

  • jlcevans

    I love that quote, but I interpreted it somewhat differently. I thought of it more as it relates to events that conjure emotions/feelings (the light) and thoughts (the tunnel). You’ll always experience slings and arrows in life, but how you think about them can drastically shift your perception and outlook. It’s said your emotions are created by your beliefs. Happiness and fulfillment are determined not by your “successes” and “failures” but by your thoughts and beliefs about them.

    There’s a new art installation by James Turrell opening soon in Houston, and I immediately thought of it when I read the quote. The work is called a skyspace, and you sit on benches and view the sky through an opening in a ceiling. Ever-changing colored lights projected onto the ceiling affect the way you perceive the sky. I haven’t been to it yet, but I’ll definitely be thinking of the quote when I go.

    Here’s a story about the piece: 

    Thanks so much for your post.

  • Cg79

    Great perspective!

  • Thank you for reading. 

  • Thank you so much for sharing. 

  • It is interesting to read the several perspectives this quote ilicits. I too, have experienced timelessness in the way you describe when I was in a car accident several months ago. It was as though the past, present and future all merged in that one moment, and it seemed like everyday life had stopped. 

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. 

  • Kate

    thank you for this. I could not have read something more helpful for me today. This sentence –  ‘Every restricting and confining structure that was deeply embedded within was beginning to surface in this tiny, isolated town’ – struck a cord and I felt some part of me that has been struggling, relax and accept.

    I also believe that we can put too much emphasis on The Light and neglect to honour the Tunnel. At the moment I am experiencing a daily sense of doom and trappedness. I can’t see my way out and although I am in a wonderful place and often feel happy, I also have problems which I cannot resolve. I get desperate. I walk my dog and find myself in tears.
    What I received from your post was that THIS is important. Not to try to escape or hurry it.
    The feelings I am experiencing are not wrong or negative, they are a precious stage in my journey.
    I am not expressing this very well but the important thing to say is, thank you!

  • Carol

    I believe in synchronicity…. I needed this article today.  I spent a long time in the tunnel, emerged into the light and thought I was done.  As the tunnel has been working to engulf me, I have been running away from it.  Now I know I need to embrace it, walk back through the tunnel and be with what I am meant to learn next.

  • I’ve thought I was “done” many times- and then back into the tunnel I go. There is liberation to be found when we see our process, and allow it- no longer needing to be done or control the movements. We are all weaving through it together. Thank you for sharing. 

  • You have expressed it perfectly. I teared up because I know the walking and the tears, and I can feel from your words, this post did what I always hope they will do, which is to bring the reader back to themselves- and you ddi this even more by accepting “the precious stage(s) in your journey.’ 
    Thank you for sharing.  

  • Rosie

    Oh my goodness!  I so need to see this article today too!  I’ve been feeling a little stuck and unsure which way to go.  I’ve been trying to reach the light but I seem to be taking some backward steps into the tunnel.  Thank you for letting me see that the tunnel does matter and somehow I really need to look inside, acknowledge it’s there and not try to avoid it.  I think thoughts like if only I were at the light, I wouldn’t have all these problems and doubts….and always wondering when I will get “there”.  Thank you for helping me understand that the tunnel is an important part of the process.

  • And please thank yourself for opening to that message. With the comments  here today I see it is an important one. Thank  you for sharing. Namaste. 

  • Tinarose29

    so true, mysister and I were having a similar discussion about the middle and whether one should remain unhappy and anxious through the trial or find some happiness till you get to the end of the journey. I believe that if we all had answers for our problems we would solve them right, so why worry over something you have no power over.

  • Nikki Di Virgilio

    I have to say it sort of thrills me that discussions like yours are happening. Thankfully, there are always moments of some happiness while in the middle. What I have found, once we initiate our awakening consciously, and we open ourselves to new insights and visions for ourselves, the power, which helps us transform and takes us through the dark middle spaces knows what She is doing. At first it seems like hell, but over time we begin to trust our process and not try and hang on to the happy times or make more. They happen, just as the rest does and the more we allow, the more we will open.