“When I look back on the suffering in my life, this may sound really strange, but I see it now as a gift. I would have never asked for it for a second. I hated it while it was happening and I protested as loudly as I could, but suffering happened anyway. Now, in retrospect I see the way in which it deepened my being immeasurably.” Ram Dass
St. John of the Cross wrote a poem in the 16th century about the dark night of the soul. This must have been very comforting to the average person, who likely lived to 30 tops. Not to mention plague, mouldy grain and the general breakdown of society. You can always count on saints to write cheery stuff.
Seriously, though, the thesis of the poem is the joyful experience of being guided to God. The author did not title the poem. That, i guess, was left to later optimists.
Dark Night of the Soul is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life. Into your ordered universe a calamity has arisen and faith in whatever you choose to call the Divine has collapsed. A deep sense of meaninglessness rushes into the resulting void.
The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything.
I know this dark night of the soul. And it might as easily be called depression, i suppose, but to me it is depression with a spiritual element. To have meaning in my life and then to have it appear as though that meaning has vanished is devastating, but this is not my first rodeo, and for that i am grateful.
One time i found myself alone and apart from God was when my first wife, Dawn passed. She gave birth and then eight hours she was dead. It was devastating for the staff as well as myself. A total fluke, they told me. Nothing could have been done. That is as much as you need to know at this point. This is what i learned that time:
i saw things in others i did not like very much. And i saw the same things in me. And i felt God had abandoned me. I was attacked by the people of my faith group which most certainly did not help. And people find comfort, sometimes, where comfort can be found, instead of doing the difficult work of being without comfort for a while.
“The ego’s furthest edges are beyond the reach of most of us. When circumstances, such as betrayal, loss of a job or ill health, bring the opportunity to explore the outermost positive and negative swings of the ego, we encounter a wall of fear that tells us “do not go past this point at all costs.” Through fear, the small self reasserts its boundary, maintaining its grip.” (1)
And, though i thought i had tackled the demons in my soul they were simply waiting…biding their time. Fear. Insecurity. Fear of abandonment. Anger. Pain. And here they have come to visit once again. But this time is different.
“In the barrenness of feeling forsaken by God, when the darkness seemed to be leading me only to despair, a seed had been planted of greater receptivity, acceptance, and welcoming this quickened wonder of life. The wicker chairs in the kitchen kept me company, some mornings, the salt and pepper shakers on the table smiled at me, I was in a field where everything exuded aliveness. I noticed how my goals, and incessant self-directions were diminishing, sometimes even disappearing. What a relief! ‘Let go and let God’ was growing as a way of being, not just a good idea. I could not believe it, but it was an undeniable shift.”(1)
i have relearned what it means to have gratitude. Finally, it seems as though the clouds have slightly parted and healing is slowly underway. Recovery for my weakened spirituality begins at long last. And i see so much hope and promise for the future. Because i have finally learned what it means to have gratitude. It means to make a conscious effort to be mindful and appreciative of the grace that is around us at all times.
Gratitude is different from indebtedness. Quite often, when someone does something for us, we feel like we “owe” them somehow. I may even become anxious about having to pay it back. And it is ok to be grateful for the things other do for us, i think. But i now see that gratitude is more than being grateful.
It is being mindful that, despite whatever may be going on in my whacked out mind or even in the world around me, i am surrounded by grace and the possibility for gratitude is always present. My dark night of the soul has taught me to look for the goodness in my life. And then to accept it. Embrace it. Be astounded by it…whatever your “it” might be at that very moment.
“But I am sounding like the dark night is a happy pill in itself. In case I have not been clear, this is not so. Because we survive these trials, it does not mean we are suddenly carefree, evolved beings. Each dark night leaves a mark on the soul” (1)
This has been a painful process. i have been in deep darkness for such a long time, i honestly do not know how long i have been “vacant”. But i feel i am on the mend. Miraculous recoveries are the things of fancy and myth. i know a lot of hard work awaits. And i am grateful. For friends and family and internet communities and whatever else brings grace into my life.
- (http://www.sandraleedennis.com/dark-night/) …a great article and site on the dark night of the soul, if you are interested in further reading
i invite you to join me.