NOTE: This post is Part I in a series on The Dark Night of The Soul
Most of my life, I have questioned, even rejected, my natural leaning towards depth and darkness. I remember way back in high school, I would arrive at study hall at 5:30 or 6am. I read “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, 6 or 7 times. I'd read it, go out and live my life and think “my life is nothing like this” and then read it again to no avail. This book was my first personal growth book and I used it stimulate massive self rejection.
New life starts in the dark, seeds grow in dirt, babies thrive in the womb. Some of our greatest spiritual teachers like Christ, Buddha and Mohammed had significant cave-like experiences that shaped their teachings. I believe that learning to go towards darkness and suffering IS THE WAY THROUGH.
All of our “human condition” type thoughts like “I am not good enough”, “I'm bad, or stupid or ugly”, “there is something wrong with me” show up so that we can come to terms with them. These thoughts cry “are you going to love me now?” When I allow myself to feel the feelings beneath the thoughts, trust them, be with them and forgive my judgment of them, integration occurs. When integration occurs, I return to the deepest sanctuary in my heart. Perhaps this is also true for you, sweet reader.
It's a part of the great mystery as to whether I choose so many dark nights of the soul or whether they have chosen me. Either way, they are a continuous part of my path and accepting their pull is essential. If you look back over the course of the life events that have been full of darkness for you, you may notice that what comes right after these dark nights, are the greatest changes & epiphanies of our lives.
In recently studying Barbara Brown Taylor's work in “Little Altar in the World”, I discovered that St. John of the Cross, the saint who taught about “dark nights of the soul”, truly appreciated his dark nights. He did not consider his 11 months in the dungeon, bound, blindfolded and beaten to be a travesty or tragedy. For St. John, that time was a love story. He discovered the painful joy of seeking. St. John teaches that we are more devoted when we cannot find God. Rumi, in his poem for Love Dogs, says that LONGING FOR GOD IS GOD!
There are times when my connection with the God of my personal understanding is quite profound. And, there are times, I actually miss the periods of loneliness and depression that occur when I believe God has dropped my hand. When these dark nights have taken me apart at the seams, I notice that I come together with a more spacious concept of God that INCLUDES these dark nights. I often look back on the dark nights with a kind of respect even fondness. I KNOW I would not be here now, for example, had I not gone through thinking I had lost my life's work in Denver. Here, in Santa Fe, my work has become more 'right-sized' so that I am way more balanced and also incrementally more satisfied than ever before.
It's a part of my life's path and it's part of the work I offer my students, to learn to trust God when God seems absent. Maybe God/Goddess isn't punishing us, but rather longing for us as we long for Him/Her. When the sun is behind the clouds, it doesn't mean the sun is gone.
I believe that light and dark are inevitable like day follows night. When we trust that flow, life opens up in unimaginable ways. I'll close with one of Jeff Foster's poems:
Life is here to break your heart over and over again
until you realize that heartbreak is life too.
And then your heart can no longer be broken.
And you stand naked in front of life, moment by moment,
knowing that whatever happens is totally okay
even in the midst of perfect devastation,
which, of course, is devastating perfection.
This is freedom beyond the speaking of it.
Bowing towards you,