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Dark Nights of the Soul

Did I mention that I’ve been having a dark night of the soul? I haven’t wanted or known how to express how I was feeling. I feel like I’m coming out of it a little which is amazing because I didn’t know if that would ever happen. It is a different quality than a mood or an emotion, of which I’ve had many, good and bad, during this time. It is a quality of an overlying or underlying something, like a grey paper film over all of everything, or a cold, hard ground below which you cannot go and there is nothing.

It started last summer during one afternoon nap. I had many months of noticing and thinking about death and so I started reading a book called Making Friends with Death. It remains to be seen if I can recommend it. I had been doing one of the meditations in the book before I fell asleep for an afternoon nap. I woke up with a scalp tingling, starkly chilling experience. It was clarifying in the extreme. It was a moment of pure, undiluted experience, with a focus as small as a pin, and as strongly sucking as a black hole on the head of a pin. It was really terrible. I might try and write more about it some day. I usually try not to think about it. Following that night, I had about three months of rolling waves of bone chilling terror that was so bad it would make me cry with fear. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It was terrifying.

Although the intense fear went away, (for the most part, I sometimes still start to feel a cold line going down my body if I take an afternoon nap,) there has been a weird curtain that has fallen in front of the world for me, or a veil lifted, depending on your level of optimism, in how I’ve seen the world. I don’t know how many people reading this will understand what I’m talking about. I’ve been depressed before, and it’s not depression. I’m writing this here in case there is someone else going through this. Now that I’m feeling a little better, I have the oomph to write these words. I’ve found other people’s words in the last few weeks that express how I’ve been feeling and just reading words that have expressed some of what I’m feeling has been surprising and helpful. I’m not alone.

Here are some words from a website called the mystic that I came across tonight:

You try to be good, and often you can’t. You try to be loving and find at times your heart is hard like stone. Sometimes your projects fall down around your ears. You keep struggling and still you don’t break through. You understand the path is one of joy and yet your life seems to have been barren for a month or two, perhaps longer. Where did that early joy and zest go? Up to this particular time there was joy, there was delight. But now there is only a hanging on, a dogged hanging on. You persist because you can’t conceive of going back to your old way of life. That seems impossible now. That would be like going to prison, living as if with a transorbital lobotomy.

You deeply want to have joy and fulfillment, easily manifest prosperity, but something’s not working. You don’t know what it is but something’s awry, and your meditations have lost their luster. Sometimes, during rare meditations, you do experience brief moments of peace. Your agonizing mind and heart rest from their turbulence and even these fleeting times of calm are so deeply appreciated. Your light dance of life, which had gone on for some time, is now a trudging in what seems a devastated and alien land.

…you are being drawn into your dark night because:

1. your inner potential has great stature
2. your crusty, old ego requires you go through the dark night in order to be transformed.

Your sense of inadequacy and not knowing what to do next becomes gnawingly constant. You feel you would do anything to get out of this state, yet it is only your ego which is keeping you in it. However, this insight is impossible for you to grasp while going through your long night.

And you feel so totally alone. Sure, you have friends and you appreciate them, but you are keenly aware they are not capable of feeling what you are feeling or knowing what you are going through. Sometimes they seem like clowns, sometimes they seem empty-headed, caught up in meaningless pursuits. [I haven't thought that any of you were clowns.] They do not understand, you think, how much you are suffering or how you cry out and pray deep into each midnight. You try their advice but it doesn’t seem to touch the heart of the matter.

You begin to enter the dark night in earnest when you feel completely stranded. In the fullness of the dark night you don’t know where you are spiritually. You’re separate from God and man. You do not know where to turn. Your friends love you and wish you well but your condition does not improve.

The dark night is a very private matter. The person in the dark night is generally able to function quite well despite inner suffering. Often your acquaintances never suspect that you are going through the dark night — they probably do not even know what it is. Only people close to you — especially friends along the path — can recognize your pain.

You feel like a hollow person doing the activities of life with no motivation except expediency. Your eyes seem deeper in your head. You are profoundly aware of the suffering of humanity and the cruelty of one person to another. You feel that cruelty and negativity far outweigh love and constructive action.

Alone, and not wishing to be, unable even to express yourself to others, you enter midnight and the greatest intensity of the dark night. Here you have finally come to the time of sovereign solitude. In this precious time, which has no apparent prospects of love or happiness, you clearly perceive that nothing in the outer world has proven adequate to heal your condition. Nobody, not even your dearest friends and loved ones, can make you whole. Even if they have tried, and love you enough to try loving you forever, they can’t give you peace.

You eye your books and consider all the benefit you have gained from these extremely wise vessels of truth. Yet not one book, not one thought, goes deep enough inside you to where the affliction abides.

You look at your possessions, your money container. No material thing has been able to help you. No material means have worked. Nothing, no one, in the outer world has enabled you to come out of this dark night.

In your loneliness, you next — in a seemingly random process — notice that none of your thoughts have proven adequate to your suffering. Not one — even repeated fifty thousand times — breaks the inner storm and lets in light. God and higher consciousness seem so far away that perhaps they are unreal. Neither one has, despite your protracted exposure of yourself, done anything to ease or remove your agony. Nothing appears efficacious. Nothing works.

Clearly, there is nowhere to turn. There is nothing to be done. All actions you considered have been tried. There is nothing to think, nothing to feel, nothing to do, nowhere to go. It seems you have to accept this defeat — or, you can persist in struggling against it. For awhile longer, you go about thinking, feeling, and doing other options that occur to you. But you realize in the midnight of your soul that you have tried every option you know of. Helpless, totally helpless, as well as ever so alone, you abide in this condition. And you accept your predicament. You accept that there is really, except for a murmured prayer to a remote Lord and a remnant of a shredded faith, nothing else left.

Suicide would be absurd. Suicide would be an act of arrogance and vanity. You have grown far beyond such primitive responses to your private agony. No, nothing to do. Nothing remains in this lonely helplessness. There is, without question, nothing you can do.

You abide. You accept your state. How have you gotten to this place? That’s insignificant. Musings and feelings aside, you wait. You feel you may have to stay this way forever, doing the regular day-to-day things, but in this mood of emptiness. Nothing. Nothing.

Then, it happens. A holy presence comes into your room — sweetly, softly. You feel it filling you. Your mind is filled with mellow or bright light. Your heart, your still heart, is permeated with peace. This peace moves through your body like a cold spring of mountain water. It flows in your spine, your brain, and under your skin. Everywhere.

(emphasis mine)

I’m sure hoping that the last paragraph is part of this journey. I do feel better. If I didn’t, I don’t think I would have written this. I was in my improv class a few weeks ago and felt a spark of life while I looked at the beautiful people in the room with me. I felt like I was looking through Alice’s looking glass and got a glimpse of seeing life again, like if a movie went from black and white back to color.

i feel excited about some things, I feel like I’ve gotten some rest and respite in the last couple months even through my ups and downs of emotions. I have found the big trees outside my families home very comforting. So, some hopeful signs that I can return to life. But, even if I can return to life as it was, and I’m thinking now that, amazingly, maybe I can. It would sure be nice to have more than that. I would like a sure and strong sense of peace, some assurance that this experience and this life is part of a meaningful journey. Ok, wishing you well. Wishing you perseverance, even if you are in a dark night. Stay with us.

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