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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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