The Dark Night of the Soul
We seem to be a culture obsessed with happiness. Not only chasing it, as if it is something abstract, outside of us, but also running from its opposite. What is the opposite of happiness anyway? Sadness - I guess. But then again, I don’t think so. I believe happiness is yet another one of those things we insist on making black or white these days. The either/or thinking I’ve discussed at length in my writing. The sort of thinking that makes us arrogant, combative, know-it-alls. The both/and mindset is much more conducive to the goal of being a good person.
I feel like I owe you an apology. My writing has been sparse and unpredictable lately. After returning from my trip to Europe, I’ve been in a bit of a “funk.” Worse than that really. I’ve been complacent. Complacency typically happens when things are too good, not when we are struggling, which perfectly describes my life right now. Things are really, really good. Too good I would argue. In the Daily Reflection I read yesterday, this message was shared…
Lest We Become Complacent It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. -Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 85 When I am in pain it is easy to stay close to the friends I have found in the program and do the necessary work to keep my head above water. But when I am feeling good and things are going well, I can become complacent. To put it simply, I become lazy and turn into the problem instead of the solution. I need to get into action, to take stock: where am I and where am I going? A daily inventory will tel me what I must change to regain spiritual balance. Admitting what I find within myself, to God and to another human being, keeps me honest and humble.
What better way to humble myself and keep me honest than to admit to all of you the dark night my soul has been wandering in lately?
If you aren’t familiar with the origins of The Dark Night of the Soul, the original description comes from Saint John of the Cross, or Juan de Yepes for those of you who shy away from taking advice from anyone related to Christian traditions. It is a time of passive spiritual transformation, usually brought about in times of sorrow or struggle but can also be a time when nothing in particular is wrong at all but you are in an unexplainable dark place. Discontent, longing, hopelessness. Melancholic searching yet finding few answers. The Dark Night of the Soul has been hijacked and misinterpreted by many new age “spiritualists” and often depicted as a “one and done” sort of experience. A painful time you go through once in a lifetime, a linear trajectory to some new, reborn version of yourself. Eckhart Tolle describes it as a time of dying away of the ego. Painful yes, but ultimately freeing because it allows a person to shed the illusory self. While I agree the ego is stripped away during painful times, I do not like the idea this is an event you experience once. Just as nothing in life occurs on a linear trajectory, darkness and light ebb and flow throughout our lives - if we are doing the spiritual work to reach new levels of existence. Personally, my soul has passed through a handful of dark nights over the past fifty years. Each time it happens, I inevitably come out the other side in a much better place. But being in it? Well, it kind of sucks.