Friday, December 10, 2010
The Dark Night of the Soul
The Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritual phrase that has been used to describe the darkest most desolate phase of a person's life. During this period of your spiritual journey, you will experience immense pain, the feeling of "going crazy," falling apart, depression, anger, terror, helplessness, and complete isolation from others. Everything you once believed yourself to be is found to be no longer true. Everything you once turned to for comfort is either no longer there or has been exposed as a sham. You may feel lost, having nothing stable to lean on, not even God, because your view of Him has been shattered too. There is often also the fear that this will never end, almost like being lost in a deep dark woods, never to be found or make your way out. This is the Dark Night, Honey.
Many spiritual icons have been said to have experienced this. There is Saint John of the Cross who wrote the beautiful poem "The Dark Night of the Soul." Mother Theresa was also said to have experienced a very dark period of years, where she felt disconnected from God. This is an experience that spans across religions and ethnicities, a very human experience. For some it may last for months and for others it may last years. Many people believe that Jesus Christ experienced his own Dark Night on the cross when he cried out, "Oh God, why have You forsaken me?" Others believe his Dark Night may have been during his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness when he suffered intense temptations.
The process that is occurring during this Dark Night is like a spiritual reconstruction surgery. Every piece and aspect of your Self-- your thoughts, internal constructs, foundational beliefs, feelings, and the basis for why you exist-- all of this is taken and completely shattered. It hurts like hell. This is a gross oversimplification of the spiritual process taking place, but God is essentially re-building you from the ground up. You are being given no blueprint as to how this will turn out nor even do you have the wherewithal to understand that you will survive. All you can really do is continue to put one foot in front of the other and believe that God is doing a holy work in you and you will emerge from this dark forest. You WILL emerge from this dark forest. I love this excerpt from Saint John of the Cross's poem:
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
In looking back, Saint John was able to recognize his darkest period as an awesome journey that took him into true union with God.
I struggle with knowing what to do for someone who is in their Dark Night. Really there is very little I can do. It is their own journey, one that has to be walked out with their own courage and requires their complete reliance on a God they can barely feel. In my experience with people in this period of their lives, and from my own very profound experience, people can be really nasty during this stage. A person in pain often lashes out, can be highly inappropriate, rude, and ineffective as a parent, friend, or employee. When you no longer have even the internal human construct of good manners to hold you back, you may say and do some horrible and shocking things. I understand the inner chaos a person is experiencing and know that these offensive behaviors are not personally intended toward me or anyone else. Nonetheless, they can really cut and I wonder how much I am expected to withstand! I am beginning to understand that along with the deep compassion I feel for a person walking through the Dark Night, I must also hold a firm line with someone who is flailing about during this stage. I don't shame or guilt-trip a person for their behavior but I also am not required to tolerate or turn a blind-eye if I see someone I love engaging in harmful activities during this stage.
I'd like to re-post the first poem I ever published here on my blog. I wrote this after emerging from my own Dark Night of the Soul and offer it as encouragement to anyone who may be walking through this difficult time:
When you are running--
a shadow of yourself running from
and to yourself
frightened by a ghost self
in brambles the ache scratches
your body when you try to escape--
when you are running.
Just stay on your feet.
Know the darkness in its fullest
reach into the deep of the black
pour the anointing of the pain over
This is not night that comes and
goes in cycles with day, this
is suffering. This is
your very self at
its cellular level expanding and
constricting in its own rhythm.
If you can hear me there,
know that light will come when
darkness inks away
a self will emerge cracked
still running. It
will be blinding just as
the darkness is blinding.
Behind your forest wall
steady follow this scent
thick with heavy evergreen.
Photo above found at: