The soul’s dark nights

One of my favorite considerations in life is how we relate to dark times, probably why I became a psychologist. A book titled Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals has been sitting on my bookshelf since near the time it was published in 2004. I probably read through some parts of it, at least enough to know I wanted to buy it and read it more; but I have never read it cover to cover. Recently as the phrase “dark times” has been entering my consciousness, I found myself drawn back to this book sitting on the shelf.

Author Thomas Moore has drawn upon his experiences and skills as a Catholic monk and later a psychotherapist; he seems well qualified to write about both dark times and the soul. Right out of the gate Moore begins this book with quite a provocative statement, at least for many folks who are interested in health. He states that all of us will at some time or another have experiences that are filled with sadness, loss or failure that are so disturbing they can be called dark nights of the soul. Here’s the outrageous part: he says if we are mostly focused on health and getting through it, we can quickly try to overcome the darkness and lose the important insights that come in the form of meaning, character and personal substance about ourselves and life.

Considering this for a moment, there is a pretty clear implication that we should not try to rush through these dark times, but rather have a less hurried pace, noticing and capturing what is offered. The outcome might not always be positive or even something that makes sense; at times, the ending might not turn out well at all. I am not painting this approach with a broad stroke intimating that all difficult times end splendidly. In fact, we all know life is filled with many experiences that are challenging throughout the process and end painfully. What I will say, however, is that when we hurry through the pain and suffering, to a more sanitized life, we are really missing the enormity, fluidity, and texture of life – of our lives.

A time for deep healing

What better time than now – 2020. Amidst the jokes of “what a year it’s been,” certainly many of us have encountered our own dark nights of the soul this year. And many people are attempting to get back to when “things return to normal.” Instead, might we consider this as an opportunity to transform as an alchemist those elements that have been forgotten in the haste of our former lives? Might this be the exact best time to be curious, consider, turn inward, and ultimately engage more with our world and our lives? The time to consider “under a microscope” as I like to say, the various aspects, nuanced as they may be, of our former lives lived on autopilot and the recent changes that have been made?

I wrote about being in the muck together and how this could offer us opportunity for deep healing sometime last Spring (seems like a decade ago, or was it yesterday?). I was inviting us to all slow down and look closely when our dark nights appeared, knowing it would be inevitable as the world we knew was being pulled right out from under us. We’ve been given such an opportunity to recognize our mass dark nights right now. Going this way requires a great deal of courage though; and also, discipline, dedication, openness, and probably a fair dose of willingness and curiosity to question certain ways of life.

There have been many others before us who’ve gone through communal darkness and difficulty, others who have struggled and gained insights that have taught us how to manifest and live in better ways. Let us draw inspiration from them staying the course of our own dark nights in order to learn and ultimately develop a robust and proper world for those who follow.

I remember now why I bought this book and can hardly wait to finish it! Book club, anyone?

Dr. Gwin Stewart founded the St. Louis Wellness Center in 2007. Read more about her HERE.

The big view

In a daytime dream, last week I found myself flying high above the earth. I was with someone inviting me to look closely at the people below and notice what was happening. I’ve had this daydream before and find it both interesting and helpful to consider. I often invite others to look from a higher view – especially when we’re stuck in something, taking a bigger view offers fresh perspective. But this time I looked a bit more closely and was amazed at something I’d previously missed.

What I’d seen before was how interactions between people and groups of people, even animals and the elements, have a profound impact on each other. But this time, I was stunned to see those interactions at a more subtle or energetic level. What I mean here is that if person A (let’s call her Jane) was suspicious of person B (let’s call her Mary), even if Jane didn’t voice that suspicion, energetically the suspicion was present. Mary could experience or feel the suspicion even if there was no name or action given to it. As I watched this unfold, I could see the impact Jane’s suspicion had on Mary and then how Mary carried this into the rest of her day, her relationship with Jane, her thoughts and beliefs about herself, her treatment of others – everything. There was no thing that Jane’s suspicion of Mary didn’t touch. The interdependence of all the pieces and parts is tangible.

Understanding how we are connected

Encouraged by my guide, I kept watching this progress and expand from one person to another to another until the entire planet was connected in a web of confusing energetic soup. Once I got back to my living-on-earth view, I started thinking: a) most of us don’t know this is happening, b) we try to understand our lives from a coarse, or boots-on-the-ground perspective, c) this subtle, ever-present, multi-faceted level influences so much, and d) there’s nothing that can change this dynamic from taking place. In other words, this is the reality of how we live and likely a significant cause of our confusion and suffering.

Throughout the week I’ve gone back to this daytime dream, considered further implications and wondered how we might implement some drastic changes. The example of Jane’s suspicion of Mary brings with it negative feelings, so I wondered what would happen if we began experimenting with stopping that type of insidious, subtle promotion of the negative and instead began noticing and advancing positive energies? Since we’re all affecting each other and being affected, might we use our power of affect for the good?

Two things are required of us to take this on: more honesty and more courage. In this example, if Jane is feeling suspicious of Mary, then she’d need to have an honest and direct conversation with her; they’d need to express and listen to each other explicitly. All too often, we have thoughts and feelings and believe we can somehow keep that information from having an impact, keep it from being known. The more accurate truth though is that it is recognized by others. That’s how our nervous systems are designed, to recognize this energetic undercurrent in the world. When we don’t speak up about our issue, it gets tossed into the pool of shadowy, unspoken confusion where it lives, taking on a life of its own. Our nervous systems are designed to resonate with one another without words. In other words, even if we don’t say it out loud, we pick up on it from each other. As we all know, this causes pain and dissent, separation and doubt. 

Find the positive and hold it close

Another requirement for changing this energetic soup is we need to be able to actually notice positives about people, and that’s a tall order for a lot of us! Can we notice positive, life-affirming things about others when we are more easily struck by our perceived negatives of them? While it’s tempting to call attention to people’s shortcomings, in the end it does not help us or them. It does not assist, support or affirm anything or anyone to be critical or harsh toward others. What it can do is temporarily help us feel superior or even safe; but those feelings are short-lived, not true and carry a heavy cost. 

As I continue to revisit my flying-around-the-world time, noticing the soup of confusion and suffering for us all, I am also considering ways I can change my own negativity to positivity. If you’re interested in a transformation, or curious about what I’ve written here, I invite you to your own experiment. Find the positive, no matter how buried or small, and hold it in your mind/body. When the negative sneaks in (and it will), notice and let it not take root; go back to the positive. Repeat this frequently as this habit of ours is generations deep and not easily dismantled.

We’ve got a lot of change ahead of us if we want to live in the completely attainable place of clarity, honesty, and courage. This is our birthright; the time is now for us to do this!

Dr. Gwin Stewart founded the St. Louis Wellness Center in 2007. Read more about her HERE.