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.