We know the grief and loneliness which comes with the loss of a loved one; but when you have gained wisdom and in time are able to see with clear vision the purpose of your sorrow, and the purpose of a transition of a soul from the physical to the higher life, you will no longer grieve. You will understand that there is no death at all.
Last Sunday, out of the blue near high noon, I suddenly started feeling very nauseated. For the next several hours I was one sick puppy! I made multiple excursions to the bathroom as my stomach gurgled, ached, and purged itself of previous contents until I was emptied to the bottom. Then back to bed, where my thoroughly chilled body shook violently for several minutes before I could relax and warm up. Racking every cell of my body and soul with momentary darkness, I haven’t been this awfully sick for umpteen years—not a wit of fun. I spent the next day in bed feeling vastly better than that wretched heaving, having exorcised the 24-hour flu-like bug, drifting gently in and out of restful sleep.
The process of grief, in its unique convolutions and crises, has its own way with each of us. It cannot, I repeat, cannot be denied, lest we brace ourselves for its inevitable, harsher backlash. It is far wiser to approach these unknown dark mists with courage and enter them to confront the demons waiting there. Only along this painful path of soul hardship and growth toward spiritual maturity do we come face to face with our self in order to recognize our many ego attachments and identifications, wayward weaknesses, and sterling strengths.
Most of us recall the era of the popular “Star Wars” movies. Armed with useless weapons for the task, Luke Skywalker, as part of his extensive training to become a Jedi Knight, had to enter the cave of darkness. In his fear, he expected to encounter his “enemy,” only to find that when he triumphed and had struck done the black-caped presence it secreted his face behind the mask. According to White Eagle, out of love for us even our own “guardian angel” can occasionally appear shrouded in darkness to help us learn that all is of the Light!
An entire body of “readings” and teachings on the self meeting the self was produced by Edgar Cayce, the famous “sleeping prophet.” He possessed a natural gift to lie down peacefully on a couch and enter what appeared to be a sleeping state but was actually a trance. From this state of subconscious receptivity, he was given a question from someone who was usually not present but who sought his urgent help, most often about health issues and various personal challenges.
A central theme upon which Cayce counseled individuals was the psychological and spiritual unavoidability—in some lifetime—of bravely, directly, honestly meeting our outer or egoic self and the real effects or consequences of what we have set in motion, whether in the current life or a prior life. Only in this sincerely naked state of “initiation” can we approach, in full awareness, the ultimate process of compassion, first for our little self and then as a widening circle that includes all others. Thus, does our purified soul become emancipated!
The British philosopher, James Allen, termed this higher level of courage Divine fearlessness, which he said consists first in “fearlessly attacking and overcoming the enemies within one’s own mind instead of the enemies without and secondly characterized by an entirely new method of conduct towards others… and the courage to be serenely silent when attacked, abused, or slandered.”1 This “New Courage” is a higher form of being and responding wherein we reach toward those transcendent levels of functioning, personified for us by the Master Jesus’ ordeal when he did not retaliate, resist, or offer a word in his own self-defense, all of which sealed his crucifixion. His sublime example is an awesome aspiration for those seeking to master self.
Before this happens in the process of grief, a point of deep crisis or a series of crises may be reached. This is where many of us hit a wall of resistance—the fear of being out of control due to the upheaval of massive change—and end up in our own spiritual “dark night of the soul.” The level of the crisis is in direct proportion to the level of fear and our resistance to the life or cycle that has died and to the temporary loss of identity that results.
The initial, spontaneous reaction of verbal outburst to most significant losses is the refrain, “no, no, no, it just can’t be” and we kick and scream against the gods and our “fate.” After the initial shock, the underlying response to the death of a person or loved animal companion is often an unconscious sense of “survivor’s guilt,” which plays out its subtle hand in such ways as anxiety, anguish, lack of focus and concentration, depression, listlessness, sleep and eating disturbances, loneliness, desolation, and existential angst.
My brief bout with the “stomach flu” was a hard wall of resistance I smashed into, because I had not been around anyone who had the flu. My emotional pain burst out as physical pain, needing a quick but sure outlet to release the pressure of my inner knots and serious lack of harmony since Zoe’s death. Perhaps I’ve also pushed too hard outwardly without going inward enough. Earlier in my own life, a more severe wall was hit. My mother and paternal grandmother crashed into similar walls that stopped them shortly after their husbands died.
Not more than two weeks after my dad died, my mom fell on her front walkway and shattered her right shoulder and collarbone. It was a terrible break and required extensive surgery (a shoulder replacement), recovery, and rehabilitation over many, long months. Suddenly alone, out of control and unconsciously fearing the perceived loss of my sister’s close presence in her now solitary orbit of life, mom was laid low through an “accident” and suffered her own extreme dark night.
My grandmother had an acute physical manifestation as well. Also suddenly living alone and without even the skills of knowing how to balance her checkbook after granddad died, within a few weeks she also ended up in the hospital with chest pains and palpitations. She had more than one anxious episode of hospitalization within those early months of adjustment in her ongoing dark night. It too kept her son and daughter well within her orbit of control and comfort as they coped with her heightened physical and emotional needs. In neither family case do I minimize these genuine needs, for the crises were real.
Saint John of the Cross, in his mystical poem, Dark Night of the Soul, puts forth the main idea, through its rich imagery and symbolism, that every journey of the soul involves endurance of intense experiences (on whatever level) as we seek reunion with our divine essence and the essence of the Divine. His setting for this “purgation” of soul suffering is nighttime, wherein we encounter the devastation and desolation within. Thus, stripped of all attachments to the outer world, we finally surrender and see the eternal light burning within. “The [Divine] fire begins to take hold of the soul in this night of painful contemplation,” wrote Saint John of the Cross. “The understanding is in darkness.”2
No stranger to the dark night himself, John of the Cross wrote his immortal text during his imprisonment at the hands of his own Carmelite brothers, who opposed John’s reformations to the religious Order. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a recent, well-known example of the spiritual fortitude required to traverse the dark night. It was an eye-opening revelation to learn about the depth and length of her horrendous suffering, especially in light of the stainless model of total faith and trust in God she humbly exemplified.
According to letters released in 2007, hers “may be the most extensive such case on record,” lasting from 1948 almost until her death in 1997, with only brief interludes of relief.3 Franciscan Friar Father Benedict Groeschel, a friend of Mother Teresa for most of her life, claims that “the darkness left” only towards the end of her life.4 Despite their individual purgatories, contemplatives, mystics, and others like John and Teresa perceive the dark night as the ultimate path of soul purification—letting go of all that is transitory and unreal—in order for their consciousness to be illuminated with the supreme Light of God. They embark on this ultimate course out of true love for God, having answered His invitation to approach and be reunited.5
While John of the Cross’ “Dark Night” symbolized specifically the spiritual journey (which has since has been used generally as a metaphor), a parallel theory was developed in the field of psychology by a Polish psychiatrist, Kazimierz Dąbrowski, to explain the same process of personal growth within the psyche as consciousness expands. A devoted clinician and academician, Dabrowski’s novel approach to personality development is called the “Theory of Positive Disintegration.” He experienced his own, severe dark night through his life experiences and the obstacles he faced because his work went against the grain of the mainstream not only within the field of humanistic psychology but also amidst the political atmosphere of Poland in the 1950′s and 60′s.6
He was a boy living in the devastating aftermath of World War I, and his best friend committed suicide in the 1920′s, while they were attending college, which propelled him to study mental health, earning both a doctorate in medicine and psychology. Dabrowski was captured during World War II and incarcerated by the Germans and later imprisoned again, along with his wife, while Stalin controlled Poland. He was exposed not only to unimaginable horrors, which revealed the lowest depravity of humans, but also to magnificent heroic acts.7
Within Dąbrowski’s theoretical framework, psychological tension and anxiety are necessary processes toward psychological maturity and such potentially “disintegrative” states as sadness, self-doubt, inner turmoil and conflict, isolation, and suffering are viewed as purposeful, positive, and evolutionary. Rather than labeling these as some sort of psychoneurosis, this sort of symptomology was the seedbed of psychic richness so that an individual could become conscious of her or his own psychological development through a growing self-awareness. He described the real therapy as “auto-psychotherapy,” where an individual becomes aware of the true inner or higher self—the self meeting the self—through a long-term self-examination of one’s interior environment.
Without such an intense and painful introspection and reflection whereby all internal conflict is eliminated, the discovery of higher levels of being is unlikely and one would not function at the highest level of expressing one’s unique and autonomous personality and ideals. For those who attain this highest level of self-integration and self-forgetting, their energies are focused outward on creating a better world for all life, much like their own individual version of a Mother Teresa, however small or large their work and tasks.
Over the course of this week, as I began to feel better in the wake of my 24-hour flu-like episode, my inner sunlight returned. The valuable crisis passed. I felt somehow released and cleansed to a greater degree from the grief I have been harboring. I entered a different vibratory place: other-centered rather than self-centered; giving unconditionally rather than seeking to receive. Several of my adopted “soul” sisters came back into the primacy of my focus, due to their own strenuous needs, one of whom was struggling with her older sister’s critical, medical setback following surgery. My heart felt light and rejoiceful to send out several Valentine’s Day cards! I bought Chris rich dark chocolate for “V” Day. Having passed through the dark night, I feel less selfish-centered and superb once again now that I am not blocking my own light!
God’s sunshine is bringing this inspiration to you. But the spiritual sunshine is always present, no matter if the day be dull—the sun is shining, even though it may be obscured by mists.
Text © by Zane Maser, 2010. All rights reserved worldwide.
My editorial guru and technological wizard is Chris Maser, my delightful husband.
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