Concentrate on matter and you see everything
For each of us, as we move along our life’s path, “dark nights” of the soul can come in many forms and degrees of magnitude. A strenuous “dark night” can occur, as an example, during the process of coming to terms with and letting go of one stage of life, or similarly when we decide to relinquish a beloved home we’ve lived in for many years to make a fresh start. We are betwixt and between, uncomfortable and easily agitated. The ground beneath us feels non-firm and uncertain. The way ahead is shrouded. We take a leap of faith only to discover our sails of trust have not as yet set us down in the new terrain where our evolutionary compass will again seem apparent.
Letting go and allowing are an integral part of every “dark night,” no matter its depth or length. We are called to relinquish something—to open space so our consciousness can be filled with greater awareness. Here, we must undergo a natural process of grief, with its unique convolutions and crises, while it has its way with us. It cannot be denied, lest we brace ourselves for grief’s inevitable, harsher backlash. It is far wiser to approach these unknown, shadowy, dark mists with courage and enter them to confront the internal demons waiting there. Only along this painful path of soul hardship and growth toward spiritual maturity do we come face to face with our human self in order to recognize our many ego attachments and identifications, wayward weaknesses, and sterling strengths.
Most of us recall the era of the iconically 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. Submerged in his fear, he expected to encounter an outer “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 the spiritual teacher, White Eagle, even our own “guardian angel,” out of love for us, 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 humility, the ultimate process of compassion, first for our little self and then as a widening circle that includes all persons and forms of life. 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 when interrogated by Pontius Pilate, all of which sealed his destiny of being crucified. His awe-inspiring example is a magnificent model for those of us seeking to master the fear-filled, human self.
Saint John’s “Dark Night of the Soul”
The well-known Saint John of the Cross, in his mystical poem, Dark Night of the Soul, puts forth this main idea, through its rich imagery and symbolism, that every journey of the soul involves the 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 then witness 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 this 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, celebrated example of the spiritual fortitude required to traverse the dark night. For many of us, 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 while in the public spotlight of scrutiny.
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 materially oriented, thus transitory and unreal—in order for their consciousness to be “reborn” and illuminated with the supreme Light of God. They embark on this ultimate course out of a true, burning love for God, having answered His invitation to approach and be reunited.5
While St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night” symbolizes 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 essentially 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.” No stranger to the depth of soul suffering, he experienced his own, severe dark night through his life experiences and the obstacles he faced, due in part to the fact that his work went against the grain of the materially-minded 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 who grew up in the devastating aftermath of World War I, and his best friend committed suicide in the 1920’s, while they were attending college. This tragic event propelled him to study mental health, where he earned 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, when Stalin controlled Poland. He was exposed to unimaginable horrors, which revealed the lowest depravity of humans, but also to magnificent heroic acts, similar to what fellow psychologist, Victor Frankl, endured in the Nazi concentration camps.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 in order for an individual to become conscious of their own psychological development through growing self-awareness. He described the real therapy as “auto-psychotherapy,” where an individual becomes responsive to their true inner self—the self meeting the Self—through long-term self-examination of their interior environment.
Dąbrowski concluded that without such an intense and painful introspection and reflection whereby all internal conflict is eliminated, the discovery of higher levels of being is unlikely. Furthermore, an individual would likely not function at the highest level of expressing their unique and autonomous personality and ideals. Eventually, for those steadfast souls 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 unique version of a Mother Teresa, however small or large their work and tasks.
In spite of the emotional agony and inner fallowness, dark night of the soul episodes are indeed highly purposeful and open us out to the larger world of Spirit and the real life that far exceeds the bounds of our personality, ego, competitive pursuits, and worldly conditioning.
Let us rejoice in our “dark nights” and be glad for the testing and strengthening of our soul! Herein do we meet our Divine Self…
Similar Offerings of Soul Growth:
• Greatness Within (about the life of President Theodore Roosevelt)
• Resilience (includes a brief look at the soul suffering endured by psychologist, Victor Frankl)
1. James Allen. 2008. Men and Systems. Wilder Publications.
2. Saint John of the Cross. “Dark Night of the Soul.” Book 1, Chapter 11 http://www.innerexplorations.com/chmystext/stquotes.htm (accessed on February 12, 2010).
3. “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith”, by David van Biema, Time Magazine, 23 August, 2007.
4. “The Mother Teresa I Knew”, by Father Benedict Groeschel, EWTN Sunday Night Live, 9 September, 2007
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Night_of_the_Soul (accessed on February 12, 2010).
6. http://positivedisintegration.com/ (accessed on February 12, 2010).
Text © by Zane Maser, 2015. Photos gratefully used from Wikimedia Commons. The photo of Mother Teresa was taken by author/photographer Turelio. All rights of Zane Maser and SunnyCat Astrology reserved worldwide.
My editorial guru and technological wizard is Chris Maser, my delightful husband.
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