I hesitate to write what I’m about to write. It will be disappointing to some, worrisome to a few, and utterly pointless to others. Here’s the short of it: I am having a dark night.
I could feel it last week, descending- not at all unlike a curtain at the end of a stage play. It does not block my view, though; rather, it obscures it, dulls it, and makes the colors I want to see, and know (intellectually) are there, less bright. It is the fog of indecision, a malaise of meaning, and the little rivulet of sadness that runs through me like a river at times.
I know what would fix it, too, for an evening, a day or two, but I will not step ever again on to that easy slide into even more acute depression. Because I’ve been there, too, and the next time could be the end of..much. That ain’t gonna happen. But to sleep, perchance to dream, through the next several days and wake up free of the sharp angularities of thought poking at my soul, is the one wholly pleasant thought I can muster at this moment.
Spiritual teachers in some traditions warn new seekers of the need at the very beginning of their quests, to find some anchor, some truth, some guide- no matter how far-fetched it may seem to others- to hang on to. Otherwise, a spiritual and emotional “drift” might set in, and the good- always good- questions we are asking of ourselves, God, and others, may lead us far from the very moorings which have defined us thus far and which enable us to make sense of anything. That’s not a bad thing, but sometimes it is a too long-lasting state of mind, and for some of us it rears up as the occasional and difficult affliction.
St. John of the Cross, a 16th Century Spanish mystic described his “dark nights of the soul” as those places in time where (in modern language), one’s ego is being separated from one’s mind. That is not psychological gobbledygook for those who have experienced it. We must all come to terms with what is true and what we have learned is true. Most of the time, that is not a hard step to make. (A glaring, perhaps silly example: I once heard a young girl say that eggs grew on trees. When she found out where they really came from, she had to deal for a moment with that particular- “Ewww! Really?”- knowledge, but she was easily able to move on. Nonetheless, it was a separation, then a new reconnection, between belief and truth.)
There are other times, however, when Truth nags incessantly at our cherished beliefs. The fundamentalists’ responses to scientific challenges to biblical creationism are an example of that. People often respond to such challenges by digging in to their beliefs, and building emotional forts against the onslaught of new information. Or, they accommodate, perhaps reluctantly, new truths with their beliefs.
And there are times when an unforeseen tragedy or series of unexpected events hammers our previously comfortable beliefs and shatters them. The resulting trauma is something most people recover from, but which more than a few never do. Reality and belief never realign themselves for those tragic figures.
Then there are those vague, but dark times for some of us, when Reality overwhelms Belief and nothing, for awhile, makes sense. Chemical imbalances in the brain, of course, are sometimes the culprit. But most often- I think- it is a particular, almost accursed, sensitivity to the world’s pain(s), that causes these dark nights for many people. I wish sometimes I could more easily let go of those things over which I have no control but which hang on me at times like tethers, piercing my soul. It is not so much about worry or fear as it is about impotence, the inability to “fix” what is broken in others or myself. It accumulates, sometimes, and feels crushing.
I know it will alleviate. I didn’t always know that, but I do now. I know it’s based on cockeyed assumptions made early in life that I am still in the process of growing away from. The weight will lessen, even though I know it will never go away. So be it. And while that may sound like a fatalistic answer, it will get me through the next hours, or days. Our weaknesses are our strengths and our strengths are our weaknesses. That is one of the Truths I know, but which I must remind myself of often. If I am good at one thing, it is because I am lousy at something else. The Image of God in me is not that of Superman, but of a human, trying.
Maybe you’re “there” too, from time to time. If so, that’s why I wrote this, and I hope it will help you to know that you are not there alone.