Sometimes, when people go through a crisis, they refer to it as a “dark night of the soul”. Informally, in this culture of psychoanalysis, it is seen as a depression, and should be treated as such. To conquer the “dark night”, people might seek out a psychologist, change hair color, divorce their spouses, or take pop a generic drug that will take them through the tunnel of the depths to the surface of the light. All of these premises suggest that the “dark night of the soul” is something that can be mastered and conquered by will alone, epitomizing the idea that one is the “captain of one’s soul”. This mentality is part of the premise that one has complete control of his internal fate, if he or she only tries hard enough and takes the right steps to victory. It also presumes that a victorious life always heads upwards, and emotional detours are representative of faulty thinking that has to be changed.
It is ironic that the origin of the “dark night of the soul” has nothing to do with psychology, or the power of personal mastery. “Dark Night of the Soul” was originally composed as a poem by a sixteenth century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. The poem was written while he was imprisoned and tortured by friars for the crime of trying to reform the Catholic Church through simplification. John was imprisoned in a closet that was previously used as a toilet. One of his guards, a monk who was inspired by John’s serenity through tribulation, procured writing materials so the saint could write down the sermons he preached. Out of this came the poem, “Dark Night of the Soul”.
If one looks at the many translations of “Dark Night of the Soul” without knowing much about it, the idea that it is a small poem seems lost. It is because of its mysticism that people have explored in depth its esoteric definition. Much of the poem is written like the allegorical Song of Songs in the Bible, as a love poem. This is probably what is the most interesting aspect of it. God, so often seen as a father, judge, or an indifferent being, is hardly ever seen as a lover. John’s emotion shows a relationship where he seeks his lover, anguishing because the lover does not seem present, and how he is willing to do anything possible to reunited with his beloved.
This is the mentality that shows intimacy with God, where a person subsumes his or her identity to fuse into the identity of the Highest Power. If anything, it gives a spiritual context to what is seen in modern times as emotional or mental depression. A dark night of the soul is not something that can be fixed by willpower alone, which is a tempting way to interpret the situation. The reason why it is easier to assume an emotional failing with a dark night is that it presumes a quick solution, or at least one that a person can plot out and get done by spring cleaning. However, if the dark night is spiritual in context, one where the soul is working through its own destiny, the way out of the darkness does not seem so clear cut. Or, it is so intangible that one who likes tactical planning may feel uncomfortable with the whole process as to render it useless. It may even seem like a person who claims spiritual morass is looking for a way to not take responsibility for himself or herself. A person who believes that he or she is going through a spiritual dark night may feel that the more superficial approach is the real evasion, looking for a quick fix to something that is taking its own course to sort itself out.
What exactly is the dark night that John talks about, if it is spiritual in nature? Why is the soul suffering, especially if God is supposed to be a loving God? If God is the eternal lover that the soul yearns for, why should it suffer at all? Isn’t claiming that suffering is part of the course to spiritual fulfillment fodder for saying that love equates pain, and then giving justification for abusive love on a human level? What’s the difference between suffering for God, or suffering for some man or woman that drives you nuts?
A dark night of the soul, unlike an imbalanced emotional condition, is considered to be a more universal experience to those who subscribe to it than mental disturbances. Not all people are in need of a psychologist, but to those who explore the realm of the spirit and soul, all people fall short of divine glory, however you choose to perceived what that glory is. A dark night of the soul is simply the realization of imperfection in the light of perfection. A person can see more dust and dirt when the light is bright than when it isn’t. When a person invites the light of the infinite into his or her life, the light exposes the defects a soul has been able to keep hidden in the darkness of illusion or denial.
What brings a soul back into the light? Is it now doomed to forever lament, I’m not worthy, I am nothing? To the experienced mystic, the answer might paradoxically be, yes and no. Yes, because a human can never expect to be anything near the perfection of the divine, no matter how much repentance, alms, or enlightenment he or she experiences. But also no; a person comes into the joy of the light by recognizing that despite blemishes, defects and sins, he or she is called by the Almighty into a divine union of ultimate intimacy It might be said that the light seems all the sweeter when one realizes that this invitation is issued purely by grace, and there is nothing that a person might be able to do to earn it.
Of course, this particular mentality rings mostly of the Christian atonement, and it most likely to be expressed by mystics of a Christian bent. But all religions, while not necessarily representing a particular higher power, such as Buddhism, and religions which do not put a lot of credence into lower spiritual forces such as Judaism and Islam, still believe that mankind’s soul is mired in ego, and has to quell this flesh-like instinct in order to reach its highest potential.
The best way to achieve this dissolution is to expose the soul to whatever is considered to be light. The darkness, in this respect, is not as the result of a person living deviantly according to psychometric standards, but part of the universal condition. The darkness is not the result of aberrant mentality that hurriedly needs to be replaced with positive affirmations, but one where the soul realizes its imperfection, and is healed by the light of the divine. In the darkness, it may seem as though the higher power has deserted the soul, but in reality, the darkness being experienced is preparation by the highest powers to bring the soul into ultimate joy. It is a darkness that needs to be walked through, and in which hope is the biggest support, knowing that God waits at the end of the journey.
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