Dark Night of the Soul

January 7, 2010

Hello, my friends.  I apologize for the gaps in posting.  Like many of you, I find the holiday season draining, something to “get through” rather than to savor.  This may change over time, or it may not.  I try to be true to whatever’s real for me.  I think part of my trouble with Christmastime is that so many of the associated activities are “outer” focused, and my inclination is the opposite: I just want to go within.  Slip into my Advent cave and be still and quiet, reflective.  This creates a sense of being out of synch with the world around me.

Luckily this winter I have been given the grace of a new book project in collaboration with my dear friend, the extraordinary iconographer Fr. Bill McNichols (http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php).  I am writing a series of prose-poems on Mother Mary and the many attributes of the Divine Feminine.  So I have a good excuse to withdraw from the busy universe “out there” and dwell in an interior space of quietude and wonder, which my soul craves.

As many of you know, I began my career as an author with a new translation (& interpretation) of the classic spiritual masterpiece by St. John of the Cross, DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL.  As you probably are also aware, the publication of this book coincided — to the day — with the death of my daughter Jenny at the end of 2001.  So for me, grief and loss have been inextricably entwined with the perennial mystical teachings articulated in this powerful work.

The Dark Night of the Soul, as John conceived it, is actually an inner state that may or may not have anything to do with external circumstances.  It is an experience of being stripped of all the spiritual feelings and concepts with which we are accustomed to propping up our inner lives.  It is a plunge into the abyss of radical unknowingness.  This spiritual crisis, John assures us, is a cause for celebration, because it is only when we get out of our own way that the Divine can take over and fill us with love.  But it’s a grueling process to come to this level of surrender, and few of us go willingly.

Recently I bought the latest book by my friend Tim Farrington – a gifted writer and insightful human being.  It is called A HELL OF MERCY: a Meditation on Depression and the Dark Night of the Soul (Harper One, 2009), a lucid glimpse into the ways in which an experience of profound loss and deep sorrow can act as a catalyst for an authentic Dark Night of the Soul.

Tim muses, “Whether you are truly in a “dark night” or “just” grieving is a question I have come to believe is insoluble in the midst of the process.   The two experiences can certainly intertwine; often the loss of a loved one exposes the superficiality of the spiritual notions we believed to be sustaining us and challenges us to let go of them and go deeper; and the dark night, teaching us to let go of protective ideologies, often allows us to open for the first time to the nakedness of our real suffering of the death of loved ones.  God uses our helplessness where it arises, and few things bring our human helplessness home to us more sharply and unavoidably than grief.“

Still, although helplessness seems to be an indispensable requirement for true transformation, the Dark Night of the Soul is not only about being brought to our knees.  It is about unconditional love.  The kind of love that wakes us up and affirms our deepest humanity.  The act of consciously yielding to the shattering of the heart is not high on the list of cultural values.  But it should be!

As Tim observes, “Grief and the experience of loss in depth gets so little space in our world… We are often encouraged to buck up, to get over it, and so to throw out the baby of the slow process of grieving with the bathwater.  Grief will never go away, if we’re really paying attention.  It’s part of being awake: we love, and we lose those we love to the erosions of time, sickness, and death (until those we love lose us to the same).  To lose a loved one is to be called to come to genuine terms with that loss, or risk losing touch with that in us which loved.”

What are the ways in which your losses have transfigured your soul?

Hey, by the way…. I am starting to wonder if this blog is actually reaching people.  Is anyone out there?  Please let me know if you’re listening, and what it is you’d like to hear.  Thanks!  And may your grieving heart be held in deep peace.

11 Responses to “Dark Night of the Soul”

  1. Sutprem said

    So grateful for this piece on ‘The Dark Night’. I recall hearing you mention this inner “event” often when you were facilitating Golden Willow grief support groups. At the time I kind of passed off those words as “Mirabai’s grief thing”.

    Today I finally see the jewels of a real maturity grief has brought to my life. This reminder of the gifts of the “dark night ” is perfect timing for me. The feelings of helplessness, depression, and intense loneliness I see now with a new perceptive, one of normalcy. Finally all those lectures of Ted’s have sunk in, and I can truly nurture myself.

    Doing active grief work hasn’t simply addressed the deaths of friends or family members for me, but also the loss of a highly structured spiritual way of life. That life was as your friend Tim describes, “spiritual notions, protective ideologies” and a prop for inner illusions. Living outside the confines of that spiritual structure can be lonely and at times a terrifying leap from a cliff of collective sociological certainty. It is true that our culture arbores grief and aging as well. Brave are the souls who take the leap grief affords, willing or not, and fly awake and mindful.

    Grief has been a companion on this very solitary journey, directing my attention to the under pinnings of the deeper wisdoms of being human. Today I embrace grief as a dear friend and guide. The depression, the sense of aloneness feels lightened as the Taos sunrise peeks through today’s snow clouds.


  2. Babs Cashon said

    I am here. I am listening. I have been enlightened and educated. Please keep blogging. I lost my little sister to suicide in May and this journey has been excruitiating and ethereal. One of my oldest and dearest friends sent me your blog and it has been so healing to read. She had also given me your book on St Teresa, the interior castle. St Teresa called me about 8 weeks before my sisters death. I could not find a book on her, so Marie gave me hers. Little did I know I was being prepared for the most difficult task of my life. I was shown my sister bathed in healing. I didn’t recognize at that time that the only way she could be completely bathed in healing was to be with the healer. It was a gift to remember that vision afterward. Thank you for your words and insight. Sincerely Babs

    • Oh, Babs, I’m so glad that you wrote, and these musings have been at all helpful to you. And I am grateful to Marie for connecting us. What an amazing coinciding of events that you were given this connection to Teresa of Avila in preparation for the mysterious tragedy that was to come! And what a beautiful vision! I too found that Teresa gave me an invaluable gift: the task of translating The Interior Castle during that first year after my daughter died. She saved my life. Sending you love and light — Mirabai

  3. vivian blair said

    Como esta tu coraZON HOY! El mio perfumado porque hoy te conozco , aqui.
    I happen on to your person today and i have enjoyed reading and listening. My sister passed on two years ago after several years of ALS and today my 90year old parents afford me the opportunity to surrender to my fears of their day to day and what is next in favour of resonating with Divine Self. I am slowly grasping my work is to harness the power of this moment for healing and transformation…….somewhere you wrote and I interpret we have an opportunity to serve in the laboratory of life.
    Thanks you for sharing thank you for all that you give
    Mexico df

    • What a beautiful attitude you have, querida Vivian! I can see how you would bring light and delight to everyone you’re with. What a gift! I am holding your sister and your parents in my loving prayers. ALS is such an intense journey, isn’t it? Cuidate mucho, amiga.

  4. Vik said

    I found this post through connections to SAGE (I am publishing Dora McQuaid’s forthcoming book and she and Murray Bodo will be Reading at SAGE this summer (from Blissfool publications).
    I intend now to read all the posts.

    My sister drowned in 2007, two months short of my son being born. He was conceived after a long time of grief following the loss of our first baby in utero. As I grieved my sister, I fought to hold on to my baby in hospital. 4 months after he was born, a friend hung himself. His death could not penetrate my grief, but deepened it. 6 months after that, my sister in law was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. 3 months ago, a friend’s son was killed by a train whilst trying to retrieve his phone. Two weeks ago, my 15 year old nephew cut open his wrists and throat in a nearly succesful suicide attempt. My beautiful son is now two and I am just beginning to
    comprehend this beautiful wounding and put it into words of poetry.I was strengthened by your post.
    I would love to talk more with you. Please, believe people are listening!

    • Vik, by all means, let’s connect. You can email me through my website (www.mirabaistarr.com). Meantime, wow. What an extraordinary string of losses! I would love to see some of the poems that have emerged from your courageous encounter with radical mystery. My heart is holding your heart. Thank you so much for reaching out.

  5. Doug said

    Perhaps grief, like temptation, never totally goes away. It only wears off enough as to become managable for divine play.

  6. Mirabai said

    Divine play — I love that perspective! My spirit is more childlike and playful now than ever before. Grief has rendered the simplest things miraculous.

  7. Darick said

    Receiving the “Night of the Soul” is a miracle in itself. A gift that I don’t know how to share through words or emotions. The pull that it is putting on my marriage has myself questioning the purpose in receiving this knowledge. Sometimes I feel like I rather be alone than not be my true self.

    • May your heart be at peace even in the fire, dear Darick. May you breathe, be still, and discover that there is enough space in the shattering to hold your marriage too, and the new being you are becoming as the old one dies.

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