Dark Night of the Soul

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 comments

  1. Sutprem says:

    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.

    Gra­cias

  2. Babs Cashon says:

    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

    • mirabaistarr says:

      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 says:

    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
    Vivian
    Mex­ico df

    • mirabaistarr says:

      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 says:

    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!

    • mirabaistarr says:

      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. Mirabai says:

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

  6. Darick says:

    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.

    • mirabaistarr says:

      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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