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“It is precisely because we resist the darkness in ourselves that we miss the depths of the loveliness, beauty, brilliance, creativity, and joy that lie at our core.”
~ Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul.
One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
~ Carl Gustav Jung
Life now insists that we encounter groundlessness. Systems and ideas that seemed reliable and solid dissolve at an increasing rate. People who asked for our trust betray or abandon us. Strategies that worked suddenly don’t. Groundlessness is a frightening place, at least at first, but as the old culture turns to mush, we would feel stronger if we stopped searching for ground, if we sought only to locate ourselves in the present and do our work from here.
~ Margaret Wheatley, The Place Beyond Fear and Hope
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep…
Facing the darkness, admitting the pain, allowing the pain to be pain, is never easy. This is why courage – big-heartedness – is the most essential virtue on the spiritual journey. But if we fail to let pain be pain – and our entire patriarchal culture refuses to let this happen – then pain will haunt us in nightmarish ways. We will become pain’s victims instead of the healers we might become.
“Sometimes you have to go crazy because, hell, it’s a crazy world out there….Going crazy takes time, getting sane takes time. … What you need [instead of drugs] is to read books, read poetry, you need nature and good friends.”.
— Jeanette Winterspoon
Refuse to fall down. If you cannot refuse to fall down, refuse to stay down. If you cannot refuse to stay down, lift your heart toward heaven, and like a hungry beggar, ask that it be filled, and it will be filled. You may be pushed down. You may be kept from rising. But no one can keep you from lifting your heart toward heaven.
~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
~ David Whyte, Sweet Darkness
Letting go of our images of God can be terrifying. It is often the result of an experience of suffering in our lives, when our previous understanding is no longer adequate to give meaning to what has happened to us. When my mother died suddenly in my early thirties, I was thrust into the desert. All of my certainties about God and life were stripped away and I was left raw and frightened. Many people offered trite words and shallow comfort in my grief, they were not willing to sit with me in the darkness, but only hoped to rush me through to a place of light.
This is the mystical experience of the “dark night of the soul,” when old convictions and conformities dissolve into nothingness and we are called to stand naked to the terror of the unknown. We must let the process move through us—one which is much greater than we can comprehend. We can never force our way back to the light. It is only in this place of absolute surrender that the new possibility can emerge. We don’t just have one dark night in our lives, but again and again, as we are called to continue releasing the images we cling to so tightly.
“The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe… All is registered in the ‘boundless heart’ of the bodhisattva. Through our deepest and innermost reponses to our world – to hunger and torture and the threat of annihilation – we touch that boundless heart.”
My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst ‘s all-in-all in all a world of wet.
Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather – as skies
Betweenpie mountains – lights a lovely mile.
“There are a lot of people, when they look at the situation, the facts, the pollution, the economy and meltdown, the militarism, the generation of yet more weapons, the extinction spasms of the species, of course, who wouldn’t be in despair? I mean, it seems like if you’re not, you’re out to lunch. But that’s not the whole story. We have to really not be afraid of feeling pain for our world– that we recognize that the anguish we feel for what is happening to our world is inevitable and normal and even healthy because how are we going to do the huge about-face, psychologically and socially, that we need to do to create, out of the present disarray, an exquisite life-sustaining, life-respecting society unless we are ready to just galvanize everything? So pain is very useful. Just don’t be afraid of it. And recognize that the anguish, the horror even, that we can feel over the devastation that we read about or see or experience, that it’s okay to feel that. We’re tough. Because if we are afraid to feel that, we won’t feel where it comes from, and where it comes from is love– our love for this world. That’s what is going to pull us through. So know that the feelings of grief, anger, outrage that can come as you look at how this world is being trashed– and its people–that that pain is just the other side of love. And if you try to anesthetize yourself, then you numb your whole psyche and that is so boring and ineffective. So this is the time for ourselves to reach and expand into our full humanity, and in that humanity will be our anger and outrage, our imagination, our creativity, our laughter. We are going to come alive now, and we are. I call that The Great Turning.”
“This is what I know: God is not steel or any of the indestructible alloys we have created. God is sandstone stretching up from deep in the earth to the roof of the sky. God is the same stone etched by two white rivulets we call current and waterfall, flowing endlessly, sweet and salt, carving the right and left hands whose names are also beauty and sorrow, so that every drop rives the four chambers of the great heart. This is eternal. The rising and the falling. The bitter and sugary. The burn and the poultice. Division and communion. It never ceases: dismay and hope, agony and forgiveness. These are the four directions that sun and moon mark for us and that day and night illuminate. This is what we call east, north, south, west, thinking we can walk one way or another and not succumb to windstorm, earthquake, volcano and drowning.
We want to be God in all the ways that are not the ways of God, in what we hope is indestructible or unmoving. But God is the most fragile, a bare smear of pollen, that scatter of yellow dust from the tree that tumbled over in the storm of my grief and planted itself again. God is the death agony of the frog that cannot find water in the time of the drought we created. God is the scream of the rabbit caught in the fires we set. God is the One whose eyes never close and who hears everything.”
Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, in spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this. Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days–until you fold up and collapse into despair. Self-confidence is a precious natural gift, a sign of health. But it is not the same thing as faith. Faith is much deeper, and it must be deep enough to subsist when we are weak, when we are sick, when our self-confidence is gone, when our self-respect is gone.
Faith takes us to deep places, to the ruptures in our self-confidence and our lives. Do not settle for spiritual comfort all the time…Darkness is divine also. Faith is not about positive thinking so much as about what kicks in when we are weak, sick, and short of self-confidence. The via positiva never stands alone. The via negativa is always with us on our faith journey as well.