“Transformation begins at the point where there is no hope.”
~ James Hillman, Suicide and the Soul
“At the core of the spiritual journey, religious traditions recognize the inevitability of darkness. Transition from “one degree of glory to another,” as the Christian tradition puts it, involves transformation, and transformation means change.”
“Though transformation happens, the journey of letting go is a journey through darkness: It is risk, it is real, and it can be very, very painful as one experiences wandering, trials, a sense of abandonment, becoming lost, often physical and spiritual battles, disorientation, and, as James Hillman puts it so bluntly above, hopelessness.”
~ Steven Chase, Nature as Spiritual Practice, p. 146.)
I picked up Nature as Spiritual Practice yesterday.
It’s an inspired work, to say the least. I’m still reading, but wanted to share the above because it’s one of the more aptly written snapshots of the (real) Dark Night of the Soul experience that’s part of the journey for some of us.
In the truly excellent “Dark Night” chapter of Nature as Spiritual Practice, Chase includes passages from Saint John of the Cross‘s own first-hand, experience-funded writings on the Dark Night of the Soul (and the ‘before and after’, since he’d have known it well).
In his own Dark Night writings, John of the Cross cited three signs or clues to distinguish a true Dark Night of the Soul from other challenging passages that may share some things in common.
In Nature as Spiritual Practice, Chase writes:
“For Saint John, though the symptoms may be quite similar, careful distinguishing between a dark night (divinely initiated and transformative) and, say, depression (physiologically, psychologically, or socially initiated and destructive) is essential.”
Here’s a very quick snapshot of the three signs as perceived by John of the Cross, and fellow Dark Night of the Soul journeyers will very much recognize these in contrast to more transient if still difficult challenges:
- The withdrawal of all previous consolations, comforts, and kindnesses, and not by one’s own choice.
- Despite the complete withdrawal of consolations, etc., we still long for reconnection desperately.
- The soul in Dark Night of the Soul — the person experiencing Dark Night of the Soul — is utterly powerless to change it or bring about relief or the desired consolations. There is, it seems, at the root of it a force well outside of one’s control or ‘best efforts’. And, as Chase writes, “Memory of consolation past is as painful as lack of consolation present.”
The point — by way of wisdom passed along in various traditions — is purification, or what in the Sufi tradition is phrased as the polishing of the mirror of the heart. This is not all that desirable or comfortable for the conditioned ego’s identifications and ‘security’ status quo.
We might, through a perceptual lens of interconnection (with all that is, seen and unseen), also consider it — as some Near-Death Experience (NDE) researchers do — as a sort of remedy designed by Life and brought through people who experience these epically transformative (EPE) events and passages and into the collective mind, consciousness, or shared field.
And that’s another conversation, or another part of this very large conversation.
In the meanwhile, I know that my fellow Dark Night of the Soul and Epically Transformative Events/Passages experiencers appreciate these reminders and bits of wisdom. Little lights and clarifiers along the Way.
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Featured Image Credit: Fog on the river in the morning. Public domain image courtesy of absfreepic dot com.