Dark Nights of the Soul, Part 4: Living in the Dark ll By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

Dark Nights of the Soul, Part 4: Living in the Dark
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

To go in the dark with a light is to know light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight.
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings.
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. (1)

In my last blog  I wrote of signposts and some reasons why a dark night moves in. Maybe you’ve ascertained that you are in a dark night. Now what? Is there a way to chart a course through murkiness? Are there guiding stars in the sky?

1-Pay attention to what’s going on in your life. In my past blogs on this topic, I’ve laid out two nonexclusive strains of soul talk: a secular , and a religious.  Paying attention is NOT the same as trying to figure out what’s happening—the latter implies you have serious problems and that you need to fix something. A dark night implies transformation. Think of the chrysalis transforming into a butterfly. It doesn’t emerge as a stronger, happier worm crawling on its belly on the ground. No, it emerges with breathtakingly beautiful diaphanous wings giving it flight.  

Continue with your mediation and/or mindfulness practices. “Mindfulness,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, “is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

2-Work with it creatively. Write poems or prose, paint it, sculpt it, draw it, sing it, dance it, garden with it, cook with it, build with it. Walk with it in nature. 

3-Don’t expect flashes of brilliant light—or even a dribble of it—to light your way. Follow the wisdom in Wendell Berry’s opening poem:  let the darkness be your light. Befriend it. Live with it. Contrary to all expectations, this is the key. Incomplete contemporary ways exist to deal with your dark night: expert and not so expert advice; books and tapes; workshops; and religious institutions. Well-meaning friends and family will tell you “do something,” anything to dissipate the mood. But as Thomas Moore writes in his Dark Nights of the Soul, that is the hero’s shadow in the background—and ego’s. 

4-A dark night might require you to give up all concepts of success, progress, and enlightenment. Our Western view is that our lives are linear, that we will continue to do what we’re doing, just getting better and better at it. But that’s not true. Life is a series of transformations, of deaths and rebirths, of becoming a person with new competencies and skills. 

As I mentioned in my last blog, we outgrow our skins—the skins of unconsciously accepting and following values and attitudes. Live with life’s experiences, and let those experiences do their work. 

What is needed is a view of life that includes the dark.

5-Get used to it. You may carry it with you for years. Don’t try and push it away. Moore says, “What is needed is a view of life than includes the dark.” It isn’t that you embrace masochism but you surrender to your Tao, to your path, to your life. 

And you continue with your sacred commitments—to your partner and children, to your work. 

6-Avoid the blame game. Your ennui, sadness, deep funk—whatever you choose to call it—it’s no one’s fault. This is life. Yes, maybe you made choices that you recognize may not have been the healthiest, but you did the best you could with the knowledge, the wisdom, and the skills you had at the time. And now, gently, your soul is telling you it’s just time to move on, to live with a greater vision, a greater clarity of who you are, and what you’re created for.

Life is a mixture of pain and joy.

7-Happiness is not the end goal. You wouldn’t know that by the messages our culture repeatedly bombards us with. 

“Happiness is more a temporary sensation that things are in place and Heaven seems to have blessed the moment. But life is . . . a mixture of pain and satisfaction . . . .Weaving the dark into the light in your expectations and personal philosophy might temper the role of happiness and offer a way to appropriate the dark night with style and wisdom,” says Moore.

8-It helps if you can find a compassionate spiritual facilitator, one who knows about dark nights. You don’t need advice on what you’re doing “wrong,” and what you need to do to be “right.” You need someone to sit with you nonjudgmentally as you look within your darkness for its light, to untangle what’s going on inside you, to reassure you that you’re OKAY

In Part 5 of this series, I’ll bring in examples of how people lived their dark nights. Meanwhile, sit with T.S. Eliot’s poem (3): 

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing;
wait without love
For love would be love for the wrong thing;
there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all
in the waiting.


Notes & Sources: 

1.Wendell Berry, from “To Know the Dark,” in Farming: A Handbook. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1967.

2. The best resource I have found on determining if it’s a dark night of the soul or a clinical depression requiring the attention of a mental health professional is Thomas Moore’s book, Dark Nights of the Soul, A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. Penguin Random House. 2004. 

3. T.S. Eliot, East Coker, from his Four Quartets. Faber and Faber. 1940.

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation. 

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth