Posted by: innerpilgrimage | June 22, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

      I have no idea how I even got here.

      I mean, I am looking at my browser tabs trying to figure out what bit of inspiration got me to remember St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul” and then have a drive outside of my own to find the book by Mirabai Starr again. There’s a flurry of activity in my head, tears in my eyes (the poem never moved me to tears, but it touched my heart so deeply–not for the same reason.)
      Okay, I think it came down to the Sufi story of Alif. One thing. Like in that movie, City Slickers. You know, when Jack Palance puts up his finger and tells Billy Crystal that the secret to life is one thing–but he has to figure it out.
      Okay, this really is bizarre and will be free-association, because the truth (as Hazrat Inayath Khan said) has no words. Fact does; truth does not.
      And I was getting signals from my Higher Power about it. A heart tattoo with a ladybug on it. Just a plain red Valentine’s style heart with a black outline, clip art, basically. Hand-drawn. Simple.
      And then I read a story about Bullah Shah and the Alif. And I realized when I looked up the Alif, which looks just like the numeral 1 (well, how it’s generally written, a straight vertical line). My mind jumped straight to a character in a book I had written, a photographer whose skill was going out and being able to photograph something I had my characters call “Being One”. That peace of having wisdom, of not being afraid of being alone. But it wasn’t whether or not being alone was at issue. It was that I didn’t, personally, understand the message I was telling myself in my own fiction writing!
      I’ve been reading in the Sufi teachings about my Higher Power being all things to me–love, lover, and beloved. That search for the chemical excitement of romance in finding a new lover is physical; the hunger to be accepted attractive enough to become a lover is mental. But in the spiritual, seeking that external validation in another human is frought with pitfalls. The physical and mental manifestation can never be perfect. It can never be without conditions, without limits.
      But the love of the Universe, of my Higher Power can be.
      A few years ago, I tripped over Mirabai Starr’s book Dark Night of the Soul: St. John of the Cross when I was pursuing gnostic texts. I read it, and it reached out to me. I had heard the Loreena McKennitt song from her album, Mask and Mirror. It had reached into me as music, and that inspired me to read Mirabai Starr’s book on it, trying to understand how what sounded like two lovers meeting was actually a deep and spiritual connection between a person and God. The book explained it better, but I never got it until just now.
      My Alif is love. My soul has asked me for the wisdom, the “mystic answer”. And I respond, “Love.” And it has replied that I need to say no more, for I am at home and love is enough.
      Something drew me to find the Dark Night of the Soul right then. It is a poem about the current place I am in, the intense loneliness and desolation. That spiritual crisis that finally allows me to hit a spiritual rock bottom. And when I reach that darkness, the oubliette of a soul locked forever within a physical form and a mind molded by self-loathing and the message that I cannot be enough (ie. cannot be perfect), I am lost within it.
      I sought an external light. I have been seeking an external salvation. But I know (in truth, not fact) that the Universe is part of me, and I am part of it. I know (in truth, not fact) that we are all part of “God”, and that the flame within us that is humankind “in God’s image” is part of God. Not just created by God. Actually part of the energy of creation that is the Universe. The Sufi text slammed me hard when it explained that we were created from pure illumination (light), and by our light, the Universe was created. Completely turned that whole Genesis beginning upside-down for me–instead of the creation of the sun and the separation of night and day, it’s become the creation of the spiritual and the separation of the spiritual and the mundane. Within us burns the light of creation. I’ve been seeing myself as a hollowed-out physical and mental vessel this whole time, a gourd filled with nothingness and darkness.
      And that’s when I revisited St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. I feel bad I have to face off with it in English, seeing as I don’t know Spanish. Definitely a good reason to learn Spanish, now.
      And that’s when I read it with new eyes. Everything of the physical and mental was gone. I couldn’t feel my body; I wasn’t filtering the poem as I had before. The words went straight to my soul, and the reading I was supposed to understand when I picked up Mirabai Starr’s book a few years ago slid into its place in the cosmic puzzle.
      Everything was illuminated.
      My house is my physical and mental realm. It is what I have built in this world. When the house is stilled, it means that my obsession with the physical and mental realms has become quiet, and what’s left is the spiritual path–in the poem’s case, represented as a ladder up to the spiritual connection with my Higher Power. Within me is a guiding light, which brings me toward a sense of purpose guided by my Higher Power. I am not abandoning Jess-the-food-addict to become a mindless puppet of my Higher Power but an active human being seeking my path–as my Higher Power intended for me to do throughout my life. I am not leaving behind the self entirely, but the self-serving ego which has caused suffering to me and to others. I am ceasing turning away from the spiritual. I am ceasing calling “a void” the place inside me I cannot fathom to understand by physical and mental means. There is a light within me, one which has no form I can recognize when I try to understand it through intellectual knowledge or experience it through physical experimentation (like the “fire is hot, don’t touch fire” lesson learned as a child). It is made up of something I cannot explain. There are no words for it, so finding the words to explain it cannot bring me to where I need to be.
      I am on the ladder, and I can choose to back away or move forward. My mental self is fighting this, because it sounds insane. It sounds like complete madness to pursue this. Intellectually, I fight this because it is not rational, not reasonable, not sane. But I accept that my mental clarity has not been particularly helpful so far, in that I’ve used it to abuse myself in the name of self-deprication and called it “humility”. This isn’t intellectual. Reaching to my Higher Power is spiritual.
      I fear “losing myself”, but I never have when I’ve opened myself up to the spiritual. Instead, it’s as if I become stronger, and when I choose a path which aligns with it, I find that good things end up in my life.
      My intellect and my wisdom are doing battle–one to help me develop an augmented self and the other arguing that if I surrender control, I lose myself. But I have always surrendered control! I have surrendered it to what I perceive people want from me, I have surrendered it to food, I have surrendered it to the pleasures of the physical world. I have never truly been “in control”, and I have given external things power over me by choice. I have imparted upon them a deity status. I have made them my Higher Power.
      So perhaps this isn’t madness. I seek to be loved. I seek to be accepted. I seek to find real peace. I seek to understand how I could want to walk this world in kindness yet be cruel and self-serving at nearly every turn. Looking for what I can get out of it at all times. I seek the physical-chemical high of it, instead of doing it simply because it’s what I should be doing in order to align with my own spiritual path.
      It’s a hard admission, to say I am compulsive in that way. It is almost like I’ve been given the answer about my fear: What if people don’t like me when I’ve exposed my “real self” to them? That constant “You wouldn’t like me if you really knew me” argument that I have used to mask myself throughout my life with a mirrored face. I have spent my life trying to create myself into what people want most by reflecting themselves in me. But I am human, and my soul rebels when I force myself away from my own truth.
      As the Sufi master said, I am love. I came from love. I am made by love. And I cannot cease to love. And when I try to cease loving to keep my heart from pain, I am denying the spiritual side of me in its entirety. When I turn to seduction (for the purpose of feeling loved), when I turn to food (for the purpose of feeling full, ie. loved), when I push friends to pursue their own love (for the purpose of experiencing love through observation), I am denying Being One.
      My mental state must change to align with my spiritual state. That is the growth I must take. All of the self-hatred and other-hatred messages I have built to cope with the disappointment that the physical realm is imperfect (because of the facts I have divined through physical experience and intellectual observation) will never align with the spiritual truth (the wisdom I have divined from quieting the body and mind and settling into my place in the Universe).
      It only appears to be madness because I fear to let my coping mechanisms go. I fear leaving behind the law I set down for myself, the habits I’ve formed to protect my heart from the pain of life.
      In that pain, though, I grow. I learn to love more deeply, to forgive more fully. We are not perfect beings. As long as I occupy this body, I will never be a perfect being. But . . . it’s not bad. Because of the body I occupy, I can physically move through this world and find people who can nurture my soul. Because of this mind, I can understand the words people say to me when they are reaching beyond their own physical and mental selves and I can feed my soul as those words touch it.
      There’s a part in “Dark Night of the Soul” where the lover, “God”, wounds the neck of the person seeking it. That has been a sticking point of the poem forever for me. How could my Higher Power wound me then say it did it out of love? Then I remember that this comes from Catholic teachings, that the wounds of God because Catholics walk from the faith to pursue the pleasures of the world are often visited upon the followers as a reminder that God, itself, was wounded.
      This has nothing to do with me, since I’m not Catholic. It is a spiritual thing I do not comprehend, a surrender I cannot connect with. But the point is made anyway. Surrendering to my Higher Power will not wound me because that’s not part of my definition of divinity. In my personal seventh stanza of the “Dark Night of the Soul”, there is no pain from the gentle hand upon my neck. The surrender of exposing my spiritual neck, to be willing to be hurt by my Higher Power yet believing I will not be harmed is part of my relationship with my Higher Power. And I will not be harmed, because it has no value to my relationship with my Higher Power. I have been harmed enough, injured enough, by turning toward a life focused on the physical and mental experiences I can gather. I don’t need a reminder that I hurt my Higher Power by turning from it. My Higher Power doesn’t get wounded by that. It simply is, and it has always been available when I asked. It does not feel separation of my soul from it because only I turned away. Like having a light on in a room, that light does not go away when I cover my head and close my eyes. I do not harm that light bulb or that electricity by not using it to guide myself around furniture; I harm myself.
      I have nothing more really to say. I’m not even sure I’ll understand any of what I just wrote when I revisit it. But I wrote it because I hope that I can find the key to open this spiritual door within what I wrote, so I can keep moving forward toward the healing of the mind which so often shuts down my intuitive, inner world because there is no fact it can divine from it. My erroneous mind, which has taken in the erroneous messages of others. My erroneous mind, which has seen again and again, that human beings pursue their own desires over others’ needs. My erroneous mind, which has been barraged with images which tell me I am imperfect and therefore worthless.
      My erroneous mind which changes when changes are implemented.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict and food restricter. I find a serenity in accepting that my mind and body have built this punitive addiction. Because of it, I was finally able to continue a path I have been trying to walk since I was a child and felt the peace of “God” pouring through the stained glass windows on a Sunday morning. I have searched all over, seeking a mental and physical solution to a spiritual problem. I have chased religion and I have chased food. I have prayed to the snack foods aisle and became a priestess of consumption and of self-sacrificing martyrdom. I have used excess and denial and called it “balancing my life”. That middle road isn’t about evening out the excess and the denial until the scales are even. Excess and denial have never been on the opposite sides of that scale but on the same side and have completely pulled my life out of balance.
      And when the last self-abuse made the scale’s tray clatter to my personal rock bottom, I knew it without words. My spiritual self saw it, and I was drawn to love. The facts had nothing to do with it when I walked into my first OA meeting. And now, it seems I have finally seen the truth and perhaps my mind will finally accept it and change.



  1. Someone hand me a tissue! Whew! That was a deep and inspirational compostion. It is as if my heart chakra has been stimulated and the divine spirit of all is recognizing itself in your writing and is swelling with gladness for you.

    I did go back and read your blog from your early days on and you have become as a character in a novel, one that I have grown fond of and hope the best for. I have read about inner struggle, in defining your Higher Power, so to read this post is like watching a beautiful flower enfold, truly amazing.

    I’m sure you have heard the saying, “when the student is ready the teacher will be there.” I have always felt that books are my best teachers and I go to rummage sales and thrift stores in search of my teachers. So many good books I have run across, one of my favorite authors is Ram Dass, who wrote, Be Here Now.

    I look forward to reading, Dark Night of the Soul. I’m not sure if all Salvation Army outlets are the same, but the one here in Los Angeles has a book deal, 15 books for $5, what a deal! I went and bought me 15 today, I even found a mint copy of an OA Abstinence, perhaps that will give me with some wisdom on maintaining abstinence, which has been a challenge for me.

    Again Jess, I am so, so happy for your recent spiritual development. Ha! It makes me teary eyed, just thinking about it :’)

    P.S. That post should be posted under Spirutuality, as well.

  2. Thank you so much for your wonderful support as I work my emotional/mental path through diving into the spiritual.

    My favorite times are when I see that what came before has led me to this moment. Everything I have seen, read, learned, and experienced has led me here. As much as I wish I was ready for OA earlier, I wasn’t. But I’m not lamenting it, because I accept I wasn’t ready.

    I agree about the teacher being present when the student needs him or her. And I am happy to report that I ate abstinently at a restaurant tonight. The last time I went to one (though in a different city) I ate compulsively. I learned that my abstinence has made it easy to turn things away I don’t want. I mean, I had a dessert I once felt was too small and only ate half because it wasn’t good at all. I didn’t eat more than a tiny bit of the soup for the same reason. This is a stunning revelation, that I am actually able to emulate a normal eater. That something I don’t want to put in my mouth actually can be rejected because I don’t want it.

    I really believe I can take the tapes of self-loathing and rebuild myself. I’ve changed how I deal with food, and the mindset of consumption for consumption’s sake is gone. I have no idea when it and I parted ways along the path, but I am pleased beyond words that I have received a miracle thanks to OA.

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