HOW TO FIGHT SORROW, DEPRESSION, LACK OF FAITH, SELF INVALIDATION. ALL THOSE THINGS FLOOD IN on us when there is no BLISS.
SO the first thing is find your BLISS. Assume the pose. Smile! Don't complain, don't think about complaints for one second. Say 'it is perfect,' and focus on what is OUT THERE. Read the MASTER JULES on attaining bliss . Then read this, which I found online.
"Many of us hit circumstances in our lives where things go dark. This can be brought on by particular circumstances that thwart our personal will and resources, or can seem to appear through no external cause whatsoever. The dark can last for months or years. The dark can be about shedding some small aspect of one's personality or mask that one no longer needs, or it can be about shedding the personality or mask altogether.
Suddenly life energy and positivity drains out of even the activities
and things that used to bring us the most joy. Our positive qualities
can be eclipsed and the gnarliest of shadow material can come and take us over. I write here to tell you: take heart. Once you address any physical/health issues (and certainly many dark sojourns are accompanied by these), it's time simply to hang out and find what comfort you can while the Holy removes a big ol' sliver from your foot. My daughter screams and cries when that happens, and she can see it's her loving mama who is doing the job. When the Holy goes for your sliver full-tilt, it is done in the dark, in silence, and you cannot see the face of that which stalks you.
It doesn't help that most of those around you will not understand what's going on, and few will be able to be with you in a useful way. In ancient days or current dark-friendly cultures, you would be taken by the shaman to the far reaches of the village, somewhere safe and apart, perhaps a cave, where you would be fed, kept warm, protected, prayed over and guarded from the community as you descended into the dark, without the constant pull of everyday concerns and regular contact with those wishing you would return to your "normal" self. And if the shaman said anything, she would have said something like, "I know sweetheart, you cry it out, you howl your agony, you are dying, and it stinks, and I know just the road you are traveling on, and it's a good solid road. It just sucks right now." Forget normal. It's too late. You are being recruited by Love and any thought of normalcy will only be a further abuse to yourself. You are disintegrating. From the perspective of the culture and all of us being like well-mown grass, all the same, and all doing it according to the program, you stand out like a sore thumb. You are plain ol' weird! You just fell off the train and can't figure out how to get back on again. You are not alone, and the Holy knows what it's doing. There is really not a perfectly graceful way to make it through -- a dark night experience is messy. As my friend Kim said to me, "If you have a nice spiritual perspective in a dark night of the soul, it's not a dark night of the soul." All that is required of you is that you live through it.
From Lacy Enderson's "How Does a Caterpillar
Change into a Butterfly?" at www.ehow.com:
Inside the cocoon the caterpillar changes into a pupa. ...the
caterpillar digests itself from the inside out, causing its body to die.
During this partial death, some of the caterpillar's old tissues are
salvaged to form new. This remnant of cells... are used to create a new
body. Using its digestive juices, the caterpillar turns his old larval
body into food which he uses to rebuild its new body. You are a
caterpillar turning to liquid on her way to butterfly-hood. You are an
ugly duckling, about to realize she is a swan. You will not believe
these words, but nevertheless may you at least consider considering that
they might be true. All is not lost.
This page is dedicated to those who find themselves with nowhere to turn
-- between a rock and a hard place -- as an offering from one who
journeyed through the dark desperately seeking a way to make sense of
what was happening. Poems and books that were helpful to me will be
In nature, there is a beautiful cycle, as a seed rests in the dark, then
slowly pushes it's green head up through the dark earth toward the
sunlight. Growing, growing it becomes a shoot, now a young plant, now a
mature plant. It flowers, bears fruit. And then, the fruit falls, or
rots. The leaves fall to the ground. A bare stalk is seen against the
sky, and then even the stalk falls toward the ground, and everything is
rotting and composting and returning to the soil. Between the rotting
and the green head pushing up, there is a period of time where nothing
appears to be happening, and yet, in the dark, in the invisible, plenty
is. Here is T.S. Elliot's experience of it.
I said to my soul, be still,and wait without hope,
for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.
And wait without love. For love would be love,
of the wrong thing.
Yet there is faith.
But the faith and the hope and the love, are all in the waiting.
And the darkness shall be the light
and the stillness the dancing.
Our culture loves the flower, loves the fruit, even has tolerance for a
promising young shoot. But rotting? Darkness? Seed beneath the ground!?
Come on, sweetheart, get a life, right? If a woman didn't have a
pregnant body to show for the amazing happenings in the dark, we'd
likely scoff until the baby poked its head out. And yet, our human
seasons of dark, where we submit to the void, where we allow ourselves
to be taken by the holy unknown, are not part of what is revered in our
culture. Sickness, old age, death, or even having too long a gap in a
conversation brings up the fear of the unknown that most carry within.
That fear is projected on us as we try and communicate and reach for
those around us who are completely stymied by our descent from shining
rosy flower to rotting I-don't-knowers. Those who have not traveled this
path will find your travels strange at best, terrifying at worst. They
will try and cheer you up, give you lots of suggestions, tell you to get
a life (usually in well-meaning ways), get sick of you, or send you to a
doctor. Some of the hard-won and simple things that were useful to me
were: 1) friends who didn't need to fix me and had room to simply listen
to the depths of my agony without leaving, judging, or freaking (I had
two of them, you know who you are, thank you very much); 2) hot water of
any sort (hot springs, baths, etc.) 3) darkness 4) sinking my attention
into simple things like fluttering leaves or rippling water 5) lying on
the earth 6) attending meetings (such as satsang), reading poetry or
books or listening to tapes that gave me any sort of hint that someone
else had gone through what I was experiencing, and that it might be
alright to just let it take its course. It still was a nightmare (and
then afterward a long, wearing down trek), but these things helped.
Rainer Maria Rilke was a poet who kept me company -- a true champion of
the dark. Here is his description (from Robert Bly's translation,
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke) of the rock and a hard place
aspect of the dark night, as he calls on the Holy to help him out. It's
possible I am pushing through solid rock in flintlike layers, as the ore
lies, alone. I am such a long way in I see no way through, and no space;
everything is close to my face, and everything close to my face is
I don't have much knowledge yet in grief-- so this massive darkness
makes me small. You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in: then
your great transformating will happen to me, and my great grief cry will
happen to you. There was nothing that at the time felt redeemable about
the years I spent in deep angst and suffering. Every possible attempt
was made by my mind to understand what was happening in an effort to
solve it, but the mind spectacularly failed. It seemed there was nothing
I could do to alleviate the tremendous anxiety in my body, the way the
world looked like Hades, or the way that I had gone from a giving,
highly functioning woman, friend and lover to a dark-filled desperado.
One of the most challenging parts of the experience is that the
alchemical process of dissolution forces one's shadow to the fore. For
me, gone was the woman full of generosity and energy for others, gone
was any sense of humor (except later a defeated gallows sort), gone was
the light, the bright, the perky. Anyone who implied that I should move
in that direction I felt like growling at, or maybe biting, or maybe
even tearing the flesh off their bones and having them for dinner. Did
they think I hadn't already considered that 10,000 times? Did they think
that if I could raise my miserable bones out of the swamp to perk that I
would? I was already miserable at my plight and reminders that I might
not be trying hard enough while giving it everything that I had were
This part of the process is humbling to say the least - that despite
one's best efforts, one is dark and not that fun to be around, irritable
and nasty. Of course we must do our best to not make our misery about
anyone else nor dump venom on the innocent sweeties that surround us,
but know this: this is simply a feature of the grinding. All of your
energy is in the basement with the Mad Scientist who is working to
disassemble you. Give yourself a break and require less of yourself.
Find solitude and those who need nothing from you as best you can. Anne
Sexton says it like it is in this poem.
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain house, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Rilke's poem "The Man Watching" (from the same Robert Bly translation) was comforting - to see that someone else had been wrestling with his angel, as Rilke put it, and that there was something deeper that might be going on besides my failure to master the situation with my strategies.
The Man Watching
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers' sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
At first I searched for the mistakes I had made that perhaps led to my predicament. I went over and over the months leading up to my descent. I analyzed old journals, my mind dashing about like Gollum in search of his precious lost ring. I consulted doctors and web sites and herb store owners about depression and pregnancy, then post-partum depression, then nursing hormones. I read the DSM V to see if I could diagnoze myself with a mental illness. When I came up with nothing (no problem, therefore no solution), I simply searched for anyone who could normalize or bless the wretched experience I was having, looking for any news that conveyed to me that this wasn't all about my failure at doing something right, that this wasn't about the Holy punishing me for being bad in some way. Rumi was another pal during this time, and his use of words like "devastation" comforted me, since it told me that he was no stranger to the experience I was having.
The way of love is not a subtle argument.
The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling, they're given wings.
I was lucky enough to be in a sacred poetry class with Mirabai Starr at the time, and got my hands on the pre-published manuscript of her translation of St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul. When I read it, there was no way I thought of myself as someone holy enough to categorize myself with St. John; nevertheless St. John's words echoed my own experience and again helped to invite me to consider that something beautiful and spiritually necessary was happening to me, though I could only distantly consider it from my wretched agonized world. (See Mirabai's website - her book is available on Amazon.) The dark night of the soul is a cleansing, a purification, a burning. At some point, whether consciously or unconsciously, your soul said a dangerous prayer. Some pray, "Make me only love." Some say, "All I want is God." Mine was "Give me nothing that I want." And then when the burning shows up, we have second thoughts, we do not recognize it as an answer to that prayer. However, it is this burning that leaves us clean vessels for the Holy to move in and set up housekeeping. I like to say that She's going to completely redecorate.
Like Rilke, Rumi celebrates those who long for and understand the beauty of this burning in this poem.
The Truth stands before me,
On my left is a blazing fire, and
On my right, a cool flowing stream.
One group of people walk toward the fire, into the fire,
And the other towards the cool flowing waters.
No one knows which is blessed and which is not.
But just as someone enters the fire,
That head bobs up from the water,
And just as a head sinks into the water,
That face appears in the fire.
Those who love the sweet water of pleasure
And make it their devotion are cheated by this reversal.
The deception goes further-
The voice of the fire says:
“I am not fire, I am fountainhead,
Come into me and don’t mind the sparks.”
David Whyte has some beautiful poems that reflect his own experience of the rotting and composting separate self. Particularly useful was his tape called "Poetry and Self Compassion" - see David's web site for availability. In the dark, we can feel profoundly lost -- as though the place that we called our own is dissolving and there is nothing ahead. We drop deeply into the gap of the unknown and cook there, without reference points to tell
us that where we are is anything but lost. Wendell Berry sees this not knowing as perhaps the beginning of our true work and real journey:
It may be when we no
longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.
David Wagoner's translation of an old Native American elder's story gives some great guidance about being lost, and standing still just here, now, giving up trying to solve the dilemma with your mind, letting the Holy carry you on its back.
The trees ahead and the bushes beside you Are not lost.
Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows Where you are.
You must let it find you.
When the former identifications are dissolving, and all that is old, obsolete or false is leaving you, it can be difficult to find guidance for living in a true way. Many times the dark will not allow you to do things the old ways -- they start to feel dead, they make you sick, they make you anxious, they hurt. And yet, what now? Mary Oliver offers some clues in this poem (from Dream Work), turning away from being "good" and into
what the "soft animal of your body" loves. Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
And another clue from Rumi about how to move in this emptying out place:
Today like every other day
We wake up empty and scared
Don't open the door of your study
And begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument
let the beauty we love be what we do
There are hundreds of way to kneel
And kiss the earth.
More advice from Wendell Berry:
Willing to die,
You give up
your will. Keep still
by what moves
all else, you move.
I invite you to listen really deeply and with your whole body, every
cell, to the wordless invisible Aliveness that is here. Say yes to being
no one. Yes to resting in Nothing. Yes to open palmed, emptied-out
pockets, open-hearted clueless offering of your whole being to just
right here. Good-bye cleverness, good-bye being right, good-bye getting
ahead, good-bye being on top. Welcome to nowhere.
Let everything die here. Let everything be washed away here. Let
yourself be made so new, bathed in your own Innocent being. Giving over
everything else to the Ocean and letting it dissolve like salt.
We must be emptied over and over and over. We must empty as the Holy,
before the Holy, humbled, nothing, offered, waiting on nothing,
listening deeply to nothing.
We are much vaster than our minds can conceive. We must be charmed,
tricked, invited, welcomed, kept company with, to drop out of our
everyday social reality, into right here.
We want to be moved by something other than fear. We have to let the
winds come and the rains come and the storms come and be pushed to the
ground. We must cling to It, beg Its mercy for every foolish moment that
we thought that we were someone and could get somewhere without This.
Dare to say the dangerous prayer: Holy Nothing, take everything
that's not You and leave me here, naked, stripped of every
pretending and striving. Only in the Nothing, only as Nothing, only as
No One, will I ever find what I'm looking for. So take my quest for
enlightenment and take my fears that I'm a schmuck and just leave me
here without a clue, completely open. No idea what I am or where I'm
going. Just here, the quiet open, waiting for your Breath to play me.
We don't need any improvement. We don't need anything more. We
just need to stop and notice. And let be whatever's here, meet it.
Until we have the kind of heart that's so empty for having kissed
everything in it, that it can kiss anything and call it Beloved.
There are a few kinds of peace. There's one that can be shattered
because it's based on quiet music and having things just the way we
feel comfortable having them. There's that kind of peace, which is a
relative peace. And then there's the peace that is always here, if
we check, as this content-less awareness looking out of our eyes. That
content-less awareness that all of our freak-outs arise in, is never
To be a sensitive squishy being in a loud world hurts sometimes. To
witness cruelty, or to have it aimed at us, hurts. That's not a mistake.
It's not a shortcoming. This is the nature of being alive and in the raw
moment, is that things that are delusion, hurt.
We think when our hearts start to melt that there's something wrong.
When the heart starts to ache we start to become so sensitive to the
smallest hatred, whether at us or someone hating themselves. We think
that's all wrong, that we're supposed to transcend all that and just
smile. The only true transcendence, truly embodied transcendence,
happens by meeting everything and kissing it right on the face. Anything
else is an escape.
We are here for the Holy to unfold through us. There is not a single one
left out of that. Not a single one in whom the process of unfolding is
not happening, just perfectly.
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