The Dark Night of the Soul
Apr 4, 2016
There comes a time in all of our lives when the realization that what we’ve been programmed with about how the world works and what is expected of us comes face to face with our inner need to be authentic and true to ourselves. This can occur at almost any time in our lives when we begin to become accountable for our own lives and circumstances but its confrontation is, essentially, unavoidable once we reach midlife between the ages of thirty-eight through forty-four. Probably why so many adults make light of it can only be testimony to our need for relief when it arrives so voraciously on our doorstep. This confrontation challenges our beliefs and values about our reality and can often be a very frightening and incapacitating feeling. It often leaves many of us either panicked or frustrated knowing that something must be done but that our action, if truly aligned with our inner felt needs, might completely obliterate the security we have thus far built in this world as a result of our childhood and continued training. Yet, to step into a brighter light and consciousness it is necessary and unavoidable.
In our younger years there is usually no one else other than our parents who are our keepers and educators. Perceiving this, their presence and omniscience within our tiny world easily encourages us to view them as gods with having all our needs and answers quickly at hand. But as adults we must, at some point, come to realize that those in child bearing years have not yet reached this midlife marker either in their temporal journey here and that in that they too have not yet experienced the crisis that, hopefully, eventually leads to their spiritual freedom in discovering and following their own path often in contradiction to what is expected of them by their unsuspecting families. This separation in timing has the effect of insuring that their journey, and ours, is wholly an independent and personal one. The most important understanding that must be realized here is that each person’s journey is individual and unique and cannot be shown or instructed by anyone else. It must be listened to and felt. For those of us who have allowed ourselves to be led, this is panic inducing. For those of us who have acted independently but pushed the river toward what we thought was the goal based on our early training, it is sublimely frustrating. Both paths ultimately lead initially to depression and a stark withdrawal into the psychological and emotional interior of our being. For those of us who have felt ahead the arrival of this time, the journey may only take a year. For those of us well ingrained in our instructed set of parental values, it may take many more. And then there are others who never ascend above the threshold of consciousness and remain trapped beneath the surface through our own fear, pride, resistance and stubbornness. The journey and its goal are not guaranteed; only our opportunity to do so.
We humans, by nature, are innately social. Following our early training guarantees our inclusion and acceptance by our clan and culture and is encouraged through conformity toward historical traditions and the sublimation of our own needs for the good of the group. Our adherence to the needs of the group is subliminally maintained through emotional blackmail with the inference that if we don’t acquiesce toward a preferred behavior the support and acceptance by the group and our inclusion in the benefits enjoyed by them will be withheld. Fear of banishment powers a collusion that encourages us to refrain from exposing each other’s perceived inadequacies thereby remaining in each other’s graces and forestalling a need to grow beyond our immediate emotional limitations. This can be seen the most clearly when we examine the psychology of individual family structures.
There are three effects that occur when we begin to detach from childhood patterns and assert our individuality through deference to our inner urges and intuition. First, when we embark on the path of attempting to be authentic to our own natures, our efforts almost always conflict with the emotional security needs of our family and our clan. We are no longer comfortable maintaining the status quo with family tradition and our parents which has initially protected us during our vulnerable years but in later years has come to have the effect of stagnating our individual growth and consciousness. The removal of these blockages to our growth is perceived by our family as exposing hidden perceived inadequacies implanted in them through their early childhood training. When those in our family and clan feel our withdrawal from our blanket validation of their preferred behaviors from us in favor of our own growth, their reaction is often swift and dynamic. They then re-emphasize that fact that their support and acceptance of us is only maintained through our acquiescing to the covering of their insecurities and emotionally ingrained compensations. If stepping up the pressure is of no avail, the next step is a self-defensive excommunication of us and our relegation to the status of “black sheep” of the family.
The second effect occurs in a broader frame of reference. There is a very subtle and unspoken belief in this country that our actions should be geared toward providing support and assistance to those “lees fortunate” than we prior toward taking care of our own needs lest we be labeled as being selfish or lacking compassion. This attitude is even reflected in our country mascot, the Statue of Liberty, asserting that the acceptance of those “less fortunate” in the world and immigrating here would be taken care of. This perspective came as a result of the original settlers of this country actually needing the combined efforts of everyone simply to survive. This “good of the many” perspective very quickly became integrated with their basic religious beliefs and is now often referred to as part of the Christian ethic. In spite of its religious association, this perspective has become a very quiet and subliminal programming which also lies at or just below the threshold of our secular cultural waking consciousness. This perspective has morphed into the basic assumption that if we direct our efforts toward the welfare of others, ahead of our own of course, that the hope pertaining to our own needs would be answered by someone else doing the same thing for us. This unconscious assumption has proven to be disastrous to our ability to muster motivation toward taking care of our own issues and forming personal goals let alone being accountable for our own choices. In an extreme, this has been viewed by the rest of the world as our having an attitude of entitlement. This undercurrent asserting the belief and expectation that we should be or will be taken care by others of severely undermines the accountability we need to move easily through our mid-life crises and augments the emotional effects of our perceived helplessness generated by the arrival of our Dark Night of the Soul.
The third of these effects comes as we begin to address our own needs ahead of those of others, we not only lose the inclusion and support of our family and clan but that of our nation and peer group as well. With these three effects in play we feel completely alone and unsupported by our historical traditions and roots. But that only serves to intensify the urgency and the necessity for us to become accountable that we may be willing and able to listen to our inner urges and leanings free of the coercive and addictive effects of having or gaining a feeling of belonging. Our Dark Night of the Soul must be passed through alone that we may come to rely and trust our own judgment and intuition in lieu of depending on an outside source such as tradition or religion to dictate our objectives thereby also assuming responsibility for our choices.
Probably one of the most difficult and daunting parts of aligning ourselves with our own inner and intuitive urges is the overwhelming feeling of loneliness we encounter when we lose the support and acceptance of those who were involved in our indoctrination into the traditional and religious currents of altruism. Friends and associates who can no longer depend on our blanket support for their emotionally generated security needs shy away from us claiming that we’re no longer the same old comrade who supported them “right or wrong.” Marriages slowly drift apart and often disintegrate as one partner grows and the other doesn’t. Our growth also alienates us from our families claiming that we’re ruining or breaking up the family or that we have no tolerance or respect for tradition and the way things have always been done. Becoming spiritually mature can be a very lonely and frightening avenue of travel.
However, on the other side of the tunnel we slowly garner new friends and associates who understand the trials we’re progressing through. This feels to us as a relief to our isolation but we must be aware that there are also dangers in the practice of commiseration over the loses of our familial and peer group support. We must guard against seeing those who rejected us as disloyal and subjects for our disdain. This perspective will also serve to sabotage the much needed attitude toward our reliance on Self-Trust by virtue of our own accountability. We must not fall into blaming our loneliness and lack of support on those who feel threatened by our journey toward spiritual self-hood. Passing through the Dark Night of the Soul is our own journey and no one else must be held accountable but ourselves.
The feelings that dawn within us with our passage through this dark corridor eventually gives us so much independence and freedom from emotional enmeshment that our paths obtain a speed, a purity and new light unlike that which we have ever experienced before. With it comes an understanding and compassion for those of us who are still in process of passing through and those who have yet to do so. It also brings an unavoidable sadness in us over those of whom we have lost. Yet, we harbor a hope that they too will be able to traverse the course shedding the codependences and collusions that keep them from peeling away the layers of their trained and subsequently perceived inadequacies covering the pillars of their spiritual ignorance. Perhaps this is what Jesus actually meant when he spoke of “putting away childish things.”