In Christianity they call it the “Dark Night Of The Soul”. The definition reads like this: a period of spiritual desolation suffered by a mystic in which all sense of consolation is removed.
Eckhart Tolle frames it this way: the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses. The whole framework that you had given your life and the meanings your mind had put on it falls apart.
Sometimes an event triggers the journey into this state, the loss of a loved one, a major life change. It’s a kind of death and what dies is your ego’s sense of self. Some go through this dark place and come out awakened to something deeper, a kind of re-birth. Death is always painful and birth is very, very messy!
I have had a few of these periods in my life. Times when an event seemed to turn my life upside down and inside out and things got pretty dark for a while. As I look back now, I see that each time, I DID come out the other side more awake, more conscious, stronger, more connected to love. The reason I want to share this blog topic is that I want you to know that if you are going through something that feels very dark and lonely and like your whole world is discombobulated… what’s on the other side of it is amazing, but you gotta go through it.
Not everyone who experiences a dark night of the soul will come out more awakened. If you are super addicted to your processes, your meanings and your beliefs about how life “should” be, it’s possible that you won’t be able to adapt to a new way of being and processing life due to a commitment to how things WHERE. And that’s o.k. Re-birth into a new way of being ain’t for everyone to be sure. Whatever it takes for each of us to feel whole is the key.
The holidays can bring up some stuff that we don’t deal with regularly. Family dynamics, people we’d rather avoid, and just being in the environment that was where you may have experienced some painful things can cause you to feel like you are suddenly thrown backward into being someone you didn’t think you were any longer. Maybe you are the one struggling or maybe it’s someone you love who seems to be going through something dark and murky. What can you do?
My counselor Joy has some great ideas on this. She said that for most of us, in order for us to arrive at the place we are now we needed to experience every minute of the journey that got us there. If you’ve ever felt the dark place in your life, think back on it and remember that all of it needed to happen in order for you to become who you are now. When I think of this, it helps me have much greater compassion for someone who is going through their own transformation.
What did YOU need when you were in the dark middle? When we are inconsolable we can’t be comforted because there is no comfort for birth – unless you knock yourself out and even then, it’s still going to be messy, uncomfortable and painful.
The very best thing you can do for someone who is going through their painful process is to stay steady in yourself. Remember the bigger picture which you can see more clearly than the person suffering can. As Joy says, the analogy of a baby learning to walk is perfect for describing how to stay focused on the bigger picture. When a baby learning to walk falls down, we don’t fall on the floor with them. If we did, they would never learn to walk on their own. The bigger picture is that the baby has to go through this stage and they have to do it ON THEIR OWN. Standing on solid ground with compassion for the suffering person while still staying connected to our own higher self is the most helpful, beautiful thing you can do for a person who is in pain. Going into the black hole WITH them does NOT help them. That’s enabling and when we do that the opportunity for the person who is receiving the gift of transformation will never figure it out. They have to do it on their own and your love and compassion while staying true to yourself is like a guiding light to help them find their way. If you try to do it FOR them, you rob them of the gift.
I kind of like to think of this way of helping someone who is in emotional pain as being role modeled by Jesus. When he saw those with disease or labels that society had placed on them, he looked past it and saw the light in them. He could see the truth that is in all of us and he refused to buy into the crap that we all pile on top of that light. The reason he was able to do that though is because he made his connection to his Source solid. He stayed connected so he didn’t lose his footing when he interacted with those who were victims or had limiting beliefs about themselves.
Most of us aren’t quite that connected. We’re human and that means we sometimes forget that alignment. That means that we might get desperate when we love someone who seems committed to suffering and are on their journey in the dark place. For me, the next step after feeling rejected and desperate is anger and BLAME. “Why the hell can’t they just wake the f@#$ up?!?!?!?”. “Why can’t they seem to place any priority on ME?” This place is not pretty and not productive for me. It’s normal, but not where I want to hang out. Boundaries may be in order in these times. Boundaries are not for other people, they are for OURSELVES. If we value our hearts, sometimes we have to protect them a bit and being clear about what we want and need with boundaries is a huge step in the direction of taking responsibility for your part in your own suffering. I wrote out a list of 4 boundaries last week as a result of feeling pain in relationships. I am amazed at the empowerment I feel just getting clear about what I want and need. If you want to have a deep committed relationship with me – these 4 things are what I need and it’s non-negotiable. It IS a line in the sand – but it’s not for the other person, it’s for ME. Because I also have to live by these non-negotiable items!!!! (If you want to know what my 4 items are… e-mail me, I’m happy to share.)
If any of these items are missing in my relationship, my plan is that I will disengage from you until you are back in alignment with your true self. Then it’s up to the other person to determine how long the distance lasts. If I am unhappy with what someone else is doing in a relationship with me, then I have to own MY role in the behavior. When I know what I need and I state it clearly to myself and the person in my life, then I am taking responsibility for what I tolerate. We get what we tolerate both in others and in ourselves.
When we decide who we are on our own terms – not based on what someone else tells us we are – there are going to be parts of ourselves that we embrace that other people won’t approve of. And that’s okay. No one knows what your particular path is. It’s for you. This is actually a big part of the "DNOTS" (Dark Night Of The Soul) becuase it's about defining yourself on your own terms instead of based on what others say you should be. It's learning to stand on your own two feet emotionally, spiritually and that takes a lot of strength and a lot of pain to shed the false self we have come to believe we are.
How do you know when you are starting to see the light again? Often even people close to you may not know the depths of your darkness because we may be able to function at high levels even when we are going through this scary lonely place of finding our true selves. I’ll share what Joy suggests are signs of coming out of the night and into the day:
I’ve had the great fortune to have people who love me who have stayed in their strong center and gave me the space to go through what I needed to go through when I’ve faced these dark times. I am trying to give that same gift to people I know who are currently going through a dark time, the gift of the space to go through it and stay solid in myself to shine as a light of what is possible on the other side.
The holidays can be a toughie for those in the dark. If you are able, please shine your light a little brighter for them in the next couple of weeks. Be your true self and show those who need some hope through the power and the clarity of your example what is possible. Because shining our light is what we are all here to do and our example is really the only way that any of us can teach.
Merry Christmas - go shine your light into the world, or seek out someone who is able to, so that you can have hope.
Sandy Edie Hansen
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