Greetings, forum. I have a question regarding the dark night of the soul and the amount and type of help that might be permitted to one who is going through this experience. It seems too much help only strengthens the ego and too little help leaves the spirit in total isolation. Is there a balance to be found? Is it common for one going through this experience to have spiritual advisors? Or is it better that the person be carried through only by God?
Hi Tim, and welcome to the forum..
By all means, talk it over with a spiritual advisor/director. If it's really a Dark Night and not simply some kind of psychological problem, the help and support of a spiritual director will not strengthen the Ego inappropriately. The Spirit will make sure of that.
Phil, thanks for the reply. This experience has been and is very spiritually arid, and though I am by nature very cautious, sometimes I have to try to reach out. Hence my attempt at breaking the ice here.
I have been mostly passive as the experience progresses, believing that God is in control and receiving everything as it were from His hand, both good and evil. Words would fail me to describe the battle within, and how the consciousness seems to migrate back and forth between the fallen and the new man. The result is no identity, or what you might call the loss of the affective ego.
I know I will get from the people of God only what He allows me to have at this point, and I will be okay with that. So far there have been no spiritual advisors with regard to the dark night, except for those found in books. I'm okay if it remains that way, but sometimes I have to test the waters just in case.
Not sure what I'm looking for here with this list, but I have to give it a shot anyway.
Hi there, Stranger.
Welcome to Shalom Place. Glad you ventured out to post your question. Maybe you've already discovered threads discussing topics you mention, like the loss of the affective ego and dark night issues, etc. Lots of wonderful topics to explore here. Be careful, though, cuz it can get addictive... but at least it's a whole lot better than shopping, eating, TV, etc.
Your question about spiritual direction made me consider: There's a whole long list of unhealthy resistances we may develop against seeking spiritual direction, more so than the risks associated with engaging in spiritual direction. Do you think?
In general, when it comes to relationships, I think God wishes to bless us in relating to others, to help ground and reform our identities through the give and take of interdependence.
Sometimes, one can see people trying to get from human relationships what they can only get from God. They are afraid to be alone, tolerate their inner chaos and brokenness, etc. But the other problem is trying to get from God what only human beings can provide. It may be God's design, at times, to remove all opportunities for growth except through the pursuit of sustained, painful, mundane 'flesh and blood' relating, which is the gift of His Body on earth.
Just my two cents or so...
God's peace be with you,
Very well and succintly said, IMO, Shasha.
Hello Shasha, and thanks for the reply. This part of your post struck me most:
If that is true, I could be in trouble. But I don't get to pick and choose the path at this point, so if it leads that way, I have to go.
This is where I am at. The ego, fallen man, old man, carnal mind, or whatever term one might use to describe it, is marked for death. I have no life here, on this side of the cross. All hinges on the power of the cross to free me. All my roads lead there.
We all have need of fellowship at some deep level, don't we? I guess I do too. In fact, I have longed for it at times. But loneliness is as much a part of the journey as fellowship, I think. As far as spiritual advisors go, I'd accept just about anything, as long as they can see me. Or even partly see me, that would be good enough.
I have no idea how I'm coming across, I've pretty much lost my bearings. Guess I'll shut it off for now.
I'm sorry to hear you are checking out, and I hope that my comments weren't off-putting to you. I certainly don't mean by having to be in painful relationships that we must be masochists or something like that. We always have the Holy Spirit to help us in relating to others and God never gives us more than we can endure in our suffering.
Of course, I don't know you, but what you're saying that you have "no life here" sounds hopeless. Wondering if what kind of hopelessness is normal in the dark night of the soul? I know St. Theresa of Avila writes about being in a painful zone of neither on earth nor fully in heaven, longing for relief out of this kind of misery.
Anyway, I know what you mean about longing for fellowship. Of course, we're built for giving and receiving love. If I may do a mini-instruction, in my work as a psychotherapist, I see most people are torn between avoiding human relationships and seeking them out.
--avoiding contact and depth with others and thereby creating their own loneliness and isolation
--reaching out to affiliate, taking risks of being disappointed, unheard, misunderstood.
In general, reaching out to others for help is always a healthier move.
On being seen by a spiritual director. No spiritual director will be perfect, but he or she will be exactly what you need if you're open to receive God's goodness through them, IMO.
More unsolicited psych instruction. There's a primitive wish we all carry deep inside for an idealized parent. This wish is formed out of the disappointments and privations, often severe, of childhood. We develop the fantasy that somewhere out there is the perfect parent. We often see kids who will tell you they believe they were adopted and their real parents are out there or the fantasy of the other, imaginary family. Life doesn't make sense to a child unless they can believe there's an all-good mother/father out there somewhere.
In adulthood, this unconscious fantasy gets carried into other relationships and makes for a lot of conflicts, stalling, and avoiding of commitments. Trouble begins when this fantasy is acted out as people approach the prospect of a commitment--such as a marriage partner. At some level, they haven't grieved the loss of an idealized other who will be able to meet all their needs all the time. So the fantasy of an idealized other remains alive and well; hence, no real person will be good enough. Their capacity to tolerate frustrations and adjust their expectations depends on a lot of factors, especially the extent of the early loss/abuse. End of lecture.
Happily, there is a practical side to this post. In searching for a spiritual director, I'd suggest interviewing a couple of them to get a sense of their style.
Tim, I don't know where you live, so you might check out http://sdiworld.org to see if there's a spiritual director in your area. I meet with a few people via skype video, which is the next best thing to being together in person. See http://shalomplace.com/direction/ to find out more about our online ministry of spiritual guidance.
Hang in there. Dark nights might not seem like such a good thing, but the fruit is wonderful.
No, your comments were not off-putting at all. When I said it's time to shut off for now, I meant just for that particular post. So please feel welcome to reply, advise, and give your 2 cents worth concerning anything I write here. Same goes for all members of the forum. I didn't know you were a psychotherapist. That's interesting to say the least.
Yes, you are right, it is normal for the dark night. There is a duality to it however. The senses are darkened, and there is a very strong element of death in it. Like the old world perishing in the flood waters of Noah, you feel the dying of it inside. But at some deep, secret level, God is instructing and protecting the spirit, securing it in Christ, and bringing it through death to a new world as yet unseen. So the experience carries death and life. What I was not prepared for is just how attached we are to the senses, how much a part of us they are.
I understand what you wrote concerning the idealized other and have seen much of this within myself. I have often wondered if disorder is not just the human experience written in bold face. One in the fall, all of us are. In desiring the idealized other, perhaps in our fallen way we are seeking God the Lover, God the Mother, God the Father. Perhaps our human desires and drives shadow something deeper. We can sure make a mess of things, though, that's for sure. The "ships in the night" feeling is something I'm familiar with.
Take care and have a good night,
The road has been long, brother, but I still believe it. Thanks for the links, I'm going to some serious checking around and see what the Lord might provide.
That doesn't sound like the dark night of the soul at all.
In the dark night of the soul, there is no interest whatsoever in God or theology.
Though you haven't given us much to go on, what you describe sounds more like ordinary psychological difficulties.
I read a book some years ago -- it might have been Fr. Dubay's FIRE WITHIN -- that presents a table for distinguishing between the dark night of the soul and depression.
Derek---I'm confused: would that be a lack of emotional interest in God, such as a thirst for Him, an attraction to Him, or a sense of comfort in thinking on Him, or an actual complete lack of interest?
I have found the chart. It is on pages 163-4 of FIRE WITHIN:
Thanks very much, Derek, for finding and posting that.
The first full paragraph on page 165, starting with, I think, "The second sign..." might be what Tim is experiencing and doing in turning to God, if it is a dark night?
In case Tim does not have the book:
Per SJOC, (and Fr. Dubay covers him excellently in his Fire Within) there are 2 nights:
the dark night of sense (soul) and the dark night of the spirit.
The three signs that indicate one has entered the night of the soul are:
• absence of satisfaction or consolation in the things of earth or heaven.
• a concern for and habitual turning to God despite the perhaps little pleasure one gets from prayer.
• the inability to meditate discursively.
Derek you have misunderstood the night as indicated by the second sign. You wrote:
“In the dark night of the soul, there is no interest whatsoever in God or theology.”
Many people also do. But since God is leading the person by drawing Him into contemplation and the first night, you can be sure that attentiveness to God is somehow very present – or else one wouldn’t be authentically in the night that SJOC refers to. God initiates contemplation. Despite dryness, God is in our pie. Very much so.
The signs of course may be found in SJOC’s work, but you won’t find a tabular comparison with mental / emotional issues. as Fr. Dubay presens.
Good point, Pop. It's not so much in the Dark Nights that one loses interest in God as that one loses an experiential sense of God's presence.
To my understanding, SJC doesn't mean to say that all Dark Nights lead to contemplation. The first Dark Night in the General Sense is quite common, but Dark Nights leading to contemplation are something of a subspecies of this. SJC does speak a lot about the latter, but he does not conflate the two, nor does he equate either with the Night of the Spirit. Jim Arraj has written about this at length in several of his books. E.g.
Wow... Thanks all of you for your contributions. Lots to think about here.
It would be inappropriate if not impossible for me to try to prove the presence of St. John's dark night in my case. I'll have to leave all that up to God and others who have been there.
I believe it is good at this point to live with a degree of uncertainty. If one is too sure of where he is at, the ego will wrap itself around the idea of the dark night and fill the whole thing with spiritual pride. This can't be allowed to stand for long, as one of the reasons for the night is the dissolution of this part of us which has a chokehold on the spirit. So I need a "check" from time to time from the Spirit.
I'll read Fr. Dubay's book when I can. I read the parts Derek suggested and it looks like most of the book is also available there.
Take care all,
Where on this page is the piece of discussion on Dark Nights and SJOC? I don't see it...
We're a pretty lively group, aren't we? I like it how we endeavor to edify and encourage one another...like "iron sharpening iron."
About getting too focussed on where we're at spiritually, I agree it can be a prideful type of preoccupation. At the same time, not taking an honest look at 'where' we're at can lead to illusions of something/somewhere we are NOT, avoidance of our weaknesses, etc. As I'm sure you know...
In fact, in Fire Within, Dubay begins with that very issue of the importance of needing to assess where one is at on the journey. He addresses some of the pitfalls of avoiding this kind of appraisal.
God's peace be with you!
Hi Shasha, I think Phil is referring to: Chapter 7, Loss of the Affective Ego, nearly half way down the page.
That link didn't work. Let's try this one: http://www.innerexplorations.c...f_the_Affective_Ego_
BTW, Tim and others, did you notice there is a lengthy discussion on the Dark Night among the "Premium Groups" section below. See Contemplative Practices--> Dark Nights of the Soul. I started reading it and there's some good sharing from several SP folks.
Lively indeed. I agree with what you said here. I should be able to get to the Dubay book this weekend and see what he has in store for me.
And may I say, it feels good to be part of something again by way of this list. I'm thankful and a little surprised.
Jim Arraj has a lot about SJC and dark nights on his web site: innerexplorations.com Through the years before his death in 2009, I visited with him about this many times, including several lengthy stays in the Oregon forsest where he and Tyra lived. I would say he was an expert on SJC and the meaning of his writings. The web site has numerous resources on this topic, especially the book, "From St. John of the Cross to Us," which goes into depth concerning some of the common misunderstandings concerning John and his teachings about dark nights and contemplation. I do a teaching on this topic as part of our spiritual formation program, which I am happy to share with anyone reading this thread free of charge. If you don't have an hour to spare to listen to the presentation, you can at least check out the pdf handout.
Notice the slide that demonstrates the two possibilities that can develop from the Night of the Senses. SJC considered the Night of the Senses in the general sense to be quite common, but the Night of the Senses leading to contemplation to be uncommon. It's about the latter (not the former) that his three signs concern.
In Arraj's book, "St. John of the Cross and Dr. C. G. Jung," he took up the topic on how to deal with the Night of the Senses in the general sense toward the back of the book. Iow, what if one enters that Night but doesn't experience the three signs -- isn't experiencing contemplation, nor a call to a contemplative lifestyle? That's quite common, actually.
All of Arraj's works are available at innerexplorations.com in html. You can also purchase the books if you'd like.
Thanks for bringing home the distinction between the dark night of the senses in the general application and that of the dark night of the senses as leading to contemplation. Very enlightening to me.
As I understand it now, in the general application, when the night subsides, the person's senses return to functioning pretty much as they did before. That is not to say there are no benefits, but the purgation of the senses is left somewhat incomplete. However, in the dark night of the senses leading to contemplation, the duration and intensity of the purgation is such that the person cannot go back to being what he was before. In a sense, and in the measure of grace appropriate for this stage, he becomes a new creature, with new capacities of perception toward God, himself, and his fellow creatures. All of this due to infused love, which flows into the spirit following the purgation of the senses.
Later comes the dark night of the spirit, but I feel I should concern myself mainly with the dark night of the senses at this point.
Concerning The Fire Within by Fr. Dubay, I wasn't able to find as much of the book as I would like online, but I read the 3 chapters that were available there and have ordered the book.
I'm looking forward now to getting into some of these links you offered. I've done some reading of Jung and so I am excited by the title of Arraj's book "St John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung".
Thanks for your help,
Glad you found all that helpful, Tim.
The Night of the Senses weans one from attachment to consolations and affective experiences of God and brings about much-needed emotional healings as well. This is true for all who go through it. For those undergo the Night in the general sense, there is also, at some point, a return to experiencing God through kataphatic means. Those undergoing the Night of the Senses leading to contemplation, apophatic prayer will become primary, though kataphatic means will still be used, of course, especially in communal prayer. So John's 3rd sign refers to the actual beginnings of infused contemplation and his writings might be summed up as an encouragement to let this happen . . . to go with it . . . to not force oneself to do active prayers instead.
Of course, it needs be said that everyone experiences contemplative prayer at sometime, even beginners in the spiritual life. The Night leading to contemplation signifies a call to a contemplative lifestyle, something a Carmelite like SJC would be very interested in helping others properly discern. It still happens, of course, even to lay people.
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