Monday, March 24, 2008
My own dark night
I am reading an interesting book, "Dark Nights of the Soul" by Thomas Moore. In it he writes -
"Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical or depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, and summer and winter?"
A dark night can be many things from severe depression to a period in our lives when we doubt ourselves. Moore states that we should embrace these dark nights as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and that if we do that we will emerge at the end of our own dark nights with an insight and clarity about who we are that we did not have before.
I have often used the analogy in writing about midlife using the river journey and that a midlife episode is when we find ourselves with a need to find a backwater and sort through things before we are ready to get back into the current. There is a problem with that analogy when it is observed by people from the outside. Questions arise about why decisions weren't made more quickly, why in fact no decisions appear to being made at all. The person in the backwater can be seen as being totally selfish, as keeping other people on hold whilst they sort their own shit out. The observer does not necessarily understand that the process of sorting through the rubbish takes time and whilst it appears that someone is just treading water progress is actually being made.
In this book Moore uses the analogy of Jonah and the Whale. I won't go into a lot of detail about the actual story here but suffice to say that Jonah ran from his obligation to God and found himself swallowed by a whale. He sat in the whale's bely for three days and nights and could do nothing other than ponder his fate.
The point of the story in the midlife context for me is this. To an observer simply watching Jonah there appears to be nothing happening. He cannot move around, he cannot escape, he can do nothing but sit there and think. If the observer was able to take a step back then they would see that whilst Jonah appears to be immobile, he is actually moving in a direction that does give him insight into his fate, both through the process of contemplation and prayer, but also physically through the movement of the whale.
My whale was my childhood beliefs. That was the vessel that bound me in indecisiveness and was the reason I appeared to be unmoving to the observers. And it was in unravelling their mystery that I was able to set myself free to move forward once again.
I have also come to understand that the journey cannot be forced that in some ways the memories or chains that do bind us are like combination locks. You cannot move on to the next tumbler until the last one clicks into place. So whilst the time taken in the process does not suit the observers, the person whose journey it is can only move at his own pace.
This is a song for my Dark Night
The photo is one I took at Ao Nang on the recent trip to Thailand.