Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dark nights and moldy clay

Interesting how life imitates art – probably more often than we know.

This week as I've been reading and planning my Turtlebox group for Thursday night on Dark Night of the Soul, I realize I've been living in this place. That understanding has made it more tolerable and, perhaps, begun to edge me out.

The patterns described, particularly in Evelyn Underhill's classic, Mysticism, seem to fit. I had an energetic almost year of launching ministry, attracting funding, feeling so in the flow of grace and receiving dreams and images with deep spiritual meaning. Then, it came crashing down when I, in the prime of all this and feeling physically at my best, asked for change. I felt I was strong enough and ready. Of course, what was delivered what not what I had anticipated: another helping of pain, energy loss, self doubt and anxiety. I had concocted a myriad of reasons for each symptom.

Psychologically and physiologically speaking, the crash comes after an intensely active period. Spiritually speaking, we're not meant to permanently live in ecstatic states as if that is the end of our journey. This, according to Underhill.

We can experience the dark night in a number of ways: a withdrawal of Spirit, lack of joy or interest in what usually stimulates us, emptiness, doubt, anxiety, uncontrollable and disturbing thoughts, etc. If it sounds like depression, it's because the two, dark night and depression, often accompany each other. Not being an expert, I don't know where the line is in deciphering the difference. Personally, however, I understood that this recent episode, on an unconscious level, was something happening within me. Something that would be transformative in a positive way. I can't tell you why, except that I had a faith and trust built on my experience of the last year; that I knew it isn't always this way.

It also helped that my shaman last week mentioned depression and said it wasn't mine to own ... to throw it back. I realized he was right, so I did. I'd been flirting with drugs to help the night-waking and anxiety, but opted for meditation and a bedtime gratitude practice instead. They've worked.

A few years ago, when the world learned of Mother Theresa's very long dark night, I was heartened. Not because she'd struggled so hard and long, but because hers wasn't always a path of light and ease. It taught me that real faith is when you feel abandoned, yet don't abandon God or God's calling to you.

Underhill says it is those mountain-top experiences which feed us during the Dark Night when "the whole inner experience is suddenly swept away, and only a blind reliance on past convictions saves them from unbelief."

She describes the spiritual journey as "oscillations between 'states of pleasure' and 'states of pain' ... in which each intense and progressive affirmation fatigues the immature transcendental powers, and is paid for by a negation; a swing back of the whole consciousness ..."

Its purpose, according to Underhill "is to cure the soul of the innate tendency to seek and rest in spiritual joys; to confuse Reality with the joy given by the contemplation of Reality" and force "total abandonment of the individualistic standpoint, of that trivial and egotistic quest of personal satisfaction, which thwarts the great movement of the Flowing Light."

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow evening ... to see what transpires and the conversations we share. I want to learn of others' experiences. I've also designed a clay meditation to help open us to the idea of the Dark Night. One that emulates connection, a blunt cutting off, being separate, then re-joining. 

My fingers are still dusty with clay as I type this post. I had such fun dividing the large clump into smaller portions and re-invigorating drier pieces. It was cathartic to slam the clay on the table, re-shaping it and prepping it for tomorrow's hands, ever prayerful that I am doing the work to which Spirit calls even in the darkness of anxiety and doubt ... though that is melting.

• How have I experienced a Dark Night of the Soul or separation from Spirit?
• How did faith help?
• At what point did I understand it was part of the spiritual path?
• Where am I right now spiritually?
• Wherever that is, how can I continue to express gratitude?

The bag hadn't
been touched
for a year.

Simply moved into
my studio with
everything else.

I unwrapped the
chunk and began
working the clay,

noticing dark
spots as I
slices with

I cut off
all of the bad
and rolled
out little
logs. Smooth,
clean, ready
for the next
set of hands.

Then I
played with
the spoiled
pieces. Easily
and seamlessly
knitting them
together into
one, giant and
very pliable

Google told
me potters
covet this mold
as it means the
clay has aged
and is easier
to manipulate.

So, the dark
is NOT a
bad thing,
just part
of the 

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