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Dark Night of the Soul
by Jason Augustus Newcomb
Most of us spend the bulk of our time feeling crappy about one thing or
another. We find ourselves in disagreements with others, feeling indignant,
wounded, or angry. We feel that our lot in life is quite different from the path
that we would like to be on. We don't make enough money, we don't have as many
things as we'd like, we don't get the love that we need and deserve. All this
comes into play every time we find ourselves at odds with others, and we feel
righteous about our own anger. However, very rarely do we take the time to
really think about any of these feelings, contenting ourselves with the
miserable state we're in by denying that there are any other choices in life.
The simple fact of the matter is that everything in our lives -- including
all the crappy things -- is a choice that we have made for ourselves. That is a
difficult fact to face for most of us, since it's much easier to blame random
circumstances in our lives than to accept responsibility for our own actions.
The first step toward inner and outer peace is accepting responsibility for our
Take, for example, a banker who often gets angry because he had always
dreamed of being a country-western singer, but in the course of his life, he
never bothered to get on a country western stage at all. Still, he blames his
parents, for discouraging him and for sending him to business school, and the
country western music community for never noticing his talent. He blames society
for "making" everything so expensive that pursuing your dreams is nearly
impossible from a financial standpoint. He blames his wife, for getting pregnant
when they were only 21. However, the banker is the one who decided not to pursue
his dreams, and any blame must end there.
Taking responsibility for our lives is not just a matter of our work
situations. We must take responsibility for everything in our lives -- from the
greatest to the smallest detail. No one and no thing is capable of effecting any
change in us that we do not allow them to make.
If someone tells you that you have a big nose or a flabby stomach, you may
feel hurt. However, you must recognize that this injury is one that you are
inflicting upon yourself. Even if someone is intentionally trying to hurt you,
you are still the only one capable of causing the injury. It is your feelings of
inadequacy that come into play. If someone told you that you had a big nose, and
you liked your nose, the comment would have little effect. So, in essence, the
only injuries that can be inflicted upon you are those that you allow.
Every man and every woman is a star, a unique individual, self sufficient and
perfect in their own way. Holding ourselves to any standard but our own is both
injurious and impractical. We are each perfect in our own way.
This perfection is not subject to comparative analysis, but merely a fact of
manifestation. All structures in the universe are in balance, moving
harmoniously from unmanifest to manifest and back, in a cyclical motion. This
state of balance and invulnerability is the natural state for all human beings.
Invoke it, and you can live it.
To make the statement that there is something wrong with you is to claim that
the universe made some sort of error in your creation. Your perfection is
unknown to you as long as you deny it. If you insist upon injuring yourself with
your perceived inadequacies, you will not be able to fulfill your own
The next time you find yourself in conflict with someone, instead of placing
blame upon the other person, look at yourself in the situation. Look at yourself
and remember that there are no wrong feelings. Forgive yourself in advance for
whatever you may find. Notice how you are feeling. At first, you probably won't
even know how you are feeling, or you may think it is anger. In a few moments,
if you look deeply within, you will find that what you really feel is fear.
You probably won't even know what you are afraid of, but when something in
life upsets you, it is a manifestation of your fear. It is just one of those
four elemental forms of fear, creeping into your consciousness. Anger is a form
of fear. Sadness is a form of fear. Loneliness is a form of fear. Still, even
recognizing this, it is not easy to let go of that fear. You feel afraid right
now. You were taught fear, and you have been fearful for so long that any other
condition seems almost impossible.
In your day-to-day life, you spend nearly all of the energy at your disposal
on a set of routines. These routines are so implanted that you consider them to
be you. They are more than the way you drive to work each day or the brand of
soap you buy -- they are the way that you fundamentally interact with your
environment. Everything that you think about, every aspect of your life is just
a routine, a conditioned response. For the most part, you live in the past
tense, comparing everything that comes along in terms of something that came
It takes a lot to maintain these routines. Every time you react to a
circumstance in a typical way, you invest your energy in that direction. Let's
say you dislike airplanes, and someone offers you a ride on an airplane. In
considering the offer, you reinvest energy in your opinion about airplanes. You
assure yourself that you still dislike airplanes, and politely refuse the offer.
However, going around and trying to do all of the things that you normally
don't do won't help either, because in your current state that would only do
harm. You would invest even more energy in trying to overcome your routine
reactions and end up worse off than you began. This is the reason for secluding
yourself -- so that you do not have to invest energy in these routines. By
ceasing to react to the world in a routine way, your overall energy levels
increase to the point where even things you never believed were possible can
The problem is that these routines are so insidious that you will probably
find it hard to recognize them. True, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs can all be
habits or routines, but they are really just the tip of the iceberg. The time
you like breakfast, your favorite socks, your thoughts on international
politics, how much you love the sunset -- these are all merely routines. You may
think those are the endearing parts of your personality, but you probably picked
them up from other people. You imitate your parents, your friends, your enemies,
and your lovers. Have you ever noticed yourself saying some phrase or using some
gesture that your current sexual partner always uses? You're probably not even
conscious of when you began to do it.
It will do no good to battle with these habits. Instead, recognize that you
are adhering to a routine, and you will diffuse its power by being aware of it.
The Dark Night of the Soul
Sooner or later, you will have to face "the dark night of the soul." This
phrase, first used by St. John of the Cross, refers to a condition that occurs
in the mystic process in which you feel totally devoid of spiritual ability or
any sense of inner light. It usually refers to an experience that you have after
an extended period of doing your practice, once you have started to feel some
kind of positive result. Suddenly, the positive results disappear, and you begin
to feel lost in darkness and spiritual dryness.
Miguel de Molinos states that this darkness is actually God's way of drawing
you in. He believes that it is necessary for the ideas and personality of the
aspirant to withdraw so that God may do the instructing. "So in the beginning,
when God intends to guide the Soul by an extraordinary manner into the school of
the divine and loving notices of the internal law, he makes it go with darkness,
and dryness, so that he may bring it near to himself."
There is an old saying that the first step on the spiritual path is one into
pure darkness. That is because the spiritual path leads you into your internal
world and the darkness that you find there is the chaos of your own mind. At
first, you may be so enthusiastic about your practices that you will not notice
any darkness. It may seem as if your Angel is only inches away, as if you are
almost done before you have really begun. Very quickly, this enthusiasm will
falter, and you will doubt everything. It will feel as if you have lost not only
that spiritual light you thought you were getting so close to, but all of the
light in your life. All of this is the dark night of the soul.
This is a totally natural process. Any activity that you undertake will have
this dark phase. Whether you are invoking your Holy Guardian Angel, starting to
exercise, or writing a play, after a short while you will find it acutely
painful to continue. Only by suffering through this darkness and letting the
things that are holding you back drop away can you succeed in completing your
The darkness will usually manifest as a loathing for the project, a feeling
that you are getting nowhere, and doubt that there is really anywhere to go. You
may feel as if you are losing your mind. You may feel like you are actually
becoming a much worse person than you were when you started off. What this
darkness truly consists of is all of your internal conflicts and fears that you
have kept quietly at bay by building a wall between yourself and the universe.
By looking within yourself, you are forced to confront these fears, and if you
do not approach this operation with all of your will, you will be consumed by
these fears. Only by quietly facing each of your fears, doubts, and delusions
with intelligence, perseverance, courage, and silence can you succeed through
this critical stage.
You may not recognize that you have entered the dark night of the soul until
it completely surrounds you. It may begin as a mild boredom, or a creeping
doubt, but quickly it will turn into panic and perhaps even a feeling of
This is just part of the spiritual growing process. At some point, we each
have to go through a period of tribulation. It happens in mundane situations
too. Any learning process involves this period of dryness and anguish. Think
back to when you learned the multiplication tables. At first, maybe it seemed
fun, then horrible, like a looming beast, and then you were its master.
There is another old saying that once you take a single step onto the
spiritual path you are compelled to walk its entire length. This is also very
true. If you abandon your practices in the middle, before you complete the
operation, you will remain subject to all of the mental chaos that you've
unearthed. Eventually, you will most likely manage to force it all back down
into the shadows, but you may never take another step on that path. Once you
begin this operation, you must succeed, or you may never succeed.
Just remember that you are seeking your Holy Guardian Angel. You cannot force
this Angel to come to you; you must just be patient. Allow your fears and doubts
to enter your consciousness, because you will face every one of them in one way
or another before your Holy Guardian Angel will appear. Forgive yourself for
having these fears, and let them quietly slink away. Eventually, they will not
trouble you any longer, and you can be assured that your Angel is only moments
article was excerpted from 21st Century Mage, ©2002, by Jason
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC,
Info/Order this book.
About the Author
Jason Augustus Newcomb is an aspiring screenwriter and artist, a certified
clinical hypnotherapist, and a lifelong student of the Western Mystery
Tradition. He lives in Los Angeles.
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