Are we entering a collective 'dark night of the soul'?

From the onset of the pandemic I have had a wondering about whether we were entering a collective ‘dark night of the soul.’ Saint John of the Cross spoke of two dark nights, one of the ‘senses’ and one of the ‘spirit.’ The dark night of the ‘senses’ is about finding freedom from attachments to specific sensory gratifications while the dark night of the ‘spirit’ is about finding freedom from attachments to rigid beliefs and ways of thinking. They are not necessarily linear or even entirely separate and as I continue to sit with this possibility, it seems to me that both are happening.


We are in a time when previously held ways of being are no longer working, people are confused, perplexed, and not able to get a handle on what is actually going on in our world let alone how to respond to it. We seem to be an unmoored ship in an unknown sea. There are ongoing attempts to push through and make something successful happen. There is blame, rage, hopelessness, and fear. There is an experience of diving into an unknown abyss of unlit territory and nothingness.

There are many different families, communities, businesses, cultures, etc that have a life of their own. Collectives within collectives, all experiencing what appears to be undeniably similar to dark night experiences. We have certainly gone through periods of instability before but the times are increasingly intense and not letting up. There is little relief available. Saint John of the Cross offers three signs of the night as described by Gerald May in his book "The Dark Night of the Soul." First, the drying up of gratifications and the powerlessness to do anything about it. Our typical ways of gratifying ourselves - physical comforts and pleasures as basic as being able to gather in groups and hug without masks - have been stripped away and we cannot do much about this.

Second, there is a lack of strong motivation to return to the old ways - the frustration with what has been our fast paced, consumeristic, implicitly and explicitly racist ways of being are losing their luster and many do not want to return to what was. Thank God!

Third, a heartfelt deep desire to remain in God - this may be a little more challenging to see right now. When talking about this last sign Gerald May wonders “maybe, when people long for sheer love and bare compassion, when they yearn for simplicity of being and naturalness of peace, when they die inside from the simple desire for liberty and justice, maybe that might become manifest in there relationships, in the groups they form, and maybe - just maybe - that might be the third and surest sign.” I see these longings and yearnings emerging in the collective. It may not be in every part of the whole but they are groping to come forth.

These dark nights are part of a transition or forward movement in our development and are often marked by crisis. There is an element of what feels like death to the egoic sense of self that derives happiness from this horizontal earth realm alone. Saint John of the Cross taught that the spiritual life consists of three ages that mirror ages in the natural human development from childhood (Purgative way) to adolescence (Illuminative way) to adulthood (Unitive way). As we move through these transitions, we can awaken into something deeper and be birthed into something more true. In a profound way they prepare us to carry our crosses, to put death behind us, and to share in the suffering of Christ.

It is difficult to say for certain whether we are in a communal dark night of the soul but what if we moved forward as if we were? Are we being initiated into our next developmental stage? How might this change how you, we, approach the times we are in? What if there is something ‘right’ in all of this? Don’t hear this as a minimization of the pain and suffering in our midst, this too can be tenderly included and loved. Gerald May says, “It might be a sign of something going exquisitely right, of divine action carrying us darkly through spaces where we would not and could not go on our own, toward a place of greater freedom and love.”

Dark nights are about the soul undergoing a kind of liberation. It is possible that we are being pushed to grow up, to become. . . that our collective soul is being freed for greater love.

Here are some readings from this week's 'pauses.'

"There is a presence, a silence, a stillness which is here by itself. There is no doer of it, no creator of this stillness. It is simply here in you, with you. It is the fragrance of your own self. There is nothing to do about this, it is naturally present. This fragrance of peace, this spaciousness, it is the fragrance of your own being." — Mooji "The great mystics have named this as the heart of the Mercy of God: the intuition that the entire rainbow of times and colors, of past and future, of individual paths through history, is all contained - flows out of and back into- that great white light of the simple loving presence of God. Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. And in that Mercy all our history - our possible pasts and possible futures, our lost loved ones and children never born - is contained and fulfilled in a wholeness of love from which nothing can ever possibly be lost." — Cynthia Bourgeault


"This Time We Are In" For those of you who are in America at the present time, this is a very great opportunity, even if the smallest number of people can manage to preserve a constant state of compassion and abstain from criticism. This does not mean putting away one’s critical faculty which is quite a different thing; it does not mean seeing that mistakes are made. All this we have to do. It is to not criticise people for doing what they can’t help doing; not to find fault where people are being carried along by a stream without any possibility of changing the course of events. If the course of events is to be changed as I believe it will, and I am not a pessimist, not an alarmist about the situation; in fact I am more optimistic than almost anyone can be because I have complete conviction that there is a higher power working in human life at this time, with far greater wisdom and far greater resources than we have any notion of. But this confidence does not mean that I think that human beings can help and put the situation right. And as I have said over and over again in the past year or two, our task is, to my mind perfectly clear: to do everything we can to make ourselves into instruments for the higher wisdom channels through which this wisdom can flow, putting aside our worn wisdom, putting aside any belief in our own powers, to allow the higher power to work through us. Perhaps very wonderful things will happen." — John G. Bennett


"Blessed Are You Who Bear The Light" Blessed are you who bear the light in unbearable times, who testify to its endurance amid the unendurable, who bear witness to its persistence when everything seems in shadow and grief. Blessed are you in whom the light lives, in whom the brightness blazes -- your heart a chapel, an altar where in the deepest night can be seen the fire that shines forth in you in unaccountable faith, in stubborn hope, in love that illumines every broken thing it finds. — Jan Richardson

With Love, Heather