The phrase "the long dark night of the soul" has been so over-used since St. John of the Cross made it the theme of a mystical poem that Douglas Adams spoofed it, hilariously, as The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. Yet all of us have known nights, even years, of despair and bitter isolation, when we have felt the absence of light and hope and life purpose.
I have noticed something very interesting in some crises of this type. It is not merely the absence of light; it is the sense that something has veiled or cloaked the light. The effect is to shroud the sufferer in pain and darkness, breaking the connection between the individual and any Higher Self or source of spiritual succor and guidance.
The energy "shrouds" can feel like old toffee or used chewing gum or very palpably like the winding-cloths of the dead. They may be woven with threads from the despair and confusion of others, and bound tight by self-defeating emotions in the sufferer. When tightly bound and deeply shrouded, it may be all but impossible for the one caught by unrelieved darkness to understand his or her condition, let alone to move beyond it. I have seen dead people in this condition, when they have been unable to step out of the dense energy shell that survives death. Sometimes their condition afflicts the living.
When I observe symptoms of this kind, in myself or others, and have sufficient clarity to take action to rise above them, I often use words of power that I borrowed from Sohrawardi, the great medieval Persian mystic. They are a simple version of his cry to the Beloved of the Soul, beautifully described by Sufis as the Soul of the Soul and the Gabriel of My Being. This is the guide who never leaves us, and does not judge us, but whose presence is denied to us when we turn away or - worse - allow ourselves to be cloaked in that sterile dark.
In my workshop in Prague last weekend, I shared the words with the whole group, and invited those who liked them to join in making them a chant.
Lift the veils of darkness from my heart
Show me the radiance of your dazzling face
The words, coming from more than fifty voices, were beautiful. The impact - to judge by many stories shared with me later - was deep and transforming. We opened our hearts, and let our hearts' yearning for love and light power group shamanic journeys we proceeded to make to find clear direction for our life journeys beyond the weekend adventure we shared.
I am not one of those who demonizes the dark. Our lives are composed of light and dark, and the creative interplay is essential. I am speaking of our need to break free from the sterile dark. We can also do that with humor. I reminded the Czechs, as a Czech friend had reminded me, of a children's game called Temno, which means "Darkness". A kid pulls down his woolen cap over his eyes and shouts "Temno!" Then he can pull it up again. * We need to remember that trick. We can roll back the dark and play happier games.
* I am learning that there are currents within currents in all things Czech and that deep dark rivers flow below that extraordinary Czech humor, in its many modes. Temno is also the title of an historical novel by Alois Jirásek, first published in 1913, describing the savagery of the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia.