I hope this question is not too personal but what was your dark tea time of the soul like?
Dark Tea Time of the Soul? I have no idea if that was a typo or what but from now on I’m definitely going to call it that.
Typically the term is “dark night of the soul” and it comes from the poetry of Saint John of the Cross.
If you want an intense and metaphorical example, think of Jesus on the cross. Jesus was a son of God, a naturally gifted and awakening individual. His life had been guided by God’s grace and endless love. When he was brutally beaten, tortured, and crucified, he experienced anguish beyond anything he had before known. That is when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
That was Jesus’ dark night of the soul. It is that moment in time in which all of your power, all of your understanding, all of your faith can do nothing to save you. To move through the dark night of the soul, you must not run away. But you also must not attempt to force your way through it. If there is one lesson taught by the dark night, it is surrender.
For most people, myself included, the dark night of the soul is not a single moment but perhaps a few different periods of time in our life. If I were to look back and count, I would say I have experienced three.
- The first was in college as a freshman. My father had just died the year before, I moved from a small and sheltered privileged town into a larger collegiate context, and I was utterly lost. My roommate would go out drinking most nights and was busy pledging a frat. All of my initial “yay college!” friends went separate ways into different frats, while I didn’t. I spent a lot of time alone in my room. The pain and confusion is what caused me to seek, and in seeking I came to meditation and the spiritual path. Things improved vastly from there, including college and my social life.
- The second was after college. My girlfriend of six years and I split up, I had no career prospects, and I was living at home. Meanwhile my college friends were living in NYC and working on Wall Street. I felt as if the rug had been ripped out from under me and I woke every morning with a heavy dread in my gut. This was the time I discovered Sufi poetry, Tibetan buddhist teachings such as those given by the Dalai Lama and Pema Chodron, and Tonglen meditation. I was also seeing a therapist weekly, who was a great guy. It helped me to slowly soften my knots and release my suffering. It took two years.
- The third is now. I’m finishing the end of a post-baccalaureate premedical program at Columbia, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It has changed me in invaluable ways. But last summer I had an episode of muscle spasms from which I still haven’t healed. Since then I have been plagued with insomnia and continual bodily discomfort. It disturbs my meditation, lowers my performance on exams, and keeps me in a somewhat self-concerned mindset. I take the MCAT next Saturday and I finish my program’s last course by August. Until then, I am praying and doing whatever I can but I’m starting to discover how little control I have.
The thing about the dark night of the soul is that it is a very good sign. Don’t get me wrong, it is hell. But it is the opportunity to permanently alter your state of delusion for the better. The first time around, it was my first real movement from the suffering of ignorance to the peace of clarity. The second time, it was the movement from an unconscious heart to a conscious Heart. The third time? I have no idea. It sucks but at this point I have no other choice but to surrender to the fierce grace that is guiding this time of my life.
None of it is easy but from the perspective of existential sanity, there is no other real choice. We either turn back to the comfort of delusion or we allow grace to smash our illusions and see what remains when the dust settles.
Hopefully I’ll have something inspiring to share by the end of it all come this Fall.
And thank you for this question, it has given me a much appreciated opportunity to reflect.
Namaste. Much love.