I recently was inspired by an interview with Marianne Williamson who spoke about depression, human suffering and the Dark Night of The Soul. There is so much to say about the collective suffering to which she alluded. If we are at all sensitive, we will feel the pain of terrorism, destruction of our ecosystem, hate crimes, and mass shootings. If we are feeling that pain and turning our heads, we are indeed becoming immune to the darkness around us.
“When a storm is coming, buffaloes don’t run away from a storm, they run directly into it” Williamson states. This struck me. I know that in the work I do with people, this is a given. You must enter the madness to get through it.
We are a culture that avoids pain and suffering. We learn to suppress it, mask it, or numb it with substance abuse, pharmaceuticals, eating disorders, and overworking. Ms. Williamson talked a lot about our inability to tolerate and feel the shadow side. In this present culture, we are encouraged to be positive and think good thoughts. Popular culture teaches us that these positive thoughts will attract the good things. We are taught that getting these “things” will make us happier.
She also points out that we are being diagnosed with depression for things that are a natural part of living. We are not given a blood test or brain scan but a questionnaire to determine whether we are depressed. Being sad or having dark times is part of life.
“Demons come out at night and they must be stared down. They must be transformed or they will find subconscious ways to punish you”, says Williamson.
So true! I have been teaching about Self Observation as a means to stare this stuff down. What we see in staring it down is our attachment and identification with progress, success, or needing completion from an outer source. We are identified with what we think should be and this causes immense suffering. It makes us depressed. In fact, depression is one big state of identification that with care and vigilance can be worked out.
“The dark days are part of the natural order”, says Williamson.
We cannot go through life without them. The more we avoid them, the more it seeps out in horrible acts within our culture.
I believe we are experiencing a collective Dark Night of The Soul at the end of a long swing of the pendulum toward the decline of civilization. We see inequality due to greed, mass shootings and climate change as part of that manifestation. We see a rise in suicide and bold acts of self loathing. This can be seen as a natural shift that occurs throughout history. If you read The History of Civilization by Arnold Toynbee, you will note that these times very much resemble a period of decline.
The good news is the phoenix arises out of the ashes and a New Era emerges. We will swing from this most material of times to a more spiritual enlightened age, which is clearly in the works.
We can also look at the Hindu records of ages or Yugas. These times would be known as the Iron Age or Age of Kali.
Wikipedia states: Kali Yuga (Devanāgarī: कलियुग [kəli juɡə], lit. “age of [the demon] Kali“, or “age of vice”) is the last of the four stages the world goes through as part of the cycle of yugas described in the Sanskrit scriptures, within the present Mahayuga. The other ages are called Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, and Dvapara Yuga.
It is a cycle and we will be reborn, but we must feel and acknowledge the pain in ourselves in order to transubstantiate the collective suffering. Our spiritual work of transformation is so key and it involves going through the fire of that pain as an alchemical process. We work to presence that pain through attention and vigilance, through the path of the heart, not the head. We work and asked to be worked upon, not to be changed, but to accept. We ask not to have it taken away but to be understood.
“What you place on the altar will be altered” is a most brilliant idea from Williamson’s latest book Tears to Triumph. She directly refers to putting our suffering before us and lifting it up to God so that we may see and understand it in a way we did not before. We ask that our eyes be opened to allow us to feel it in ways we could not have before.
Part of the importance of experiencing our pain and understanding our depression, both individually and collectively, is so that we understand the suffering of others. When we ourselves have gone through that kind of suffering, we gain empathy. We become more sensitive to those around us.
“Not experiencing enough of our own pain, not being sensitive to our own pain makes us less sensitive to others pain” MW
So, in summary, we must acknowledge that what we are feeling is a normal part of life instead of trying to push it down or medicate it. We can begin to distinguish what is necessary suffering and what is accidental suffering that arises from the identification of our own Ego. We must discriminate what is ours and what is not ours, while at the same time understanding that we will feel the collective if we are any bit sensitive. We must know that part of the dark night of the soul is a spiritual initiation that one must go through in order to get to the other side.
As we experience it, we start to understand forgiveness of self and others, plus the importance of grief. Perhaps seeing it as remorse of conscience is another way of deeply processing it.
“If you allow your grief, when it ends,,,it ends, and if you don’t allow it or suppress it, it’s going to bite you.” says Ms Williamson.
I am convinced that we are suffering from stuffed emotions and the avoidance of pain.
In The Work, we are encouraged to intentionally create friction, to rub up against our likes and dislikes, to observe our own suffering in order to understand the source of that suffering. Much of that suffering is illusion, created from states of identification, but that is part of life. It exists as a mechanism to protect ourselves from ourselves and must be dealt with delicately. Seeing our own suffering can get depressing. The “terror of the situation” is revealed and we realize the world around us is one big manifestation of the human predicament.
When we vow to intentionally suffer, it means we are willing to face the unnecessary suffering.
We are willing to stare down the demons that keep us awake at night. We are willing to look at how we avoid feeling. We take measures that may seem wholeheartedly unpleasant, but we know that in the end there will be emancipation from our own private prison of suffering.
That individual emancipation is the answer for the collective.
How much are you feeling it these days?
What is your work like with emotion, shadow, and your own demons?
Please add to the discussion below.
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