Understanding the Gift of Our Dark Places

10778502083_88a2ae5a98_zAccepting our dark times takes courage and patience. always remembering that this, too, shall pass really helps me. I am walking through the valley this week as I have given up all medication except my thyroid medicine which I have to take.

I have an appointment with my doctor Sept. 4 and we will explore where to go next. For some people, medication doesn’t work for mental illness. I will accept whatever comes. But i know it is harmful to continue medications that are causing dangerous thoughts to gather. Thoughts are fluid and should flow. When they gather and stay, a change is necessary. I use a lot of tools to move through this valley. One of them is look at other’s writings about how they do it

1.  John Shuck is a Presbyterian minister who has had some hard experiences in his life.

Excerpt from his “Embracing the Dark”:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

We aren’t sure how long he is able to be alone.  The next verses read:

“And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  (1:36-37)

Little rest for the righteous.

As I reflect on this passage, I think it is nice to be needed.  It is good to be able to do meaningful things that help others.  It must have felt good to do good.   I also notice that I am exhausted just reading it.    Jesus healed people all day and all night.   The text doesn’t tell us, but we might well assume that there are sick left unattended.   A healer’s work is never done.

Mark is careful to tell us that Jesus took time “while it was still very dark” to find a deserted place and pray.   You can define what it means to pray in your own way.  Personally, I walk my dogs.

Some people meditate.  Others run.  Others practice yoga.  Some sit quietly with a sacred text or icon.  My mother would pray while she tended her garden.   Maybe there is a right way or a wrong way to pray.   I’ll leave that for others to judge.   We do need our “down time”–our deserted place in the dark time, however we practice it.

I find myself exhausted by the news that comes at us 24/7 through our smart phones.   I get a case of compassion fatigue just from reading the latest reports and analysis from and about Gaza, Iraq, and Robin Williams.   Not only the news of the suffering of strangers fatigues me.   The suffering of those I know including my own worries is enough to send me to a deserted place in the dark for a long time.

The wise tell us that we need to practice the dark ways in the deserted places, in part, so we don’t end up in them.   Also, we need the dark to keep our balance and to find what the dark has to offer us.    A beautiful book is Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.  This book is an invitation to embrace the dark, both physically and metaphorically.   It is in the dark that we find the sacred.    God comes to us in the dark.

2.  From Jason E. Smith: “Depression and the Call to Adventure“:

The Hero’s Journey–

From the perspective of Jungian Psychology, myths and fairy tales are images of typical psychological experiences presented in story form. As Joseph Campbell demonstrated in his seminal book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the mythological motif of the hero’s journey is one of the most ubiquitous themes in mythology.

The journey of the hero is a journey to discover the deeper sources of life, to find renewal and a more meaningful engagement with life. It is the path of individuation in which the individual becomes aligned with the Self. “In a way,” says Jungian analyst Marie Louise von Franz, “the hero personifies the Self…the unified personality with all its strength.”

According to von Franz, stories about the hero are meant to inspire and encourage us:

“Now this unified personality is not what we are, but we identify with it when we listen to hero stories, to comfort and strengthen ourselves for the things we cannot do without help.”

The Call to Adventure–

Joseph Campbell provides this understanding of the experience of hero’s call to adventure:

“Whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration — a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.”

The journey of the hero begins with a call. Something in the life of the individual feels in need of a change.

It may be a job, a relationship, or a system of belief — some aspect of life that once felt meaningful, but no longer seems to provide sustenance for living.

For example, you may find that one day you look up from your desk at work, see all the activity taking place around you, and ask yourself that most dangerous of questions: Why?

“Why am I doing this? What’s it all for? Is this all my life is about?”

When you hear yourself asking these questions, you are hearing the call.

Stumbling Upon the Call–

It may not always be clear what the call to adventure is leading toward. In fact, the goal is usually unknown. All that is known is that where you are is not where you want to be. And so a journey is needed.

Many of us, I suspect, imagine that the call comes in the form of a sudden revelation. Like Moses, we will hear the voice of God speaking to us from the burning bush and telling us what we need to do next. But more often than not it is not so clear.

Joseph Campbell teaches that the call to adventure is frequently something we stumble upon by accident. It may, in fact, appear in the form of an accident, a mere chance, or a “blunder.”

Blunders “are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs. And these may be very deep – as deep as the soul itself. The blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny.”

The Jungian psychoanalyst, Aldo Carotenuto, in a book titled, The Call of the Daimon, writes of how the call usually begins in a feeling of being lost, what he calls an experience of the “shadows.”

 “A sensation of emptiness, that is, of loss and of something missing, often accompanies the shadows…It is important, however, to emphasize how the sensation of shadows is a necessary premise if the light of a meaning is to begin to shine, if something with meaning is to reveal itself.”

Depression as a Calling–

Given these reflections, is it possible to see in the experience of depression the first stirrings of our own call to adventure? The symptoms of depression, including feelings of hopelessness, loss of energy, loss of interest in one’s usual activities, and a pervasive sad mood are all also qualities of Carotenuto’s experience of the “shadows.” They may be signs that, as Joseph Campbell says, “the familiar life horizon has been outgrown.”

It is a natural response when confronted with such difficult feelings to wish, as many of my clients initially do, to “return to normal.” At the same time many models of therapy approach depression with the goal of “returning to a previous level of functioning.”

But sometimes there is no normal to return to.

Sometimes the “old normal” must be left behind and the journey to a new mode of living undertaken. The darkness of depression may be a signal that our life has reached a turning point and nothing will resolve our emptiness but to risk a new adventure.

As Aldo Carotenuto teaches us, sometimes the darkness is needed if we are to discover the light:

“A light cannot help but shine in the darkness. One could not speak of light and darkness if they were not complementary realities. The darkness that keeps us from proceeding along our way is the same that sooner or later allows a torch to shine in the distance.”

Photo credit.

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