Into and Out of the Dark Night of the Soul

by Rev. Dr. Grace Telesco

As an interfaith minister and student of Theology, I enjoy the exploration of various faith practices and glean from them universal truths and lessons. Over the last few months, both Christian and Jewish people celebrated the various holy days of Lent, Easter and Passover—a time of introspection, reflection and remembrance about emerging from the desert or “tomb” experience and coming into “resurrection” or “Promised Land” consciousness. Even those of us with no specific dogmatic belief find ourselves “searching” for a way out of the desert and an understanding of why we sometimes feel as though we are in a tomb.

We all feel this desert or tomb experience at one time or another. As spiritual beings having a human experience, we sometimes feel as though our light is diminished because we may be experiencing an overwhelming feeling of darkness. This darkness can be felt in many ways. We may call it sadness, depression, negative thinking, anxiety, feeling alienated or isolated from the world around us, feeling somehow incomplete within ourselves or sometimes the despair of not wanting to go on anymore.

At times in my spiritual journey, I have felt as though I were lost in the desert, wandering and afraid. I have also experienced times of feeling alone in a tomb filled with doubt and worry that the circumstances of my life would crush me. I could hear my mind and my heart screaming

“Where is the light??? I’ve lost it…I miss it….” In the darkest of times, my mind has tricked me into questioning whether I would ever emerge from the darkness.

Despite the tricks my mind may have played, I have a strong spiritual understanding of the Universal Truth that light is all that really exists and the desert and the tomb are constructions of my limited mind and perception. Physics teaches us that light doesn’t need matter to help it along. Light is a constant. The awareness of this is the emergence from the desert and the darkness of the tomb.

So why is it when we are in the darkness, all we see is darkness? Same reason I guess when we are lost in the forest and we despair that we may never find our way out. Just because we have wandered in the desert doesn’t mean the Promised Land doesn’t exist. Just because I may be in the tomb doesn’t mean I can’t choose resurrection consciousness.

In the Yogic and Buddhist practices, the metaphor of the night moon behind the clouds is a wonderful lesson for us. The bright luminous light of the moon can be completely extinguished by the smallest patch of clouds against the vast sky. And yet, when the moon emerges (and it always does), the luminous moon appears to shine even brighter.

Just as the moon shines even more brightly when the clouds pass, so too our light can shine brighter if we choose to come out of the darkness of the desert or tomb experience by shifting our consciousness. It isn’t easy in this day and age to overcome the feelings of darkness and despair. For me, looking at the news app on my phone can instantly dim my light. We are exposed to bad news du jour, plunging us deeper into the desert, further into the tomb. The choice we make to see the light, however, is the shift.

It is in these times that I have to persevere and continue walking, sometimes wandering and feeling lost—walking through the pain, walking through the life circumstances and using my spiritual tools that have helped me in the past. The darkness will be defeated by the light, because in the end… the light is all there is!

St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic and poet, who wrote the poem “Dark Night of the Soul” (which gave us the phrase), reminds us, “The Divine has to work on the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew what was happening and what mystery and transformation Divine Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”

It’s reassuring that this “spiritual crisis” we feel when overwhelmed by the darkness of the desert or the tomb experience is actually the journey toward higher realms of consciousness. It is there in the desert of the depths of our being that we can truly hear the voice of this Higher Consciousness.

In the Passover story, the Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40 years, awaiting the final destination of the Promised Land. We can learn a great deal from this story. The Hebrews’ Higher Power sustained them and brought them through the desert. Metaphorically, the Promised Land was not necessarily the destination but rather the Grace experienced via the journey. The emergence from the tomb into the Light is possible only when we shift our consciousness. Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, seeking to go home. She had never left. She had been dreaming all along. She was never lost and was always home. What a soul’s journey into the desert she had!

So let’s click our heels three times (or whatever spiritual practice it is that works for you) and say “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, or as the Yogis say, “There’s no place like Om”.

Reverend Dr. Grace Telesco is the Spiritual Director and Senior Clergy at the Darshan Center for Spiritual Evolution, and co-founder and Dean of Sacred Journey Interfaith Seminary, both in Wilton Manors. She is also on the faculty at Nova Southeastern University. See ad page 49.

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