“At one time or another, most people go through a period of sadness, trial, loss, frustration, or failure that is so disturbing and long-lasting that it can be called a dark night of the soul. If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you…
Many people think that the point of life is to solve their problems and be happy. But happiness is usually a fleeting sensation. And you never get rid of problems.
A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living. It pares life down to its essentials and helps you get a new start.
The above words are those of former monk and psychotherapist Thomas Moore. Moore has an unconventional theory about life, and about how we are to deal with its countless difficulties. He claims that “many people think the point of life is to solve their problems and be happy.” Hellooo – many? How about most? Or maybe even all. Who doesn’t want a painless, happy life?
Rather than seeking to solve our problems and strive for happiness, Moore invites us to consider these dark episodes as teachers that encourage us to dig deep in order to discover meaning, build character, and make us people of substance. Of course we want to get out from under the cloud of our confusions, the pain of our predicaments as soon as possible, but like a seed that must first be buried before it comes to fruition, we sometimes require times of uncertainty, times when we grope, are lost, and feel lifeless, before we can come alive in new ways. Time and trust, patience and non-judgmental compassion are called for in matters of the soul, for life’s most important lessons are learned gradually.
Dark nights of the soul can be scary, for they feel like they will never end. But even more frightening is the thought of coming to the end of our life without having realized the “important gifts” Moore refers to – the divinity of our humanity, the ultimate purpose of our presence in the flesh, and the “new start” that awaits us when we take a deep breath and dive into the darkness instead of running from it.