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A Flashlight for Your Journey Into The Dark Night of The Soul

We're all addicted to something that takes the pain away, and eventually we all have to give it up and stumble out into the darkness in order to find the light.
We’re all addicted to something that takes the pain away. Eventually we all have to give it up and stumble out into the darkness in order to find the light.

I arrived at my desk today to find a brown-paper wrapped package containing a copy of, The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald G. May.

It couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Someone I love dearly, a best friend and wonderful person is suffering so deeply that the only caring I can offer is to hope that he knows he is loved as he suffers through what is, I’m sure, one of his ‘Dark Nights of the Soul’.

What my heart tells me to do is to keep reminding him of that, but what I know I have to do is let him find his own way, and hope that during the darkest of times, he knows that he is loved.

I want to call, text, send emails, books, quotes, stories, cards and carrier pigeons. I want to wrap him up and protect him from the demons only he can face and conquer.

I want to stomp my feet and shake my fist at the sky and….

…what?

To be honest, I’m not sure, as I’ve been having what I like to describe as, “The Dark Night of the Whateveryoucallit”. In other words, I don’t like to admit that I’m sad, depressed, angry, frightened or broken-hearted.

I like to breathe deeply and remember that whether or not I like it, I will wake up tomorrow and slog through the difficult emotions.

I like to remind myself that it’s ok to come home, cry myself to sleep and let this sadness snake its way through my body until I’m strangled by it.

I like to remember that ignoring it, or raging against it will not make it less painful or faster to go away.

Although it is painful to experience the ‘darker emotions’, the more you allow yourself to feel these in their gruesome fullness, the more cathartic it is. It’s scary as hell, but why use your energy fighting something you must face?

That’s been my experience anyway. Instead of running away from it, I just let it wash over me, seep into my bones, and tumble as tears from my eyes. Whenever we emerge from these darker times, we are a changed person, often with more capacity for love, compassion and empathy. The storms polish us like sea glass that has been worn smooth from being tossed ruthlessly against the rocks, and then gently brought to shore.

I’ll share with you some of the things that I’ve learned about not resisting painful emotions;

1)You have to reach out to people. Don’t roll your eyes and stop reading. Everyone has their own life, but friends are always willing to listen and do what they can.

2) There is alchemy in every human encounter; each person is at the same time giver and recipient. Helpers are gifted the opportunity to help, by those in need.

3) No emotion is permanent, so there’s no point running away from the hard stuff. It stays there until you’re too exhausted from chasing the next item of retail therapy, cigarette, joint, drink, lay or thrill-seeking adventure. Then you’re just left worn out and having to deal with what you spent all of your energy running away from

4)We all screw up. We all stumble backward once in a while when we need to be reminded of why we didn’t stay there in the first place ( bad relationships, addictions, habits…you get the gist of what I’m saying here…).

5)Life goes on, even when you don’t ever want to wake up, it goes on. See #1 and #8 when you really are suffering.

6)Guilt and shame are chosen emotions. They’re tough ones to overcome because they whisper evil things to our ego, and ego is a ruthless critic. Looking deeply and compassionately at guilt and shame can ease a lot of internal suffering.

7)When you are able to, offering your compassion and love to another human being may be emotionally risky, but it’s totally worth it.

8) Talking does help. Language helps us process, but it also invites different perspectives and the occasionally necessary reality check.

For those barely able to take the next step through the dark night of their own soul, I wish you peace.

For those of you who care about someone who is going through this, I also wish you peace.

Be kind to yourself and be kind to one another. Be gentle…and stock up on tissue ’cause you’re gonna need it.

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Shame & Should; What to do with Shame, Guilt and Fear

SHAME
SHAME (Photo credit: BlueRobot)

I’ve felt uber-connected in some parts of my life lately. I have a blessed abundance of friendship, of caring friends whom, without their support the last few months, I would have dipped more deeply into some mindless-emotion-numbing habit.It’s true what they say about doing something kind for others. It really does make you feel better. Kindness is a kind of tonic that multiplies in efficacy. It benefits not only the beneficiary, but the donor.

That’s all well and great. Happiness, contentment, lack of longing, healthy, forgiving expectation. Aren’t they all terrific emotions? Sure my sweet little peach-pies. It’s all bliss and toothy grins.

But last night I had a different kind of conversation. A long conversation, about emotions much less pleasant. What about shame, guilt, fear, anger and addiction ?

They all suck. Quite often when someone is feeling these emotions, well-meaning friends offer advice about what you, ‘should’ do to cure the feeling. Should, has no place in a conversation with yourself or anyone else when these emotions are playing with your heart and mind.

Shame, guilt, fear and anger deserve our attention equally, if not more so, than the feel-good emotions we strive to cling to day after day, and moment-to-moment. After all, it’s human nature to run these bad-boy emotions out of our life. Why? Because they hurt. A punch to the solar plexus is much more tolerable than carrying the weight of negative emotion.

So, last night, during a conversation that was meant to encourage another person to seize the day and make the most out of life, even after crisis and loss, I revisited some of the indiscretions of my past. It was painful, for me and I’m not sure I made my point. I babbled well though, I’m good at that.

Experience comes from making mistakes, and let’s just say, I’ve had a world of experience my darlings. Although my decision-making, especially regarding personal relationships, has been much more healthy during the past few years, I alone know the truth about how I came to this place of strength and personal integrity.

I arrived at this place through much pain, loss and suffering. I had to learn painful emotional lessons over and over in order to make a change. An important part of ‘learning the lesson’ was forgiving myself and allowing myself to be loved, to believe in all of the things my heart ever ached for, and (gasp) to be vulnerable enough to trust other people who, being human and all, have also made shameful, guilt-provoking mistakes in their own lives.

So, it was not easy to disclose some of my more painful memories of indiscretion last night over a glass of wine and some food. It was much easier after the second glass of wine, but I digress

Still, I woke up this morning wanting to pull the covers over my head and stay there until someone noticed a funny smell in the hallway and broke in to investigate.

Being vulnerable, being open, being honest, can be very painful, especially if you think it was pointless.

My hope was to help a friend realize that we all make mistakes. We’re all assholes sometime, and it’s ok, as long as we learn and change for the better because of it. Life goes on even when you don’t want to wake up in the morning. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and everyone else, there is no redemption. There is no spiritual growth, and you perpetuate pain and suffering. Your remain, simply, and plainly, an asshole.

So life isn’t what you expected. You screwed up. Tuck the lesson in your pocket and carry on hoping, with faith, and believing in love. Forgive yourself, give up on battering your ego to the ground with negative self-talk, and let the life you always wanted take root.

Oh yah, and don’t judge me because I don’t feel guilty or ashamed any more.

Earlier this weekend a friend told me about some advice that was given to her when life presented a challenge. “The fork in the road”, dilemma over what to do next. A man gave her some advice, ” You don’t stand there looking at the fork. You pick up the fork and go looking for your next meal.”

Trust me, when you pick up the fork, you’ll know exactly the kind of life you’re craving.

Link to a blog about sexuality and shame; http://markandrewalward.blogspot.ca/2013/01/marks-sermon-on-mount-reflections-on-my.html