Attending to the Vision

Have you ever been a place that is so dark that you couldn’t even see the hand in front of your face, though you knew it was there, right at the end of your arm? If you’ve ever been spelunking and dropped your flashlight or had your torch go out, or camped out beyond the reach of man-made light, you might have experienced a darkness this dark. Or maybe you’ve been on a tour of one of the great caverns, and during one part of the tour, your tour guide turned off the light, just to show you how black such darkness can be.

Life can feel just as dark as this darkness that includes no light at all. This sort of darkness is experienced by the bereaved, the depressed, the ill, and the traumatized. It is also experienced by those working at becoming conscious, by those who undertake what depth psychologists and mythologists call the Hero’s Journey or the Quest, by many in analysis, and by those devoutly seeking union with God. Saint John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul.” Medieval alchemists considered this plunge into darkness the beginning stage of the magnum opus, the great work that would produce alchemical gold—the essence of the object so purified.

In Conversation

I recently visited the chapel at my church, where new stained glass windows have been installed by Emil Frei Stained Glass. Each narrow window depicts a prophet or saint gesturing to one another as if in spiritual conversation. These new windows of deeply colored, mouth-blown German glass have transformed the space. The jewel-like faceted glass spills a rich and splendid light throughout the chapel, as if one is inside a Faberge egg.

I was alone in the chapel on this hot, late August afternoon. Intense light poured in from the west. Dust motes lazily floated along the sunbeams. As if the stillness and heat and profound light were not sumptuous enough, an organist outside in the sanctuary began playing Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. Spellbound, I sank like a smooth stone into cold, dark water and settled in the silt.

I had settled in front of one of the westernmost windows before a white-haired prophet whose partially-unrolled scroll read, “AM I HERE.” I looked again and realized that it actually said, “HERE I AM.” The spell broken, I chuckled to myself.

“Here I am”— of course. This was what the prophet Samuel had replied when God called to him in the night (1 Samuel 3:4). It was Jacob’s response (Genesis 46:2) to God’s night vision, and it was Moses’ response (Exodus 3:4) when God beckoned from the burning bush. Abraham, too, replied, “Here I am!” when the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven (Genesis 22:11). Twice, Christ Himself announced, “Here I am”—first, in obedience to the will of God the Father (Hebrews 10:9), and second, in promising his presence to all who open the door at his voice (Revelation 3:20).

Here I Am. This is what the scroll in this prophet’s hand said, but I had read, “Am I here?” I’d read that scroll as a question because this is where I was in my life that day. I was in a place of questioning my “here-ness,” my “am-ness.” My suffering over the past decade has finally brought me to the darkest place of my life. As my priest commented later during our regular spiritual formation meeting, it isn’t a happy place, but it’s a good place.

The Wilderness of Depression

This dark void is a good place because it’s a necessary place. In this great pilgrimage of life, we land in darkness before long, and sometimes it’s a darkness so great we can’t see the hands in front of our faces. We wonder if we even have hands, or feet. We can no longer do anything effectual—can’t dig our way out, can’t run away. We lose our way, cannot forge ahead, can’t see the way back home. There is no home.

“Am I here?”

“Am I here?”

And so one meaning of the experience of depression is that our wholeness, or individuation, the Self, can no longer wait while we follow egotistic ways or even seek for legitimate ego fulfillment, and so the Self brings us, drives us, into the wilderness of depression [. . .] and communication between earth and heaven is even then about to be revealed to us, if only we will attend to the vision (Harding, 1970, p. 10).

To attend to the vision sometimes means to answer, “Here I am” when one is called. Other times, it requires us to ask, “Am I here?” and yet other times, it is to sit still and know, “I am here.”

I am here. How about you?

References

Harding, M. Esther (1970).”The Value and Meaning of Depression.” Bulletin for the APC of New York. Analytical Psychology Club of New York, Inc.

16 responses

  1. Eve,

    You just blew me away. I cannot express to you how much your kind words meant.

    I feel I connected with another human being and for you to tell me that my dark sharing of my inner most emotions was an honor for you and not leaving me feeling it was some sort of obligation for you followed by worn out cliches (which are actually thinly veiled attempts to make me feel guilty for feeling bad about my predicament) brings me to a relief I have not felt in months and months, perhaps years, perhaps…a life time..

    What is truly amazing is that you were able, somehow, to come out of your own pain…your own personal torment to connect. Not to lecture, not to fix, not to fulfill some sort of self gratifying goal of duty that one may embark on to go away thinking you took care of that and so now on to the next challenge….but to actually connect. It was……brave.

    How simple and yet how difficult for many.

    Yes the ego of many dictate how they deal with other people’s pain.

    With you, for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt an ego was not speaking to me but rather another human being that understands darkness. Virtual arms wrapped around me in loving protection and I wept.

    We’ve never met and probably never will…..but from your words I felt “love”….not romantic or ego inflating love…but pure simple “love” devoid of a self fulfilling goal…love of another human being that is suffering.

    Wow

    • Mona, you just blew ME away! Thank you for your kind words in return. It’s hard for me to come back into the land of the living while so much about me is still dead, and with the dead. I have an inkling of what’s at stake when you put your broken heart out there.

      If you’ll allow me this much observation, I’ll suggest that one reason you felt so much love in our exchange is because you met yourself on the road. That is, you put your Self out there, and that’s a courageous act of love *for* yourself. That’s why it’s an honor to be in any place where a person is inspired (or driven) to share herself, or himself. It’s a type of communion.

      • Eve, I asked you a few days ago who would choose this darkness and you asked me what do I think. I gave it a lot of thought.

        Today it occurred to me that we certainly don’t choose the devastation and the suffering that brought us here, however, perhaps we choose the dark road once it happens. Are there some, that after unimaginable personal crisis, whom still choose to remain unconscious?

        Perhaps those of us that are thrust into the darkness after our world is crushed….do so to escape a more blinding neon light and the noise of impending calamity.. Certainly the things that once gave us pleasure and joy are only reminders of how foolish and naive we once were. Also how protected we once felt. My entire psyche was wrapped in mystical, magical fantasy…..I do miss it although to go back is not an option.

        Perhaps we go from childhood fantasy to adult fantasy with no break in between. Just a different level of fantasy. I imagined myself so mature when I changed levels. However, I lived in my own little lie that was invented by me and enabled by others who did the same.

        Circumstances have forced me to face the truth. I wonder now, before I took this road,….did I have an option? I have become a lover of the truth but that requires much introspection.

        As the cover topic stated “it isn’t a happy place but it’s a good place”. As somebody here wrote….she can taste the darkness….yes I have experienced that too because I didn’t move up to another level of unconscious adulthood but fell into the darkness so suddenly and hard I could taste, smell, hear and feel it.

        Truth can be ugly and devastating and crushing and dark but it is unchangeable. One can always depend on the truth…being the truth.

        It is comforting to know I am not in this cold, cold dark road by myself….others are here and so am I……sometimes if i search or perhaps by accident (as I’m flaying about in angry panic) ….I can touch somebody or they can touch me even if only for an instant….and it is warm. …

        • Mona, oh…! I too have flayed “about in angry panic”! I laughed out loud at that–even though it’s not really very funny. I wish we could have a cup of tea together and commiserate.

          I was talking with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, a woman who has also suffered a great deal. We had been talking about how suffering changes us profoundly, if we let it. She asked, “Would you rather suffer in a different way?” I thought about all the people I know and many I have heard of or read about, and considered whether I would want to trade my suffering for a suffering that seemed better. I know a man, for instance, who was brought up short by a six-month illness and recuperation that had him flat on his back. A friend’s husband has ALS. A young mother takes her preschooler to the midnight showing of the latest Batman movie and both she and her child are shot; the child dies, as does the unborn baby she’s carrying. She is paralyzed. A pastor and teacher has four children; two of them die. Friends have three children; two of their children die before they are 25 years old, one through disease and another by drowning in a Coast Guard training exercise.

          These are just some of the sufferings I can think of. These people, in their places, might also regard my life and say they wouldn’t want my suffering in exchange. It is, after all, *my* suffering. So in some ways I think we do choose our suffering–we choose it after it chooses us first. It may come to us as a sort of fate, but not because we were destined for it, but because it simply belongs to us. We grow accustomed to the particular pain of it, i think.

          One other thing. My parish priest, an erudite, sharp, and wonderful man, said something to me a few weeks ago. He said that the reason it is so difficult for me to be single right now is because I didn’t choose to be single. My husband’s death forced me into the single life, a life I hadn’t planned and didn’t want. He said that in the past, if he has felt lonely or wanted to whine about his position in life, he didn’t allow himself that, because he chose to be single. I considered this for a moment, and then I replied, “I’ve chosen it now, though.” He seemed a little startled, so I explained, “I’m choosing to remain single, so I won’t be dating or seeking a partner. So I guess I don’t have much room to complain, either.” I realized then that I am choosing many aspects of my suffering, and realizing this relieved a great deal of it.

    • Eve,
      The situations that you have described are heartbreaking, however, none of us are immune to them and worst. In the case of the mother who lost her child, and an unborn child, by a shooter and is now facing paralysis, (although it is true that I am immune to losing a child in my womb, at my age it is highly unlikely) but as some of the other situations that you have described where parents lost one child only to lose another, none of us are immune to a string of devastation. I could still face the death of my child (I have only one) and am only a spinal cord injury away from paralysis and both could happen to me under similar circumstances….or not. I worry things could be worst….and often believe they will get worst. I have no reason to believe they will not.

      Would I trade their heart break for mine? That is a complex question because much of what drives us into the darkness, painfully awaiting rebirth with no compass, is a series of life long events. This has been my experience anyway. Also, and unfortunately, the need for a strong support system is profound. It can make a difference and for some support comes easily and naturally….. and for others it is only something they can dream of….along with their other broken dreams of situations that are simply impossible for them…but not for others..

      If the mother who is now paralyzed could know of my situation…. would she trade places with me? Certainly so! IF…….we were trading one event….the question then becomes ….would she trade her entire life up to her devastation? Perhaps. However, so many factors and “ifs” come into play it is mind boggling. As much as I hate to admit it (because I have chosen a life of near solitude) the people that surround this young mother (her support system) during this dark, dark time in her life could make a difference in her choice if she had the option to trade and took into consideration the “entire” life of that whom she was considering the trade….compared to hers.

      I have no doubt that you have chosen to remain single because, more then likely that under your circumstances, I would probably do the same. i don’t know your reasons but I have found that the less people in my life… the less pain. How can I ever be sure of people?

      Also romantic “love” is a delusion. Certainly it can grow into something far more meaningful (real love) then the fantasy but it takes a mature commitment and although we can control ourselves in this matter we can never be sure, regardless of what the other may say, if they truly feel the same and are still willing to commit long after the heart racing erotica of romance novels and Hollywood (…..and they lived happily ever after) diminishes.

      As for me…..the simplest of life’s important pleasures have been denied. The kind of commitment I just wrote of is rare, unique and we have divorce stats to prove it. What seemed so inevitable and even easy in my youth is now something I realize I was naive and even foolish to pursue in light of how my life played out. I actually believed it was some sort of god given right and this belief was driven by myths. As it turned out it was a foolish waste of time, energy, money, emotion and resources. Perhaps i chose that as well and am just not enlightened enough to know it…yet. In trying to be honest with myself, about myself while I stumble through the dark….I’ve yet to discover that I did choose it.

      I wonder if your decision to remain single isn’t so much a decision to remain single as it is a decision not to inflict more pain and disappointment on yourself in pursuit of another life long partner.

      Perhaps your choosing of this particular aspect of your suffering is to avoid a possible additional painful aspect.

      I apologize that this is long. Your comment gave me much consideration.

      .

      • Mona, thank you for your considered response.

        I choose not to pursue another partnership for several reasons. For one thing, I was fortunate enough to be in a long-lasting, loving marriage to my best friend. We were a great pair and my late husband was an unequaled partner. To expect this again seems almost piggish. However, if fate brings such a partner across my path again, I won’t resist it–but neither will I seek it. Another consideration is that I’m still raising children, and as a single mother I am in more demand and less supply. These kids need their mum.

        Seeking things takes a lot of energy and focus, and perhaps now, with less time left in my life, I’ll be more choosy about what I seek. I think about that parable Jesus taught about how people will sell all they have to buy the field where the great treasure is hidden. I’m the field; at this stage of my life, I’d much prefer to dig that field.

  2. I’m am not liking WordPress lately. It has changed how I can comment and I often lose the comment that I just wrote, like now!

    Anyway, the comment I left was about my own dark night of the soul after Katie was diagnosed. That darkness shaped me in ways that I couldn’t imagine at the time, it both softened and hardened my edges. It ground me down to my core. I would like to say that I became a better person as a result but I don’t think that’s true. Here I am, twenty years later and still I struggle with learning to love and accept myself, as well as those around me.

    • Hi, Deb. I’ll add you to my Blogroll. I’m sorry you’ve had problems with WordPress. I’ve fallen more in love with it, so much so that (as you can see) I’ve upgraded and gotten my own domain (thirdeve.com)… my blogging five year anniversary gift to myself.

      I can so identify with what you wrote about being ground down. When I look back at what has ground me down, I’m surprised. My life has been much more wonderful and much more terrible than I ever imagined. It’s the wonderful terribleness that compels me to write and keep writing.

      That, and continuing to learn to love and accept myself–just like you. After all, in the end, we’re all we have.

    • Eve,

      I had a sense you had that kind of marriage and almost said it but I didn’t want to be so presumptuous.

      It reminds me of a story of an acquaintance I knew years ago. She was a friend of other acquaintances of mine but as circumstances had it we never became close. However, the few times we met she appeared pleasant, warm and highly regarded by her friends.

      She too was a widow and still raising her children. Naturally this took up a lot of her time and energy as you well know.

      I remember her friends urging her to get out more because she had expressed a mild desire to meet somebody again and have the wonderful relationship she had with her late husband. I distinctly remember her friends saying to her on every occasion I was in their company how she needed to get out more because, “…he’s not going to come knocking at your door.” They would tell her this with absolute surety.

      However, she was extremely busy with her children and she had a job and perhaps she too felt that asking for another “love of her life” when some go a lifetime never having one was somewhat “piggish”.

      As fate would have it sometimes….. one day there was a knock on her door. A man was standing there selling tickets to a charity benefit.

      I attended their wedding a year later. 🙂

      Well,….. I have led you off topic and want to thank you for your kind patience.

      I will read here often…and who knows? Maybe I will learn something! 😉

      .

      .

  3. I don’t want, and never did, individuation, soul making, consciousness or an intimacy with a god that (if he/she does exists) hates me.

    Two conclusions….this cruel god hates me or he doesn’t exist. I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t ask to be born of a mother that, I highly suspect, tried to abort me and failed. I am nothing more then a failed abortion. I didn’t tell my mother to have sex without the benefit of marriage when I was conceived.

    Somewhere in the bible I do believe (as I did read it once) that this god hates bastards. Wow what a merciful god….however, if he/she exists is, nonetheless, true.

    I certainly didn’t ask to be born with “no personality” as my grandmother so eloquently stated at the dinner table, in front of guests, as if I wasn’t even sitting there.

    However cruel, she was absolutely right. The realization of this, after several decades of trying to be the clown (everybody loves a clown) shocked me to the core and at the same time was something I’ve always known.

    Ignorance is bliss….denial is bliss. Unconsciousness is merciful.

    So in my ignorance, in my youth, what does miss no personality do to counter all this? Bring another bastard into the world for this god to hate, and hate my son….. this god does.

    I have never felt such hate for another as this god does for some, not even now. Hate him back I do for all he/she allows or may even cause. But the “hate” of this all powerful one overrides any “love” that religion promises. If he/she /it…exists…then satan and it are the same.

    This god put me on a journey? To discover what? How deep and powerful and unfair his/her hate is? How useless. I already knew, however, was in denial of it. I guess he/she wanted to make it crystal clear.

    Ok…i get it. Now put me back in la la land. Oh that’s right, that would be counter productive to the lesson of how deeply this god hates.

    • Mona, I recently listened again to an audiobook discussion between mythologist Joseph Campbell and radio journalist Michael Toms. Your comment reminds me of their compelling discussion today, and I think you’d be interested in the Campbell’s perspective. I’m going to try to upload the discussion as an .mp3 or .mp4 file and share it as media, so that you can listen to it if you’re interested.

      It certainly gives one a perspective. I’ll let you know if I manage to get this done; I’m recording it now so perhaps later today I’ll be able to put it up.

      Your pain and rage come through the screen; I’m sorry for your suffering. When people encounter each other’s great suffering, it’s such a temptation to fix it, to advise, to argue. We want to relieve the suffering of others and our own.

      I’m going to resist the temptation to do that, and say simply, “I’m sorry for your suffering.” By sharing it, you’re inviting us into your world and that’s an honor for any who are reading.

  4. Sometimes I can actually taste the dark. Sometimes I can actually feel blinded by someone’s light. Sometimes I read a rich post as this one and I think yes, Eve and many of her followers and friends here know the place with every hammer of the nail.

    No one in his or her right mind would choose the dark. But do you know what I think is worse? Suffering in the darkness without anyone knowing or having someone tell another who can’t find the light that it isn’t so bad or never remembering the pain we’ve experienced when we finally enter the upper world again.

    I once wrote about The Hero’s Journey http://www.wheneverydaymatters.com/?p=88 because I needed to know if I could ever aspire to be one and also to reflect on the heroes who have been in my life and maybe still might be.

    Peace be with everyone,
    MJ

    • MJ, your article is lovely. I’m sure many don’t think of themselves as heroes; nor is it always easy to look at those angels of mercy who helped us through dark times. It’s easier to focus on the ones who cause us pain when we’re already in the dark, the ones who won’t or can’t have mercy, than it is to look at where the mercy does come from. I’m going to share your article with some friends this week, so thank you.

  5. It’s too hard. Not everybody goes through this. Many live in their la la land fantasy where everything falls into place just as they planned and it’s like this for them until the day they die. I want that life back.

    I DON’T WANT THIS. I was happier in la la land. This sucks….but there is no turning back. I didn’t choose the road…who would choose this? I was literally thrown down the road and can’t find my way back because it doesn’t exist. Of this I am certain.

    • Mona, correct: not everyone goes through this–the “this” being the dark night of the soul, as St. John put it, or (to use the alchemical term metaphorically), the nigredo phase of the journey. We set out thinking that individuation, soul making, consciousness, intimacy with God, awakening, growth, self-realization–whatever we call it–is going to come more easily than it does. Reading about the dark night of the soul and actually experiencing it are different things. One we can do from the comfort of our own home; the other requires the loss of everything (figuratively and often literally) we hold dear.

      “Who would choose this?” What a good question. What do you think?

      And “can’t find my way back because it doesn’t exist” is also true. This is my experience as well. Can’t go back. Know that you have company, Mona. We’re never in this journey alone, even when we are alone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: