Birth is a spiritual journey into physical form after leaving a home where we were bathed in love and oneness. Leaving Source and residing in a physical body immediately creates a lasting abandonment imprint, which includes separation anxiety and existential agony. The painful remnants of this primal process are directly related to what Saint John of the Cross famously termed The Dark Night of the Soul. [i] That term stuck and many poets and authors adopted the phrase to describe challenges during significant Job-like hardships, when nothing we do seems to be working.
The dark night of the soul is the recognized description of what is occurring but it’s actually a misnomer since our soul never suffers or actually leaves Source. The confusion occurs when the human psyche registers the event as an especially “dark night.” The promise of mortality and lost love severs awareness of our divine nature. But in this instance, shocks occur when we physically experience our primary abandonment template. Separation anxiety erupts from trace memories from this template that formed as we left our spiritual home to become human. A similar jolt occurs when we separate from our mother at birth. The anxiety generated from these separations initiates the driving force behind our instinct to bond with friends, family and lovers.
Healing occurs through loving connections and sympathetic resonance. Abandoned fragments of the self seek wholeness. Embracing our pain with supportive behavior, a loving heart and eternal wisdom can transform illusion when we embody our divinity. Incorporating these principles and learning how to be whole, when our soul or the divine supposedly isn’t around requires significant trust.The challenge is to remember our soul is always present and the divine never abandons us. Aristotle’s perspective on this topic is as follows: “We must no more ask whether the soul and body are one than ask whether the wax and the figure impressed on it are one.” [ii]
This awareness is necessary to navigate through the darkest illusions this world offers. The mirrors of illusion and life’s experiences can be brutal. We come to earth to forget our origins, remember our spiritual home and come to the realization that we were never, ever, for one microsecond abandoned. We are also here to love ad use our hearts, mind, and body to find the source of the deepest truths about our true nature. I would describe what we are doing as playing a game of hide-and-seek with divinity and our soul. Everyone goes through this process so that we can adequately heal the existential agony ourselves. When we truly accept our destiny by healing the abandonment imprint, we experience our own divinity. Immune to illusion, we fulfill the purpose of the dark night of the soul.
One of the reasons the story of The Wizard of Oz endures so powerfully in our culture is that it aptly describes our soul’s journey onearth. Just like Dorothy, we land in Oz and can return home whenever we want by clicking our ruby slippers. Everyone has a trusty toolbox of reliable habits, rituals and solutions near and dear to our hearts. When trouble erupts some of our strategies are useful, but many are not. The Dark Night of the Soul reveals the cracks in our foundation and shakes lose every habit, paradigm and mental construct built on illusion.
Darkness blows up our emotional security blankets like the locusts, floods and plagues that afflicted Egypt in biblical times. Pain and suffering humbles everyone—including powerful pharaohs. A problem of epic proportions always narrows our attention and pries open closed minds. The desire for relief motivates us to reexamine every delusion weighting us down.
When life kicks away our crutches, many collapse and believe that the divine has abandoned us. Rise up and re-examine every template, paradigm and principle to sort out if it retains value. Surrendering every sacred cow, like power and control, will help you determine what creates more love or recycles pain. It’s a grand occasion worthy of celebration when we can withstand all of the enchantments of earth and remember there is no place like home. Dorothy enjoyed this celebration when she woke up on the farmwith her family and said, “Kansas is a lot like heaven, isn’t it?”
It takes massive amounts of courage to master the multitude of illusions this world has to offer. Succumbing to the hatred, strife, hopelessness and the agony of feeling abandoned is very seductive. Alone in the darkness, some begin to question whether or not “Kansas” exists. The Dark Night comes in the form of illusion, so that the sunlight of our soul and the divine can shine through our mirages. It’s the crowning achievement after fighting off all the yuck illusion could muster so that we could develop the love in our heart, the brains and the courage necessary to return to our divine home, just like Dorothy.
The dark night of the soul can be the last hurrah or test of illusion to overcome before the dawn of our new life. When storm clouds bring chaos, nothing is working and you do not know what to do, remember to access your wisdom within like the Scarecrow, the love within your heart like the Tin Man, and face your problems with the determination of a courageous Lion. When the world crashes down around you from a wrecking ball, it’s a signal to your mind to give up every delusion of control and surrender to new possibilities and unforeseen solutions, just like Dorothy did throughout her adventure. Storms create a field where rainbows can shine. Illusions are storms and our spiritual home resides in the peace, love and harmony under and over the rainbow.
[i] John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, trans. E. Allison (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003).
[ii] Edwin Wallace, M.A. Aristotle’s Psychology (Cam- bridge, England: University Press, 1882), 61.
Opposition and contrast create masterful training programs. Pain is designed to oppose love so we humans can know love. Illusion is an enigma because the creative force that challenges humanity balances the equation of love through the creation of its opposition—misery. It would be impossible to choose love, or at least entertain the possibility of a choice without opposites or contrast. Shadow and light come from the same source. Can love exist without indifference? How can I find goodness in my life without something else to choose?
Illusion provides the experiences I need to master on the path towards love and wholeness. How could I understand what a privilege it is to choose love if I have never suffered from a lack of love? Exploring the purpose of pain through the mirrors of relationship has been the path of all of humanity, since the very beginning of time. Pain allows good to be experienced as good, and gives me the contrast to know that what I am experiencing is more spectacular than terrible.
The form of illusion warns me about trouble ahead similarly to when gravel rattles the undercarriage of my car if I am in danger of driving off the road and into a ditch. Wake-up calls may look like failure or self-sabotage to someone on the outside looking in, but are merely reminders that I missed my mark. Life provides mirrors that reflect my perspective back to me. I need to accept what is mirrored back to me as a warning sign, like the gravel that tells me to avoid the ditch. Pain signals that I am in danger of recycling my suffering. Painful reflections offer course corrections and alter my perception of the world—for if my illusions remain a mystery that pain continues until I solve my misery.
Failure enflames my delusions and blows back pain to reveal my own reflection.
If I hate I may be hated.
If I betray I may be betrayed.
Until I heal what closed my heart to love I may experience the mirror of being unloved.
The mirrors of illusion let me see my reflections and encourage me to return to my divine nature. In this way, the form of illusion is one of the best allies I have on earth, because it reveals where my shadows lie. If I’m blind to darkness and ignorant of my voids, I can fill with negativity and ignore the mirrors of illusion warning me of impending trouble ahead. If I am suffering I may be susceptible to exploring quick fixes, sexual delights, overindulgence, drugs, alcohol and exciting games that exhaust my body, stimulate my mind but create more suffering. Mistaking inebriation as passion is easy sometimes. I am learning that my addictive impulses indicate I am avoiding what is generating my unpleasant emotions. I choose to resolve my personal love templates, personal paradigms and unsolved mysteries.
In the equation of love, pain provides equilibrium and is an aspect of the divine; therefore pain and love are part of divinity. It’s not about punishment or retribution for my wrongdoings; the form of illusion teaches me about reciprocity. In this capacity, pain humbles the rich or the holy, no one is spared and it guides us on our path to fully experience love while in human form.
The mirrors of illusion greet everyone with a puppy’s playful inquisitiveness and enthusiasm in reverse. When the form of illusion enters a room, it starts sniffing out everyone’s shadows—just like a puppy checking out an interesting scent. Illusion immediately gets to work to make sure I and everyone else have the opportunity to experience our failures at full measure to help us transcend our delusions and move toward our destiny. No one is spared from this process of discovery.
Pain is a personal wake-up call requesting that I refocus my attention. Pain provides a service indicating where I missed the mark to transcend my delusions; like an annoying smoke alarm warns about an impending fire. The form of illusion is the fire and the bringer of fires to guide me out of the cave of illusions and into the light. This is always done in love, since the heat has a positive intention to burn away the dross of delusion, stimulate new growth, and return me to the path of reunification.
Earth is a living experiment for my soul to explore love and light through darkness and despair. Despair is the petri dish or embryonic fluid that births some of the most beautiful creations on earth. Some people collapse from pain and believe there is no divine presence when tragedy visits them. It is important to remember that the negativereflection banging at my door is love in disguise and a delusion to master. Within my divinity the goals are unity, wholeness and reunification. The crucibles of pain and failure exist for the purpose of revealing the illusions blocking my path to become aware that I am one with my immortal soul.
This article about the Dark Night of the Soul and the Illusion Meditation come from my book: The Promise of Wholeness: Cultivating Inner Peace, Mindfulness and Love in a Divided World. (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019) pages 62-68.