The Dark Night of the Soul
“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami
Life is unpredictable. No surprises there. You never know what lies around the corner waiting to test your resolve. Life’s challenges are part of the human condition and yet none are immune from the ravages of existence. They arise for reasons we cannot comprehend and leave us like a wounded pigeon, with broken wings. Yet contained within this knowledge and in spite of life’s upheaval, we are able to reconnect to our authentic power however uncompromising conditions appear. The quote by Haruki Murakami signifies our ability to assume control of how we interpret pain and suffering: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Are you comfortable with this idea that how you respond to what happens to you is more important than the event?
Through my own trials, I appreciate the supreme lesson we are ultimately not in control. With this knowledge, we surrender to universal forces to give us the experiences needed to shape our destiny. Surrender does not mean apathy, in contrast it means mental and emotional detachment from preferred outcomes. We allow the process of life to unfold through us and trust our needs are fulfilled at the right time. You are never presented with an experience that is not the sum of your current conditioning. Each challenge stretches you to grow beyond your comfort zone. Comparable with the seasons which arrive and recede, your challenges serve a purpose. Sometimes, it may not be obvious for a long time, yet everything unfolds in line with a supreme order. I am neither referring to religion nor spirituality, but an intricate universal order which governs the framework of reality.
There’s an ancient Sufi passage that reads: “This too shall pass.” Reflect on these words during your darkest hour. Pain and suffering recedes to give way to a harmonious solution. Painful challenges dissolve in the same way morning fog lifts to reveal a brilliant day. Yield to your challenges by leaning in to them instead of opposing them. What happens when you move into your challenges than run away from them? You face them head on and build self-confidence. The storm represents your darkest hour amid the backdrop of uncertainty. Known as the Dark Night of the Soul, the storm serves a purpose. It endows you with important resources that serve your personal evolution.
The Impact Of Our Attitude Toward Life
“If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.” — Mahatma Gandhi
It is by no mistake that the bigger we play, the harder we fall. Challenges can arise suddenly, yet lead us to a deeper knowledge of ourselves. Your personal growth is impeded were it not for the difficult times. Man does not rise to his best under the kindest conditions, yet in the harshest storm he discovers his true potential. Do not merely embrace the good times, savour the difficult times as well since progress is realised under testing conditions. The happiest people are those who have undergone hardship to emerge with deep wisdom to share with others. We prevail not in waiting for the storm to pass, but in proceeding through it. Winston Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” You see, the storm shapes your inner landscape by exposing your strengths and weaknesses. It sharpens the saw as Stephen Covey reminds us in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Are you comfortable with the idea of accepting the good with the bad?
If you are feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges, see if you can find it within yourself to persist through it. Acquire the lessons, experience the pain. We must venture beyond our comfort zone if we are to awaken our potential. Those who settle, burn out well before their time has come. It was George Bernard Shaw who said: “I want to be all used up before I die.” Similarly, we must strive to nurture patience and self-compassion as we endure the storm. In doing so you develop a resilient sense of self. Consider your advice to a close friend or family member undergoing a similar trial.
The Buddha teaches the Four Noble Truths essential to his teachings. They apply to us if we seek to understand the nature of adversity and how to make sense of it in our lives. If we wish to penetrate the true nature of our existence, we must develop a deeper knowledge of ourselves. Suffering is the threshold into one’s reality, perceived through the lens of adversity. The Four Noble Truths affirm that life is impermanent; everything is in a transitory state, even our pain and troubles. They are espoused in the following principles:
The Truth of Suffering:
Life is filled with suffering.
The Truth of the Cause of Suffering:
The root cause of suffering relates to our cravings for the wrong things. Our material attachments can never meet our true needs since we always yearn for more. Everything is impermanent or in a transitory state.
The Truth of the End of Suffering:
Suffering can be overcome and happiness attained if we relinquish our cravings and live each day as it comes. Bliss is attained when we let go of satisfying our personal needs in place of allowing life to flow through us.
The Truth of the Path Leading to the End of Suffering:
This embodies the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the end of suffering: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
Your response to hardship is measured by your attitude and mental resilience. Charles Swindoll said: “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I’ve come that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.” Therefore, it is not life’s volatility that is the cause of our hardship, yet how we interpret those events that shape our life. We have two choices in each challenge: rise to it and in doing so overcome it or retreat into despair. The latter invites more suffering and erodes our personal self. We all suffer pain in one form or another, yet the degree to which we choose to suffer remains within our control.