Book Review- Dark Nights of the Soul

All of us go through periods of suffering. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, an illness, a crisis of faith, all of which can crush our spirits and cover our lives in darkness. It’s not only these unpleasant times that will come to define us, it’s also how we respond when these times come. Thomas Moore’s book, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. The book title inspired by the 16th Century Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross’ poem “Dark Night of the Soul.”

At the very beginning, Moore informs us that getting through a dark night of the soul is not for those looking for a quick fix:

“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.”1

Moore adds that we can sense a time of growth and preparation during difficult times:

“Sometimes in your darkness you may sense that something is incubating in you or that you are being prepared for life. You are going somewhere, even though there are no external signs of progress.”2

Moore brilliantly draws upon the struggles of patients in his years of therapy practice and how they navigated through their dark nights. Moore also weaves in the tale of Jonah from the Bible, tales from mythology, and the real life struggles of writers Oscar Wilde, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, and others, who found meaning in the midst of their suffering.

Moore’s theme throughout the book is to guide us in how to properly frame our dark nights, embrace them, and seek to growth from the darkness.

“Think of a dark night as part of organic living. To avoid it would be like choosing only artificial food that never spoils. As a natural person, you are going to feel a wide range of emotions and go through many different kinds of experiences. Over the course of your lifetime, parts of you will grow and blossom, some will rot. To be sad, grieving, struggling, lost, or hopeless is part of natural human life. By riding the wave of your dark night, you are more yourself, moving toward who you are meant to be.”3

Moore touches upon the dark nights that can occur in life, relationships, spirituality, creativity, health, and aging, often using non-clinical methods, to help the reader understand how to get through the dark times. One way to navigate the dark nights, according to Moore, is to develop a philosophy of life, which he defines as:

“A philosophy of life is a bundle of wisdom you have gathered from your reading and experience. It is not a rigid ideology that allows no development and complexity. It’s a living thing, a developing idea about life that belongs to you alone.”4

I know on a personal level that whenever I find myself going through a period of suffering, I question the purpose of said suffering. I contemplate the purpose of my existence and my lot in life. However, Moore puts it succinctly, while drawing upon a them of Stoic philosophy:

“Where you fit in the scheme of things is not your choice. Your job is to deal honestly and generously with the fate given to you. It may be a brief life of sickness. You may be the most ordinary of people. On the other hand, you may be called sometime in your life to make an extraordinary act. Your task is to be prepared for the invitation offered, the chance to define yourself by an important choice.”5

I find Dark Nights of the Soul to be an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone facing a difficult time in your life.

1Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals.New York: Gotham Books (2004): xiii.

2Ibid, 4.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 32.

5Ibid, 298.

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That Elusive Hope

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By Michael W. Raley

Hope- a desire or expectation for a certain outcome-

Can remain as elusive as a treasure out of reach.

Even when the hope seems reasonable,

The path is still fraught with difficulty.

This constant difficulty, in turn frustrates our hope.

A vicious circle indeed!

We pursue hope in faith, in our hard work, in fortune, and a lover’s embrace,

All of which can be taken away,

Leaving us empty once more.

Reality has a nasty habit of sucker punching us,

Whether it is the doubt, the layoff, the disease diagnosis, or the lover’s departure

Or all of them at once.

“It has to get better,” we say to ourselves.

“There must be more to life than this,” we muse during a frustrating moment.

Hope, even in the most realistic appraisal of a situation,

Still flickers in the darkness and calls out to us.

By the grace of God,

I arose from my nightly slumber

To face another day.

Therefore, there is still hope.

 

 

 

 

Learning to Balance

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By Michael W. Raley

If not for the darkness of the night,

We could not appreciate the beauty of the morning light.

Without understanding the depths of depravity and sin,

We could not comprehend the hope and promise of redemption.

If we set our hearts to love and the joys which follow,

We will experience the pains of heartbreak and sorrow.

For most of  us to be thankful for the blessings of prosperity,

We first live through soul crushing lack and poverty.

As we begin to accumulate the wisdom of a sage,

We lose the vigor and vitality of our youthful age.

Thus, life is learning to balance the pleasure and pain,

Realizing at times we must let go if we seek to gain.

 

 

My Compounded Grief

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By Michael W. Raley

I thought I could stay a step ahead of my grief,

But it ran me down.

Grief was the ferocious lion

And I was the helpless gazelle.

Grief has permeated every area of my life,

Even to the core of my identity.

My grief is compounded by the weight

Of depression and anxiety,

Which are enough on their own.

I pray desperately for a light

To pierce through this dark night of my soul,

However, the darkness remains.

The harder I push through,

The tougher the resistance.

The greater my cries,

The more resounding the silence.

 

The Ever Encroaching Reality

adult alone backlit black and white
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By Michael W. Raley

Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way.

Yet, I find myself dealing with the fallout

Of my life to this point.

I am fighting for sanity and survival,

While God remains silent.

My prayers bounce off the walls and ceiling.

I face another day without help from on high.

My spirit is laid low and my mind is clouded

To the point I can’t think straight.

I am hesitant to trust my decision making process

Because a few of my choices led me to this place.

There are positives, but I must remain focused

On the ever encroaching reality of today.

 

Book Review- Rising Strong

rising strong
Image from Random House Books

Shame, regret, failure, and vulnerability are words that can trigger visceral reactions and bring to the surface long suppressed emotions. However, if we are to move forward in life, we must come to terms with these issues. In her book Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown provides a masterful roadmap on how to recover from life’s setbacks.

In Rising Strong, Brown draws from her experience as a social worker, academic researcher, wife, mother, and stories from everyday people all the way to Fortune 500 companies to weave a tapestry that reflects the simultaneous beauty and mess that is life. Rising Strong is more than a conventional self-help book, as Brown encourages her readers to dig deep and “rumble” with the issues at hand and to live through the process on a daily basis.

(If you are unfamiliar with Brene’ Brown, I would encourage you to pull up her TEDx Talks on YouTube).

All of us fall and fail in life, but Brown states the importance of vulnerability, which she defines as, “The willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome -is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy.”1 Even during the times we fall flat on our faces, the rising strong process reveals to us who we are and allows us to draw upon our inner strength.

While Brown discusses embracing the failure, she warns against downplaying the emotional effects of it: “To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important- toughness, doggedness, and perseverance.”2

Early on in the book, Brown outlines the Rising Strong process, which she uses throughout the process. “The goal of the process is to rise from our falls, overcome our mistakes, and face hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness into our lives.”3 The other elements of the Rising Strong process includes what Brown calls “The Reckoning,” “The Rumble,” and “The Revolution,” which involve recognizing how emotions and feelings influence our behavior, owning our stories, and writing a new ending, respectively.

If you are serious about making changes in your life and you are willing to do the dirty work, I highly recommend Rising Strong. Brown lays down the gauntlet for a life changing challenge, as I saw it in light of my own recent life events concerning my health, divorce, and starting over.

Brene Brown, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Random House (2015): xvii.

Ibid, xxv.

Ibid, 37.

This Unexpected Second Chance

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By Michael W. Raley

I never thought I would’ve ended up here,

After all the hard work, sacrifice, tears,

The late nights, the prayers, and conquering the fears.

I gave you everything I had, even my youthful years.

I now find myself in middle age,

Getting ready to turn the page

On a chapter I didn’t plan to write,

Like an unexpected fog rolling in on a clear night.

However, I am learning to embrace this unexpected second chance,

Even if it was born of the most unpleasant circumstance.

My heart and spirit for a time were broken and frail,

I am now determined to clear my path and blaze a trail.