I had hoped to emerge from my 24-hour silent retreat feeling like a new woman, floating on a cloud and getting down with the unicorns, but alas, it wasn’t like that. Oh no. I remain in a hole, but the good news is, I found acceptance. This is my dark night of the soul and apparently, it has gifts for me.
It took a few hours to reach this point, so I’ll talk you through what happened because the day didn’t pan out at all as I’d expected.
As I sat in the retreat garden, my thoughts went something like this: ‘What shall I do first? Should I meditate? I probably need to do about three or four hours. Perhaps a conscious resting session? Hmmmm. Why do I feel like this? Does it remind me of anything? Am I sad, angry, terrified…I’m not sure. It feels awful. For fuck’s sake, I wish I could just stop thinking…’
Then, a voice inside my head said ‘Just notice.’ It’s hard to explain, it was my own voice, but felt as if it had come from a different part of me; like the bit that makes sure I breathe, digest food, kill bacteria with antibodies etc.
So I did just that. I looked around and noticed what was going on. The garden was alive! I was fascinated by furry little bees that sipped nectar from purple dead nettle flowers with long, shiny black proboscises. I’d never noticed those before. Flies zig-zagged across the moss, long curling blades of grass shivered in the breeze and as for the birds, their song was orchestral. I saw a Jay, Finches, lime green Parakeets, Crows… all of that and more from just one garden bench.
Or course, in-between noticing the beauty all around me, thoughts would creep in. ‘I wonder how my Dad is today? Will he remember to drink enough? Is such and such a client trying to get hold of me?’
I’d go to reprimand myself for getting distracted and that same voice in my head, would whisper. ‘Be gentle. You’re learning and you are getting the hang of this. There is plenty of time.’ So, I did just that.
I know it sounds strange, me hearing voices in my head and all that, but as these conversations were reassuring and not urging me to take to the streets brandishing a breadknife, I went with them.
I spent pretty much the entire day switching between the present moment and the chatter in my mind, apart from the bit where I ran off to buy a jam doughnut the size of a baby’s head and a strong coffee from the nearby shops. Tsk.
I tried to meditate after supper, but felt restless after half an hour, so I made myself a cup of tea and as I was drinking it, my eyes came to rest on a book that I’d flicked through the last time I was at the House of Prayer. It was called Dark Nights Of The Soul by Thomas Moore who is a psychologist and theologian.
Strictly, you are not supposed to read during a silent retreat, but hey, who’s judging?
It struck me that this mood of mine is my own dark night of the soul. The book explained that it is a very useful part of the spiritual journey and one that often comes bearing gifts. It is a chance to reflect on and delve into the soul’s deepest needs. It is also very common and everybody will experience this at some point in their lifetime.
I don’t know what gifts are here for me, other than perhaps a greater understanding of other people’s pain. I remembered a time, some 15-years-ago, when I heard news that somebody I knew locally was off work with depression. It shames me to admit this, but my first thought was ‘What has she got to be depressed about?’ How short-sighted of me. Nobody knows what is going on in anybody else’s inner-world.
Six-years-ago, a woman I know killed herself. She threw herself in front of a fast train just before the morning rush hour. It was such a massive shock. From where I was stood, she appeared to have everything.
She had been far more successful in her career than I ever was. She was richer too. She had an adoring husband and three brilliant kids all in private school. She was attractive, vibrant and talented. Everyone loved her. I could not imagine the pain and torment she must have been in. Now, I can, a little. I’m not saying I am about to throw myself onto the tracks here, but I have a deeper understanding as to why someone might want to end their own life.
I put the book away at 9pm and fell asleep. This morning I awoke still wearing the leaden cloak of misery, but feeling clear-headed. This dark night of the soul is part of my spiritual journey. It is where I am at. I am not going to try and climb out of this hole or illuminate it with too many distractions.
In his book, Thomas Moore writes that it feels like being trapped inside a jar. He said that even though you are in there feeling cut off from the world, this jar, or vessel is moving along as if on a flowing river. You are progressing on your journey, even though you are not aware of it. I like that idea. So, here I am, in my jar where I will stay until the universe decides it’s time to take the lid off and set me free.