The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, December 05, 2011

Healing Emotions #7: Collapsing to the Center

Healing Negative Emotions

7) Dark Night of the Soul--Collapsing to the Center

This is a delicate topic today, and I want you to consider carefully:

If it is inevitable that we suffer defeat, and that the approach to any major goal will cause a defeat that puts a crack in our ego shell, and WE KNOW THIS IN ADVANCE...

Then it behooves us, as aspiring adults, to arrange our lives so that these blows smash us in productive ways. This is one of the reasons why we encourage you to take responsibility for goals and results in the three major arenas of your life. BALANCE.

Ever see a movie like "The Manhattan Project"? Where the kid is constructing a home-made atomic bomb? The goal is to create a critical mass of fissionable material. That requires plastic explosive to drive all of the U-238 inward into a sphere at a single critical instant, triggering the desired *boom*. Just a fraction off in any direction, and you don't get that bigger explosion.

Now, it's not very likely that you're going to have a critical "breakdown/breakthrough" in all three arenas at the same time, but the implication here is that if you did, you might be able to trigger one of those "Saul on the road to Damascus" spontaneous enlightenment moments. While I hav no idea how to trigger that, or even if it would be desirable, or if there is any discipline in the world that attempts to choreograph breakthrough in all three arenas simultaneously, there IS wisdom in aligning yourself so that breakdowns will, over the course of a year or so, proceed in a balanced fashion.

It is popular to blame relationship issues on social factors, pointing out the high statistics of divorce. It is popular to blame "the economy" for our finances. And it is popular to blame factors outside our own behaviors for our weight problems. Plenty of agreement for all three. The doorway to the Pity Party is right over THERE.

But...if you take the short line. If you reject the notion that your life is out of your control, ah...that's very different. And extraordinarily powerful. One of the reasons we perform "Inner Child" meditation is that we often cannot take such responsibility for ourselves. We simply don't love ourselves enough. But most of us CAN rise to the higher level when our families or children are at risk: that's how we're wired up.

By creating an image of ourselves as a young, helpless child, it becomes easier to see that we simply cannot continue to blame things outside ourselves for our life situation. If we do, our "children"--our dreams, our hopes, our intentions in the world--will suffer horribly.

If you have committed to giving 100% of your effort to protecting that spiritual/emotional essence, that innocent core of your being. The "child" wants to look at the external factors and blame them for everything wrong: "a dog ate my homework!"

The "adult" knows that someone, somewhere, must be the bottom line. You have to be willing to hurt, to bleed, to cry, to really feel the pain of letting yourself down...but simultaneously identify with that precious, perfect child within you, always filled with love and hope. It is a tricky balance to maintain. Most of us can maintain one or the other, but only a lucky, gifted, or committed few can handle both.

See it as concentric circles, or spheres. The outer toughness, the inner heart. Think of it as male and female, yang and yin, adult and child, any other metaphor that works for you--they're all just labels to help you grasp the ineffable. Choose your goals in balance, and when failure comes, "collapse to the center"--inward to your beloved child, where you are prepared to give your life to protect what is most precious.

Bare your teeth. Put your back to the wall, that precious essence protected behind you. You are the bottom line. You would go into a burning building to protect your infant son or daughter, wouldn't you?

You owe yourself no less. The Dark Night of the Soul will come. You have to find something worth fighting for, worth living for, worth dying for...if you would survive it.

Your dreams, your love, your heart...can and should be that "something."



Sarah said...

I'm finding this series you are doing on Healing Emotions very interesting. I like to see how somebody else breaks these things down. In my life so far, I have had two of those dark night of the soul times. The first was in my early 30s. I failed miserably with coping. Did all the wrong things and made it way worse than it needed to be. The second was a couple of years ago. I did much better with that one. Part of it had to do with knowing not to make the mistakes I made the last time. Part of it had to do with what you call collapsing to the center. I love running and I love being outside. The steadiness of the earth under my feet and the beauty of nature give me strength. I ran a lot purposely absorbing what I saw out there as much as I could. My mind is in a much better place than it used to be because the experience caused a reorganization of the thoughts in my head and an increase in clarity.

Anonymous said...

What you're saying reminds me strongly of a passage from James Baldwin on regret and rememberance that I read five years ago, and have thought about many times since:

"[N]obody stays in the garden of Eden. Jacques' garden was not the same as Giovanni's, of course. Jacques' garden was involved with football players and Giovanni's was involved with maidens -- but that seems to have made little difference. Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don't know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare."

From James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room, 1956; via John Derbyshire, at

--Erich Schwarz

Stray Clown said...

Thank you. I have struggled with the dark night of the soul as a transforming image. I appreciated seeing it reference on a Facebook post. These reflections reminded me of the article Impasse and Dark Night 

"This means there is a dark side to human desire, and the experience of dark night is the way that desire is purified and freed.(9) What is important to realize is that it is in the very experience of darkness and joylessness, in the suffering and withdrawal of a customed pleasure, that this transformation is taking place. Transfiguration does not happen at the end of the road; it is in the making now. If we could see the underside of this death, we would realize it is already resurrection. Since we are not educated for darkness, however, we see this experience, because of the shape it takes, as a sign of death. Dark night is instead a sign of life, of growth, of development in our relationship with God, in our best human relationships, and in our societal life. It is a sign to move on in hope to a new vision, a new experience."