The Dark Night of our Nation’s Soul
“If this experience were to last forever, what quality would have to emerge to bring peace of mind?” asks Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith
But I can’t answer that question for you.
The Dark Night of the Soul is a stage in human development when a person undergoes a difficult and profound transition to a new reality. It’s a shedding of your proverbial skin of identity, relationship, job, habit, values. It begins in the darkness of our unconscious and moves you past things that formerly seemed to construct meaning in your life into a new way, a new light.
In the Dark Night, you’re losing your identification with your previous identity, but you don’t yet have identification with what’s newly emerging.
Could our nation be emerging from our Dark Night?
The term comes from a 16th-century priest St. John of the Cross who describes his anguish in a period of separation from God. This Dark period precedes great & new awaking, meaning, and purpose.
The Dark Night of the Soul is illustrated most easily in your favorite fiction.
After Rhett Butler’s “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, a grief-stricken and now alone Scarlett O’Hara makes up her mind to go back to her plantation and to piece together the life she truly wants. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is held captive by the witch as the creepy hourglass ticks away the would-be last moments of her life.
The Dark Night of the Soul is the low point of the story, and it’s a powerful motivator to muster the hero’s strength and lessons to beat the odds and resolve the conflict in a new way of understanding one’s self.
Could our nation’s dark night of the soul be the impetus to a turning point in our civilization?
This absurd in-between dark period is wholly miserable for many, so I’m not intending to make light of it with fiction illustrations, only to help map the process toward the resolution.
The death of our loved ones, fear of contagion, loss of our jobs, our businesses and even entire sectors of our culture, and the ever-increasing divisiveness all point to this being our nation’s low point. But I believe this Dark time to be an incubation period in our culture.
Marty McFly must begin to fade from existence, Elliott has to face E.T.’s lifeless body, Woody and the toys have to be tossed into the junkyard fire, and Luke has to be tempted by the Dark Side.
We must go through the process to move toward greater enlightenment. The term “trial by fire” means refining, removing the worthless bits while holding fast to the real, the true, the elements of worth.
“If this experience were to last forever, what quality would have to emerge to bring peace of mind?” Despite the closing of borders and the #stayhome isolation, we’re beginning to see just how interdependent we are.
Distilleries into hand sanitizer factories, linen weavers into mask makers, automotive assembly lines into critical care ventilator production facilities…
These times are reminiscent of Isaiah’s Old Testament “swords to plowshares” sentiment. In Hebrew, the word (אֵת ’êṯ ) plowshares symbolize creative tools that benefit humankind. Sword (war and destruction) to plowshare (building and growing).
Today instead of Lebron, Brady, and Beyonce, it is Dr. Anthony Fauci who is petitioned to be the Sexiest Man Alive while nurses, delivery drivers, cleaners, grocery store workers are given a special place of honor.
The state of Florida made extraordinary efforts to care for the elderly, thwarting the predictive disease models of early April. Phone company volunteers are calling the lonely.
California is putting the homeless in vacant hotels. Church groups are sewing masks. We cranked up our buying from local shopkeepers and restaurants in place of the shuttered local mall or chain restaurant.
You may not be seeing it on the news, but there’s so much pent-up goodness in the world waiting to be released!
In fiction, the Dark Night of the Soul happens as our hero hits “rock-bottom”. It’s the story’s emotional low followed by the classic “Use the force, Luke” moment (and BTW, it’s always the most exciting and fulfilling part.)
Our dark night period has given us the opportunity to look in the mirror. Many of us have been on autopilot/busy-work for decades, following archaic 1950’s business norms and following social constructs guided by arbitrary, subjective experiences that we pick and choose from the very thin sliver of culture to which we’ve been exposed.
People, It’s time for our Luke Skywalker soul to rise up!
Brand Strategist Jasmine Bina said, “There will very likely be no “before and after” COVID. Instead, there will be a very slow tumbling of closures and business failures, amplified by a reshuffling of social norms and broken ideals.”
That’s valid, but I feel like America’s 3rd act is beginning and for some, things will look very different — and better. Luke’s “force” may be what Ram Dass calls Faith, but Ram warns — as does Obiwan — that we need to see more than our mere experiential sliver, lest our Faith (or Force) begin to flicker.
“Faith is not a belief. Faith is what is left when your beliefs have all been blown to hell. Faith is in the heart, while beliefs are in the head. Experiences, even spiritual experiences, come and go. As long as you base your faith on experience, your faith is going to be constantly flickering, because your experiences keep changing.”
Is your Great Pause experience nudging you toward that mindfulness movement that you’ve been avoiding? Will it have our nation’s churches and places of worship filled up as 9/11 did? Is this dark night a push toward asking the bigger questions?
What is the deeper meaning of life?
Is this all there is?
Who am I, really?
What really matters?
The seeds of opportunity are germinating in this, our Darkness. Ana Andjelic says what will emerge will be built on what we value, what we pay attention to, who we spend time with, what we support, and what we oppose.
So, what of Dr. Beckwith’s question atop this article, “If this experience were to last forever, what quality would have to emerge for me to have peace of mind?”
Is it Strength? Peace? Grace? (We’re hearing this one a lot lately) Generosity? (Seth Godin’s go-to) Is it LOVE? Patience? Listening?
Beckwith’s prompt for our Dark Night is intended to push us forward. He says that when we start focusing our attention on the answer to his question — rather than commiserating in our Darkness - we can move through the dark faster.
The good news is that humans are remarkably adaptable — give us a few months of Great Pause and the world will see new habits, new skills, new coping mechanisms, new media & art to communicate, new priorities, new cultural norms, and a renewed attention to the ever-fading soft skills that our digital disconnection has eroded.
Empathy, emotional intelligence, adaptability, teamwork, problem-solving. (Not knowing what jobs will look like in 10 years, THESE are the skills that I ask my younger generation family to have in their toolbelt).
Understanding the process that we are moving through as our nation’s ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ -and that we are not alone in it- is the easy first step (watch literally ANY primetime TV ad and the brand will tell you they are “with you”).
It’s the 2nd step that will stretch us.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, there is an interpretation of today’s societal synapses beginning to connect that can allow you to draw meaning from this experience, to work toward answers to those great questions, and to see the light at the end of this tunnel.
I’m seeing that our lens of perception can zoom out beyond our original conditioning and from our former sliver of fractured culture. We’ve done SO MUCH #together in this Great Pause.
Can the quality that answered Beckwith’s question for you begin to emerge today?
Worldwide deep trauma and cataclysmic economic fallout could have us stuck focusing on the Dark Night period, but I believe that as the answer to Beckwith’s question begins to help us emerge from this unfolding tragedy, it will allow us to zoom out of our own perspectives — from my part alone to my part of the whole.
If I may return to the Old Testament to conclude, the minor prophet Micah tells us what’s required: