Being in a bit of a dark night of the soul, I wandered over to my office yesterday, more to see if a friend of mine was in her office down the hall than to actually do real work, as such. She wasn’t. So I checked my mail, my phone messages (none), and the latest e-mail, all the while totally forgetting about one important time-sensitive e-mail I had recently received about someone trying to schedule a telephone conference. (Later I found a phone message at home politely informing me that they had not heard from me, so at least I haven’t missed the phone conference, which is important and happens today. I’m lucky. This little incident alarms me, because it shows that this depressive slump I am currently struggling with is starting to affect my work. My normal state of being is that of having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.)
So I left my office and wandered over to the bookstore. There’s a café there, and I was hungry, and I thought food might perk me up, but there in the café was a trim and beautiful faculty member I once heard commenting that “Americans eat too much.” So my path shifted, and I found myself heading for the philosophy books. I looked at them blankly. They seemed vaguely threatening. I went around the corner and found psychology and self help books. My eyes fell on one in particular: Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore. Thomas Moore is also the author of Care of the Soul and other related books. I have very much appreciated his writing. So I pulled Dark Nights of the Soul off the shelf, found a chair, sat down, and had a look.
An hour later I was walking out of the store having now purchased the book (but still no food, and I was still hungry).
This book is not for the faint of heart. Part of the reason I bought it was that I was finding it seriously challenging. Moore doesn’t give easy, rational answers. But I find myself deeply comforted by his great respect for the mysterious movements of soul.
Part of the reason I haven’t been writing in my blog as often as I would hope (or attending to my other writing projects very well, lately) is that I have entered some deep wordless state of being. In my concern about my depressive signs, I have started to see a counselor, but there too I find myself less articulate than I am used to being, and strangely reluctant to face the very issues that drove me to seek counseling. So, on top of my concerns about my problems has grown this meta-concern about my faltering ability to engage my problems. Even so, being in counseling feels very right. Just knowing that there is someone keeping an eye on me from week to week is itself enormously therapeutic.
In the face of my bewildering reluctance to face my own problems, Moore’s book reassures me. The movements of soul cannot always be easily explained. But that doesn’t make them irrational or malevolent. The sense I get (I’ve only just dipped into pieces of the book so far) is that Moore trusts that soul seeks balance and wholeness, and in this seeking, will sometimes move against the ways we try to rationalize and control our own lives.
I am fierce and stubborn. I lock strongly onto those paths I deem right and good. I push myself very hard.
And in this, I can exhaust myself.
It is not a surprise to consider that something deep in my soul is finally rebelling. It takes a peculiar kind of courage to relax my overdeveloped sense of responsibility and just let myself be totally frivolous in these few remaining days of my sabbatical, even though I haven’t accomplished all that I had hoped to accomplish.
My work is full of words: the spoken words of teaching; the written words of all of my writing projects. My work is full of rationalism as I explore questions about what knowledge is, about the role of science in society today, even as I critique our culture’s idolization of rationalism (with my oh-so-rational critiques: they have to be rational, if I’m not to preach just to the converted). And so it is no wonder that my soul moves me to wordless depths, and moves me to simply regard the patchwork of my dilemmas without trying to piece them together into pretty patterns or pictures. Instead, I keep them messily strewn about. I find their very incoherence strangely fascinating.
I will not be in this state forever. But Moore’s book has given me permission to admit out loud that I’m secretly having fun with this. No, I’m not feeling productive. No, I can’t say I’m exactly happy, as such. But it is a relief to let go of words, and to refuse to try to make sense of things or to solve all the problems. Just let them be. Just look at them. Or, better yet, avert my gaze from them. Glance aside. Move beyond even images. Listen to the deeps. Radically trust the world and God’s love to hold me even when I myself am feeling disoriented and ineffective. Trust that when there is something for me, uniquely, to do, I will know then and be ready. But, until then, just be.
All my life, I have lived apologetically. My soul perhaps is leading me to the more secure grounding of an unapologetic existence.
5 years ago