I’m happy to receive regular social media updates from Dr. Robert Wicks and this week one of his reflections began “The darkness we experience in life often tells just as much about us as it does about what we feel is its cause”.
While some people mistakenly portray Christian life as a blissful and painless existence, those who honestly seek to live the heart of human existence with Christ know that faith is not an escape from suffering but the pathway through suffering, the way in which a moment that feels death-like can be the dawning of resurrection hope.
When we live fully we realise that it is not possible to avoid suffering, and even better we discover that our deepest desire in life is not to be free from the darkness, but to live in relationship with Jesus and with those who share our faith and hope-filled vision.
I’ll let Robert speak for himself in this section below in blue italics:
UNNECESSARY PERSONAL DARKNESS
The darkness we experience in life often tells just as much about us as it does about what we feel is its cause. In some cases, what it does reveal is that the darkness we encounter is really unnecessary if we are willing to be more honest from the start in our sensitivity to ourselves.
Some people always seem to be making trouble for themselves. With such moody individuals it seems as though every third Tuesday marks the arrival of yet another “dark night of the soul.” (In such cases the real darkness is usually experienced by those who have to interact with such personality types!). However, in less extreme cases—which hopefully is the category in which you and I fit—there is also a need to recognize that many of our problems are of our own making. This will keep us from trivializing the significant experience which John of the Cross and others have referred to as “darkness” or the psychological/physical symptoms of “clinical depression”.
Much of what we face that we find dark and difficult unfortunately is partly of our own doing in this world. Yoda, the wisdom figure or “Jedi Master,” made this point in the movie, The Empire Strikes Back, from the original Star Wars Trilogy that was so popular in the 1980s. In this movie, Yoda urged Luke Skywalker, the young man who was his disciple, to enter a cave that seemed to emanate danger and fear. When young Luke asked Yoda: “What’s in the cave?” his simple response was: “Only what you bring in with you.”
The same can be said of us as we enter “the cave of the tiger” in prayer and reflection. Many things from a myriad of sources will tear at us. But chief among them are our interior demons. They include for many of us such things as:
Lack of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-love
Intolerance of others
Unfinished business with family and friends
Consciously suppressed and unconsciously repressed negative feelings
Poorly-developed ethics, beliefs, and values
Inordinate attachments or addictions
Hidden past or unintegrated embarrassments
Resistance to intimacy
Failure to take care of yourself physically
Lack of honesty and openness in prayer and self-reflection
Lack of meaning in life
Unreasonable expectations of self and others
A sense of entitlement
Undealt with anger
Unwillingness to risk and an inordinate need for security
Inability to experience quiet in your life
Unhealthy self-involvement or, at the other extreme, lack of a healthy self-interest
Failure to set priorities in life
Being overly perfectionistic and inordinately self-critical
Unwillingness to accept love except in ways one has predetermined as meaningful (“If _________ doesn’t love me, then the warmth and acceptance in my life isn’t important.”)
Fear of responsibility and a tendency to project blame
An unwillingness to accept change
The darkness of a true encounter with self can be like a “psychological or spiritual mirror” that crisply reflects those partially-hidden and disguised parts of our personality that keep us chained to a sense of life which isn’t open or mature enough. It reflects our own rigid defenses, personal immaturities, unresolved repressed issues, hidden motivations, tenacious defenses, erroneous (yet comfortable) self-definitions, and our chameleon like behaviors. In essence, it confronts us with the darkness of our unintegrated self.
Yet, although such information may initially put us off, if we can look at it with a sense of intrigue while remembering the unconditional love of God and good friends/family, it can set us free…and who wouldn’t want to be more free to live and enjoy a meaningful life?