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Excerpted from Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Moore. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"You may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you."

  Thomas Moore
Dark Nights of the Soul

Part 1

At one time or another, most people go through a period of sadness, trial, loss, frustration, or failure that is so disturbing and long-lasting that it can be called a dark night of the soul. If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you.

Today we label many of these experiences "depression," but not all dark nights are depressive, and the word is too clinical for something that makes you question the very meaning of life. It's time for a different way of imagining this common experience, and therefore a different way of dealing with it. But, I warn you, this business is subtle, and you will have to look closely at yourself and at the examples I give to see how a deeply disturbing episode can be a precious moment of transformation.

Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical and depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, and summer and winter?

If you are like most people, you have gone through several dark nights of the soul. You may be in the middle of one now. You may be in a difficult marriage, have a child in trouble, or find yourself caught in a tenacious and terrible mood. You may be grieving the loss of a spouse or parent. You may have been betrayed by a lover or a business partner or going through a divorce. For some people, these situations are problems to be solved, but for others they are the source of deep despair. A true dark night of the soul is not a surface challenge but a development that takes you away from the joy of your ordinary life. An external event or an internal mood strikes you at the core of your existence. This is not just a feeling but a rupture in your very being, and it may take a long while to get through to the other end of it.

A dark night may not feel like depression. In a long illness or a troubled marriage you may be anxious, but not depressed. On the other hand, a clinical depression might well qualify as a dark night. Whatever you call it, the experience involves you as a person, someone with a history, a temperament, memories, emotions, and ideas. Depression is a label and a syndrome, while a dark night is a meaningful event. Depression is a psychological sickness, a dark night is a spiritual trial.

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