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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.

"The dark night calls for a spiritual response, not only a therapeutic one."

  Thomas Moore
Dark Nights of the Soul

Part 4

Emily Dickinson said that her penchant for solitude was like the minor key in music, a refreshing alternative to the brighter major key. Now think of your dark nights. Could they be as useful and even as beautiful as the bright periods? Could they be moods and events in a minor key? Today, books are written explaining how Dickinson was neurotic. But she didn't think of herself as "mentally ill," though she was certainly eccentric. In a similar way, I want to consider our dark nights as out of the ordinary, but not sick.

The dark night of the soul provides a rest from the hyperactivity of the good times and the strenuous attempts to understand yourself and to get it all right. During the dark night there is no choice but to surrender control, give in to unknowing, and stop and listen to whatever signals of wisdom might come along. It's a time of enforced retreat and perhaps unwilling withdrawal. The dark night is more than a learning experience; it's a profound initiation into a realm that nothing in the culture, so preoccupied with external concerns and material success, prepares you for.

When people approve only of major tonalities, they become simplistic, not only in their thinking but in their very being. Today many of the conflicts that threaten the peace, both at home and around the world, stem from raw, na´ve, and unintelligent prejudices and reactions. Passions routinely break out in violence. It takes a complex view of yourself and your fellow human beings to hold back on hatreds and fears. A mature person is complicated and has complex ideas and values. The minor tonality of a dark night adds a significant and valuable complexity to your personality and way of life.


Some people speak of their dark night of the soul as though it were a challenge to be dealt with quickly and overcome. "Oh, I've been through my dark night," they say. "But now it's over." To some, what they think is a dark night may be only a taste of the soul's real darkness, especially if it is relatively quick and easy, and especially if the person experiencing it feels cocky for having gone through it successfully and quickly. The real dark night cannot be dismissed so easily. It leaves a lasting effect and, in fact, alters you for good. It is nothing to brag about.

The dark night may be profoundly unsettling, offering no conceivable way out, except perhaps to rely on pure faith and resources far beyond your understanding and capability. The dark night calls for a spiritual response, not only a therapeutic one. It pushes you to the edge of what is familiar and reliable, stretching your imagination about how life works and who or what controls it all. The dark night serves the spirit by forcing you to rely on something beyond human capacity. It can open you up to new and mysterious possibilities.

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