Poetry/Prose

Owning your dark nights

Every once in a while, I ask myself, “what animal is most energetically aligned with my energy?” For nearly a year, it’s been the bat. Blind, cutting through silence and mystery of this latest dark patch to find nothing but more of it … I am gliding blind, yet certain of the next dawn. Friends, there is always a dawn.

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Have you ever been through a dark night? If you are over 30 and haven’t been stringing along on drugs or living a fantasy life, the answer is probably yes.

My first (and most arduous) dark night was when I was about 22/23 years old. It was so incredibly paralyzing and turned my entire world on its head. I didn’t know it was coming at all as I forged headlong into a career change and moved house. Every friend, every familiarity in my life vanished in a few short months and I found myself wrapped in mystery, bicycling through snow to 6 a.m. shifts at an organic grocery store. Collecting at strangers’ houses and watching movies (or watching them smoke weed and make candles) only to feel slightly more than visible yet loved just the same by souls innocent about my past life. The only thing clear, day in day out, was the next step. I was going through radical changes but didn’t know at the time what they were. Indeed, everyone in my life at that time would say it is a miracle I have become what I am today … and it was only possible by letting go of everything.

I took a vow of silence for a month. I cut my hair really short and denied myself eye contact with men for a year. I did all kinds of radical things during this incredibly wonky time of transition. I even experimented with my thoughts. Every day, I’d come in the store and take on a different attitude and see how my day went with that attitude, with very specific lines of thought. Indeed, what a fertile time it was–everything about myself challenged.

Since then, I’ve experienced two more dark nights but that first one set me up to see them for what they are. I mean, the first one felt endless, because I honestly didn’t know what was happening and when, if ever, it would end … I played with the meantime but still, it was really tough.

My mother forbid my sister and I anti-psychotics and preached relentlessly that they would only mess us up. So I stayed completely drug-free even when, looking back, I was in quite a dangerous state of mind some days … I remember seeing the top of a church, the cross on the horizon, asking my dying Grandpa Gus to come, to help me make sense of everything. The dark nights since have plunged me just as low but somehow I knew that nothing bad would happen, that I just had to take it moment by moment. The trickiest parts of them have been, however, the lift out. That sensation that you might slip back or that it could happen again.

People might call what I describe depression, but I vigorously object. I was not numb or completely lost. I felt so much in that year-long night, so cold, so alone, momentary oases of relief (glimpses of the full moon on cold walks home, observing ducks swim across the lake–nature herself was always perfectly consoling). It was dynamic, except for the fact that it was pitch black in terms of personal direction.

As of late, I’ve surrounded myself with images of the dancing Nataraja–Shiva dancing within a wheel, holding objects that symbolize the very nature of dark nights–everything comes and goes. Shiva dances upon the representative of ignorance, who thinks things always stay the same … yet the fire in Shiva’s hand is naturally destructive, the hourglass naturally moves time to new beginnings and the calming palm forward assures us that everything is going to be alright. Oh what nights, and the dawns that end them, the longer, day-lit gaps between them, and the sure return of blind patches of one day at a time.

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What I’m learning from these cycles is that even in the nights, there are stars. The daytimes, the good times, they are kind of overrated … and this idea tends to throw people headlong into feeling like they shouldn’t experience mystery or chaos or confusion. This seems to me to be a cornerstone of the antidepressant drug industry, the propaganda that we are all to be happy all of the time. On the contrary, we are all to be present all of the time as much as we can be and in that presence admit exactly what is happening through us. We can even be grateful for our own confusion, knowing that it counterposes clarity, that it is part of a rich life.

Being a bat as of late, I’ve grown to understand the pleasantries of silence, open space, not seeing but feeling–specifically feelings I’ve avoided or distracted myself from for too long. And when daylight dawns, I guess I’ll hang upside down and sleep again. As my good friend and Shaman Axel quotes: life is but a dream.

I used to want to be a person who is consistently happy. And in surrendering this expectation of myself, I see that in some ways, I am. I am the oldest sibling after all, so I have to save (happy) face. Even when I’m going through a personal hell, I am an optimist and can feel for others and see the big picture and see the need to get into their story, to take breaks from my process and sit still with others. Indeed, there’s a gradient to my life’s experience that I’m finally admitting as my lot. A complexity to me that allows me to understand anyone, anywhere, in any state of mind. It’s a worthy trade, these nights and days of life for the ability to embrace humanity in its range of forms, to till the rich soil of shared experience with friends.

All of this was inspired by a listen to one of my favorite remixes of a Coldplay song called Talk (Junkie XL remix). The layers of this music gradually pull me down deeper and deeper into a sensation I really crave once in a while–it’s a place that makes me feel lost, confused and desolate and yet strangely satisfied that it can’t get any moreso, and none of it is necessarily bad! Indeed, it’s comforting to remember that winter descends on the bed of daisies, and yet yields to spring and their return. And that fighting with the seasons is worse than their changing. We have to admit the season and dress appropriately, sometimes huddling by a tiny fire of our own determination to stay warm, otherwise we are slaves to it.

This journey is not a two-dimensional float through space, especially for people who live dynamic, entrepreneurial lives (i.e. expats). It’s a battery of experiences that get into our DNA and reduce us down to the beating of our very hearts. It’s important to be brave and sober in the face of any combination of emotional states. The mind, while it can be tamed through meditation and other techniques, must sometimes yield to the human being and the process itself. In fact, paradoxically, the more consistently I meditate, the more stuff comes up to challenge the new levels of awareness I am experiencing. Nobody gets off this ride. Nobody. This is why we need to talk to each other, share information with each other, stay connected. This is why the depths and heights of this vibration are so breathtaking:

Sometimes I don’t feel like the cosmos is picking up the phone. But I keep forgetting that there’s a sacred delay, a gap in time where I’m asked to reaffirm what I want to say … let it ring, let clarity set in, ask, let the answer come through …

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