Dark Nights of the Soul

By Thomas Moore

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I always read the introduction before reading a book (if there is one). I was delighted reading the following at the beginning of the introduction to Tomas Moore’s book Dark Nights of the Soul:

“Today we label many of these experiences ‘depression,’ but not all dark nights are depressive, and the world 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.”

How delightful it sounded, almost as if there was someone who was going to give a quick fix ‘how to’… how to use your depression and transform yourself into a healthy happy person. To one thing, I have agreed immediately, ‘this business is subtle’ indeed, for what would be more subtle and less tangible than the human soul? We don’t even have hard evidence that the soul exists at all. I am not going to speculate here whether the soul exists or not, this is not a subject of the article, but I had continued to read the book as I was very encouraged by its introduction.

The soul is an abstract like depression, and we have more evidence of the former, hence that evidence is often a good enough reason to reach out for such literature.

We read at the beginning of the book that life brings great challenges that will make things hard for us. We learn that life is made of difficult experiences that can lead to higher levels of understanding and consequently higher levels of joy. Complete true, no one can argue with what is widely known. Throughout the book the author speaks from his personal life experiences, he skillfully uses stories from literature, mythology, and art to present the reader with the ever-present theme throughout the history of mankind – struggle with dark nights of the soul in order to grow emotionally, mentally and eventually spiritually.

Throughout the entire book, Moore uses beautiful parabolas, metaphors, and archetypes that make it easy to find mementos of one’s life and sympathize with them. He evokes some of important figures and guides to the dark night of the soul, like poets Rainer Maria Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Wallace Stevens, authors Oscar Wilde, and the Marquis de Sade and Samuel Beckett, painter Frida Kahlo. The author includes examples of distressed films and mysteries, even the stories by Zen teachers and Sufi masters as allies during the period of dark nights.

This is not an entirely easy read; it is a reflective and thoughtful work. Moore has spent many years in isolation and reflection as a monk that adds to his authority on such a subject. With using symbolism, mythology and archetypes Moore’s aim is to help in grasping a deeper meaning of depression, his intention wasn’t to offer a ‘cure’ but to give words and meaning to seemingly meaningless.

There are various degrees of depression ranging from a ‘mild blue’ feeling which can be a momentarily feeling or it could extend to several hours, days or week, to a very deep and dark, clinical depression which needs a professional attention. I will not say that this book would be of a significant help to the person with clinical depression, in some way it could only make matters worse reading it if you are suffering from a severe depression.

But to a reader who is looking for direction and advice in a matter of soul, the book could have been a good guide. When I say, ‘it could have been,’ I meant that the book takes its turn quite unpredictably. In chapter four The View from the Moon (Lunar Consciousness) Moore turns over his spirituality to astrologers, psychics and widely suspicious New Age hocus-pocus philosophy, “A psychic and an astrologer told me a year ago that losses would come. I’m watching things fall apart. I have a perspective on all that’s happening, but it doesn’t diminish the anxiety and other emotions. I’m as much in the dark as ever, and I’m trying to live my philosophy of staying cool, not looking for solutions and understanding, but being affected by each passing development. Regularly I consult my well-worn Tarot cards, and I listen to the tapes of the psychics.”

Here I am losing my interest in Moore’s spirituality because I need a more serious approach to the matters of such a mysterious and complex phenomenon as a human soul and its dark phases. We all know that the losses would come at some point in our lives. Serious spiritual seeker knows that and doesn’t give in to the word of psychics, astrologers, and likes. From there on we are treading in the occult and New Age, the concepts that are in some parts in direct opposition to what he was brilliantly portraying earlier through notions of Greek mythology and the reach Christian tradition.

I got an impression that even though it is a well-written book, because Moore is an intelligent, thoughtful and exceptionally good writer, that he tried to satisfy a wide range of views, philosophies and ‘religious’ views.

As I, myself, am not a stranger to the dark nights of the soul I wanted to call for an answer to the following, “The rule is: Don’t become one-dimensional in your dark night. Keep your sense of humor.”

My question would be – how? Such advice (be positive!) comes from the pages of the New Age philosophy and pop-psychology and are absolutely inapplicable. There is more to the cure of the malady of one’s soul.

While the book is well written and lots of questions are thoroughly and skillfully answered I had a feeling that it was a kind of spiritual bible which tries to satisfy as many readers as possible and my soul was left rather puzzled. The warning from the beginning of the introduction (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) didn’t fulfill itself.

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Thomas Moore is an American writer of popular spiritual books including the New York Times bestseller, Care of the Soul (1992). Moore was born in Detroit. As a youth, he joined the Servites, a Roman Catholic order and lived as a Catholic monk for twelve years.

From 1974 to 1990, Moore practiced as a psychotherapist. After the success of Care of the Soul and its companion volume Soul Mates, he became a full-time professional writer who lectures internationally about spirituality, ecology, psychotherapy, and religion. A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You were Born to Do, was released in 2008 and Writing in the Sand: Jesus and the Soul of the Gospels, in May 2009. Hay House published his latest book, Care of the Soul in Medicine, in April 2010. A collection of short stories about golf, The Guru of Golf was released mid-2010.

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