Dark Night of the Soul

It has been just a little over two years since my last post to this blog.  This has been a difficult time for me, a time of wanting to get free of my marriage and yet so not wanting it to end.   A book by Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul, helped me by naming what I was experiencing in the grip of these conflicting impulses. “Sometimes a dark night begins to brew when you are caught between incompatible wishes,” Moore writes. “At one level you want change, but at another it’s the last thing in the world you want.”  

Moore encouraged me to accept that what I needed to do was sit with this dilemma until my internal conflict resolved itself and allowed me to move on.  This sitting with the feelings that arise and accepting “what is,” is, of course, what Buddhist practice and yoga practice are all about.  So, I have been practicing intensely but not feeling much like writing about it.

For the past year, I have been living on my own.  I still see my husband nearly every day, however, when I go back to the house to get our dog Suzie for a walk.  Also in the past year, our older daughter had a baby girl, another bond of love between him and me.  We talk about our family, see the occasional movie or concert together and help each other out with practical things.  The absence of rancor and continuing friendship are good things.  Yet, there has been a stuck quality to this arrangement, much like the stuckness in my interior state.

The past winter, in particular, was a dark period of grieving and ruminating over the 44 years of our marriage.  I have been painfully aware of the many aspects of our life together I want to cling to, for example, our house and the things we did well together as a couple, like making a home for our daughters and managing our joint finances.  Also, I now realize, I have been clinging to the pain caused by the fact that I wasn’t able to get from him the attention and affection I longed for.  I have experienced remorse over some very unskillful ways I responded to this pain, in particular my withdrawal into an extended period of workaholism (the deeper shadow side of “Shoulder-pad Bettye”).  Yet I have held on to the unrequited longing and the unhappiness associated with it.

In the past few months, however, my hold on these emotions started to loosen a bit.  I have been working with Pema Chodron’s teaching on the Bodhisattva path, with her emphasis on letting go.  I have worked on developing other areas of my life more fully. Most important, I have decided to move to New York to live closer to our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter and this impending change has opened up my sense of what the future might bring.  Slowly, slowly, I am beginning to experience less internal resistance to how this part of my life is unfolding. Here’s what Thomas Moore has to say:

“Eventually you may have to give in to the conditions life has imposed: the love you want may not be available.  It’s that simple.  The relaxing of your will, however desperate, allows life to proceed.  It may not go according to your plan, but whatever it makes will be more secure and ultimately more satisfying than anything you could force into existence. Such are the lessons of a dark night.”