Dark Night of the Soul

What follows is something I should have addressed long ago. A personal foray into the topic of mental illness is something I have refrained from discussing, partly due to my own confusion and uncertainty on the subject. However, I feel as if I have finally reached a point where my thoughts on the matter might do some good to those who are interested. My journey is never ending, and I cannot claim to be a perfect authority. But I hope I can bring some insight and wisdom to the suffering we all endure.

Being one of those unlucky individuals with probable depression, I have often wondered why I have been cursed with such a plight. The unfairness of the world weighs heavy as I contemplate the darkened state of my mind. Why do these successive patterns of negative thinking have no end? Why can I not look upon people and the world with joy and optimism? I feel that looking into my past, and my reactions to past events, is the best place to start this inquiry. There was a time when the child within me reveled in every delight. There was a time when I felt nothing but curiosity and adventure upon thinking about the world. Those bygone times have since faded into obscurity and dull memory. But why?

I can remember the day, after my parent’s divorce, when my mom told me we were moving to Kansas City. I recall the thought of leaving my family and friends behind, of switching schools and starting my life anew. At that moment, my heart was imbued with more excitement than anything else. I had yet to experience the harsh reality of my entire world being turned upside down and ripped to shreds.

My eagerness and bright-eyed wonderment lasted quite awhile. In my new environment, surrounded by new and strange people, I managed the culture-shock seemingly beautifully. It was an undercurrent of resentment, personal failure, and disenchantment with society that ultimately led to my embitterment. I feel as if I squandered the last of my energy in high school, with no future intake to supplement it. By the time college rolled around, I was running on existential fumes. It’s amazing how long I was able to deny to myself the full extent of the problem.

Life is comprised of cycles and tidal movements of energy. For a successive period of years, we can live with forward momentum, our sheer force of will and passion carrying us onward. But in a brief moment, all of this enthusiasm can change for the worse. The forward momentum gives way to spiritual friction, or resistance. This can commonly arise from some form of trauma, but in my case it also happened to be a procession of existential realizations. It may be a controversial claim, but this is the beginning of a natural process.

I suffered one of these traumatic realizations without recognizing what was happening. The act of my world turning upside down destroyed my momentum and instigated the friction. Looking back, I see how unavoidable this process was. I was indeed on the doorstep of a personal “dark night of the soul.” This was something that garnered the scorn of my subconscious. This was something that I could not accept on a truly innate level, and I therefore made it infinitely worse. I wish I could have realized my folly sooner, but alas, I could not.

One of my biggest flaws has always been misguided idealism toward the people in my life. With my cursed ability to see the potential of humanity, I unfairly hold others to unattainable standards. I see the possible greatness in everyone, but often at the expense of not accepting their imperfections. When I finally started to see that the people I loved were not living up to my idea of them, a painful and bewildering dissonance befell my soul. This comprised the gist of my existential realization. In hindsight, much of this mental shift could have arisen from simply growing up. But I believe the combination of a major life change and an evolution of my awareness created the situation.

So many of us fall into depression at some point in life without recognizing the process for what it truly is. With a healthcare industry that puts emphasis on the material and chemical, we are often left in the dark to depression’s true meaning. While we treat our symptoms in order to remain functional members of society, the underlying causes of our inner darkness are left unaddressed. According to Buddhist teachings, life itself is suffering. But the growing pandemic of mental illness highlights the singular nature of this moment in time. It is indeed a repressed spiritual nature and an ignorance of the natural cycles of the soul that are grievously dampening our wellbeing.

As younger generations become increasingly unfulfilled and lost in this materialistic society, they are taught the wrongness of depression. The dark night of the soul is a time where old concepts and attachments die. With proper guidance and understanding, it can lead to a state of renewal that is necessary for spiritual growth. The metaphor of a phoenix rising from its ashes embodies this rebirth philosophy. We all have the shadow of depression in us, but sweeping it under the rug and denying its existence lets the darkness fester and eventually consume the soul. So many of us never receive the direction we need to traverse our shadow.

Depression settles on me now, and I feel the icy clutches of nihilism reaching out. How do I combat the dark insights my tainted intuition conjures up? Am I failing, or am I working through a process that is a natural part of my spiritual development? These are the questions I ask myself on the most difficult of days. The disappointment I have toward society mirrors the disappointment I have toward myself. Hate for others is rooted in a fundamental hate for oneself.

All of my introspection has led me to the simple conviction that love is the answer. The part of our soul that lies in obscurity and depression is just as worthy of love as the part we take pride in. Only by having compassion for our inner darkness can we transcend the breaking down of tired concepts and attachments. Only by recognizing and accepting our shadow can we eliminate the power we give it through denial. Only through true love for ourselves can we fulfill our spiritual destiny.

Note: Dipping my toes into the world of podcasting, I thought it wise to play around with possible formats. This simple narration was easy for me, and it provided the experience I needed to create a better workflow in the future. I have ambitious plans for Head Junk, and I can’t wait to divulge more in my official introductory episode, which is coming soon. For now you can find my episodes on Anchor, but they will soon be available on most streaming platforms (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc). Thank you for all of the interest and support, my dear friends.

A Newfound Compassion

As I look out upon the world, I am overcome by the strife that plagues humanity. I bear witness to the repeated acts of selfishness that are rooted in fundamental failures of communication. I see how our fallen species has lost its understanding of the most important universal truths. I gaze into the hearts of men and discern their villainous intentions. And yet, this dreary perception is not the whole story. Once your eyes have been opened to the ugliness and imperfection of this reality, it’s easy to experience a natural slide into dejection and cynicism. As one who is conscious of the rising jadedness in his heart, I am compelled to see the spiritual futility of such a perspective. There must be something I’ve missed — some greater understanding of all things — to give me hope for the future.

If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context. It’s that simple.” ~ Devon Price

The vast majority of misunderstanding in our world stems from the false perception that everyone thinks precisely like you. Familiarity with the variety of cognitive functions, and their many different ways of manifesting in the psyche, negates this perception. The morals and ethical beliefs that you keep rooted so deeply in your identity may not be applicable to another, and thinking so will merely give you false expectations of their behavior. No, we are all such beautifully multifaceted creatures. And while our fundamental similarities will always outweigh our differences, there is too much variety in the human makeup to hold everyone to a single set of standards.

“The one eye of the Godhead is blind, the one ear of the Godhead is deaf, the order of its being is crossed by chaos. So be patient with the crippledness of the world, and do not overvalue its consummate beauty.” ~ Carl Jung, Liber Novus

By staying conscious of this, you are naturally inclined to have a more open mind. By reminding yourself not to pass judgement too quickly, you can be open to the possibility that there is a valid reason why someone’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you. And this openness will only ever bring you closer to a person, fostering a much better understanding of who they are and a respect for their inherent uniqueness. Unless you’ve truly walked another’s life path, you will never know what it feels like to be them every day. You will never know all of the traumas and experiences that contribute to making them who they are. Ease up on your misinformed and rigid expectations of their behavior. You might find that this acceptance warms your heart as much as their own. This is the root of all compassion.

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” ~ Carl Jung

Every macro, societal, and cultural issue can be traced back to fundamental psychological causes. We are a collective consciousness. The many comprise the totality. The composition of underlying issues always manifests as a greater image of chaos and discord. From a purely macro perspective, this perceived chaos is what can engender cynicism and later nihilism in the soul. The greater, societal condition is merely a reflection of the internal, human condition. All of the world’s plights are natural consequences of spiritual and psychological failings. There is indeed a reason for the imperfection we witness in reality, and it’s from not realizing that this very same reality lives in each and every one of us. It results in a disastrous and heart wrenching lack of compassion.

“As above, so below; as within, so without.” ~ Hermes Trismegistus, Hermetic Corpus

The nature of reality and the shortcomings of humanity are both perceived and dictated by your perspective. You have the ability to make the biggest difference in the world by first making a difference in yourself. Instilling your way of looking at others with more acceptance and a broader mindset will let you better see the underlying machinations of the world at large. Open your heart to embrace the suffering of those around you, and understand that all the strife they’ve experienced made them who they are today. By truly staying conscious of the varied and multifaceted nature of the human condition, you create within yourself a newfound compassion for those whose hearts you previously judged without context.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

There are times when the tumultuous emotion of a novel hinders an honest opinion. There are even times when the unexpected twists of an author’s imagining leave the reader with a quiet sense of baffled awe. Combined, these factors may result in a truly interesting review. Being only the second novel by Hemingway I have had the chance to read, A Farewell to Arms has left a powerful, albeit mournful impression.

The story of a troubled ambulance driver during World War I, coupled with a thoroughly depressing conclusion, is classic Hemingway. Various themes including the morbid nature of war, the relationship between love and hurt, and the patterns of human nature can be found in this novel and even recurring in much of Hemingway’s literature. The unemotional male protagonist, Henry, is the the product of these themes, a victim of life’s suffering and its many complexities.

There are aspects of A Farewell to Arms that require a slow mental digestion to appreciate the soul of the novel. Overall, I found the direct and terse prose of the writing a very accommodating feature to Hemingway’s themes. Henry’s mental dialogue quickly gives insight into the persona of the character. He is constantly besotted with various internal conflicts, all of which could lead to a certain self-understanding, but fail to do so as the book draws to a closure. The reader is left unpleasantly perplexed, in an unsatisfying way. This was obviously Hemingway’s intention as an artist; he was a crafting a portion of his spirit into words. The ending of the novel could be likened to the author’s state of mind itself.

One of the most poignant themes or messages of A Farewell to Arms is the terrible price of war. Throughout the plot, readers will notice that Henry is progressively distancing himself from the harsh realities of blood and warfare. With his highly direct method of writing, Hemingway uses powerful imagery in a casual way to provoke understanding within his readers. The pain, brutality, and at times utter chaos of Henry’s situation is seen as a character building (or possibly degrading) force in his life.

A Farewell to Arms was by no means written by someone who fully condemned war, but rather embraced the inevitability of it. Throughout the novel, Hemingway expresses his sentiment that war is merely the product of an already dark and tyrannous world. He accurately portrays the fickle nature of humanity; at times we can be cruel, and at times we can be murderers. However, we are also capable of compassion, integrity, and even nobility, despite society’s frequent attempts to forget or dispel true love. Yes, in a nutshell, A Farewell to Arms can be said to condemn war. However, I believe this sentiment is deeper and much more faceted in the mind of Hemingway.

A second theme prevalent in the novel, and also one of Henry’s chief struggles, is the often correlating relationship between love and hurt. In the beginning of A Farewell to Arms, Henry and Catherine (his newfound lover) find comfort in each other. They find solace from their own mournings and inner demons. This relationship evolves dramatically throughout the course of the book, and soon becomes a driving force in either’s life. Henry becomes torn between this unprecedented love for a woman, and his drive to get back to the front as soon as possible.

Henry understand the importance of his love for Catherine and how meaningful this type of bond can be in times of war. He realizes the emptiness of concepts such as honor and duty in the face of true love. This realization results in a terrific internal struggle. Henry repeatedly must come to terms with the “numb” mentality he adopted during war in order to open his heart for the woman he loves. Henry struggles with openness and sincerity but always manages to make a connection with Catherine.

I believe Hemingway was expressing one of the great morals of life: love in the face of fear, destruction, and tyranny can compel the inner compassion of a person to manifest. There is no force as powerful as love, save possibly fear. Henry is besotted by both, an onslaught of emotional turmoil that rips apart his conviction and decimates his previously held superficial values. The genius of Hemingway is his tendency to be completely realistic. He has the remarkable ability to capture the true essence of human nature.

All in all, A Farewell to Arms is a powerful symbol of the relationship between love and war in a man’s heart. It is an accurate description of the havoc a relationship can wreak on a man’s mentality. This novel is an incredible sentiment to what it means to be human, and the subtle intricacies of the human psyche are portrayed with striking accuracy. Hemingway captured the mutual destruction of both love and war. I could recommend this timeless classic to any reader, just for its invigorating if depressing breath of reality. However, some may dislike the harsh honesty in the authors word’s and cold precision in which he utterly nails human nature. I for one, appreciate this sincerity, this side of the story that only a few of the great classics sometimes expound upon. A Farewell to Arms is truly one of the most powerful pieces of literature when it comes to the effects of war on humanity. Readers should look for the connections and cause & effect relationships in this destructive, yet powerfully insightful novel.

Heroic Humanity

Looking at humanity from a detached point of view can be enlightening, yet quite frankly, confusing. At first glance, we seem to be a selfish and fairly materialistic folk. Consider our vain treatment of appearance and the standards of society we deem so important to adhere to. How about our ineptitude in liking someone for who they are, rather than how they compare to us? Some would consider this human nature, with anything greater being a true anomaly. While I am still a dreamer, one who hopes and believes in a better future, it can be difficult to ignore the grim aspects of humanity.

Despite our seemingly inherent egotistical tendencies, there is a deeper character in most humans. This character finds expression in the facets of life that often go unmentioned or undiscussed. This is heroism, an utterly selfless act of compassion that defies our normal self-preservationist mind frame. It is completely voluntary, often involving a particular risk, and is carried out without need for material gain or recompense. Being a hero is more than doing your duty, or following through with something you have been charged to do. Being a hero is about acting without hesitation or fear for your own safety.

The very basis of heroic humanity is founded in altruism. This principle can become a belief or practice, one of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. Coupled with courage and decisiveness, heroism becomes a true possibility. My goal in life is to be a hero, both in the official and unofficial senses. My goal is to inspire, love, and protect those I care about, as well as to do something truly remarkable for a complete stranger on a daily basis.

Humans are capable of suffering, both enduring and inflicting. We are capable of truly horrendous wars, murder, genocide, and hurt. We are unforgiving when it comes to defending belief and tradition. Despite our total lack of appreciation for our shared humanity, we are always in some form of conflict, either internal or external.

Yet, we are also capable of so much more. We can coexist if we find common ground. We can discover what it means to be a hero, and live our lives in betterment of our brothers and sisters around us. It stands evident that there is something within our hearts, something nameless and profound, that has the potential of uniting us in a brotherhood of humanity. This phenomenon is called love; the very clay of creation. From the words of John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”

Be a hero.