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 Journal Entry

I’ve decided to embark on a sort of experimental journey. Too often than not, my writing is hindered by an obsession for quality and unattainable perfection. This does nothing but keep me from publishing as much as I should, and it ingrains my practice with an overall sense of dissatisfaction. I need this to change for both professional and psychological reasons. I need to be able to remove the friction I feel when trying to put my thoughts on paper. This crusade for sculpting perfect sentences with perfect vocabulary is akin to not seeing the forest for the trees.

I started writing because I could paint an overall picture of what my imagination or subconscious was conjuring. Getting lost in the specifics of verbiage and technicality is a complete block for the state of “flow” I am trying to achieve. In Jungian terms, this would be due to an over-reliance on Ti, or introverted thinking. As this function happens to be tertiary in my cognitive stack, it is not quite the healthiest mindset for my personality type. Instead, I need to be engaging my auxiliary Fe, or extroverted feeling, to achieve the cathartic momentum and “flow” I am striving for.

The beautiful thing about writing is the infinite paths I can take to reach a conclusion. There is no black and white, or right and wrong. This gorgeous variability I experience is based in the extroverted feeling nature of my expression. Of course, this is all within the context of my dominant function, introverted intuition. But this deep dive into psychological types is leading us astray from the point of this entry.

To put it concisely, I need to stop being such a perfectionist with my work. I need to incorporate a more stream-of-consciousness style of writing. By starting regular journal entries where I let loose my spontaneity, I hope to become a better creator — one that is much more in touch with his intuition/feelings and less overwhelmed by the chaos of his mind. Wish me luck on this journey into unknown waters. I don’t know what to expect with this experiment, and neither should you.

Note: This idea came to me after being inspired by one of my favorite MBTI related sites, Stellar Maze. The specific article is geared toward how INFJs can activate their auxiliary Fe. I have linked it here.

The Art of Wordsmithery: A Spiritual Experience

Writing for me has always been a bit like singing a song. It requires combining the melody of good syntax and diction with the soul of a purposeful theme. I can feel a profound sense of rhythm when I stumble upon just the right sequence of words. Its both liberating and enlightening to write with that sense of velocity. I could only compare it to the feeling of flying and careening through the skies.

But there is also another aspect to writing; a frustration and helpless abandonment of the creative muses. When I feel as if all the original thought and genius has been stripped from my soul, I know there is no hope for any writing endeavor. When a mental embargo has hindered me from putting pen to paper, I know it is time to slow down and take a breather. This describes my writing mentality perfectly: a continuous fluctuation between supreme literary prowess and the icy, empty and void-like hollowness of writer’s block.

Asking myself “who am I as a writer?” requires facing both aspects of how I feel on the subject. Both the negative and positive are important in their own right. Without this acceptance of duality, any conclusion I could make would come out skewed and biased toward one aspect over another. That is the reason I must face my own inner demons of insecurities and writer’s block. I would not be able to define who I am without total acceptance of the broad perspective of my writing.

In essence, for me, the ability to write is akin to the  ability to meditate. Some days are vastly easier than others and there is always an experience of flexing the creative muscle, just like the spiritual muscle stretched with meditation. When I try to envision the tranquility of writing, I see a vast hay field yawning out before me, wide and free. I see the sky above stretching into oblivion, patterned with shifting cotton clouds. I see the massive expanse of field spreading outward; its golden hills rolling with the richness of harvest. There is peace and pride for my hard work. There is some nameless and swelling emotion transcendent of bliss. It’s powerful and motivating. It’s what I live for as a writer.

Lewis Carol, author of Alice in Wonderland, once said “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Introspection has always been a great part of my writing in general. There is always an element of questioning my own perspective and ruminating on how I simply ‘feel’ at the core. I think that any good piece of writing takes its author on a journey of self-discovery and realization. That is certainly the case for me, and I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t been doing this creative craft for a while. Sometimes the goal is the journey itself, and self actualization can only be found when that is accepted. Writing epitomizes this internal struggle.

For me, the image of the Buddha symbolizes peace, solitude, and inner-harmony. It provides a path for me to follow and a spiritual goal to achieve. It gives my soul a moral framework onto which I can build the rest of my life. Attaining these ideals is also the process I use to write my best work. Striving to hone the inner fire of creativity and passion is spiritual at its essence, and there is no better symbol for this act in my  opinion than the Buddha. Literature that embodies the greatest sense of clarity and divinity requires just as much restraint as it does enthusiasm. Embracing solitude and a deeper peace of mind is crucial for developing restraint.

There are moments when I am in the midst of a creative effort that I become aware of a certain emptiness in my center. Its not the void-like disparity of writer’s block, but a very light and buoyant emptiness, filled with satisfaction and confidence. Pardon the contradictory description, but that is exactly how it feels. The Buddha teaches about this emptiness and encourages all to cultivate their awareness of it. Again, this occurs most strongly when I am writing or in the middle of any art. I would hazard a strong guess that many other artists have beheld this experience as well.

At the core of any type of art or craft is a need for the sincerity of the artist. The utter honesty of self is something I strive to incorporate in my own work. There is a quote by Spencer Johnson that reflects the two natures of sincerity needed for authentic writing: “Integrity is telling myself the truth, and honesty is telling the truth to other people.” Whether I am hindered by writer’s block or my creative energies are manifest, I make it a requirement to only complete work that is genuine to my soul. Writing for me is an incredibly honest act that means far more than merely creating entertainment for someone else to enjoy. It’s a spiritual exercise that requires me to be completely and utterly sincere with myself. There is no room for obfuscation and facades; only severe, blinding truth. Like a surgeons scalpel, I use literary expression to cut away all the denial and bottled emotions from my inner integrity.

There is also a strict importance for an outward sense of honesty in my writing as well. This entails expressing my purpose and message concisely and with the desired effect. I do not wish for others to misinterpret my meaning due to faulty word choice. I also do not wish to be dishonest about myself or lead someone on a ersatz path of understanding. Whittled down to the marrow, this is the creed of my writing. That is the rule that I religiously adhere to. Just like the Spencer Johnson quote expressed, true sincerity is doubled-faceted in nature. It requires a personal sense of integrity and a public obligation to honesty. That is the ethical code I instill in all of my writing.

Calling myself a writer means a lot more than using a superficial label or identity. It means that I have taken up the sometimes painful, yet beautiful art of wordsmithery. It means that I have taken the road less travelled and delved inwards to confront my own insecurities, all in order to give my craft the tranquility, introspection, and sincerity it deserves. When I ask myself “Who am I as a writer,” there is no clearcut answer or identity that separates me from the rest of the herd. There is only the willingness to do right by my creative efforts and craft something that is truly representative of how I feel within my heart. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing is expressing the chaotic and complex web of intelligence, or our minds, in a way that we can give the readers the purest and most honest sense of understanding. This is ultimately the goal I live for as a writer.