is unavoidable. Every individual human life and every society is drawn eventually, as if by some unspoken parallel, as if by some tidal flow or underground magnetic field, toward the raw, dynamic essentials of its underlying existence, as if everything up to that point has been a preparation for a meeting, a confrontation in elemental form with the essential flaw in our makeup or the makeup of our society, and with what until then, we could only receive stepped down, interpreted or diluted.
This experience of absolute contact with an essential hidden dynamic, now understood to be essential to our lives, often ignored but now making itself felt, often arrives at the surface through unconscious, unknowing, belligerent, adolescent behavior. It is a re-visitation of dangerous immaturity, a recapitulation of what has not yet matured, that nevertheless allows the touchable rawness of our inheritance to become part of the fabric of the everyday once more, though its explosive appearance may haunt our individual nights or our collective institutions.
This destabilization of surface individual arrangements and societal systems combined with a robust personal and almost luminous vulnerability, shot through with the necessary, imminent and inevitable prospect of disaster or loss, has been described for centuries as the Dark Night of the Soul: La Noche Oscura del Alma.
As for the dark side of the individual soul, so for the emergent dark side of our society. But perhaps, this dark night could be more accurately described as the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms fearful human beings from the inside and what seems to be overpowering them from the outside, through various forms of helplessness: unemployment, immigration, cultural and technological arrivals that we feel we do not want to welcome.
The waveform that overwhelms a maturing human being or society from the inside is the inescapable nature of their own flaws and weaknesses, their self-deceptions and their attempts to create false names and stories to place themselves in the world; the felt need to control the narrative of the story around them with no regard to outside revelation. The immense wave on the outside is the invitation to give that self-up, to be borne off by the wave and renamed, revealed and re-ordered by the powerful flow of a world rearranging itself before their eyes.
Walking the difficult, almost pilgrim edge between the two, holding them together, is the hardest place to stay – to breathe of both and make a world of both our foundational generosity and our willingness to risk ourselves – aware of our need to be needed, our wish to be seen, our constant need for help and succor, but inhabiting a world that that generosity, that that luminous vulnerability and that intensity enables us to enter. We give up our wish for constant immunity but gain a more robust life; subject to the wind and the weather, surrounded by both the music of existence and the music of others, able to be found by the living world and with a wild self-forgetful ability to respond to its call when needed; a rehearsal in fact for the ultimate crisis, our final act of dying: a place where inside and outside eventually meet and flow with no fixed form.
Crisis eventually not as trauma but an abrupt, unwanted, unlooked for but necessary change of season.
From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
© 2016 David Whyte and Many Rivers Press
Photo © David Whyte: Gathering Storm, Barga, Province of Lucca, Italy, October 2015