My Dark Night of the Soul and What It Means to “Be Here Now”
The first time I heard the phrase “Be here now” it was the title of a book by Ram Dass forty years ago. It would be another decade or so (and an existential crisis) before I finally learned what it meant.
Ram Dass was an American guru with a strong personality. An aspiring disciple of his showed up at his house once and was shown to the basement where he was working. Ram turned to him and asked, “What the fuck do you want?” Presumably, he was being in the moment. Gurus are people, too.
In the west, it’s taken at least forty years for the idea of “be(ing) here now” to become as mainstream as it is today. We call it mindfulness.
But, in fact, the idea and practice of being joyously alive in the moment has been around much longer.
Buddha, Jesus, Jeremiah, Lao Tsu, and many others, all told us to “Be.” Be in the moment; be your true, best self. Just… be.
I had a dark night of the soul that lasted two years.
I’d lost my business, through a betrayal by my husband at the time. He voted against me with my partners to close the doors. Also, I wanted a baby, but he didn’t, and I was getting older. I had fibroid tumors that might have prevented me from getting pregnant anyway.
My passion for my career was gone. In its place was a deep nothingness. I remember staring at my beautiful home with a pool and feeling nothing. No pleasure. No gratitude.
When I meditated, there was only a void. I felt abandoned. But when any message came through at all, it was always, “Just be.”
I ranted at the universe. “Are you kidding me?” I couldn’t seem to do anything else but just be. How was that an answer to my deep depression?
As it turns out, it was.
I didn’t become a guru, but the stillness and frustration did lead me to become a therapist. As I peered into the void, I rediscovered who I was. I started graduate school, left my husband, managed an alternative rock band, had surgery to remove the fibroid tumors, and found a man to be the father of my child.
Every guru from the beginning of time has started their journey by just being, but always after a dark night, or weeks, months, and years of the soul.
After all, gurus are people, too.
Buddha meditated under a tree for seven weeks to achieve enlightenment. This was after a fairly debauched life up to that point. His drinking, living a life of luxury, and loving women hadn't brought him peace. Just “being” did.
Jesus meditated alone in the desert for forty days before beginning his ministry. We have no record of what he did from age twelve to thirty-three, so we don’t know if he had teenage angst, or early adulthood rebellion. It was recorded that he was tempted by the glories and potential adulation of the world during his dark night of the soul. He rejected the idea of being worshipped. He chose to teach love.
Ram Dass’s own guru, Maharaji-ji, refused to teach his followers to meditate. Krishna Das tells the story. It appears he wanted them to learn stillness without specific direction — something that can be difficult to do when we’re struggling. They must have felt much as I did during my two years of searching.
One day, a new disciple came to him and asked directly how to meditate. Mahraj-ji answered him: “Meditate like Jesus.”
He went and told the other disciples, who had been feeling frustrated about the lack of directions. They were also surprised that he referenced Jesus in terms of meditation, as Maharaji-Ji came from eastern traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism.
The rest of the disciples came to him after they heard and asked, “How do we meditate like Jesus?” Maraji-ji closed his eyes and became completely still. In a few minutes, a tear rolled down his cheek. When he opened his eyes, he said, “Jesus lost himself in love.”
Current spiritual teachers tell us to practice “Being.” Eckhart Tolle does it through “The Power of Now,” and radical acceptance. Richard Moss tells us to embrace whatever state of mind and being we are experiencing, in order to face the abyss and come through it with mindfulness. I have been fortunate enough to study with him, and faced my own mortality, which freed me in ways unimaginable to the frightened, finite mind.
Dark nights of the soul are devastating. But they are also launching pads eventually. Every great journey begins with the first step. Often, though, that first step is into nothingness. And as we experience the nothingness, and also feel the firm footing that rises to meet us, we realize the only moment we have is now. And the next moment, and the next.
Since each moment is all we have, then all of our existence is present in each moment.
We choose moment by moment to be present, loving toward ourselves and others, aware, and joyfully alive, or lost in the future or the past in our heads.
Let’s all choose to “be here now.” Ride the waves of life and float in each still moment, knowing that the stillness is inside us. The very emptiness of that stillness makes room for love and life.
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