Saturday, July 21, 2012

Journal of a Soul 9 - The Dark (K)night of the Soul

The journey of the Self to Self-knowledge is a long and arduous one as any pilgrim will tell you.  To put this in a spiritual (or "religious" in the best sense of that word) way is to say that the journey of the Soul to God is indeed a difficult one.  As an agnostic Buddhist I see this second sentence in a metaphorical way - another way of expressing our journey to authenticity, self-knowledge or greater self-awareness.  I am happy with all expressions of this journey which is very important to the life of every individual no matter what his or her spiritual allegiance from theistic to atheistic and all the shades in-between the two polarities. 

In my life I have read as much spiritual literature as well as general literature as a way of making sense of the life I am confronted with (as Heidegger puts it, I did not ask to be born - I was thrown out there into existence - dasein which literally means being-there) or indeed gifted with (many philosophers, outside Christian believers have used the idea of life's giftedness quality, e.g., Michael J. Sandel (b. 1953), professor of political philosophy at Harvard.  Here's what my own favourite male actor says: “I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you... to make each day count.” ― Leonardo Di Caprio).  I tend to look on life in this second sense.  The former is an existential way of looking at life while the latter is a spiritual one.  Needless to say, these two are "twins" as it were, and need not necessarily be mutually exclusive.

I spent some three years in my mid-twenties, from 25-28, in religious life in the Order of St Augustine (OSA).  While there I was introduced to all the major classics of Christian theology and spirituality over the years, e.g., the mysticism of St John of the Cross as well as that of St Augustine of course.  But it is that of the former with which I am interested here.  John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) (1542 – 1591), born Juan de Yepes Álvarez, was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, Catholic saint, Carmelite friar and priest, born at Fontiveros, Old Castile.

Anyway, this Saint John of the Cross wrote a great and famous  poem called Dark Night of the Soul. This poem narrates the journey of the soul from its bodily home in this human body to its union with God. This journey is called "The Dark Night", because darkness represents the hardships and difficulties the soul meets as it attempts to detach itself from all the worldly concerns and materials.  At the end of the journey, hopefully, the soul will reach the light and live in union with the Creator.  The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God.

Now my title obviously is deliberately a pun, given the horrific happenings a screening of The Dark Knight Rises yesterday on July 20, 2012, during a midnight showing of the film at the Century 16 cinema in Aurora, Colorado.  A gunman, James Holmes,  wearing a gas mask opened fire inside the cinema, killing twelve people and injuring some 58 others. At the time of his arrest, Holmes identified himself as the Joker— one of the main antagonists within the Batman series — to police.  Warner Bros. stated that it was deeply saddened by the shooting, and announced the cancellation of the Paris premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.

One may say that those poor relatives who are left bereaved in the wake of this massacre, and indeed all those poor innocent wounded victims are now experiencing their dark night of the soul.  Evil is an extremely difficult problem which faces every human being in this world.  Indeed, I have written much on this theme in my former blog Still Point and I shall not rehearse here any of the arguments I adumbrated and explicated there.  Indeed, The Mystery of Evil was the title of my thesis for my first undergraduate degree.  However here, I want to say some words on how the mystery of evil weaves its way into the very fabric of our lives.  Consequently, no human life can be lived without tasting its bitter and sorry mystery.

The face of a mass murderer - James Holmes: See Here
The journey of the Self to Self-awareness or Self-knowledge or, if you are a firm believer in God, the journey of the Soul to God, is one littered with a lot of human and animal and indeed material wreckage along the way.  (Now, I respect totally both these versions of the human journey.  Neither is more correct nor more authentic than the other.  To my mind both are equally valid ways of steering the human person along the road of life.)

Those poor people who were out for a night's entertainment were suddenly thrown deep into the darkest night of soul that they ever could have experienced.  I have the same feeling as I type these lines as I had in the wake of the Norwegian massacre by the lone gunman and murderer Anders Behring Breivik.  Can we do anything about these madmen (all mass murders are men as far as |I am aware)?  What is happening us at all?  I believe the answer lies is the fact that today people lack a spiritual sense, a sense of connection with the world.  Another way of saying this is to state that the borderlines between reality and unreality has broken down.  Society is at fault here as it bombards everyone with countless pieces of information and all of it unsorted and uncensored.  Anyone anywhere can have access to anything.  The current mass murderer James Holmes purchased some 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet before carrying out his massacre at the midnight screening of Batman.

Whether this man was mad or deluded is not the point.  The point is that today human beings are lacking a moral compass.  Traditional moral compasses have all now virtually broken down in the Western World for most of the younger generations all around the world.  Every little boy can access anything he wants on the Internet from serious porn to seriously sick and depraved actions of all descriptions.  When I was growing up the local library was my spiritual home where I was entertained and edified.  Now I love the Internet and spend many hours on it and am well aware of what can be found there across the spectrum.  Now, strangely, I'm not arguing for tighter censorship.  What I am arguing for is tighter self-censorship and self-control.  The questions we need to ask is what are we doing in society that allow people like Holmes and Breivik to perpetrate their evil deeds.  It is far too easy to write them off as psychopaths or sociopaths.

As we all struggle with our own spiritual advancement we encounter evil and suffering.  We must constantly question our own motivations as we proceed on our way.  We must take responsibility for the life we have been gifted with, whether by a spiritual source in God or from a scientific source in the Big Bang.  Whichever one of these is the commitment which you, dear reader, hold does not really matter.  However, what does matter is how I behave and live out my spiritual quest.  Also we are all responsible for keeping our fellow citizens in the real world where ethics are grounded in our very being.  Let us ask ourselves what have we as a society done that has allowed mass murderers like Breitvik and Holmes to commit such life-denying and life-destroying crimes.

The answer, dear friends, is certainly a spiritual on - one deeply rooted in values, and values that have some realistic horizon.

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