The Dark Night of the Ego.
The Dark Night of the Soul was popularized by a 16th-century mystic and Spanish poet who believed that a purification of the spirit comes from facing difficult challenges and surrendering to God’s wishes. In modern, secular times, it is often considered a time when one is going through a series of seemingly-impossible circumstances like the death of a loved one, the breakup of a marriage, or a painful failure.
MEA alum and well-known Christian mystic Richard Rohr suggests that what’s really going on is a “dark night of the ego.” He continues, “Most religions teach in some way that all of us must die before we die, and then we will not be afraid of dying. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as whenever you are not in control.”
Richard has told me that there are three things we have a hard time letting go of: the compulsion to be successful, the compulsion to be right, and the compulsion to be powerful (or have everything under control). And, given our social media obsessions, I would add the compulsion to look good. It is often when our ego is being broken down that we have a breakthrough…when we can wrestle free from these compulsions and feel the liberation on the other side.
I’m going through one of those times. Maybe it’s the hormone depletion therapy I’ve just come off of and my recent surgery. Maybe it’s learning to give up control to others and stop donning my cape to be the hero. Whatever it is, it’s hard. I don’t mind being this candid because I know this kind of vulnerability liberates me from compulsion. Denial is compulsion’s middle name.
Just when I thought I’d outgrown my ravenous need for approval, it popped up its head again like a pesky Whack-a-Mole. My ego needs approval. My soul does not.
When I’m feeling a sleepless night fed by an unsettled ego, I meditate for five minutes about the place in my life that feels the most holy—the Campuhan Ridge in Bali. This is a mystical place where I’ve experienced magic beyond anything my ego could conjure up. And it’s in that place and meditation I reacquaint myself with my soul, like a long-lost friend. I put on my “soul coat,” a garment that protects me from my ego’s demands and allows me to marinate inside that coat. And, then, miraculously, I fall asleep feeling purified, much like that Spanish poet suggested 500 years ago.