Sometimes when we try to meditate, or pray, or do other types of mindfulness practice, we just. can't. even.
Most people who have practiced meditation or prayer for a time encounter this. But even if we know that, when we experience it ourselves it can feel quite overwhelming. This spiritual "imposter syndrome", the sense that we are directionless and lost, can throw a person off their practice, sometimes lead them to abandon it altogether. There's a great temptation to give up when we're feeling unmoored, arid, unproductive. In fact, the feeling of being "abandoned" by our practice, as though it's all just not worth it and we have no idea what you are doing, can be one of the most intensely discouraging things to happen.
Spiritual teachers note that this feeling itself, of being lost, unmoored, abandoned by our practice, is an essential part of the journey. Our task is to learn to sit with it, and even embrace it.
Juan de Yepes y Álvarez, a 16th century Spanish monk and mystic, wrote some of the most beautiful, sensual poetry we know about the experience of being in the dark, alone and abandoned by God. The man we know as John of the Cross called his poem the Dark Night of the Soul. But far from being a morose, sad poem, it’s one of the most exquisite love poems written.
Juan transforms the experience of being in the dark and lost into an experience of joy and relief, of being concealed from the rest of the world, so that he can pursue his Beloved God.
Juan takes the experience of spiritual darkness, of being abandoned and entirely alone, and interprets it as a gift from God, the God he seeks, his Beloved. The pursuit of the divine Lover becomes his spiritual quest, and the darkness and feeling of being lost becomes a necessary part of the quest.
Practicing detachment from the world is hard, and part of that practice is often coming to grips with that sense of being unmoored, of being lost and in the dark. Juan celebrates this experience as part of spiritual progress, a necessary step in the soul’s journey.
In our own practice, when we learn to sit with this darkness and even recognize it as a key part of the journey, we transform it into something we can use. This difficult "night that guides" becomes a uniquely valuable gift.