Building the Soul

A passing apprehension of the Beautiful - brushstroke of our gaze against the last petal of Autumn, sparkle of attention at the owl's lament from the hemlock grove, sudden homecoming to the miracle of a breath - stirs a depth in us that resonates forever in our stillness; whereas the contraction of a fear or worry, a shudder of despair, is a momentary shadow that is external to the soul, with no seed in Being.

The soul is Beauty itself. It is never nourished by doubt, guilt, anxiety or blame. But the soul is formed by those small moments when we are deeply happy. Joy is eternal, unhappiness a mirage. Be a flame, rooted in the ground of wonder. Hafiz said, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”


But what of the "dark night of the soul?" Is there no dignity in suffering?

Pain is in the present moment. There is profound dignity in the way pain focuses our awareness. Pain, awful as it is, can be a gateway to Presence. But when our mind maintains a commentary about our pain, and builds a story around it, pain becomes "suffering." Pain is present; suffering is about the past and future.

We make a romance of our suffering as long as we choose. Some of us identify so thoroughly with thoughts of shame, despair, victimhood, and blame, we are afraid to let them go. Letting go of powerful thoughts and beliefs about our story feels like death. To plunge into the void beyond the mind is annihilation, and not for the faint of heart.

This is what Christian mystics like St. John of the Cross meant by "the dark night of the soul." The dark night is not a negative thought or feeling in the mind, but the negation of the mind itself.

"Dark night" in Christianity is precisely what the Buddhist means by "anatta," no separate mind. Yet this sublime emptying of the self - "kenosis" in New Testament Greek - is the heart of Presence, and the source of creation.

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