As usual I’m reading a few books at the same time trying to quench my thirst for wisdom or at least knowledge. Those who have overcome difficult times often refer to “the dark night of the soul”. It has become a euphemism and is not, at least according to experts, what those who coined the idea intended when they shared their thoughts. St. John of the Cross is the person we can credit with the phrase “dark night of the soul”. However, he didn’t intend for it to mean sitting on a bathroom floor, crying for hours and feeling an internal sense of desperation as described by Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love”. Instead he truly looked at “the dark night of the soul” as viewing something obscure, difficult to see but not devastating to life.
Once I read about St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross I wanted to view a modern interpretation of “dark night of the soul” and found a book by Gerald May by that title. One line caught my attention, “Liberation, whether experienced pleasurably or painfully, always involves relinquishment, some kind of loss” (p. 70). I’ve argued this point for years. I believe that our path of grieving begins the moment we’re born and leave the warmth, protection and isolation of the womb. Throughout our lives we will continue to suffer loss and it becomes cumulative over our lifetimes.
When diagnosed with an illness loss is a key ingredient in life’s recipe. I don’t care how minuscule the loss, there is a change from how life was lived before the diagnosis. Maybe it won’t have a huge impact on your life, but it will have an impact. The shift may be conscious or unconscious but it will be made. It’s crucial that we honor our losses. When we honor the changes we’re able to live without pretending. The hope is that it shifts your priorities. I think a lot about Tim McGraw’s song “Live like you were dying”. Imagine if we were really able to understand the meaning of the song. What if we truly lived each day as if it were a precious gift and not simply as something to get through.
Honoring a loss is liberating because it releases the binding power of the diagnosis. It creates opportunities, and for some it creates community. Have you ever been to a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure? Thousands of women, men and children congregate to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research and services.
The question becomes what will it take or how will you liberate yourself? What does liberation in the face of illness mean to you? What will you do with that liberation?