Years ago I went through my own dark night of the soul and emerged on the other side with new outlook and new sense of self-honesty. And I’ve been quite proud of myself since, in that I have steadily improved in my ability see patterns of behavior which have led to struggles and choose new behaviors even if they are initially uncomfortable.
In short, I’ve become much better at adulting, and doing so in a confident, adulty manner.
It’s that kind of confidence which can make a person decide that maybe, just maybe, they have some insights about life which could help someone else. But we are never guaranteed no more dark nights, and we should never trick ourselves into believing we have this life thing licked.
Recently I had another low period where I once again found myself too often in tears, looking at myself and my past to figure out why I couldn’t seem to shake the anxiety digging the pit in my stomach deeper and deeper. I’ll spare you the entire story and all its details, but in the end I realized that one of my deep subconscious beliefs about the world is that I will never be treated the same as others. That, perhaps, is the root fear which drives all of my other fears. It is the ringleader of the gang of threats to my sanity and my success. Other people can do good things at work, can excel at their craft, can demonstrate intellect and talent and humor and vision, and they will be rewarded. But because of a long list of things which have happened to me in my past, my subconscious mind is sure that I have to be twice as smart, twice as talented, twice as visionary to even be slightly noticed.
But more than this, there is some deeply buried part of my soul which is convinced that what are chalked up as mistakes or minor transgressions by others will, if I commit the same errors, be my complete undoing. Other people can have a bad day at work and get upset and still be regarded as good at their jobs, but if I have a rough day and show frustration or emotion then I will be seen as weak and incompetent and be short-listed for termination. Others can stand up against perceived injustices and be rallied behind, but if I do it I will find myself fighting alone and easily defeated.
Logically, I know this isn’t true. Or, well, I know that it shouldn’t be true. And yet, when I find myself feeling intimidated or feel that I am not being treated fairly I freeze up. I panic. Though I am normally very calm and logical, in situations where I feel that decisions are being made about me without my input I become absolutely anxiety-ridden.
Which, of course, makes things worse.
However, realizing that the root of all of this is a deeply held belief that the world will not treat me fairly, that I will never be recognized for my efforts and will always be more harshly punished for my mistakes, is at least a starting point from which I can engineer change. It also paints a rather insightful picture of how I see reality, and it raises the ever-important issue of what to do about it.
Many people, when asked what they do about things that make them worried or anxious, would advise prayer. Some will say medication. Some, therapy. Some people would say that feeling kicked around by the world at large is a mark of being somehow superior to all the “other” people, and that enduring it is something akin to martyrdom for the cause of being “real” and “authentic”. Some would say suck it up, stop whining, and stand up for what you want.
All of those responses say something about those people’s worldviews and their core spiritual beliefs. Is the rest of the world good or evil? Do the opinions of others matter? Do we have the power to change our place in the world, and if we do, should we use it? Is it okay to feel these feelings?
What I do know is that, whatever I learn from my struggle through this period of inner turmoil, my old worldview has not served me well and needs to be discarded. Letting my inner voice tell me that people won’t trust me, people won’t like me, my work won’t be noticed, all my mistakes will undo anything good I’ve ever done only makes it harder for me to keep moving forward in life. It makes me react in ways I don’t like and am not proud of. And this means the story I weave in my mind about the universe and my place in it needs to be rewritten.
I think that’s one of the deepest roots of a spiritual life. It tells us what we are worth, where we fit in the universe, what our struggles mean. Our beliefs are what we use to either broadcast or overrule our inner voices. Times of struggle and doubt aren’t necessarily tests of faith, and neither are they always tests of our inner strength. But when our lives seem particularly dark, our beliefs get illuminated.
And that’s when it’s easiest to see them for what they really are.