Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

bernd the broter, modified 6 Years ago.

Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 380 Join Date: 6/13/12 Recent Posts
I stumbled over this paper by Mary Jo Meadow, titled
"The dark side of mysticism: Depression and the dark night"

I thought it was interesting, although I'm not sure if she's talking from personal experience.
She discusses
-The difference between Depression and the dark night
-How things present differently in depression vs dark night
-Who needs mysticism? Characterization of people who are drawn to mysticism.
Andreas Thef, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 152 Join Date: 2/11/13 Recent Posts
Hello Bernd, thanks for posting the link. Have you purchased/read the whole thing?
bernd the broter, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 380 Join Date: 6/13/12 Recent Posts
I read the whole thing.
Also, I could download it without paying.
Didn't notice that this could be a problem for some, sorry for that.

I thought it was interesting because of the Christian perspective, and her attempt at explaining why some people need mysticism, and some don't.

I'll just quote the parts I think are most interesting here:

Necessity, Risks, and Demands of Mysticism
For some people, mysticism may be the most viable alternative to

shipwreck. These individuals have intense spiritual needs, much as
other individuals may have different strong needs.
Characteristics Likely Contributing to Mystical Need
Cosmic sadness. A temperamental sadness appears to be an underlying
note in mystics. They show great sensitivity to loss, transience,
change, vulnerability, insecurity and other "unsolvable"
problems of life. A sufficiently keen sensitivity may, on its own, make
mysticism necessary; the individual may find genuine comfort in
nothing other than the ultimate satisfier" the divine. Weil echoed this
position: "The man who has known pure joy, if only for a moment...
is the only man for whom affliction.., is no punishment; it is God himself
holding his hand and pressing it rather hard. For, if he remains
constant, what he will discover buried deep under the sound of his own
lamentations is the pearl of the silence of God" {1968, p. 198}.
Awareness of such need is also strong in Hammarskjold.
High motivational intensity. Highly passionate individuals, who
strongly feel motivational pushes, also likely need mysticism.
Although some very passionate individuals find other outlets to absorb
their energies, for some only the Ultimate may be sufficiently
large. For high intensity people, the option may be between utter
depravity and sanctity. Highly charismatic or forceful people may
distort aspirations for sanctity unless they maintain continuing
awareness of that greater than self.
Hammarskjold felt intensely his own strong inclinations: "Upon
your continual cowardice, your repeated lies, sentence will be passed
on the day when some exhibition of your weakness.., deprives you of
any further opportunities to make a choice--and justly. Do you at
least feel grateful that your trial is permitted to continue, that you
have not yet been taken at your word?" {1964, p. 72). Well wrote: "One
might conclude that there are some souls with a natural deficiency
which irremediably unfits them for the service of God. And I am one of
them. Is there any remedy7... The only way is, if a seed has fallen into
a hollow place in a stone, to water it and keep on doing so whenever the
water evaporates . . . Detachment is even more rigorously necessary
than for the souls which are good ground. For, if thorn and weed absorb
a few drops of the water which has to be renewed continually, the
wheat will inevitably shrivel... Literally, it is total purity or death"
{1970, p. 348}.
Strong abilities. Well and Hammarskjold had strong intellectual
capabilities and high levels of talent. Some mystics have lacked these
features, but ability probably adds to need for mysticism. As with
motivational intensity, many high-ability people find other outlets.

Ability heightens the temptation to an excessively narcissistic selfinvolvement
though, and some people may avoid that pitfall only with
the felt awareness of "smallness" that mysticism gives. The highly intelligent
psychologist of religion, Gordon Allport, explained his own
religious involvement: "Humility and some mysticism, I felt, were indispensable
for me; otherwise I would be victimized by my own
arrogance" {Boring & Lindzey, p. 7). This exceptional man supports
the contention being made here.
Awareness of being talented may also produce feelings of indebtedness.
Maslow hypothesized that self-actualized individuals
might further need to transcend self in some way. This need may be
related to a heightened awareness of one's good fortune in having been
blessed beyond the average of all persons. Hammarskjold wrote:
"Atonement, for the guilt you carry because of your good fortune:
without pity for yourself or others, to give all you are, and thus justify,
at least morally, what you possess, knowing that you only have a right
to demand anything of others so long as you follow this course" 11964,
p. 50).
Who needs mysticism? Certainly not all individuals of heightened
emotional sensitivity, strong motivational intensity, and high talent
and]or capacity actually need mysticism. Such characteristics
however, might interact multiplicatively with each other to raise one's
level of need. Individuals high in only one of these characteristics may
not be especially prone to such need; cosmic sadness is likely the most
compelling single need. The interaction of moderate levels of two of
these characteristics may produce considerable need. An individual
with at least moderate to high levels of all these conditions should
have considerable need.
William James, commenting on unappealing manifestations of
religiousness, blamed them on relative deficiencies in other human attributes.
He wrote: "It is hard to imagine an essential faculty too
strong, if only other faculties equally strong be there to cooperate with
it in action... Spiritual excitement takes pathological forms whenever
other interests are too few and the intellect too narrow" (James,
1902/1961, p. 271}. Conversely, individuals of strong intellect, high
talent, deep emotionality, and intense volition may be most able to
"contain" mystical experience. They may further need it to prevent excessive
grandiosity and self-preoccupation.
Clearly, Weil and Hammarskjold showed characteristics suggesting
they needed mysticism. They were poignantly aware of their need for
spiritual involvement. In some ways, it was their "salvation". The
same may well be true of other individuals of similar qualities.

The Demands and Risks of Mysticism
No mystics claim that the path is easy. That the results are not
assured, fewer are willing to admit. An ancient Bengali saying states:
"The sides of the mountain are strewn with the bones of those who fail
to reach the top." Mystics note the risks of despair, failure to persevere,
resentment, and being ground to pieces by suffering. Hammarskjold
admitted tendencies to resent being an "outsider" who
could not enjoy life as simply as most people. "In spite of everything,
your bitterness because others are enjoying what you are denied is
always ready to flare up" {1964, p. 47). "I feel that it is necessary and
ordained that I should be alone, a stranger and an exile in relation to
every human circle without exception" (1973, p. 54}.
Both Hammarskjold and Well were aware of having at some point
said "yes" to their calling. Weil wrote: "Over the infinity of space and
time, the infinitely more infinite love of God comes to possess u s . . . If
we consent, God puts a little seed in us and he goes away again.., no
more to do... except to wait. We only have not to regret the consent
we gave him" (1973, p. 133}. Hammarskjold reported: "I don't know
• Who--or what--put the question, I don't know when it was put. I
don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer
Yes to Someone--or Something--and from that hour... I have known
what it means 'not to look back' " (1964, p. 205}. He was aware of the
cost of such a decision: "He who has stlrrendered himself to it knows
that the Way ends on the Cross--even when it is leading him through
t h e . . , triumphal entry into Jerusalem" (1964, p. 91).
Trying to evaluate these individuals in the different darknesses they
inhabited produces awesome problems. Darkness has so many
meanings. It stands simply for being bereft or alone, for loss,
loneliness, and longing for satisfaction and closeness. Darkness also
stands for being in sin, in error of conduct. How does one evaluate
another's self-accusation in this regard, the attribution to oneself of
guilt and unworthiness? Darkness also stands for ignorance and]or
error, for misinterpreting or misunderstanding what is going on
around oneself. Darkness stands for being in danger, for being helpless
and impotent. These four connotations of darkness are mirrored in the
theories of depression discussed above. Yet, the darkness inherent in
human existence goes beyond simple theories of emotional disturbance
to something far more radical and profound.
Darkness stands for other uncomfortable things. It stands for being

confused, unable to see clearly, not knowing--a common experience for
all mystics. Darkness eventually stands for death--death either as the
ultimate of cut-offness, aloneness, loneliness, vulnerability, and extinction-
or death as the termination of self-preoccupation, petty concerns,
and seeking the tinsel rather than the gold of existence--as
being born into the goodness of darkness.
Darkness thus also has positive connotations. It stands for a
welcome solitude, a retreating within oneself to recharge and revitalize
oneself. It stands for peace and rest--hard-earned retirement from
striving and effort. In the lives of mystics over the centuries, darkness
stands for the visitation of God. For mystics, darkness means all of the
above--both the positive and the negative. Darkness contained
terrible aloneness, devastating self-knowledge, and the awareness of
evil and personal impotence. Darkness also held the light of truth, intimacy
with God, and perfect peace in the midst of terrible suffering;
darkness revealed Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.
How can one judge that which comes in the darkness? Is it heavenly
or diabolical? Is it merely a chemical imbalance in the brain? Is it truth
or delusion? What can one know for sure? In the lives of the great
mystics are both profound certainty and agonizing uncertainty. The
common trial of the dark night is the terrible suffering in loss of the
religious framework of meaning itself, in the inability to believe in the
reality of their own experiences, the inability to hope and love. Well
might one fear the darkness--the darkness in which devil and angel, insanity
and God, both come. Well might one tremble at human
limitation, fallibility, and vulnerability. Well might one pray: "deliver
us from evil."
One never reaches higher than one aims. Aspirationto the vision of
God requires the attendant risks. One who prays "give us this day our
daily bread"--give us the sustaining vision of God--must be prepared
to drink the chalice drunk by other God-lovers. In "fear and trembling"
they went forth, in courageous acceptance of risk they went, in
openness to grace they went. They went forth; the silent attentiveness
they trusted was nearness to God--into the darkness--and waited.
Andreas Thef, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 152 Join Date: 2/11/13 Recent Posts
Very interesting.

I'm currently thinking a lot about how psychological and spiritual things relate to each other. I remember stumbling upon an self-help forum a few months back while I was googling for kriyas and dark night stuff. It was all about depersonalization and dissolution experiences, not from a spiritual but merely psychological perspecive. As it seemed some of the members had discovered that there a strong similarities between their experiences and the ones people in spiriutal crisis have. So they started seeing and treating their own depersonalisation crisis like it was a spiritual one - with great improvements of their condition. Simply by shifting their outlook they finally could manage their mental state.

Another thing I found is that kriyas are not only linked to the spiritual progress but also to childhood trauma. In a clinical textbook on child abuse I read of cases where involuntary body movements were an obvious expression and reenacting of childhood experiences. I wonder how these two worlds are relating to each other. Can they even be seen as two different worlds or must the necessarily influence and trigger each other? For example I had my first spiritual crisis a few years back when I watched a documentary about the universe. It  rid me of any remnants of a believe in a personal god figure and led to a deep feeling of meaninglessness and despair. But as far as I know I was still far away from any of the nana stages.

This leads me to my second question: Are there nana micro cycles one can go through? I mean cycles within the cycles?

Just thinking out loud here...
Colleen Karalee Peltomaa, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 401 Join Date: 6/19/14 Recent Posts
Hello Andreas, kind regards,

I would like to give my perspective of the mind and the Dark Night and depression.

The only dark night of the soul I'm aware of is when I went looking for answers within my mind, and I have seen others do that too.  The mind is full of lies and conflict and games continuation, and we created it and nurture it, so the answer lies within us, not our minds.  I spent about two years hunting through memories of incidents -- through many separations and identifications, all story.   It was in the end educational and entertaining, but if I were going to reach nirvana I would have to find the truth of it all somewhere else. The mind seemed more like an enemy. 

How did I create this mind and how to uncreate it?   Isn't that what we are attempting when we meditate -- to null the egoic mind, to remain with ourselves?

The Advaita, "Who am I?" question is really "What am I without my repository?"  
Otherwise, why would I be asking that question?

Since then I am now working as a psychotherapist and I work through the "psyche" to unravel the mind, working with the idea that the spiritual being does not need this created mind and is quite sane and reasoning and can perform interactions of its choice without this particular insanity-prone mind that was created eons ago it seems -- and to some very exact specifications, and by a being (us) who was simply trying to solve a problem.  It seemed like a good idea at that time.  That's my story  emoticon

I recall the story of Buddha and how he experienced the demons of his mind -- this was something he went through in order to stand strong and be free of his mind (where the demons and angels are).  I do not call this the "Dark Night", but a sometimes necessary (but manageable) encounter with one's own mind -- sort of like the tail of the dead dragon still having swinging power.  Creative visualization, and metta drills, I have found, temper the experience.  Otherwise, I'm liable to fall flat on my head and get overwhelmed by what my mind brings up instead of permanently dispensing with that segment of "importances".  I do work with a logical map or outline of increasingly conflicting and limiting purposes, which is all the mind is.  

About depression, is it not of the mind?   Yes, but the spiritual being is holding onto it -- how to persuade it to let go, to reduce its importance?    Last night before my session I was mildly depressed.  I did my creative visualization drills, entered the session with positive expectation, but remaining passive to whatever my mind would bring up.  At the end of the session I had more energy and felt alright.   I saw how the depression was contained within the mind.   I ended the session with creative visualization drills ("Create an importance", put it above you, put it below you, i.e. six-directions) because the mind and an immature being hates a vacuum, and dispelling "importances" does create that vacuum (I used to get really hungry after a good session -- needed some filler-up).

Freaking out because one experienced something and not continuing in practice ==  I've done that and did not meditate for two years because I got really freaked out == unlike the Buddha who was undaunted by what his mind presented to him.   He received his reward for that and I suspect he did not even have a logical map of his mind as a guide, leading me to believe he did not scour all four corners, or he was very blessed (from previous lifetimes work).

Not just freaking out, but also getting distracted by be-deviling phenomenon and heady angelic experiences -- well, as Nisardagatta would say, "That's not IT!".  Personally, as result of my rewarding activities towards resolution of the mind, I feel gradiently more equanimious, more complementary with other life forms, and at the same time more detached from my own mental compulsions, getting wise to the games that people play -- myself included -- with others and with their own minds.  These days I find that most of the conflict is within my own mind's memories, and others and the environment are just a repeat performance. 

Meditation as an attempt to not-know one's mind is a fail and can bring it crashing in on one.  However, I started with baby steps because I was afraid of what might lurk in my mind.  If you are at the stage where your mind no longer has power of compulsion over you in ordinary circumstances, I regard you highly.   You did good work.  I am not at that stage yet, still being somewhat lazy and distractable, needing to strengthen my resolve.  However, my mind is not the "enemy" as I once felt it to be.  But it is still a piece of work.

To present a truthful picture, I can occasionally get very upset and wiped out by the same ole, same ole and start berating myself.   Then things look all black and long walks are required while one recovers and -- unless one is extremely compulsive -- one always does recover within a few days at worst.  Good to have a complementary companion taking the journey with you.

Keep going!   emoticon
Andreas Thef, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 152 Join Date: 2/11/13 Recent Posts
Colleen Karalee Peltomaa:
Hello Andreas, kind regards,

Meditation as an attempt to not-know one's mind is a fail and can bring it crashing in on one.  However, I started with baby steps because I was afraid of what might lurk in my mind.  If you are at the stage where your mind no longer has power of compulsion over you in ordinary circumstances, I regard you highly.   You did good work.  I am not at that stage yet, still being somewhat lazy and distractable, needing to strengthen my resolve.  However, my mind is not the "enemy" as I once felt it to be.  But it is still a piece of work.

Keep going!   emoticon

Thanks for your answer, Colleen. I'm also far from being free from all that, but I'm more and more aware of the games my mind plays. That said, I however found and find it quite valuable to also work from a psychological perspectice and do trauma work from both directions: in talk therapy and through the body (for me that means Trauma Release Exercises). Because working through trauma brings a much stabler ego to work with. As one can see by looking at the spiritual communities, enlightenment doesn't necessarily make a healthy mind and healthy relationships. Plus the change from one perspective to another throughout the process is good to see how different one can feel and think. And therein for me lies the insight that neither perspective is true in an absolute sense. But it's far easier to come to that conclusion if I've worked through my somewhat pathological patterns and sorted them out.

BTW, it's great to see that more and more therapists are getting into spiritual practices and use them in their therapies. Keep up the great work!

All the best,
Colleen Karalee Peltomaa, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 401 Join Date: 6/19/14 Recent Posts
Hello Andreas,

Yes, at the start I had to work through some pressing issues (mostly childhood issues) with the help of a counselor and that did make me more stable and my DIY sessions go easier now.    

I would be out of business if people did not demand some immediate relief.  After all they are just being human and just want to play a better game -- the end.  I asked the question that set me on the road to understanding the mind and taking it apart, having felt that I had come to the end of my rope as far as playing games goes..

I have been researching into the Emotional Codes and the Body Codes and kinesiology but am not yet ready to apply it.  Looks promising.

Once one decides to stop playing games with their mind they just might become interested in looking at what holds the mind there and that would take them on a journey beyond being human and compulsively playing games in this universe, getting hooked into the aesthetics and other sensations here..  Otherwise, they eventually -- perhaps after many lifetimes -- end up back in the sink once again, needing more psychotherapy.  .

Others want to walk out of this universe (Nirvana) this lifetime.   So I guess I would largely sort people iinto those two categories (and the mind into 8 general categories) realizing we are all on a learning curve.    In my past lives I just wanted to play a better game, whether I was a yogi or a guru or a priest, etc.   Fortunately I do have some Advaita lifetimes of self-enquiry and I picked up on that this lifetime.   Lucky lifetime for me to have asked the right questions (and thank god for the internet).  emoticon

Keep on truckin'  


Andreas Thef, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Mary Jo Meadow: Dark Night vs Depression

Posts: 152 Join Date: 2/11/13 Recent Posts
I just found an interesting article in The Atlantic on how the cultural background let's one perceive mental illness differently (in this case schizophrenia):

When Hearing Voices Is a Good Thing

A new study suggests that schizophrenic people in more collectivist societies sometimes think their auditory hallucinations are helpful

As a child, Joe Holt constantly thought he heard people hurling savage insults at him. When he would confront them, they would deny having said anything, enraging him further. Holt's angry outbursts eventually cost him dozens of jobs and relationships. Years later, a diagnosis explained the years of pain and paranoia: Holt had schizophrenia.  

Holt's story, reported in a 2011 New York Times article, is typical of the way many Americans experience schizophrenia. Auditory hallucinations are one of the illness's telltale signs. The imagined voices torment sufferers throughout the day, jeering them or nudging them toward violence.

But a new study suggests that the way schizophrenia sufferers experience those voices depends on their cultural context. Surprisingly, schizophrenic people from certain other countries don't hear the same vicious, dark voices that Holt and other Americans do. Some of them, in fact, think their hallucinations are good—and sometimes even magical.

Continue reading...