My own “dark night of the soul” lasted 8 years. It was a time when all the manifestations of my life faltered, fell, were maimed and destroyed: the doer, the friend, the advisor, the mother, the one who tried so hard to provide for my daughter and myself, the hard worker who had saved 22 years for the house I had just bought and would see fall to pieces due to my situation.
Twenty years ago, I was one of the first people to fall victim to permanent and painful RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) to the point that there was no written material available for my symptoms. I had lost my job and run through my retirement trying to keep the house I had bought just two years before.
I was misdiagnosed with Bilateral Carpal Tunnel, given 2 surgeries later found to be not only unnecessary but had failed on top of that. The underlying circulatory disorder I had lived with since the age of 9 (Reynauds) was not factored into my treatment at all so the damage from the surgery became permanent.
After the doctor who did the surgery confessed to me, weeks later, with tears streaming down his face, that he was so sorry, that this outcome was terrible, that the damage was now permanent and stationary, that he shouldn’t have proceeded with the surgery because I had Reynauds (which should have excluded me from being eligible for the CTS even if I had CTS)-but not only did he not write this into the chart, he disappeared from any further communication.
TWENTY ONE DOCTORS
The medical world kicked me around like a hot potato. I saw 21 doctors, in succession, after the surgery. No one touched me because I was a “malpractice waiting to happen.” Several doctors said they had never seen such a case of medical negligence. Two of the top physical therapists/body workers in our area cried when they realized how much pain I was in and for how many years, and that I was beyond their help. A Chinese medical practitioner who treated me for 3 years for free said my pulse read was like that of a POW, someone who had been tortured for a long period of time.
One ploy two doctors used was to send me to psychiatrists for industrial psyche evaluations. This proved to be in my favor however, as the psychiatrists saw directly into my plight, revealing the doctor’s neglect and abuse , and commanded the doctors and the government officials who later became advocates to pay attention.
KALI DOES HER WORK COMPLETELY
At the same time as this was going on, my then 15-year-old daughter became angry with me for “not cooking, driving, or being fun anymore.” Her father, who lived next door, decided to try to take our house away by encroaching on our property and building illegally, forces me into the 6th area of legal action in which I was representing myself, with arms in casts. Every single corner of my life was fraught with difficulty.
As I fell from the blessed place of a physically able and active person, layers of friends fell out of touch from me: my friends who were musicians, cyclists, gardeners, artists, writers…What had been a very active and passionate and colorful social life fell into monotone. As the months went by, fewer and fewer were in my life.
No one wants to hear that you are getting worse. No one wants to hear or even feel the elephant in the room of litigation stories, abandonment, loss, and destruction. I learned the hard lesson that many people who are in our lives are there for some external bond, and that it is not a given that because you share passion for performing activities together you automatically get that person’s friendship when the shared activities stop.
OPPRESSED, NOT DEPRESSED
Was I depressed? Quite possibly, but the amount of time I needed to advocate for myself kept an active fighting side of myself intact. I would say I felt oppression more than depression. I would not let myself feel the loss because it would engulf me, swallow me whole. Same with the sadness. My dog felt it for me, and would whimper quietly, come to me when I would sit quietly and put her forehead to my chest, standing in that way indefinitely. Some times I would cry, but it was never from the deepest place, more like a little puddle. I felt that if I were to feel the depth of the loss and confusion I might die.
I knew by then I couldn’t bargain with Kali. I was lucky to have help at the time through regular sessions with Arthur Deikman, who recognized that I was in a “dark night of the soul.” He also recognized the spiritual emergence that was going on, and helped me integrate such crazy opposing forces. Many times he offered to prescribe medication, which I denied. Again, I didn’t feel so much depressed as oppressed.
This led to surrender to whatever crazy karmic purification was going on with me. Dr. Deikman praised me for keeping my integrity in place during such a long difficult time of oppression and called me a “True Dharma-Warrior”, even telling his friends about my unbelievable situation and how I was dealing with the struggles.
During this dark night of oppression, I was having dreams and visions of deep, joyful spiritual, mystical revelations. I had one dear friend who was familiar with the archetype of “the dark night” and helped me honor the path I was on and how I chose to live with it. My spiritual practice became strengthened, honed by the intensity of my outer life. I could still pray- and pray I did. I prayed for the strength to forgive the doctors who had made mistakes, prayed for my daughter’s father. I prayed that my immersion into darkness would leave no stone unturned. Since I was there, hey, might as well clean house. I prayed that all beings who suffered would find prayer to help them until things turned. I prayed to specific deities to help me transform anger into love and acceptance. I prayed that I could embrace the concept that this life I had was perfect for whatever fruit I might obtain in the future, and that my declining health would not take my life before I could see that future. I prayed that if I became homeless that my daughter would be taken care of. I prayed that there was still some way I could serve others.
My spiritual practice began doing me. I found such solace in the 6th chapter of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara, the chapter which is all about spiritual perseverance, the sharpening of our blade of effectiveness as a spiritual warrior. I was inseparable with that sacred text.
SURRENDER, AGAIN, AND AGAIN
Little by little the outer mandala rearranged itself. I did a 72 day fast on the ‘medical food’ called Ultraclear , which healed the inside of my guts stripped bare by the supposedly ‘harmless’ nsaids prescribed to me in early treatment. This fast rebirthed me to a place with less inflammation, and created a bridge to more healing.
A national magazine published an article about me, which brought recognition to my situation. Senator Barbara Boxer stepped in to investigate my complaints about one doctor who was incredibly abusive but at the same time would not discharge me from his practice.
Driving home one day from a session with Dr. Deikman, a tire on my car blew out. My bank account had dwindled to less than$50.00. I wept, and prayed. A friend saw my silent tears, gave me $50.00 for a new tire and introduced me to the local food bank, liberating my daughter, dog and myself from a constant diet of potatoes, ramen and matzah.
My lama Ven. Dhupthob Rinpoche from Nepal decided to come stay with me for a month, not knowing how impoverished and disabled I was. The State Oracle of Tibet insisted on visiting my humble freezing home and asked me to help him start a Dharma Center for Tibetans. I slowly began winning my cases and money started coming in. I finally got a new job even though my arms were in casts for months.
THE TRUTH OF THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
As a nearly life-long Dharma student, every time I would take teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, no matter the topic, he would start with nearly a whole day of teachings on the Four Noble Truths. In my spiritual arrogance, I would sometimes get impatient, wanting him to ‘get to the point.’
Now I see that the Four Noble Truths ARE the point!
The lessons learned from my dark night are vast and have now helped myself and others to navigate their own darkness. Being a skilled compassionate listener combined with recognizing glimmers of light in darkness is an inroad even in the most chronic cases. Helping others recognize and own these glimmers as theirs can magnify the candlepower and increase the possibilities of transformation.
Linking one’s own suffering with the suffering of all beings can also help lighten the load and lessen the isolation of darkness. This is the message of the Four Nobel Truths.
Though I have never taken anti-depressants, despite the many prescriptions I’ve been offered, I have been key in helping a few friends get over their stigma to their own prescribed but despised anti depressant meds, ultimately leading to a more balanced sense of themselves and their world view and sometimes leading to a time when meds were no longer needed.
It is easy to get comfortable in the victim role when living with depression and/or oppression, pointing the finger out but ignoring or being unwilling to pay attention to the 3 fingers pointing back. My own experience was ripe and inviting for me to play victim in any/all of its complicated chapters. My unwillingness to fall into victimization helped me find my own truth within the strange story which I had the starring role.
Though I would not wish such an experience on anyone, having gone through this darkness and returning to the light has given me skill in helping others have compassion for themselves without needing to feel victimized, and start the healing within-especially now in my work with the incarcerated.
Lastly, were it not for a few people who saw I was in a “dark night” and that light would prevail, I could have lost hope and not seen the healing possibilities. I know from experience that sometimes others are not physically, mentally, or spiritually able to transcend into healing. The light at the end of the tunnel is not a given with every single person who lives with darkness. I have painfully learned that for some, the darkness would overtake their entire lives, possibly ending in suicide or being stuck in the revolving door of psyche wards.
There is still an imprint of my dark night which rears its head at times. Every few years I read my 478-page deposition, which contains every detail of those years, and sometimes cry. It has taken my nervous system years to recover from such turbulent times. My spiritual life is at the centerpiece of my ‘table’ my social life is carefully guarded, demanding peace, harmony, joy, simplicity, nature, and an incredible amount of solitude. I am sometimes slow to really realize that I deserve to feel as much joy as I have felt suffering. I am committed to proving that the answer is YES!