‘Night’ – Ivan Marchuk, 1981 – WikiArt
“Being human is a complicated gig.
So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug.
Howl the eternal yes!”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
There is a poem that fed the imagination of many prestigious writers and philosophers like T. S. Eliot, Simone Weil, or Thomas Merton. Many a spiritual seeker has found in it a guiding lamp for the harsh ascent towards divine union. Its name: the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, a short poem written by the 16th-century Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross. It refers to the unknowable nature of both the goal and the path, and how such darkness would allow us to merge with the presence of god in ourself. As John of the Cross wrote: “In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.” I am presenting here the translation by Edgar Allison Peers. Following the poem is a short text that I wrote, words that the poem has evoked in me, the inspiration that it invoked…
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings — oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised — oh, happy chance! —
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me —
A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
~ John of the Cross (Trans. by E. Allison Peers)
‘Awakening’ – Ivan Marchuk, 1992 – WikiArt
My words on reading the poem:
Life is spent in obscurity. All the way. Our self is found to have very little substance, and everything we seem to go through has an airy consistency, like in a dream. Yet, the blessed clarity of love shows through — the spark of divine love yearning for itself in our soul. Its remnant in us is what our stubborn search for happiness is about. But we don’t know that. All we know is this relentless suffering that we seem to be made of.
This absence of ourself is what makes our path worth following. It is not for ourself to attain anything. We are the obstacle. Any seeker worth of the name knows it. So we rest peacefully in and as the unstained presence at the core of our being. This is enough to secure the way. We don’t start any new plan. We don’t involve the mind. We don’t trust the thief in a matter of truth. And we don’t look for applauds. There are none.
This is how you find inner peace. This is how you reveal life as being happiness itself. Not by inviting objects in matters of identity. Not by trusting concepts or pointers for being truth itself. Don’t run too fast. Don’t jump ahead. Be humble and thorough. Suffering is your god-given chance. Ignorance is all the knowledge you need. Don’t add anymore to yourself. Look for what you are already made of. That alone will guard you.
Your own being is the bearer of secret wisdom. This flame of your heart knows the hidden passage to your self. It has crossed it already a hundred times. Be trustful. But remember: you are not invited to this feast. So don’t even come at the door. Don’t show up. Feel this impossibility. Experience the warm welcoming though. See how your absence can be made presence. And this presence absence. Be greeted by absolutely none.
So you felt to be lost, but you were not. In fact, your not-knowing has made it. But you had to meet the chill. You had to grab the hand of a stranger. This is warmth — this loss. This is love — this death. You were meant to see that you are already all that you had expected or dreamt of. This is the gift of dissolution. To be made like nothing, empty, and in being so, meet the fullness of life. You are what you were seeking for. At last.
This is the glory of your heart — to take the blow and expand thereafter into infinity. It was made for such welcoming. It had been prepared for such ecstasy. Happiness was inevitable. This meeting with eternity was your destiny. Now you can enjoy this sweet presence as yours. You are not limited to your own private, separate self. You reach to all and everything. Life is singing. Silence is prevailing. The world is joyfully yours.
Life is now perfumed with the wind of adventure. You don’t shape it with the limits of your acquired knowledge. You don’t limit it with the shape of your conditioning. Experience has acquired a new destination. It is not meant for your advantage. The thrill of the senses is not a thing to possess. You have been undressed. You have been left naked, without the false and deadly security of having a self. You are life’s offering.
I am in abandon, free-falling into the depth of my own precious, unknowable self. Nothing to grab. Nothing to hold on to. Emptiness is my home. Freedom is my place of resting. And the ultimate and now revealed presence at the core of my being has swallowed me. Suffering has dissolved and is now replaced by the peace of just being, of is-ness. The world roars in joy. All things bathe in stillness. A bird lands quietly on a twig.
Poem by John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Paintings by Ivan Marchuk (born 1936)
Additional text by Alain Joly
– ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ – by John of the Cross (Trans. E Allison Peers) – (Chump Change)
– ‘The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross’ – by John of the Cross (Trans. Otilio Rodriguez) – (ICS Publications)
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