The Dark Night of the Soul: Effectively Dissolving Blockages and Dealing with the Doldrums

An Article by Brian Kane 4/29/2012

It is a popular spiritual metaphor of hope to believe that it is darkest before the dawn. About one year ago, I wrote a piece about how to become the Dark Knight of Your Soul (in order to be at peace during the Dark Night of the Soul). Today, as I write this, I am excited to tell the reader that Twilight is imminent, and this very trying part of my spiritual journey is close to an end. I am ready to start my new life. For about the past four years, I have made some major changes as a person—changes that could not have been accomplished without the aid of Yi Ren Qigong, which I learned primarily from Brendan Thorson at the Noble School of Qigong and Tai Chi Training. Yi Ren Qigong helped me exist healthily during the Dark Night of the Soul and also taught me how to constructively cope with the inner turmoil that is inevitable during this time. From my own personal experiences and observations, I have devised a basic, yet imperative and effective, survival plan for anyone who feels emotionally and spiritually stuck.

The Resistance on the Soul: Strengthening the Spirit

During the Dark Night of the Soul you will experience both negative and positive inner forces. The negative forces, although often intrusive and very uncomfortable, are analogous to weights used by weight trainers seeking to improve and/or refine muscle size. I have mentioned before that Yi Ren Qigong has helped me improve my physical strength tremendously as evidenced by my huge weightlifting increases. Just as importantly, Qigong has given me the strength to deal with the negative forces of the Universe.

However, this is not to say that one should deal with the trying times of the Dark Night of the Soul solely with brute-force. Also, a person should not indulge in negative habits such as drug abuse or self-mutilation during this time. Just as there are positive and negative inner-forces that will be experienced within, there are also positive and negative ways to cope with what feels like the spiritual doldrums, where nothing is really happening in a person’s life. (In the Ocean, there are places known as the Doldrums where there is little wind, and sailing boats often get stranded. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doldrums,). During the Doldrums of the Dark Night of the Soul, it might even feel like it is time to leave this existence, which is a fallacy that could lead to tragic results. So if this is not the end of the story, but the end of Part One, how does one move on?

The Positive:

Medical Yi Ren Qigong

First off, try not to panic. This is not the time to feel despair, but to feel delight: You are about to emerge out of this time a much stronger, smarter and wiser person. When you are plagued by inner turmoil, counteract the negative, self-destructive thoughts with varying resistance—there is a time to advance and a time to retreat—but never give up. To me, the most symbolic Tai Chi exercise on how to deal with life’s stressors is the Pushing Hands Exercise, where you work with and not against both your friends and adversaries. Instead of trying to outright destroy your demons, learn to, as I wrote about in an earlier entry, dance with your demons. Often times your demons (which can be viewed as loosened blockages causing issues to surface) will be much too strong for you to handle by simple mind-over-matter. The most positive and powerful way to function when you are being attacked by dark forces is to take time to calm down, sit down, relax and meditate.

Why meditate? It is common for people to think that they can merely think their way out of depression or just snap out of it. Unfortunately, this is often not effective. The underlying problem could actually be thinking way too much with the frontal lobe of the brain, what the Taoists refer to as the Intellectual Mind. This part of the mind is great at reasoning and logic, however oftentimes when answers to personal questions are not readily available, thinking too much with the frontal lobe can cause what Yi Ren Qigong instructor Brendan Thorson has referred to as the “broken record effect.” Trying to process too much information at once with the frontal lobe can lead to obsessive and intrusive thoughts that repeat over and over and over and over and over and over…

This is not good. In fact, I have heard people who have been clinically diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, describe symptoms of intrusive and repetitive thoughts that can lead to deep depression and even manic episodes.

When you meditate, as I have many times at home and in class, you start to bring more attention to the back of the mind, the Parietal Lobe. This is what the Taoists refer to as the Self-awareness and Intuitive Mind. When you use this part of the mind, you become more conscious of your body and your emotions. From what I have experienced, when you begin to focus more on your body and inner feelings, you start to calm down and feel at ease. By turning down the Frontal Lobe chatter, you can collect your thoughts in a more organized and less chaotic manner. I often compare meditation to rebooting your brain. Like a computer, your brain can slow down, get stuck, freeze and become infected with spyware and pesky viruses. Meditation can be a way of defragging your mind (organizing it and getting rid of clutter) and purging detrimental programs.

All in all, the goal is to integrate the Intellectual Mind with the Intuitive Mind. Too much use of either one is maladaptive. One of my personal experiences with this was after a six-hour day of Yi Ren Qigong meditation and exercising. After Brendan Thorson’s seminar, I went to get a haircut. I was definitely still in a meditative state when I arrived at the hair salon and I am sure much of my brain activity was in the Parietal Lobe. I went to sign in for my haircut, and asked for a pen. There was a jar full of pens close-by to my right, however it did not register in my brain: I was still too far within myself and not very aware of my surroundings. I am usually very astute and alert, and although I was very calm (the receptionist probably thought I had been prescribed Medicinal Marijuana) I was not very cerebral or calculating. In a sense I was a ship without a skipper. Recently, through Qigong, including deep meditation, my Intellectual and Intuitive Mind have begun to integrate, and when the two come together, it is the best feeling I have ever had. In this state I am best able to be rooted firmly to the earth, aware of the inner and outer forces of the Universe that affect me, and I am able to work with them, in a sense performing Pushing Hands with my mind.

Your thoughts do not only affect your emotional state, but also your physical body. A very obvious example of this is when men and women have sexual thoughts; they can change the state and condition of their sex organs.  I do not mean to be crude, but this is something we can all relate to. This is the same as having what Thorson has coined junk or toxic thoughts. Sexual feelings are usually positive (as long as they are not obsessive or controlling) but what about negative thoughts such as feelings of inadequacy or blind anger? These too can change the condition of the body as well. You will notice that a person with low self-esteem will often walk around like he has a weight on his shoulders. He might appear slumped over as he stares at the ground while lazily dragging his feet. His face might look droopy and he might have dark circles under his eyes. When you are in the Dark Night of the Soul, it is not uncommon to feel useless and isolated. However, you will only exacerbate this condition by feeding yourself junk thoughts: “I’m a failure; I’m stupid and ugly; my life is over…” This can have very bad effects on your internal organs, especially your kidneys, which in the view of Yi Ren Qigong, are the body’s internal power house. The kidneys generate electricity for supporting the work of the internal body. You might also feel extremely angry during this time. An angry person might appear half-cocked all the time and sport a snide sneer on her face. When you are angry, it can have very ill effects on your liver, which in the view of Chinese Medicine and Yi Ren Qigong is the house of the soul. Your liver also affects the strength of your muscles and tendons.

These junk thoughts can eventually lead to high levels of stress. Eventually, when you are over-stressed, the Adrenal Glands, which are located on top of the kidneys, become overactive. This can lead to Adrenal Fatigue that makes a person feel completely drained of energy. Moreover, your body will begin to produce too much of the stress hormone, Cortisol, which can be very damaging to the body and mind. High levels of Cortisol have been linked to obesity, increasing the overall process of aging and can disrupt productive thought patterns, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

When an individual is in a state of high-stress and his or her mind is chaotic, racing to go nowhere, he or she will naturally seek relief. In American society, many people are not aware of the option of Qigong to bring the body and mind back into balance. Some believe you have two options to deal with stress-induced depression and other psychological disorders: Counseling (in particular psychiatric drugs) and street drugs such as heroin, cocaine and most popularly, marijuana and alcohol—which do not fix the problem at its root, but rather, merely numb the symptoms of the issue.

To me, the options of legal psychiatric drugs and street drugs are negative ways to deal with the Dark Night of the Soul.

 

The Negative:

Harmful Drugs

It is definitely true that some people’s minds are so disturbed that they need psychiatric drugs to prevent them from harming themselves or others.  However, in many cases, as I can attests to personally, Qigong, in particularly medical Qigong such as Yi Ren Qigong, can be very effective at curing psychological disorders. It is widely known that psychiatric drugs can have severe side-effects: One fellow Qigong practitioner recently wrote that being on psychiatric drugs felt like she had a chemical lobotomy. This might seem like an exaggeration, but, although I do believe that mood stabilizers such as Prozac, Xanax and Lithium can be effective in balancing and controlling moods, let us examine these drugs, including their side effects, by clicking on the following public health links:

Prozac: http://goo.gl/e6jwx

Xanax: http://goo.gl/VsxID

Lithium: http://goo.gl/wqVC6

This is not to say that practicing Yi Ren Qigong will, be like a walk in the park.  The healing and development process at times can be physically and emotionally challenging.  But these challenges are part of the healing process and are not harmful to one’s body. For instance, Prozac has been reported by some users to cause kidney discomfort, which I believe (and some experts concur) is due to Prozac’s negative effect on the kidneys. However, any kidney discomfort a Yi Ren Qigong practitioner might experience is not indicative of his or her kidneys being destroyed but healing and getting stronger. You can liken this to the muscle pain you might feel after a hard physical workout. The pain might not even be experienced right after the workout, but maybe the next day or even two days later. I personally have experienced dull or sharp pains in my kidneys after practicing Medical Yi Ren Qigong, but instead of feeling fatigued afterwards, I feel energized and stronger.

In a sense, although some patients might believe that psychiatric drugs are helping their minds, they could actually be destroying their bodies. The mind is being tended to but the body is being neglected.

When you are in the Dark Night of the Soul you might be especially prone to depression and other mental maladies. My suggestion is to exhaust all spiritual-work options, including Yi Ren Qigong, before resorting to taking psychiatric drugs. Remember, you might not have a chemical imbalance where levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are either too high or low, but actually an imbalance of the use of the Frontal and Parietal Lobes of your brain. Ideally, these two parts of your brain will work in conjunction with each other, creating balance in a person’s overall being.

Street Drugs:

In all my years of going to the doctor, when complaining about a mood disturbance, I was never told about the option of meditation or Medical Qigong. In fact, in my first entry, I wrote about one General Physician handing me a bag of the anti-depressant Zoloft and saying to me “It’s nothing to be ashamed about.” By that doctor, who is actually a very good and smart MD, saying that, he acknowledged that there is a social stigma against people who are on psychiatric drugs.

Therefore, since Medical Qigong is not widely endorsed or touted by the majority of the medical community in the United States, and there is a social stigma against people on anti-psychotic drugs, to some, the only viable option might seem to be street drugs such as heroin and marijuana.

Now I have nothing personally against the use of marijuana. In fact, I think that marijuana, used in moderation, can lead to some profound spiritual insights. Unfortunately, marijuana has also been shown to have negative impacts on short-term memory and linear cognitive functions such as mathematics. I have enjoyed marijuana before, and like I stated earlier, the feeling of being under the influence of marijuana is similar to being in a meditative state. However, whereas meditation is actually creating more connections in your mind, marijuana is merely shutting off parts of your brain and turning up others. One very clever Yi Ren Qigong student told me in class that he compares being high on marijuana to walking around with a telescope. You might be able to see deeper into the vastness of your mind and subsequently the universe while on it, but while walking around, you will surely bump into things unnoticed in your immediate surroundings.

Heroin is a much different story: It is much more detrimental and even deadly. In the United States, including Washington State, heroin use is growing at an alarming rate, especially among young adults 18-35. There could be many reasons for this, including the over prescribing of pain medications such as Oxycontin and Percocet, which are Opioids or essentially synthetic heroin. An increasing trend is for abusers of Opioids to progress onto heroin, which has the same effect but is much cheaper.

About seven years ago, I had a severe case of Strep Throat. Along with the Penicillin I was prescribed, I was also given a prescription for Percocet. I found this curious because I felt relief the next day after taking my first dose of Penicillin. I did not use the Percocet to treat the pain caused by my Strep Throat, since that had greatly subsided. However, I did take the Percocet recreationally since I was curious.

Now I am sure that Opioids (and Opiates such as heroin) are very effective at treating physical pain, but additionally, they can help alleviate the pain caused by psychological issues. While high on Percocet, I noticed that every worry or anxiety I could muster to in my mind would not cause me to feel unbalanced or stressed. I felt like I was in a peaceful place of bliss. However, I only used Percocet a few times and thankfully did not get addicted. One of the things that prevented me from using it more was from what I had witnessed Opioids and heroin do to people physically, even leading to death. Again, this is a case of treating the symptom and not the underlying cause (which is often unresolved issues that the Taoists call blockages, popularly thought of in the West as unresolved psychological issues from childhood trauma or even further on into adulthood.) This is also a case of treating the mind, but neglecting the body, in turn, slowly destroying it.

The ironic thing about the abuse of street drugs is that often times, addicts who seek help, end up on the path that they should have initially taken. They often end up on a spiritual path that can include studying Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, et-cetera. Also, they often learn about spiritual exercises, including Yoga and Qigong. Sure these practices are much harder than popping a pill, taking a toke, or injecting yourself with heroin, but in the long run, they will lead you to a happy life. From my own experience, the more I practice Qigong, in particular Yi Ren Qigong, the easier it becomes. I do not view it as a chore (as a “have to do”) but as a delight (as a “get to do”).  Any pain that I experience from practicing Yi Ren Qigong is a good pain that is bettering my life, not bad pain that is slowly killing me.

During the Dark Night of the Soul, you have the option of getting through this time by positive means, such as practicing Yi Ren Qigong, and negative means such as using harmful drugs. The choice is yours, but it is my view that opting for the second option will either lead to a lower quality of life, even death, or that you will eventually be guided to the option you should have opted for in the beginning: the first option, the positive one.

Dealing with the Doldrums

Picture yourself standing on the back porch of a vacant beach house, staring at a crystal lake on a warm, summer night. It is right after sunset and both the light of the vanished sun and a newly appeared moon illuminate the dusky sky. The few clouds that are left overhead actually appear to be red, as the sun’s light refracts off the atmosphere. Behind you all the lights of the large, two-story wooden beach house are off and the only sound you hear in the house is the faint hum of the refrigerator in the nearby kitchen. About 40 yards in the distance you see a large, 100-foot party, yacht skipping freely across the lake. You begin to feel isolated and desperately lonely as you hear the merry laughs of both familiar and unfamiliar people. It feels like you will forever inhabit the beach house, alone, and the yacht full of partiers, living happy and fulfilling lives, will float farther and farther away—never to return.

This can be how the doldrums feel. This feeling of loneliness and inactivity can lead to either self-destruction or self-improvement. Contrary to what you might believe, the yacht will return to you, when the time is right. In the meantime, remember that this is not a time in your life to feel morose, but to celebrate. It might sound inane, but you are in a spiritual cocoon, preparing to emerge as a butterfly. How brilliant your colors shine depends on how well you nourish yourself during the Doldrums of the Dark Night of the Soul.

One of the most common thoughts experienced during the Doldrums is suicide. They say that suicide is more-often-than-not a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Often times a surviving jumper will attests that during that despondent descent, he or she had a moment of clarity and regretted jumping. To me, the act of suicide is an example of the result of trying to fight inner turmoil with just the Frontal Lobe of the brain, the Intellectual Mind, and not bringing your thought energy to the back of your mind, the Parietal Lobe or Self-awareness, Intuitive Mind.

The Doldrums are a time to think about improving yourself, and they are not at time to compare yourself to others. Success means something different to everyone and every person is on a different journey. There is no such thing as a universal time-line for when things are supposed to happen in your life. People who believe this end up in unhealthy marriages; working at jobs they detest and often feel that they are living their lives on someone else’s terms or on society’s terms. Self-approval is much more important than garnering approval in the eyes of your peers, elders and/or society-at-large.

From my experience, your mind will seem to play tricks on you during the Doldrums of the Dark Night of the Soul. You will at times not act like your usual self and begin to worry about things you never used to worry about. With time, I guarantee you, as long as you continue to practice Medical Qigong, these worries will subside.  You might even feel that you need to learn new things, things you were never even interested in before. To me, this is the brain getting stronger and more curious. I remember that once in high school, during Trigonometry class, a kid shouted to the teacher, who was giving a lecture, “Who cares!” The kid could not figure out how Trigonometry applied to his life. It is true that he might not ever use it after high school, but Trigonometry was teaching the kid to use and exercise parts of his brain that he could apply to other activities such as Architecture or even music. Studies have shown that mathematics, including Trigonometry, can help people better understand music and vice-versa.

During the last four years I have taken up many hobbies and learned to do many new things, exercising my mind in a positive way. Some of these new activities include, learning about Web Developing, working on electric guitars and vacuum tube amplifiers, learning to work on my car, and of course, practicing “Medical” Yi Ren Qigong. I have found that if I keep my mind occupied and stay active, often times the worries in my mind will lessen. Interestingly enough, in many cases, the things I used to obsess over and many of my bad habits (including feeding myself junk thoughts) have gradually disappeared, seemingly very abruptly. However, although I was not aware of it, my practice of Yi Ren Qigong, has helped my brain and body get healthier, even when I was not aware that any changes were taking place inside me.

So here you are, in the Dark Night of the Soul, on your sailboat, floating freely in the Doldrums, just waiting for the wind to pick up. Again, do not panic, positive changes may be closer than you think. As long as you take this time to do positive things for yourself, you will emerge out of this phase a much more evolved and well-rounded person, both in the eyes of others but more importantly, yourself. Now that you have read through my advice about how to healthily survive during the Dark Night of the Soul, I think you deserve to take a deep breath, turn on some relaxing music, dim the lights (maybe even light some candles and incense), sit down, softly close your eyes and peacefully meditate. If you listen hard enough, you might even hear those on the party Yacht calling your name.

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