We have all felt these things. As someone who has felt them too, I can safely say, that we've all wished we didn't have to feel them. Who wouldn't want to live in a perpetual state of blissful contentedness. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, these are the fires which shape us. It's our lowest moments which truly define us. Like a sword, our true nature can betray or save us in a moment of desperation. Will it break or hold strong. Will it shirk or parry. Will it falter or strike. We cannot know if we cannot see and we cannot see without darkness.
The concept of a dark night of the soul has be expounded upon by a number of people throughout the years. One of the most well known in the Western world would be a Catholic mystic known as San Juan de la Cruz, or Saint John of the Cross. Many of his writings revolved around the growth of the soul and he has a peculiar affinity for darkness.
San Juan is not alone in this obsession with the darkness. Darkness as a means of growth, fertility and creation has existed in a variety of spiritual traditions. In Zen Buddhism there is makyo, devil's cave, a form of self delusion one must surpass. In Pali scripture there are the dukkha nanas, insights into misery. In Islamic mysticism there is qabd, the compression of the soul. In Hinduism there is kundalini awakening, the release of one's creative energy, fraught with danger. In Mahayana Buddhism there is sunnyata, emptiness, the door to enligthenment.
Ultimately, all of the meditative traditions describe profoundly similar descriptions of the dark night phenomenon. It is usually reached abruptly and without warning after continuous successful positive meditative experiences. The dark night also often precedes a moment of clarity, enlightenment, or insight. However, a dark night is longer than a true night and could last an unbearable amount of time: months or even years. A dark night can be encountered through misguided spiritual or meditative practice, or it can be a necessary hurdle on the right path. One can't always be sure which.
Dark Night of the Soul
An Encaustic Painting Series
My series titled Dark Night of the Soul is a reflection on the concepts of the dark night experience as I understand it from various spiritual traditions and from my own personal experience. I chose to overlay this concept on night scenes of the Koganecho area in Yokohama, Japan where I currently have a studio and where I spend a large portion of my time. This area has similarly undergone a dark period. From a gritty hot spot for crime and prostitution to an ever improving artistic haven, Koganecho is emerging from its dark night.
In particular, I tried to capture areas that had meaning for residents and myself, as well as areas that still showed signs of darkness: A Japanese a rip-off bar, a legally grey prostitution establishment, run down streets, festivals to receive and send-off ancestral spirits, a bustling shopping arcade. I tried to capture the clarity and confusion of it all using encaustic and oil paints, strategically laboring over some details, while allowing the uncontrollable nature of melting wax to cloud others.
I was pleased with the reception of these pieces by local residents. People were happy to see the area represented in paintings they felt were beautiful, while also demonstrating its complicated nature. Many people I talked to could relate with my ideas deeply and I was moved by a number of people who were able to intuit my intent just by observing the paintings, without first hearing my ideas or reading my statement.
I'm sitting down to write this roughly a year after finishing Dark Night of the Soul, as it's taken me a long time to fully distill my thoughts and ideas regarding this work. I suppose that is the nature of the dark night. I haven't created any new pieces for this series and I don't have any plans to continue it for the time being. I imagine at some point I may, but for now I have largely emerged from my own dark night which consumed me during their inception and creation.