Stage Five: My shadow self is who I am
At Stage Five, my shadow self is who I am. This is not an easy time, and thus most avoid it. This is what John of the Cross called “the Night of the Senses.” Here you meet yourself in your raw, unvarnished, uncivilized state, and you start dealing very realistically with your own shadow self, phoniness, mixed motives, and actual unlovingness.
As a young man I thought I had become a Franciscan and a priest to teach and talk about love, that I had left everything to love God and neighbor. But by my forties and fifties I had to be honest and say, “Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? Is there anybody in particular that you would die for?” My celibacy was based on the utterly false premise that if I did not love anybody in particular, I would automatically love God more. I realized that that was not at all true. All I did was love myself more, but in a very well-disguised form. Much of that middle period of my life I spent shadowboxing, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice the very things I was teaching to others. And this continues!
The work of Stage Five can go on for quite a long time, and if you do not have someone loving you during that period, believing in you, holding on to you—if you do not meet the unconditional love of God, if you do not encounter the radical sense of grace that touches your unconscious level—the spiritual journey will not continue. You have to experience God’s grace as unearned favor, unearned gratuity, or you will surely regress.
In Stage Five, more than any other stage, you learn to live with contradiction and ambiguity. This is true non-dual, or unitive, thinking. Stage Five allows you to find God in what John of the Cross calls “luminous darkness.” It is a real darkness, but somehow inside of the darkness, you find light—a much truer, kinder, and softer light. Mostly, you learn patience.
Adapted from The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis,
disc 5 (CD)
Gateway to Silence:
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