Excerpt for Dark Nights of the Green Soul: From Darkness to New Horizons by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Published by GreenSpirit

www.greenspirit.org.uk

Registered Charity No. 1045532

Copyright 2017 Ian Mowll and Santoshan (Stephen Wollaston).

ISBN: 9781370365968

Printed edition also available.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this eBook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the authors.

Cover design and eBook formatting by Santoshan (Stephen Wollaston).

Front cover photo: European tree frog, Hyla arborea, an endangered and protected species, copyright Dirk Ercken/Shutterstock.com.

Part One photo: copyright Vanessa Clark.

Part Two photo: copyright Serif Image Collection 5.

Part Three photo: copyright Serif Studio Extras.

Resources photo: copyright Vanessa Clark.


A special thanks goes to June Raymond,

who compiled and edited GreenSpirit’s summer 2016 magazine on Darkness and Light, which was an influential part of how this book came into being.

Contents List

Foreword ~ Ian Mowll

Publisher’s Preface

Introduction ~ Santoshan (Stephen Wollaston)

PART ONE: ABOUT DARKNESS

1. Letting Dark Be Dark (poem) ~ Grace Blindell

2. Growing in the Dark ~ Trevor Sharman

3. Symptoms in Search of a Higher Self ~ William Fulford

PART TWO: JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS

4. From Breakdown to Breakthrough ~ Mary Jo Radcliffe

5. An Unexpected Helper ~ Marshall Wayne Lee

6. A Quest into the Dark Side ~ Nicola Smalley

7. Dark Nights versus “I sparkle the waters”: Depression and Green Spirituality ~ Alex Brianson

8. My Beloved River ~ Caroline Rosie Dent

9. Befriending the Dark ~ Ian Mowll

10. Walking a Razor’s Edge ~ Santoshan (Stephen Wollaston)

PART THREE: WAYS AHEAD IN DARKNESS

11. Our Children Are Our Future ~ Joan Angus

12. Reading the Signs: Why I Shall Keep Getting Up in the Mornings ~ Marian Van Eyk McCain

13. Facing the Darkness ~ June Raymond

14. Letting Go and Letting Gaia ~ Malcolm Hollick and Christine Connelly

GREENSPIRIT RESOURCES

About the GreenSpirit Book Series and Other Resources


FOREWORD

The spiritual journey is as diverse as the many lifeforms on this planet. People are inspired to go on their spiritual journey for many reasons: awe, wonder, looking for meaning, connection, inspiration and more. But one of the reasons that people embark on the spiritual journey is after a crisis. Something that metaphorically turns someone inside out and they have a need to both find meaning to their suffering and to move beyond it.

I know that this was true in my life. The spiritual structures of my upbringing in the church stifled me. These structures had to collapse through a crisis before I realised that I had nothing left to lose and I had, by necessity, to find a new path.

Each person’s journey is unique, so it’s important not to generalise too much. But one thing I have observed in some GreenSpirit members is that I am by no means alone in having faced a deep spiritual crisis. These days there are so many groups and religions on offer on the spiritual landscape. GreenSpirit is, perhaps, like a small enclave that has to be found. And so, for some people to have invested the time and energy to find GreenSpirit, they have had to be deeply motivated by an impulse born out of a need to find fulfilling answers. Not answers regurgitated from worn out philosophies. But ones that have the depth of history, the keenness of intellectual insight and the breadth of compassion that meet the traveller in today’s world. All I can say is that this is what green spirituality offers me.

Sometimes, it can be a great help to hear from kindred spirits about their ideas and stories. Through this, I know that I am not alone on my quest; others have trodden a similar path and my suffering becomes less detached. I feel I am part of the flow of the spiritual river and I feel connected once again.

So, whatever your journey, join with us in reading the following chapters which Steve/Santoshan (who had the original idea for this book) and I have put together. We hope that it offers some encouragement on your journey.

– Ian Mowll

* * *


PUBLISHER’S PREFACE

This is the eighth title in the GreenSpirit Book Series, which is a low-cost series sold at production price.

Dark Nights of the Green Soul brings together a collection of articles published mostly in GreenSpirit magazine, two of which have been expanded for this book. It highlights insights about facing difficult times, alongside reflections on our interactive relationship with Nature and our shared responsibilities.

Other books planned in the series will look at the application of green spiritual principles to different aspects of life and culture. For details about current titles, please see the Resources section at the back of this book.

GreenSpirit is a registered charity based in the UK. The main contents/written material, editing, design and promotional work for our books is done on a purely voluntary basis or given freely by contributors who share our passion for Gaia-centred spirituality.

Publisher’s Note

For the purpose of clarity, quotations used in passages by the author of a chapter are placed in double quotation marks. Words given stress by the author of a chapter, which are not quotations, are either in single quotation marks or italic.

* * *


INTRODUCTION

Through their own hardships, many people feel a deeper connection with the suffering of others.

– Christina and Stanislav Grof1

Without a true awareness of the depths of brokenness, we will not find our way towards wholeness.

John Philip Newell2

Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa was known to tell people attending his talks that if they hadn’t already started on spiritual paths, it was best to not bother as it was too difficult! However, he would then add, no doubt after allowing for an effective pregnant pause, that if they had started, it was best to continue.

What Trungpa’s words remind us of is that authentic spiritual unfoldment isn’t about escaping into enlightened and mystical realms and simply blissing out. In the process of awakening there is work to be done and levels of awareness and wholesome actions that may not always be easy to embrace or implement.

American psychologist John Welwood coined the phrase ‘spiritual by-passing’ to also warn us against avoiding essential shadow work by consciously or unconsciously distracting ourselves with what might appear to be more attractive spiritual pursuits, but in the long-run, would in fact be less beneficial.

The title of this book is based on John of the Cross’s poem Dark Night of the Soul but with the word ‘green’ deliberately added and ‘night’ changed to a plural. The reasons for this are because the following articles aren’t just about a single category of traditional mystical experience or just human-centred spirituality.

In the Christian tradition, a dark night of the soul experience is always seen as a positive thing. Yet suffering of different kinds are also part of life and need to be included as part of the spiritual journey. For “All life is Yoga”, Sri Aurobindo reminds us.3 The adapted title of this book gives room for various stories of darkness to be told: either individual ones that Gaia-centred travellers have experienced or are still facing and how green spirituality has profoundly helped them, or ones about the Earth and the deep concerns many of us share about her current wellbeing.

Keeping this in mind, readers will notice that this book’s three main parts present various perspectives about facing and working with darkness and ways in which we can creatively move forward. The first and smallest section considers different types of darkness as well as its benefits. The middle and largest section includes further wisdom, along with personal stories about times of difficulty people encountered, and how each of the storytellers found new meaning and growth by either connecting with an animal friend or in Earth-centred spiritual awakenings and teachings. The four articles in the last section reflect upon the state of the planet and offer practical views for the times in which we live and “the great work”,4 as Thomas Berry called it, we need to embrace. For like us, the natural world of which we are all wondrously interrelated has its own spiritual journey to make.

Although Nature can of course be violent and destructive herself, we humans obviously need to consider ways in which to live in harmony with her. Pretty much everyone now accepts that Earth is going through heightened times of darkness due to a lack of wisdom we humans have had, and the damage we have collectively caused to important ecosystems and inflicted upon numerous species. The night photo of the beautiful European tree frog (Hyla arborea) on the cover of this book is just one example of an endangered species – though at least protected.

Nonetheless, if all of what I have mentioned gives the impression that the following pages are going to make for negative reading, it would in fact be a wrong one. What comes across the loudest in every article is an encouraging, hopeful, transformative, pragmatic and active form of spirituality for troubled times.

Spiritual and religious traditions’ teachings about transformation frequently draw upon the symbolism of death and dying to one’s previous self, which is invariably seen as a necessary stage of change and growth to go through in order to awaken to new ways of being.

Creation Spirituality and the Via Negativa

Before completing this introduction, I should perhaps mention something about the revival of Creation-Centred Spirituality,* which in recent decades the activist, radical theologian and Episcopal priest Matthew Fox has done much to promote as an essential fourfold path:5

1. The Via Positiva: the way of awe, delight and amazement.

2. The Via Negativa: the way of uncertainty, darkness, suffering and letting go.

3. The Via Creativa: the way of birthing, creativity and passion.

4. The Via Transformativa: the way of justice, healing and celebration.

Within GreenSpirit, many members will already be familiar with Fox’s insights. Although the articles in this book predominantly connect with the Via Negativa (number two above), they also intertwine with the other three ways.

Conclusion

In the process of putting this title together, with the excellent and always supportive help of Ian Mowll, the coordinator of GreenSpirit, what was especially encouraging was how all contributors responded positively about it when contacting them about their articles being included, and many of them mentioned how beneficial and important a book of this kind would be. Both Ian and I can only hope that it may offer some reassurance, encouragement and inspiration in troubled times, for the benefit of both human and the more-than-human realms of life.

– Santoshan (Stephen Wollaston)

* Note

Unlike Creationism, Creation Spirituality embraces the discoveries of contemporary science.

References

1. Grof, Christina and Grof, Stanislav. The Stormy Search for the Self: Understanding and Living with Spiritual Emergency, London, Thorsons, 1995.

2. Newell, John Philip. A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

3. Aurobindo, Sri. The Synthesis of Yoga (4th edition), Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1970.

4. Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, New York, Bell Tower, 1999.

5. Fox, Matthew. Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality, Santa Fe, Bear and Company, 1983.

* * *


PART ONE: ABOUT DARKNESS


1. LETTING DARK BE DARK

Grace Blindell

The voices kept insisting,

“Make up your mind

Now.

Find an answer

Now.

Indecision is weakness,

Not knowing is a dumb game”

But there was a new voice that whispered…

“Wait,

Stay in the darkness,

It will enclose you as velvet.

Embrace the pain,

For it is a necessity of new birth.

And do not reject ‘not knowing’,

For to stand quietly with

Uncertainty

Is both trust and wisdom.

The answer will come,

But in its own time –

Not yours”.

* * *

Grace Blindell is a long-standing member of GreenSpirit and now lives in Brighton. She nursed in London during the war and after in Bordeaux, Singapore and Malaya. More recently she taught English to Palestinian refugees in Gaza.


2. GROWING IN THE DARK

Trevor Sharman

Our everyday language and culture typifies darkness as fearful, a source of terror and sadness, whilst light is seen as positive life enhancing and joyful.

We generally avoid going out in the dark, yet crave the light of day. Clearly there are strong roots to these archetypal views, supported by human evolutionary experience, and yet they oversimplify this dichotomy and obscure the realities of darkness as an essential ground for creativity and life. This is particularly apparent when transposing these concepts to the living world of plants and soil. As a gardener and grower I take a very different view of the value of ‘darkness’, both the darkness of the ‘under-ground’ soil and the seasonal darkness of winter. I am also amazed by the growing body of knowledge about the extraordinary richness and complexity of this darkness as exemplified by soil.

In this emerging view, soil and darkness can in fact be seen as a medium of creativity, growth, connection, transformation and reparation. Drawing on metaphors of life as soil, I aim to rehabilitate the view of darkness and re-balance its appreciation alongside light.

My priority as a gardener has changed over time. I no longer hanker after a bumper crop of beans or the largest marrow. My focus is on facilitating a healthy, lively soil. Crops are a by-product of this focus, very welcome ones, but not ‘at any price’ and only with the priority of being a healthy biotic community able to gift such a surplus to me.

In order to promote and protect my soil I need to understand it. Soil is not ‘dirt’ as our transatlantic cousins so unfortunately call it, along with the connotations of unclean and unhealthy, but a community of life. Microbiology has discovered that a huge number of living beings inhabit every teaspoonful of healthy soil. This community is largely a co-operative, with exchanges of nutrients, mutual support and transformation of biochemical foodstuffs and energy exchange, all of which is a great place to be based if you are a plant with ambitions to grow and multiply. The soil has also been discovered to be the medium of extraordinary mycorrhizal networks, again with negative names such as ‘rot’ and ‘fungus’, and yet these ‘beings’ neither plant nor animal, enable the community of plants to thrive through enabling of the absorption and exchange of nutrients and water. Extraordinarily, researchers have discovered that mycorrhizal networks can actually communicate and redistribute nutrients where needed over distance across communities of plants like forests.

All in all, some distance from soil and darkness as negative and dirty. In fact it is clear that this realm of darkness is vibrant, complex and above all, alive and thus essential and vital to the growth of plants.

How can this transformed knowledge of earth and dark help us think of our own and wider health and wellbeing? Firstly, the general view of darkness could helpfully be changed to one where life is being processed, rather than suppressed and oppressed. Just as the community of soil is processing nutrients and energy into a medium of value to plant life, so our dark times can do the same. Rather than accept a negative view of dark times to be suffered and endured, we can look for their value. This may involve new learning and understanding, just as has been the case with soil dynamics. How can our bodies and emotions act together to transform fear, depression and grief into nutrients and understandings for life? Can we enable our own transformations or would some helpful ‘gardening’ interventions be useful? If so, what kind and from whom?

Our current society is characterised by a focus on activity, outputs, growth, efficiency, busy-ness. Our first question on meeting someone is often ‘What do you do?’ defining people by their activity. In working with the soil, many gardeners will spend great effort digging their soil each year, turning it over, getting rid of the ‘weeds’ and ‘cleaning’ the soil. This in fact can cause great damage to the soil’s biotic community, who don’t thrive in light and are killed in great numbers as a result, so weakening the growing medium. Taking a gentler approach, ‘doing’ less, using organic mulches, growing ‘green manures’ and protecting the soil from light and excessive rain can often not just protect, but enhance soil fertility. It is interesting that we often refer to ‘beds’ in which we grow plants. Building on this gentler term, we can see that our role as gardener of soil and self is to be gentle, aware and appropriate, ensuring rest and reparation rather than over focus on doing and acting.

Another aspect of the view of soil as ‘dirt’ can lead to an aversion towards soil (aka ‘mud’) as a medium of play. Despite the ease of laundry of today, with sophisticated washing machines and detergents, there are far too few children allowed to get dirty, in other words to play with and learn about soil. The stigma will remain with us as adults if we don’t investigate directly and become familiar and appreciative of the dark earth. The dramatic and continuing loss of topsoil globally and the constant urge to pave over our gardens seem evidence of this contempt and fear as we continue to recoil from what is truly valuable and a potent source of creativity.

The seasons remind us that biological life is not binary, dark/light, dirty/fecund, but cyclical. The value of winter, the season of darkness is great for the garden. It is a time of both rest and regeneration. Gardeners speak of ‘putting their garden to bed for the winter’ perhaps assuming it will do nothing. In fact much will be going on, particularly in our temperate climate. ‘Rot’ will be in full swing. Mycorrhizae will be digesting and transforming organic material as the alchemists of the soil, ready to share their richness with the plants, some of whom will have been napping, but also preparing for their time of great excitement.

Winter can be a good time for us too. Less pressured to ‘do’, more time to ‘be’. Time to learn, read, self-educate and prepare for the season ahead, and perhaps above all, a time to dream in the darkness. How will we know what to focus on for our future growth if we have kept the lights on and failed to dream? Particularly in this Anthropocene era, when we humans have taken the rudder of evolution, we need to ensure we have the right kind of dreams to be in tune with life on Earth and its future rather than carry on blindly with business as usual.

The value of the dark living soil can be seen in what emerges into the light as spring and summer arrive. The strength, resistance to disease and resilience to drought and wind, will all reflect the qualities and vivacity of the darkness in which the plant is rooted and which in turn enables it to transform the energy of the light of the sun into maturation and fruitfulness.

So maybe darkness, winter, the soil are crucial to our lives. Not just as the home for plants, but as the resources we and life, need for reflection, restoration and for dreams of our future evolution.

* * *

Trevor Sharman is a member of GreenSpirit Council and the self-appointed Governor of the (Grassy) Bank of Ealing where he is active in his local Transition Town.


3. SYMPTOMS IN SEARCH OF A HIGHER SELF

William Fulford

Since adolescence I have often been concerned about and searching for personal meaning.

In my second year at University while studying Natural Sciences I had for four months been experiencing a loss of soul, a mild depression with no obvious causal factors. One day, half way through a physiology lecture I had a conversion experience, a conviction that I wanted to change direction and study Medicine. My life force returned, the depression lifted, and life once again flowed, and enabled me to follow my new dream.


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