Often when I hear people talk about the dark night of the soul it’s usually described as a form of depression, without much attention given to the euphoria of the experience. The concept comes from an untitled poem by Saint John of the Cross, written in the sixteenth century. The poem emphasizes the act of turning inward during an existential crisis in order to align the soul with the Divine. In fact, the poem describes the dark night as joyous and repeatedly praises it for its transformative power! The dark night of the soul is a cathartic (and ecstatic) experience and deserves further examination beyond the crisis point.
This year I was fortunate to come across the written works of the Irish poet and theologian, John O’Donohue. O’Dononhue’s first book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom expounds on the Irish concept of an anam cara, or “soul friend,” a spiritual mentor of the early Irish church. In his analysis, O’Donohue examines how the theory of an anam cara might be applied to contemporary life for spiritual development. Additionally, O’Donohue draws upon the syncretism of paganism and Christianity within Ireland to tell parables about the anam cara, which appealed to me as an Irish-American deepening her work with ancestral magic. I find Anam Cara to be among the more thoughtful treatises within the self-help genre. Its framework allows for compassionate healing, without falling into the trap of hyper-individualism often represented in New Age literature. Anam Cara is a guide for how to be a good friend, and its central theme is worth exploring as a model for living in this world.