Sooner or later, almost every one of us hits a wall. Our life stops working for us. It’s a time of great despair. Perhaps we had fulfilled our dream: a nice house, great spouse, two cars in the garage, kids, and a family pet. But then it happens. One day, after we attain our dream, we sit down, look around the house, and realize we’re not happy. We’re not really fulfilled. We realize there must be more to life and something critical is missing.
What are our goals? What are they based upon? Our ambitions, purpose, and reason to live are the foundation upon which we build our lives. All too often, we devote our lives to something that is not consistent with whom we really are. The day we finally realize that is called the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. It’s a time of emptiness and despair.
It’s better to take the time to question our values before we devote our lives to them. What do we really know? What do we really believe and why? Who are we, really? By asking these questions, we, over time, develop an increasingly solid foundation for our lives. This solid foundation is the key to happiness and fulfillment. Without it, sooner or later, we will be blindsided by the Dark Night of the Soul. The questioning goes on throughout life with ever further refinements of understanding. If we have an ongoing relationship with this process, then the further refinements don’t result in a major upheaval.
The Dark Night of the Soul happened to me. It wasn’t that I wanted to go through it, but rather I couldn’t help but go through it. I was an honors math and physics student at Ohio State University. I was in a wonderful relationship and was very happy with my life. I believe the questions all started with my relationship with physics. At some point, I realized that physics was only describing how existence functions. It didn’t ask what existence actually WAS. I then began questioning everything: all of my beliefs about life and how to live it. I realized that I needed a better reason to be Christian than just because I grew up in a Christian family. I questioned all of my beliefs, even my notions of right and wrong, good and evil, etc. At one point, I even held my hand up in front of my face and questioned how I knew it was real. Along the old three-story houses beneath the tall oak trees and occasional street light, I would wander the sidewalks at night, pondering, the fall leaves crackling under my feet. It was a painful time. I felt like I had nothing. I needed to rebuild my life from scratch, from a place without conviction or beliefs. That was my Dark Night of the Soul.
The gift I received from that time was a life built on a firm foundation. I no longer took anything for granted. What I truly believed was what I knew, unfettered, unbiased, and untouched by any worldly indoctrination. From this place, I sorted out my understanding of the world.
We would all do well to question our beliefs. Otherwise, we build our house on a foundation of sand. Isn’t that a form of denial? Some might say that it is sacrilege to question. I disagree. The spiritual path is founded upon such questioning. Having blind faith is not enough. We must do our best to know, to understand, and to build our house upon a solid foundation. Yet such questioning requires inner strength to remain in balance.
My initial entry was through physics. What’s yours? Is anything not working in your life? If so, why not? Is there an unfulfilled longing? What is it? The starting point for self-questioning is unique to each individual. The key is to have the courage to begin questioning.
Who are you? You’re not just your job or your profession or your hobbies, nor simply a husband or wife or what have you. What do you believe in, and why?
What do you really know? In response to that question, a mother once gave a lovely response, saying, “I know I love my children.” Her answer touched me. I smiled and nodded. Then after a brief silence, I softly said, “But I do have some questions. What is love?” After a pause, I continued. “What is it really? Do we love simply because of how it makes us feel? Or is it truly unconditional? These are deep questions that require profound answers.”
It is absolutely not enough to brush our questions off and bury them under the rug. We must question everything we believe in and hold dear, and question our aversions as well. At first, questioning ourselves is frightening. It seems as if we’re shattering our world. But rest assured, all the pieces do come back together beautifully. Life may go on very much as it did before. But with a deeper understanding, our relationship with life is completely transformed. The deeper our understanding, the wiser we become. To truly understand ourselves and our lives is to see beyond the horizon, to that place where no major questions remain unanswered. To accomplish that, everything must be questioned and made transparent. This is the path to true wisdom.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. Dr. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a ‘bridge’ between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Connect with Michael Mamas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.