One simple rule is that a truly deep dark night requires an extraordinary development in life. One outstanding example is Abraham Lincoln. With his early life surrounded by death and loneliness and his adult life weighed down by a war in which thousands of young men died, he was a seriously melancholic man who, in spite of or through his dark night, became an icon of wisdom and leadership. One theory is that he escaped his melancholy in his efforts for his country, but another possibility is that the very darkness of his life—he once said, “If there’s a worse place than hell, I’m in it.”—was the ground out of which his leadership grew.
As a therapist, I have worked with people profoundly sad and discouraged, and I join with them in looking for ways to transform that heavy mood into a weighty life. Contemporary people often don’t take their lives seriously enough. This tendency might be an aspect of the cult of celebrity, where we lose sight of our own importance by making too much of it in others.
In the archetypal psychotherapy that I practice, we always say: Go with the symptom. I don’t look for quick escapes from the pain or distracting alternatives. I try to imagine how a symptom, like a long-standing dark night, might be re-imagined and even lived out in a way that is not literally depressive. As far back as the Middle Ages at least, dark moods were considered to be the work of Saturn, a spirit symbolized by a planet far out in the solar system. He was cold, lonely, and heavy, but he was also the source of wisdom and artistic genius. Look through history and you will find a great number of creative men and women who have struggled with the Saturnine humor.
This ancient idea that a dark night may be connected with genius and inspiration could help us today as we try to be constructive with a Saturnine disposition, like Lincoln’s, or a period of smoky moodiness. We might imagine it as the root and basis of an engagement with life that could give meaning and purpose. This doesn’t necessarily mean that eventually the dark spirit will go away, but it may have a counterweight—some extraordinary creative activity and involvement in life—that will make it more than bearable and may diminish it.
With our contemporary view of anything that looks like depression, we think: I’ll never be happy, never have a good relationship, never accomplish anything. But with the medieval image of Saturn, we might instead tell ourselves: A dark night is the sign of a high calling. My pain and loneliness will prepare me for my destiny.
Read the full article by Thomas Moore, here.