Fiona Robertson: The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul: A Journey from Absence to Presence by Fiona Robertson

My friend Fiona Robertson wrote this wise, heartfelt, and insightful book that I am sure will be of help to many. It is specifically about the dark night of the soul that some of us go through at some point in our life. But the insights apply to all the many mini-dark nights of the soul that are part of our human experience. 

When I read it, I was struck by the universality of the descriptions and insights from the different people interviewed for the book. It was as if I could have said just about all of them. I was interviewed for the book so some of them are actually my own, but when I read the others I actually didn’t know if they were mine or not until I read the attribution. (Of course, the people interviewed and the quotes were selected to fit into a narrative, but there is also something often surprisingly universal about the dark night of the soul.)  

The book is a reminder of how the dark night of the soul is a deeply human and humanizing experience. And that it requires us to be real instead of holding onto identities, beliefs, and ideas about how things are or should be. It strips away layers of who and what we are not. It helps us find our wholeness in a far more gritty and real way. 

Fiona Robertson: What if it were okay to be this?

As we deepen into inquiry, questions sometimes spontaneously arise to meet our experience. A couple of days ago, I was inquiring into ‘wrongness’, both within me and beyond me, and the words, ‘I’m not supposed to be this’ came up, accompanied by a huge feeling of failure. Everything I was supposed to have, everything I was supposed to be, all of it failed. After feeling it all, this question came: ‘what if it were okay to be this?’

Even the question itself was a little shocking, as if I’d never entertained the possibility that being this could ever be okay. Then came the answers: well, it it were okay to be this, I’d be content. I’d relax. I’d have more fun. If it is okay to be this, then that’s been a whole song and dance about nothing.

The question has stayed with me. Yesterday, on my way to the dentist, I felt anxious. What if it were okay to be anxious? Oh….well, that kind of takes the wind out of the sails of the self and all it is supposed to do or not do in order to be or not be what it’s supposed to be. Or not.

Oh, the tangles we tie ourselves up in. And the relief and simplicity that dawns when we ask a disentangling question. We can’t know ahead of time which question will resonate most in any given moment, so keep looking and experimenting. It’s the willingness to keep looking, more than anything else, that is key.

Fiona Robertson on FaceBook

Fiona Robertson: Beyond the Demonization of Desire and Pleasure

We’ve nearly all been brought up in cultures which view at least some aspects of desire and pleasure as suspect. Certainly, the monotheistic religions have had much to say on the subject. Religious leaders the world over, for hundreds of years, have preached against the evils of too much pleasure, of the dangers of giving in to our desires, be they for sex, music, dancing, food, drink, or other types of sensual pleasure. Many of us have studied aspects of Buddhism, which talks about attachment to desire being at the root of suffering. Spirituality has long been associated with asceticism – the giving up of worldly, sensual pleasures in favour of an austere but transcendent existence. We’ve been taught, on many levels, that we can’t have both; that there is a fundamental choice to be made between our lowly, animalistic, even uncontrollable desires or a higher, more worthy, existence that overcomes those desires and eschews physical pleasure.

However, whatever we repress or disown doesn’t conveniently disappear. It finds its way to the surface, often in unexpected and unwanted forms, including addiction and compulsion. Our inability to fully inhabit our bodies, our inability to fully accept our physical forms – because we’ve been led to believe that there’s something fundamentally wrong or bad about our bodies and what they want – doesn’t make us more spiritual. Denying our desires for what truly gives us pleasure doesn’t make us better people.  Far from it. Rather, it tends to make us fearful, sad, angry, unfulfilled, and leaves us searching for something more, to fill the hole that we feel inside.

– Fiona Robertson, from Beyond the Demonization of Desire and Pleasure

Fiona Robertson: Inquiry is a way right into the heart of the pain

It can take people quite a while to really grok that the inquiries are not a way out of pain, but rather a way right into the heart of it – and that therein lies the freedom.

– Fiona Robertson

Fiona: On Seeing Through Suffering

The biggest revelation for me came when I was able to feel emotions and sensations without the words and images attached to them. I’d always taken it for granted that those feelings were the suffering. Stripped of their associations, the layers of meaning, it turned out that even intense emotions were bearable. More than that, they sometimes became pleasurable, or at least neutral. Energy moving through the body, and being felt. Indistinguishable from aliveness, and no longer perceived as negative in any way. I discovered the breathtaking, exquisite beauty in sadness, the innocence of fear, the high of anger, stripped of its connotations.

Going through the inquiry process, over and over again, the underlying belief that there was something wrong with what I was feeling, that sense of I shouldn’t be feeling like this, began to ebb away. Suffering, as Hafiz pointed out, comes not from life itself, but from our quibbling about it. The more we scream This shouldn’t be happening, the more we suffer. By taking a look at each element of our experience, gently, curiously, and with courage, meeting all of it as it is, we untangle the tale of suffering, and the one who suffers is nowhere to be found.

I used to believe that my suffering would end when my feelings and thoughts were somehow magically transmuted into their opposites. It is delightful to discover that the end of suffering lies in those very same feelings and thoughts, exactly as they are. My life continues as it did, my feelings and thoughts come and go as they do, and yet what was once considered suffering is now vital, alive, precious, and very much less serious than it used to seem.

– Fiona R., On Seeing Through Suffering



Fiona: Life Has No Need of Happy Endings

All life wants is to know itself
To know and to be known
To be seen, touched, sensed, experienced
Life has no need of happy endings:
When you drop your demand for it to please you
When you’re no longer screaming for it to make you happy
It unashamedly delights in itself, in its own sheer miraculousness
Life sends forth its invitation to you every day
And you, making your myriad excuses, usually decline
Because you know that if you say yes
Your very own ten thousand things, your wonderful, labyrinthine creations
(The mes and yous, hims and hers, its and thems)
Will lose their substance, their gravity, around which you revolve
Once you finally stop spinning – even for a moment –
You’ll see that all life is here (for there is nothing Out There)
And unadorned, sublime, it truly has no need of happy endings

Fiona Robertson: The scandal of objectivity

Watch out for what Scott calls the ‘reallyness’ of things. Sometimes, deficiency stories, compulsions and anxiety can hide out, as it were, in the guise of truth or seeming common sense or preference. So if you hear yourself saying things like, ‘That’s just what I want’, or ‘That’s actual reality, that’s how it is’, or ‘That’s true’, or ‘I just prefer it that way’, or ‘He’s really like that, so that’s not going to change’, or ‘That’s how anyone would feel, surely’ then take a look. There’s most likely something there to be seen. Freeing ourselves of the notion of a fixed reality, that there are some things that are just as they are, cuts right to the heart of what Scott calls the scandal of objectivity.

– Fiona Robertson

Yes, I find the same. It’s the stories that I think of – often unconsciously – as true, as “objective”, as “just how it is”, that reveal the most when I take a closer look at them. The idea of truth or fact or objectivity is another guardian of the treasure, another way for the mind to prevent itself from taking a closer look at unquestioned ideas.