In the Middle Ages, Catholic clergymen would refer to the “dark nights of the soul” the bleakness before the dawn of revelation, when doubt and despair comingled–not just these things in terms of God but also of the Self. The chasm between the individual soul and the enlightenment of faith seemed unfathomable… because the Self itself contained the kind of blemish which desecrated it. Besides Medieval Christians, others have had these “dark nights,” and I would suggest that the Protestant Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote movingly about this side of faith but also that both the Buddha–before his long journey to discover the meaning of suffering–and the Buddhist Indian emperor Ashoka–after seeing a gruesome battle after which he felt remorse for ever having inflicted suffering on others–did.
However, the psychic pain of self-doubt and remorse occasionally influence more than depressed patients and people of faith. Sometimes–as I mentioned with Hawthorne–they inspire Art. Which brings up the point: can Art exist without suffering or pain on the creative person’s part? Was Dickens able to write without his painful child, or Hemmingway without his Bipolar (as some psychiatrists believe he had), or Emily Dickinson without her cloistered life of a (to quote a close friend) “poor mad poetess”? Can pleasure in the ordinary sense exist without pain? It says in scripture,
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
To everything there is a season
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance…
I often find comfort in the above words because they assure me–when I am depressed–of the words written in the Talmud (and elsewhere) “This too shall pass.” As a Bipolar Schizoaffective patient I often have to remind myself that the deep sadness of depression will pass and I will be happy once more… I tried to read The Noon Day Demon once and found it too depressing but got one thing out of it: the author, who had Major Depression, said that it has courage to have such an affliction and yet live on, believing that someday things will be better… I am sad to say he found religious consolation irrelevant, but I believe it was because he expected God to cure him almost or when he tried it. In actually, the consolation of faith is a belief in God’s love and consolation, not the out-and-out belief that God will in this life remove the pain of Depression or (in my case) Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder… That is why I wrote a poem about the relationship of creativity to “evil,” which in some religions is born of suffering and pain… Here is my poem:
O Faithful North Star in the plaintive sky
where many weary slaves sought to fly,
is there a children’s story made so bright
that it is formed only out of light
where no cruel monster in the dark will prowl
nor ghost give up blood-curdling nightly howl?
Is the imagination capable
of like a yellow chick shed its egg’s pall,
to reveal more than evil villains what
gets the best writer out of their worst rut?
Does final liberation at last spring
like birth pangs through the writer’s suffering?