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The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth Paperback – February 1, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again." These lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel's famous song could be the guiding theme of this excellent offering by psychiatrist and spiritual counselor May. As May delves into the meaning and purpose of "the dark night of the soul," we come to see it as a comforting and necessary friend, ushering in a time of transformation, rather than a gloomy blackness to avoid. In order to illuminate the dark night, May draws upon the lives of the Carmelite mystics, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, as well as psychiatric research and scripture. Like the contemporary scholars of psychiatry, both Teresa and John had early insights into the unconscious dimension of life that goes on beneath our awareness-an obscure and mysterious arena that they both called "the dark." Since humans are so skilled at denial-especially denying the power of their compulsions and attachments-they would never enter into this spiritual night of reckoning if they could see in advance what it would entail. This is why we need the darkness in front of us. May, who also wrote Addiction and Grace, eventually moves into a strong discussion about depression and addiction, showing why the dark night is necessary to overcome both. Ultimately, he becomes a messenger of hope, reminding readers that every dark night brings the sweet dawn of awakening. With its clear writing and strong psychological foundation, this is a relevant resource for readers of all spiritual persuasions.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“May’s book uses the same title in an attempt to both clarify and amplify St. John of the Cross’s original work, and to place it in a modern setting.... A vivid picture of a young man with a deep love for God and brilliant intellect.” (Conversations Journal)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060750553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060750558
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gerald G. May, M.D., is the author of Addiction and Grace and Care of Mind/Care of Spirit. A psychiatrist, he currently supervisors the program for training spiritual directors at the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC. He lives in Columbia, MD.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Schonbek on April 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this book, profound but obscure like the material with which it deals, psychiatrist Gerald May describes a process of spiritual growth that is operational in the difficult seasons of life.

Drawing from the experiences of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, he explores a journey of consciousness that leads us into the recognition of "our deep and irrevocable communion with the Divine".

It is a path through darkness, a path of letting go, a path of abandoning oneself, losing oneself, and in so doing ultimately finding what is real. The following quotes reveal something of this journey:

* The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding.

* Although not knowing may itself seem like a bad thing, I am convinced it is one of the great gifts of the dark night of the soul.

* The spiritual life for Theresa and John has nothing to do with actually getting closer to God. Union with God is neither acquired nor received; it is realized, and in that sense it is something that can be yearned for, sought after, and - with God's grace - found.

* The dark night helps us to become what we are created to be: lovers of God and one another.

* ...we are not only born with God at our center, but we are born with a heart full of desire for God. This yearning is our fundamental motive force; it is the human spirit. It is the energy behind everything we seek and aspire to.

* Liberation, whether experienced pleasurably or painfully, always involves relinquishment, some kind of loss.

* Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we are going.

* ...
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106 of 116 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pray-ers who have experienced the rich silence of quiet prayer typically find themselves feeling strangely unsatisfied after praying this prayer for a while. The sense of God's presence and love wanes and a growing sense of one's being somehow off track increases. This beautifully written and highly informative little book by one of the present time's most eloquent and knowledgeable mystics is a trustworthy guide to what lies ahead. It's central message is that the prayer of quiet is God's doing, not one's own, and that one's emotional and psychological responses are transitory and not of God. The call is to wait patiently, trustingly, and faithfully, and know that in the dark mystery God is working to bring the soul closer to God. Dr. May's decades of reading and praying with John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila shine forth in this book.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By J. Meisenbacher on June 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
If you are a mystic, if you know God by direct intimate experience, you need not read this book.

If you think mysticism is better left to the few then you are probably not ready to ready this book.

If you recognize that you are on your way along the only real journey in life then I recommend reading this book.

We might think from the title of John's book, The Dark Night of the Soul, is of something completely painful, scary, horrible that we have to get through once before the final prize.

We might think that a psychiatrist's explanation would be a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo devoid of a personal spiritual perspective.

We would be wrong on both accounts.

Dr. Gerald May provides numerous insights from his study of himself and of the old Spanish writings of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila - two Spanish mystics who lived about 400 years ago.

If found two points particularly enlightening:

1) Dark in this case always means obscure / hidden. The experience may feel bad or good.
2) We will not have one great dark night. John, Teresa, and Gerald have had many dark nights of the soul. So have you and there will be more to come.

If you know that you are on the path towards mystical union with God then this book is with worth a look. If you can understand that the answer it gives is that you cannot know the answer then you are ready to read it.

Good luck on the journey.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Angel Book Reader on December 24, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Gerald May in this book helps the reader to appreciate the spiritualities of both St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Rather than looking at the dark night of the soul as something negative, the author looks at it from a very positive perspective. He says, "The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely." There is a strong liberation perspective in the whole book. Again and again, the author looks at this phenomenon as liberation for freedom and this freedom is freedom for love.

The author identifies some misunderstandings that people have about the dark night and tries to correct them. He says it is not negative or sinister; there is no need for a big and dramatic tragedy for authentic spiritual growth to take place; and that the dark night of the soul is not something that occurs once in a lifetime.

Attachment is a compulsive condition that robs us of our freedom. He describes unpleasant attachments as those we consider as being bad habits. He says when these hinder our love, they become addictions and in spiritual life, the objects of our attachments and addictions become idols. He says our attachments are very successfully when we live in denial. The problem with spiritual denial is that it makes us unaware of our idolatry and enables us to believe we have a full and free capacity for love.

The author says for St. John of the Cross, the dark night of the soul is "a secret way in which God not only liberates us from our attachments and idolatries, but also brings us to the realization of our true nature. The night is the means by which we find our heart's desire, our freedom for love.
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