Into the Darkness
Darkness is merely the absence of light. Light a match in a dark room and watch the darkness disappear. It is only through human consciousness that darkness has been given the human personification of evil. Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century theologian, stated; “I pray to God to rid me of god”. The meaning behind his words was the human distortion of the concept of God with human personifications and human traits. In the same way I suggest that we rid ourselves of the human personification of dark energy as devils, fallen angels, and angry righteous god figures, evil entities of all sorts and all dimensions.
I believe my journey into darkness began the moment I chose to manifest in this human incarnation. The foundation of my darkness was simply forgetting who I really am. I believe that I chose this human incarnation to assist humanity in its evolvement into a higher consciousness. But, to learn how to be a compassionate guide, I chose to birth into a family to have the experience of alcoholism, codependence, abuse, ignorance and fear. I chose to experience war and a near death experience to experience PTSD, and to challenge the karmic reality of many past lives as a warrior of the body. I chose the traditional values of marriage to experience the pain of divorce so I could learn how to grieve, heal, and become a humble servant to others in the process of grieving their own losses.
At this stage of my life, into my 70’s, I am truly humbled and grateful for all the players in my life who have assisted me in learning the lessons I came to learn. As a human I know that there will always be lessons to learn and choices to make on my own spiritual growth path. I remain humble and open to whatever my human experience brings to me. In truth I don’t see my life experiences so much as lessons; rather I experience them as a journey into darkness for the purpose of remembering who I really am. I believe I created my experience as a journey of remembrance, to grow my consciousness and compassion in order to assist those still lost in the darkness of their human experience.
I would describe the darkness of humanity; as ignorance, arrogance and fear. The ignorance begins the moment we chose to come into this third dimensional reality, leaving behind the remembrance of the greater aspect of our soul that remains in the higher dimensions and is eternally connected to the divine source of love we call God. As my guide Michael would say, every human on the planet feels a little depressed because we have a longing for the greater part of ourselves that we cannot remember. The fear grows when we have our first cellular experience of toxicity, rejection, neglect abandonment or abuse. I believe arrogance grows in the egotistical mind of human beings who realize with knowledge and strength they can control the lives of other human being’s minds and bodies to further their own selfish desires. I believe the origins of evil was born in the ignorance and arrogance of the human mind; not the afore-told mythical battles between light and dark angels seeking to control the plight of humanity.
I was born into a Catholic family with an Italian mom and an Irish dad in Brooklyn, New York. I was the fourth of six siblings spread over a period of 21 years. I don’t have any connection with extended family in Brooklyn because my dad joined the military when I was three. The first eight years of my life was a blur of moving from one place to another because of my dad’s deployments. It wasn’t until we arrived at Fort Lewis near Tacoma Washington that I felt any semblance of a place I could call home. When my dad retired from the military, I was thirteen and they bought a place near Tacoma where they lived until they died. It was only then that I felt a stability in a community where I could develop friends that I wouldn’t have to leave in a couple of short years. From these times I learned the darkness of adapting quickly, but not letting people too close; because they would be gone soon from my life.
However, at thirteen my journey into darkness intensified quickly. Up to this point my Catholic experience was church on Sunday in various locations, but I never felt part of a parish community. By thirteen my parents weren’t going to church; but expected me to go and they enrolled me in the local Catholic School. I developed some life-long friends there and had some of the most shaming experiences of my life there.
First was the assault on my very being. I was told as a human being I carry the mark of the original sin of Adam and Eve. I was told my only hope for redemption was complete avoidance of the temptations of sin and complicity to the church’s expectation of what a good healthy Catholic boy would be. I was told that sex outside marriage was a sin. I was told if I made the wrong vocational choice I would go to hell. At thirteen I am going through puberty, but I was put in this untenable place of deciding my legacy; do I choose girls or god? The constant negative teachings, threats, shaming and abusive punishments to control my sexual curiosity and experimentation, were humiliating and depressing. I lived in constant state of conflict between having to hide from enjoying my sexual passions and curiosities; and the fear of condemnation for being found out that I lived a double life of appearing pious on the outside; and having raging hormones and fantasies on the inside.
Once I became active sexually, I had no clue what I was doing. I was ignorant, fearful and completely unprepared for any accountability or responsibility for my relationships with girls or women. I had no relationship skills, no communication skills and no sexual confidence. I knew I had a good heart and strong sexual urges; but no clue how to experience this thing called love. The outcome a series of broken relationships, and a broken marriage that cost me thousands of dollars in therapy and years to repair my self- esteem and release my shame.
The next phase of darkness began after high school and a failed attempt at college. A friend and I decided to join the military on the buddy system so we could be together through military service years. Our mutual fantasy ended in basic training when we were separated because of testing scores. As part of my advanced training I fractured my ankle in jump school as a paratrooper; and after a brief period of recovery was sent to Vietnam.
I used to call the year between my twentieth and my twenty first birthday, the darkest years of my life. Today I see it as one of the most transformational years of my life. It was on my twentieth birthday I fractured my ankle in jump school in Georgia. In September of 1966 I was sent To Vietnam to be a replacement soldier for the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. The process then was isolating, terrifying and lonely. I was completely alone and simply a name and number to be shipped for replacement for those soldiers returning home, killed or injured during the war. I was terrified. I was in Vietnam for three months when I stepped on a landmine, December 5th, 1966. That event changed everything about who I was and what I wanted to become. Both the trauma of the physical recovery, that I still deal with today; and the psychological trauma that we now name as Post Traumatic Stress had and have changed my life forever. In the ignorance and arrogance of my youth, I saw my physical problems as an aggravation and an irritation to overcome. I was given a permanent disability status by the military, but believed I would overcome with determination, grit and hard work. For a time, my strategy worked. However, I did not understand the long-term consequences of my disability and began experiencing significant issues with back problems, stress fractures, bone spurs and other ongoing issues that required a great deal of medical treatment and rehabilitation.
The psychological impact of my Vietnam experience took me over 22 years to discover. A colleague recommended a kind of therapy that involved bio-energetic therapeutic intervention. I thought it was intriguing, so I tried it. She said it would help me get out of my denial and help release the trauma that was still in my body. I had done talk therapy years before where I was told I was a very angry man. I defended myself to the hilt, because I was mostly afraid of my anger, so I would just eliminate it as an acceptable emotion. I walked away from the first therapy both arrogant and righteous about believing I had no anger. Boy was I wrong! In my very first experience of deep breathing and acupressure, when someone touched my wound area of my leg, I exploded with a level rage, fear and grief that I had completely blocked from my mind. I was so afraid of my anger because I only experienced anger as violence in my family. My fear was exacerbated with my military training and Vietnam experience. If I felt angry, I would experience having murderous thoughts and violent dreams. So, I repressed all angry feelings and deluded myself that I could live my life peacefully without ever experiencing anger. When I surrendered to my therapy process, I learned that anger is an important emotion. The trick was learning healthy expressions of anger; as opposed to violent or passive aggressive ways of dealing with my emotions, especially anger.
The next phase of my journey into darkness was after Vietnam and my return to college. As a part of my veteran benefits I was gifted with college benefits; without which I would probably not have achieved my bachelors or master’s degrees. However, the journey into darkness was not about my college education; but rather, my college experience. Because I was twenty- one years old I was housed with seniors at the college dormitory. At the time of my Landmine experience I weighed 118 lbs. After one year in the dormitory eating cafeteria food I blossomed to over 200 lbs. My roommate was a drinker, so we went out evenings at a college student owner tavern drinking beer. We became know as the friendliest drunks on the campus. My focus was less on studying and more on socializing, partying and exploring sexual conquest.
The college atmosphere in the late sixties was full of anti-war protests, campus sit-ins and racial conflict. No one really wanted to hear the truth about my experience in Vietnam; so, I kept quiet, avoided conflict, and acted out in any compulsive survival mechanism I could manage to fit in. Eating, sex, and drinking were my primary survival strategies. My heart, my feelings, my story and my truth I kept close to the vest and buried deep inside.
In an attempt to legitimize my college experience; I found a young woman who was beautiful, very sexual and wanted to be married and have a child. Being naïve and clueless about the responsibilities of marriage I said, yes, and we had a large Catholic wedding. Something inside me said this was wrong, but I ignored my intuition and proceeded with the wedding as planned and learned very quickly how ignorant I was. She told me on our honeymoon that she really didn’t like sex; but participated with me because she knew this was the only way she could get me to marry her and have a child. I was crushed. Now I was trapped in believed Catholic vows of; “till death do you part”. I felt trapped and angry; but did not know how to resolve my guilt and shame from the promise I made. The next five and a half years were very stressful and depressing. There were so many things I did not understand about her, or about myself that made those years so depressing.
Ultimately, I ended the marriage after a weekend of drinking, an affair and a massive hangover. I tried to recapture my youth through the pursuit of sex, but ultimately failed and found myself extremely depressed.
In conversations with a friend, who was also depressed, I decided to sell everything, quit my job and do a road trip with my friend that ended in the mountains of Colorado. My experience there began my journey back to the Light!
THE JOURNEY INTO THE LIGHT
I can say that from this point forward my life has truly been guided to help me awaken to the possibilities of healing and transformation. It was not until I surrendered trying to control my life from my head; that I experienced a shift that opened my heart and lead me to an ongoing journey into the light. This is not to say that I am not continually challenged by ignorance, arrogance and fear; but, there is a peaceful knowing at the very core of my being that I am enough, that I am loved and that I have the consciousness and confidence to experience, peace, love, joy and abundance.
It began when I listened to my friend struggle with depression and his questioning of whether he wanted to live or die. He would leave each day, and I wasn’t sure if he was coming back or going to commit suicide. As I listened to him, I decided that I am not that depressed, and I wanted to live. That was my first humble “yes” to the commitment to life.
I learned then that everything is divinely ordered, and that God has a sense of humor. We lived in the small ski town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In a one- mile strip of the downtown area there were dozens of bars and restaurants, a few clothing and food stores and one movie theater. The only movie in town was Woody Allen’s, LOVE AND DEATH. I saw that movie 12 times in three months since I wasn’t drinking anymore. I picked up Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, DEATH, THE FINAL STAGE OF GROWTH. That book was transformational for me because now I finally understood the purpose of feelings and I had a road map of how to walk through my grief to find acceptance and peace in my life. As my awareness grew, hope flickered, and my depression began to retreat.
With a renewed sense of hope and inspiration, I decided to leave my friend in Steamboat and began the journey home. I felt a renewed sense of love for my family and wanted to come home and share the good news with them. I realized what was missing in our family. I had deluded myself into believing that we loved each other so much that we didn’t need to say it or share it. I now knew I needed to say, “I love you” and hear it back from them. We never hugged, yet I loved hugs and needed to be touched. I bounced into my folk’s home and gave my mom a big hug and said, “I love you.” Her response was to pull my full head of hair and say, “You could be such a handsome boy if you just would get a haircut.” She then went on to say that she knew my friend was a bad influence and was going to turn me into a damn hippie. My dad sat there with a wry smile on his face and continued to smoke his cigarette. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had changed, and they were still the same. My fantasy of bringing hope to the family was just that, a fantasy. If I desired to continue my path of hope and healing, it would have to come a different way.
My first order of business was to find a job. After searching the usual job listings, I decided on an intuition to go back to my old parish and find out what was up with the church. To my surprise, the first person I met was a gay seminarian who was helping in the parish. I thought to myself, “so this is different!” He was wonderful, and we had many conversations about the changes in the church since the second Vatican Council. It was inspiring to hear. When I shared my story and background, he grew excited and said I should apply for the youth ministry vacancy that was coming open soon. I applied and got the job. The next four years would be a magical reconciliation with the church, and an opening to many significant opportunities to continue my journey of growth.
My experience in my old parish was truly transformational. The liturgy was now in English. The confessional had transformed from a dark box to a face to face conversation. It was no longer confession; but a rite of reconciliation. The focus was not on judgment for our sins; it was about discernment about what works and what doesn’t work and how can we move forward. I was afforded the opportunity to dialogue with the youth of our community and have experiential participation in the rituals and sacraments that had meaning in their lives. While there were still community members who lived by the same old values I had experienced as a teenager; I was able to be an advocate for the youth of our parish.
Because of the progress and forward thinking of the pastor at the time, I was also encouraged to engage in a Doctor of Ministry program put on by the Archdiocese of Seattle. I was accepted as one of only two non-clerical people in the program. I was given wonderful affirmations form the director of the program that I was more of a priest than many men who wore the collar. What a wonderful affirmation and healing from my original eight grade experience. I was there to help build a bridge between the religious world and the secular world. My doctoral dissertation was to develop a program for those who were divorced, separated and widowed and felt disenfranchised by the church.
As preparation for my dissertation, I was invited to participate in a program called Beginning Experience, created by a Nun from Fort Worth, Texas. This was a reconciliation retreat for the divorced, separated and widowed to help participants walk through the grieving process with compassion and support. The weekend was transformational for me. Now I was living the experience of reconciling the split between the grieving process of psychotherapy and the Death to Resurrection process which was central to Catholic teaching. I was involved in Beginning Experience as a participant, a trainer and team member, a member of the National Board of Directors, and eventually, the International President for Beginning Experience. I even participated in writing some of the training manuals for that program.
My dissertation was to develop an ongoing support group for the divorced, separated and/or widowed members within the Catholic community to provide compassionate support for their loss and grief; but also to help reconcile the disenfranchisement that many of them felt when there was no support for them in the church as they walked through their own traumatic experiences. I continue to provide support to this day in other communities that offer programs for the divorced, separated or widowed individuals.
After leaving youth ministry, my career expanded into the world of counseling and psychotherapy. Not only did I find the rewards of supporting others in their personal issues; but I was also being challenged to continue my on going education and development in becoming a skilled professional. Through my diversity of experiences in a variety of organizations and agencies, I was constantly being challenged to reflect upon myself and explore the areas of my personal developmental issues that I was ignorant of; or had not done the personal work to reconcile in my own life. I am of the belief that I could only support clients effectively and compassionately to the degree that I had done my own work.
The irony was, as clients were courageously exposing the dilemmas of their own lives, I was being challenged to look back into my own life and ask myself some difficult questions. It was through challenges from my wife and other colleagues that I surrendered to put myself back into therapy to address many areas of darkness and blindness that continued to keep me from believing in myself and being an effective guide in support of others. So off to therapy I went.
The first stage of grief is denial. I had lived in significant denial of the impact that my dad’s alcoholism, my mother’s criticism, the shaming and abuse from my early years in the church, my sexual ignorance, compulsions and failures, my failed marriage and the post traumatic stress from my Vietnam experience. I had rationalized away my pain, my grief, my anger, my addictions and my aloofness and arrogance.
I often tell clients that resistance is 75% of your therapy. You may come in pain but find yourself in resistance when you learn what is required to release your pain and change your life. I was no different. It took a good two years of being in resistance to my own therapy before I finally surrendered and was willing to do the work and change my life. Becoming emotionally vulnerable was frightening. Changing life long patterns of beliefs and behaviors was a daunting challenge. I am thankful every day for the commitment and the compassion of my therapists who stayed with me through my resistance and who affirmed and encourage me to walk through my fear, release so many of my old and attitudes and beliefs; and walk toward my joy and integrity.
The final aspect of my journey to the light was in challenging my belief in the concept of God and my relationship with God. In my youth I marinated in the church’s projected belief that I was separated from God, because as a human I carried the mark of the original sin of Adam and Eve. I needed to earn my way back into the good graces of God to earn my way into heaven. Of course, in my youth I was discouraged because of what I believed to be my constant sinful nature; I would never be enough to find way into heaven. Depression, anxiety and fear of rejection were the underlying basis of my spiritual crisis. In my mind, it didn’t matter what I did, because it would never be enough. Therefore, I concluded that I was not enough and that my soul would be condemned to purgatory, if not hell. All of this I believed because I had been taught that the power of reconciliation and forgiveness came from outside myself and not within myself. This was the most damaging and disempowering belief system that has ever been projected onto humanity through the arrogance of other humans who seek power and control through the manipulation of religious belief systems.
Not only did I experience healing and reconciliation from the compassionate transformations within the church via the second Vatican Council; but also, opening myself to explore other belief systems that opened my eyes and my heart to different ways of understanding this concept I call God. The exploration was amazing and expanded my own understanding that life, love and God are interchangeable pronouns that the benevolent energy that is the core energy of existence.
Carl Jung once said that there is no solution to the human dilemma; there is only transformation into higher realms of consciousness. I believe that my journey to the light has perfectly unfolded as I have humbly surrendered to the wisdom that resides within my heart. I believe through intuition and learning to validate my emotional body that I am building my power of discernment. I believe through the compassion and guidance of others who live a life of love, I have opened myself to the awareness of the light that shines within my soul. I believe that once you have discovered the light that burns within, your only desire is to become a lightworker and spread your light so that others may feel hope and search for the light within themselves. I believe there is a consciousness within this planet we live on that works directly with human consciousness so that we may create together heaven on earth. I believe that we are greatly admired, not judged, for our courage to have a human experience. I believe we are all connected. I believe we are in a time of great transformation on the planet and that we are moving away from the ignorance, arrogance and fear that has gripped humanity in the darkness of our own minds. I believe that one light at a time, one soul at a time, one act of compassion at a time, we will dismiss the darkness and manifest the golden age of peace on earth. I believe!
I am the owner/counselor of Horan Counseling Services for 24 years. I work with my wife Sandra. I was also owner/director/ counselor at Passages Professional Counseling Services for more than six years. I also worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center, was a Youth Minister at St. Frances Cabrini Parish, and a counselor at Catholic Community Services. I have a Doctor of Ministries degree from the Jesuit School of theology in Berkeley, CA., A Master’s Degree in Counseling from Gonzaga University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Seattle University. I taught counseling at Pierce College in Lakewood, WA. And I am a Vietnam veteran.
Written for the From Darkness to Light event. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here. But first, leave a comment and let Vince know what you think about his words, and be sure to visit him over at Compassion Zone when you’re done.