On Overcoming the Dark Side of Self

Benedictine Monk Anselm Grün, Author of Spiritual Best Sellers

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ROME, SEPT. 12, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Benedictine Anselm Grün, 57, of the Bavarian Abbey of Münsterschwarzach (40 kilometers — 25 miles — from Wurzburg, in Germany), is one of today’s most read spiritual writers. Two million copies have been sold of his 90 titles in German alone, not counting the translations into 23 languages.

Ten years ago, Father Grün founded an institution that, with the aid of a team of therapists, helps people come out of their “interior darkness.” In the following interview, he explains his work.

Q: Father Grün, what is the night?

Father Grün: I differentiate darkness from night. The darkness is that part of oneself that cannot be controlled and with which we must be reconciled. Thus one can consider that hatred is the darkness of love. Night, instead, is the darkening of the self, despair, isolation.

Q: How can one reconcile with one’s dark areas?

Father Grün: Beginning by recognizing that they have a reason for being, that they are not evil in themselves. If we make a frontal attack on our darkness, we run the risk of being chained, because we cannot master it with our own strength. It must be integrated in our life, trained; we must relate to it. How did this darkness start? All our darkness has a cause. What is dangerous is to separate it from its source.

Q: And how have your learned not to fear your inner darkness?

Father Grün: I have never experienced the total night, only moments of darkness, especially when I was 23-24 years old. I still thought of a woman’s love and I was tempted to review my choice in life. I resolved it with the help of meditation.

At that time, I also met philosopher and therapist Graf Dürkheim. I did not undergo therapy as such, but, together with other brothers, we had long conversations. At this time I became interested in Carl Gustav Jung and I began to read the Desert Fathers.

Q: And what do the Desert Fathers teach about the night?

Father Grün: A good number of them never slept much! They even aspired not to sleep at all to keep watch with Christ. For them, the night, like the desert, was a place of combat against their demons. They thought that by going willingly into the desert and the darkness, they could give light to the world.

Q: Do all religions emphasize the importance of the night?

Father Grün: Yes. Christianity celebrates two important nights, at Christmas and Easter. In them, we await the coming of Christ. The pagans, of course, already celebrated Dec. 25 as the feast of the solstice.

However, by dating the birth of Jesus in the middle of the night of the winter solstice, Christians have wished to show that Christmas announces the return of day. A symbol that is important because the long nights of winter at that time were infested with evil and frightening spirits. The return of light manifested the victory over these evil demons. But the symbol of Christmas is even more intense: When God becomes man, light prevails!

Q: Have you also verified this in the journey of the people you support?

Father Grün: Certainly. To bring light to one’s existence, to understand its meaning, is to banish illusions and, therefore, to receive more life. This is why the early Christians referred to baptism as “the illumination.”

Today, the yearning for light seems to me to be very strong among our contemporaries. Many, without realizing it, seek it with tenacity. Among those who come to listen to me, I often see that their expression is illuminated in the course of the afternoon. When a depressed person dreams of light, we have noted that this marks the beginning of their cure.

Q: What experience of night have those had who follow your sessions?

Father Grün: Some have problems with relationships. Others are physically or psychically ill. Others are still so anxious and feel so harassed by a hostile outside world that they think they no longer have a place on this earth.

But I don’t believe in the absolute night. We all have within us a nostalgia, a longing for the light. And the fact that these people come to see me makes one suppose that they still have the hope of clarity, although they are afraid that the night will envelop them completely.

Q: How do you help those who have attempted suicide?

Father Grün: When the suicide state stems from depression and psychic illness, we refer them to a psychiatrist. We can only help them if their desire to die stems from spiritual despair. In this case, it is a question of showing them how God loves and how he can help each one.

I am thinking especially of young people who do not see the meaning of their life and remain in illusion, in idealization. For these young people, who often live exclusively in the intellect, we try to suggest a more tangible experience of life, that they breathe, look, listen, move. … Nothing better than gardening jobs and fixed schedules!

Q: But for a Christian, isn’t faith light?

Father Grün: Yes. We sing it in the Office of Compline: We turn the light on so that the darkness of the evening will not engulf us.

Q: But isn’t the night also a privileged moment for a monk?

Father Grün: I would say more — a sacred moment! In the abbey, we get up every day at 4:20 a.m. We monks watch while the world sleeps because we have the hope that the silent night will be the time to experience God. God speaks to us during these moments of great silence.

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