Some things I may explore with the Unfindable Inquiry from the Living Inquiries:
Longing. The one who longs (for love, deep sense of rightness, home, alignment). Boomerang situation: Longing in early childhood. Remembering how it was before incarnation (infinite love, deep sense of home and rightness), and not receiving it from my parents.
Fear. The one who is afraid. Boomerang situation: Fear about the future. Seeing myself in the future, alone, on the streets (or in a small apartment), a wreck, on government support, miserable, in mental turmoil.
Doom. The one who is doomed. Boomerang situation: A sense of dread. Primal sense of dread.
Loss. The one who lost what was most important to him. The one who will lose what’s most important to him. Boomerang situation: Loss of relationships, loss of passion/clarity, loss of opportunities (education, living places that felt right, work).
I did a lot of tonglen in my late teens and twenties, and now seem to get back into it.
It’s one of the simplest and most powerful (effective) practices I know.
Visualize another person sitting in front of you, facing you.
See their suffering as black smoke. When you breathe in, you breathe in their suffering in the form of black smoke. (I see it as going from heart to heart.)
See it transform into light in your own body. When you breathe out, you breathe out love and clarity in the form of this light. It goes into the other and fills him or her with light. (Again, from heart to heart.)
There is a concern that some have that you will somehow “take on” the suffering of the other. That’s not my experience. And it’s good to remember that it’s all happening within my own world of images. What’s happening is really a healing of my own images of myself, others and the world.
The other can be…. (a) Yourself or a suffering part of you. (b) Someone you love. (c) Someone neutral to you. (d) Someone you don’t like, or even an “enemy”. It can also be one or a group, an animal or a human, an ecosystem, the earth as a whole, all beings throughout the universe (whomever they may be), dream figures, and so on. Whom- or whatever appears in your world is fair game. I often start with myself, then a small series or a group of people close to me, then a small series or a group of people my personality don’t like (Bush etc.), then the earth as a whole, and all beings throughout all space and time. It’s also fine to do just one or a few. It’s good to not overdo it (so you don’t overexert yourself.)
Some in the Tibetan tradition say (as far as I remember) that this practice is complete in itself, and will take you all the way. I can certainly see how that may be true.
Gather ’round me, everybody
Gather ’round me while I’m preachin’
Feel a sermon comin’ on me
The topic will be sin and that’s what I’m ag’in’
If you wanna hear my story
The settle back and just sit tight
While I start reviewin’
The attitude of doin’ right
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene
To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark?
(Man, they said “We’d better accentuate the positive”)
(“Eliminate the negative”)
(“And latch on to the affirmative”)
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between (No!)
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
(Ya got to spread joy up to the maximum)
(Bring gloom down to the minimum)
(Have faith or pandemonium’s)
(Liable to walk upon the scene)
You got to ac (yes, yes) -cent-tchu-ate the positive
Eliminate (yes, yes) the negative
And latch (yes, yes) on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, don’t mess with Mister In-Between
Words and Music by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer
This song may at first glance sound a bit naive, but is it really? It’s all about how we understand it.
From the previous post:
Accentuate the positive. Even in a dark night, there is what we may think of as good. One way to discover this is to ask the question, is it true that what I am looking for is not here? More specifically: Is it true that peace is not here? Is it true that love is not here? Is it true that contentment is not here? Is it true that allowing is not here?
Eliminate the negative. Examine the apparent problems through how it appears in words, images and sensations. What happens when you see words as words, images as images, and sensations as sensations? What happens when you take time and feel sensations as sensations? (Living Inquiries.) What stressful thoughts do you have about what’s happening? What do you find when you examine these? (The Work.)
Latch on to the affirmative. Find love through ho’oponopono, tonglen, metta and similar practices. (Do these practices also on the suffering parts of yourself.) Meet the suffering parts of yourself in satsang. Pray to the divine. Ask for guidance. Ask for surrender. Ask for support in meeting what’s apparently troublesome with love.
Accentuate the positive: Is it true that what I am looking for is not here? (Peace, contentment, love, allowing.)
Eliminate the negative: Bring love to it. Inquire into stories about it. See what’s really there.
Latch on to the affirmative: Uncover and invite in love, for whatever is here.
Don’t mess with mister in-between: Do it wholeheartedly.
What if it never ends? (Whatever is going on that feels unpleasant.)
It’s a very good question. If I knew this would always be here, how would I want to relate to it?
Can I find peace with it? Can I find peace with what’s here? (Including the pain, the discomfort, the anger, the sadness?)
Is it true that it has to go away? Is it true it has to be different?
Is it true I can’t find peace with it? Is it true that it has to go away for me to find peace?
Is it true it’s not OK? Is it true it’s too much?
A lot of our suffering is created from battling what’s here, trying to get it to go away and replace it with something else. The what if it never ends question, if taken seriously, removes the ground from that battle. And it leaves us exploring how we would want to relate to what appears unpleasant, if we knew for certain it would never end. It invites in our kindness and sanity, and invites us to be our own best friend.
1. Accentuate the good parts of the Dark Night even though they may seem very subtle relative to the bad parts. You may be able to glean some sense of tranquility within the nothingness. There may be some sense of inside and outside becoming one (leading to expanded identity). There may be some soothing, vibratory energy massaging you. There may be a springy, expanding-contracting energy animating you.
2. Eliminate the negative parts of the dark night by deconstructing them through noting. Remember “Divide and Conquer”—if you can divide a negative reaction into its parts (mental image, mental talk, and emotional body sensation), you can conquer overwhelm. In other words, eliminate the negative parts by loving them to death.
3. Affirm positive emotions, behaviors, and cognitions in a sustained systematic way. By that I mean gradually, patiently reconstruct a new habitual self based on Loving Kindness and related practices.
- Shinzen Young about the Dark Night, from The Power of Gone
I see that this can be helpful, and it’s – in some ways – a distilled form of what I have discovered for myself. The pointers are practical and helpful, and easy to understand. At the same time, they are written in a way that – at first glance – may seem to feed into and reinforce our habitual ideas of “good” and “bad”. Since those are potentially stressful thoughts they will be included under no. 2., and can be taken to inquiry…!
Accentuate the good. Even in a dark night, there is what we may think of as good. One way to discover this is to ask the question, is it true that what I am looking for is not here? More specifically: Is it true that peace is not here? Is it true that love is not here? Is it true that contentment is not here? Is it true that allowing is not here?
Eliminate the negative. Examine the apparent problems through how it appears in words, images and sensations. What happens when you see words as words, images as images, and sensations as sensations? What happens when you take time and feel sensations as sensations? (Living Inquiries.) What stressful thoughts do you have about what’s happening? What do you find when you examine these? (The Work.)
Affirm the positive. Find love through ho’oponopono, tonglen, metta and similar practices. (Do these practices also on the suffering parts of yourself.) Meet the suffering parts of yourself in satsang. Pray to the divine. Ask for guidance. Ask for surrender. Ask for support in meeting what’s apparently troublesome with love.
This is something it took me a while to figure out.
When I had my initial opening, which started a quite dramatic kundalini awakening, I initially didn’t know anyone who was even remotely interested in those things. (I was a hardcore 16 year old atheist in a small town in Norway, so no wonder.) After some years, I did find books that seemed to have been written by people who had a similar realization as what was revealed to me, although I also saw that many – or most – seemed to write about things they didn’t have personal experience with. And that included some traditional teachers.
After 2-3 years, I found and went to the Tibetan Buddhist Center in Oslo and thought I would get help from one of the teachers there, but they didn’t seem to understand or relate to what I was going through. I also talked with several visiting teachers about it, and had a similar experience. On top of that, the advice they gave me – to continue my standard practice – seemed exactly the wrong advice for me. At the time, I needed grounding, while those practices brought more energy into a system already overloaded with huge amounts of energy, they opened up a system already wide open, and they brought the energy up in a system where the energy needed grounding and calming more than anything else.
I now realize that these teachers most likely had very little experience with people who had spontaneous and dramatic openings. They were used to working with people within their tradition, who had followed the progressive practices outlined for them, and had a much more gradual path. I also assume that Tibetans tend to be more grounded – both psychologically (more whole) and energetically – than many westerners are, so they are not so used to dealing with people as ungrounded as I was at the time.
This is just a reminder of the need and importance of researching spiritual emergencies, disseminating information about spiritual emergencies, and – perhaps most importantly – training teachers (in yoga, meditation etc.) to recognize and guide people through spiritual emergencies.
The Dark Night was a long, long hard time for me. About 9 years of on and off periods of deep depression, angst, anxiety and misery. It coloured a lot of what I did and didn’t do in life. I let it rule many of the my actions. I wish I had known better. I wish I had known how to handle it appropriately without letting it influence so many of my poor decisions.
- From Testimonies of the Dark Night, the Hamilton Project website.
I sometimes hear people say this. Some who have gone through a dark night of the soul see it as a deep blessing, and deeply guided by the divine, including all the pain, “wrong turns”, things falling apart, and more. Others, as the one quoted above, seem to wish they had done some things differently.
The two views are very much compatible. It’s perfectly possible, and probably quite common, to see it all as the divine and deeply guided by the divine (including all the apparent wrong turns and mishaps), and also see that I would have done it differently if I could, and guide others through it so their pain and mishaps are minimized.
For instance, I went through several years without knowing it was (or could be labeled as) a dark night of the soul. I have, at times, fought the process tooth and claw. I have gotten caught up in wounds and trauma and sometimes acted on it. And while I see the deep blessing that’s there, and the many gifts in it (humility is one), I would have done it differently if I could, and I wish to provide others with the guidance they need (or, at least, point them to it) so the process can be a little easier for them, if possible.
As with so much in life, it’s not black and white. The apparent wrong turns is part of the process for many going through a dark night of the soul. Nothing went wrong. It’s all already the divine, and deeply guided by the divine. And there is an immense amount of fodder there for deepening, for seeing through our stories, for finding a more inclusive love, and for healing and maturing as a human being.
And I’ll still do my best to provide others going through the same with good and accurate information, and the best possible guidelines for going through it with the least amount of suffering and turmoil.
I also see that how we look at the dark night is, in a way, a “test” of what’s left. Do I see it all as love? Do I find a deep and genuine love for it all? Have I looked at and seen through my stories of “wrong turns” and anything else that happened? If so, what’s left is a deep gratitude. (I am not quite there yet….!)
I see that I can meet what’s here at two levels, and in two different – and complementary – ways.
I can meet it at the gestalt level, as what it appears at in a conventional sense. For instance, when something comes up in me that’s experienced as difficult or challenging, I can meet it with love. Hold satsang with it. Do ho’oponopono or tonglen. Have a dialog with it. And so on. And when something comes up in my life, I will relate to it in a conventional way, through conversations, plans, seeking information, and engaging in any other activity.
I can also see through it. I can examine how my overlay of meaning is constructed. Examine the words, images and sensations making up my experience of it. Recognize words as words, images as images, sensations as sensations. Feel the sensations as sensations, free of the images or words associated with it.
One is not inherently “better” than the other. The first takes seriously how I experience the world in a conventional – and, of course, learned – way. The second is seeing through how my world is created. And both invites my human self to reorganize and live a bit differently in the world.
Another way to say it is that the first is at the level of who I am, this human being in the world. The second is seeing through this, revealing what I am. And both are valid and important in their own way.
I see that things – people, selves, objects, concepts, the world – is findable and unfindable.
It’s findable as words, images, sensations and a sense that they are “glued” together.
It’s unfindable as anything else than that.
And all of that too is unfindable, the words, images, sensations, glue and so on. When I look for it in immediate experience, I cannot find it as a real, solid, existing object.
I have heard the word conditioning used a few times lately. Here are some things that come up for me:
There is functional conditioning, which includes how our bodies and minds work. This allows us to function in everyday life. Without this conditioning, we wouldn’t be here or function as a human being. We operate on patterns put into us through evolution, culture, upbringing and experience.
Then there is reactive conditioning, patterns created from taking stories as true. This can be seen through, it can soften and fall away, and it can continue to do so through our lives. (Or it can be strengthened, or – often – there is a mix of softening and strengthening.)
Then there is the story of conditioning, which is also conditioned. Conditioning only appears to us as words and images, which can be recognized as that or taken as solid, true and a real object. And both the idea of conditioning, and the tendency to see it as an idea or take is as true, is conditioned. It’s a pattern created by culture, what we have heard or read, and what we have seen for ourselves – either directly (perhaps guided by words and images) or filtered through ideas, or a combination.
And all of this can be recognized as words and images, an imagined overlay.
Imagined images, words and sounds hardly exist at all.
And they have an important function. They give the world meaning. They create an imagined overlay of the world, giving the world meaning through imagined boundaries, insides and outsides, labels, names, interpretations, stories, and much more. They – quite literally – create our world, they create the world as it appears to us.
For hardly existing at all, this imagined overlay can seem very real when not examined. It’s stories and interpretations can seem solid and real, and have very real consequences in how we perceive the world, and how we live in the world.
When it is examined, through a free or more structured inquiry, it’s revealed as an imagined overlay right on the border of not even existing. It is still used for practical reasons, for navigating and functioning in the world. And – to the extent it’s recognized as an imagined overlay - it’s held very lightly.
Seeking anything is often fueled by a sense of lack. And it can be very helpful to address that sense of lack.
So, if I seek enlightenment (which I did for a while, and less now) I can ask myself….
What do I hope to get out of enlightenment? What’s the best that can happen if I reach enlightenment?
What do I fear would happen if enlightenment eludes me? What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t reach enlightenment?
Also, if I look in immediate experience – at words, images and sensations – can I find enlightenment? A real, actual object called enlightenment?
Do I find enlightenment? Lack of enlightenment?
Can I find me, a person who can be enlightened?
Can I find a person who is enlightened? (Adyashanti? Byron Katie? Scott Kiloby? James Eaton? Jesus?)
Can I find a person who is not enlightened? (My neighbor? A friend? Myself?)
We find our way back to the light most easily by letting go of ego-identity and aligning ourselves with our light and free inner nature.
- Kiara Nightingale, p. 127 in Journey Through Transformation, about the dark night of the soul
Somewhat rambling draft follows…..
I have been reading books about spiritual emergencies lately, and found this quote. It’s accurate, in a way, and also a bit misleading and perhaps not so helpful.
Yes, the mind softening or releasing it’s hold on certain core ideas and identifications is part of what can happen during a dark night of the soul. And yes, an aligning with our free inner nature is also a way through it.
It’s also true that we can invite it in, and aim at consciously aligning with it as best as we can, in a variety of ways. (Through prayer, inquiry, meditation, rest, patience, understanding the basics of the process, finding support from a guide experienced with it, and more.)
And yet, that release and alignment is not something we can consciously choose or decide to do. It may well happen, as part of the process. And sometimes, it may seem to happen in spite of ourselves, in spite of our struggle and effort to (a) align consciously with the process and (b) fight it as best we can. (If others are like me, there is often a lot of both going on!) Whatever softening, deepening and maturing comes out of the dark night of the soul is – as so many say – grace.
Also, I am not sure if it’s so much about “finding our way back to the light” as it is a deeper and more felt recognition of darkness too as divine. What appears to our conscious mind as “dark” is also divine, and although we may know that and see it, it’s also a matter of deeply feeling it, including when life goes against everything we wanted, hoped and wished for. Jesus may have consciously and quite thoroughly given his life over to God prior to his crucifixion, and the crucifixion revealed to him what was left. (“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42)
When life goes against our hopes and wishes, and when “dark” material such as wounds and traumas surface, there is some help in seeing and knowing that too as the divine. And what’s really helpful, and where the invitation is, is to also shift into loving it as the divine (since it already is love), and feeling it as the divine.
Another facet of this is to see through it, see how what appears as “dark” is constructed by the mind, how it’s made up of words, images and sensations, and feeling sensations as sensations.
I am very aware that how I see this will change, especially looking back. Right now, I am still in the middle of it, and it’s difficult to have a good perspective on it or overview.
As my posts here show, I have been exploring the dark night again recently, and especially the dark night of the soul.
I realize that my experience with the dark night of the soul can be seen as a quite long period with two distinct phases.
Dark night of the senses. Around noon the day after my first and last binge drinking, at age fifteen, the world seemed to “retreat” from me. It became very distant, and also seemed “unreal” as if I could put my hand right through it. I went to doctors and specialists, and had many neurological tests done, and they – not surprisingly in hindsight – found nothing. I had no idea what was happening, although I now see that this may well have been a dark night of the senses.
Opening & illumination. After the initial opening or awakening at age sixteen, there was a 10+ year long phase of what Evelyn Underhill calls illumination. I had a great deal of energy and passion, and there was a sense of my life being on track in a deep soul sense. I also engaged in spiritual practices for hours daily, including prayer (the Jesus/heart prayer mostly) and meditation (Tibetan and Zen). I was a student and then graduate student, I worked, I lived at a Zen center, I did art and photography, I spent time in nature, and had a very active and rich life. I followed my guidance and heart closely, in smaller and larger things (with a few smaller exceptions).
Initial phase of the dark night of the soul. Then, I left my guidance (for a relationship), and that was the beginning of a gradual “decent” into the dark night. For the first several years, I was still very functional, much as before, although now there was a deep sense of being “off track”. I was also unable to do any spiritual practice. (Mainly, it seems, because it reminded me how off track I felt, and it was too painful.) After five or six years, after reading Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism, I realized that what I was going through fit the description of a dark night of the soul.
There are several types of guidance, and perhaps three major ones.
One is the guidance our thoughts provide us, which can be good at some things and a support for other things.
Another is the inner guidance, the guidance of the heart, the quiet inner voice. The one that is quiet, calm and steady.
And yet another is the divine guidance of life itself. In other words, life as it shows up here and now. What’s the gift in what’s here? What’s the invitation?
What does it show me about what’s left (identifications, hangups) in me?
How is it to meet it with love? What in me, if anything, prevents me from meeting it with love?
A brief self-inquiry on home.
Is the word “home” the actual home? (No, but there is a sensation in the chest and throat.)
Feel that sensation. Is it home? (No. I see an image of light.)
Look at that image. Is that image in itself home? (No.)
Where do you find home? (Sensations.)
Feel the sensations. Do you see any images connected with it? (Yes, of that part of my body.)
Look at the image. Is it home? (No.)
Feel the sensations again. Are those sensations home? (No.)
And so on. I notice that the idea of “home” now is (more) free of charge and meaning. It’s a word. If anything, home is here now.
Boomerang situation: I longed for home as a child, then realized what I had longed for during the initial opening and awakening, and have had a background longing for home at times since then. It’s not very strong, but worth looking at. Longing is another thing I could look for.
I have been reading more about Spiritual Emergencies and Spiritually Transformative Experiences (STEs) again recently. (I was very much into it in my teens and early twenties). A couple of things stand out right now. One is the commonalities in what happens to people after an STE, whether it’s an opening or early awakening, a Near Death Experience (NDE), apparent alien abduction, loss, death of a loved one, child birth, travel, sex, or much more. For me, it was an opening or early awakening in my teens, and the way it changed me is very similar to how people who experienced other types of STEs report it changed them.
Watching a documentary about Near Death Experiences, I am also reminded of another commonality. As a child before school age, I had flashes of memories of how it was before incarnation: infinite love, infinite wisdom, all a radiant golden subtle light, infinite sense of being home, infinite sense of belonging. (All of these are crude descriptions.) People who have an NDE report something that’s quite similar. And there is also another parallel: a sense that this was in the past, and not here now. I perceived it that way too, for a while. Now, I see that what was then, is also here in immediacy. All the characteristics of what was “then” is here now. A simple and sincere inquiry helped me see that:
Is it true it’s not here now?
A thought may come in and say “it’s not the same, this is much less strong”. Which leads to another inquiry:
Is it true it needs to be strong? Is it true that strong is “better”? Is it any less real or significant if it’s not as strong?
What’s the goal of inquiry? It’s an interesting question, because it’s one that inquiry itself will “eat up”.
Being more smart about it, I can say that the goal of inquiry is to see through my stories. Or to see how my world is constructed. Or to invite identification to release out of my stories. Or to feel sensations as sensations, allowing the charge to release. Or I can say that it’s to find freedom to feel what’s here, or allow what’s here, or notice what’s here is already allowed.
Being more uncencored about it, I can say that it’s to feel better. To find freedom from suffering. To live a happier life. To be content.
There are many possible answers. And it’s good to generate these, including the uncensored ones, so I can take these too to inquiry.
Can I find happiness? (A real thing called happiness.) The happiness I seek? (Living Inquiries.)
Is it true that what I seek is not already here?
A quick inquiry on separation:
Look at the word “separation”. Is that the actual separation? (It feels like it, I feel it in my throat and inside of the mouth.)
Go to that sensation, feel it. When you are ready, see if that sensation is the actual sensation. (No, but I see an image of my body sitting here with a boundary around it, separating it from the rest of the world.)
Look at that image. See it as a print on the wall. Is that image what we are looking for, the actual separation? (No, it’s just an image.)
Where can you find separation? (I see another image, of my body from the outside with a distance separating it from the world.)
Look at that image. Is that image the actual separation? (No, but I seem to find separation in the sound of the word “separation”.)
Listen to that sound. Repeat it to yourself a few times. Really listen to it. Is that sound what we are looking for, the actual separation? (No.)
Where can you find separation? (I have an image of me as a kid, after starting school, feeling isolated and separate.)
Look at that image. Is that image separation? (No.)
And so on, on whatever comes up, until there is nothing left to be found.
Oneness can be very simple and even ordinary, and it can be found in many forms.
We have oneness in a broad psychological sense, and this has several aspects.
(a) My world is happening within and as this mind. My world is awareness taking all the forms of content of experience. When awareness notices itself, and the “center of gravity” of what we take ourselves to be shifts to awareness and all its many forms, it’s often called “enlightenment”. (The word sounds very exotic, and what it refers to is much more mundane, simple and immediate). This is “oneness” since all experiences are recognized as the same: what a thought may call awareness.
(b) What I see “out there” mirrors what’s “in here”. Any characteristics I see in others and the wider world reflects what’s here. If I say “he is stubborn”, I can turn it to myself and find an example of how it’s true for me too, and another, and another. I and the world are “one” since I can find in myself what I see out there. (And it’s all happening within my word, within and as awareness, anyway.)
(c) We humans have shared or “universal” beliefs, thoughts, and dynamics of the mind. This is another form of oneness. And it is perhaps especially obvious when we facilitate each other in inquiry.
I have watched a couple of videos on the dark night of the soul, including this one, and am reminded that it’s called a dark night for a reason.
It’s not only because it seems “dark” when we fight against it, or things happen that appear undesirable to our old views.
It’s also dark night because – just as a physical night – it’s a time for rest, and finding rest through surrendering…. to love, trust, and what is.
Is it true I can’t find peace with what is? If I knew it would last forever, how would it be to find peace with it?
Is it true it’s easier to struggle with it? Is it true I can struggle with it?
Is it true it will last forever? Is it true something “went wrong”? Is it true I did something wrong?
Is it true I can’t find trust? Is it true life (God, Spirit) doesn’t have my best interest at heart?
Is it true that what I am looking for (peace, trust, love, self-love) isn’t already here?
This rest has a “passive” component, in the surrender.
It also has an active component. For instance, I can intentionally stay with sensations instead of going into stories (if that’s possible, and perhaps supported by inquiry). I can actively pray and ask for… surrender, support, guidance, to be shown the way. I can explore my views on what’s happening through inquiry. All this can be, in a very real way, part of the rest and surrender.
Also, as the video above reminds us, when a dark night of the soul comes to completion, it typically leads to a quite active and engaged life, and at that point, we may wish we had taken the opportunity to deeply rest during the dark night phase. Of course, it’s never too late. And we can find deep rest also in activity and an active life.
It seems that dark nights appear “dark” for two reasons, and it all has really one function:
They appear dark because things happen that goes against our views, wishes or identities. The struggle and despair that may happen adds a layer of suffering to what’s happening.
And they may appear dark because “dark” things happen, such as loss (or relationships, work, identities etc.), and dark things surface, such as wounds and traumas (to be seen through, healed).
And their one main function is to bring us face to face with identifications, and invite these to wear off, soften, and eventually fall away. This can be supported by inquiry, and surrender to the process.
Whatever appears “dark” does so only because we see it that way. It can equally be seen as light, and as a “brilliant day”, since the whole process is an invitation to see and shed identifications, leaving us – in view, heart and feelings – more aligned with love, clarity and reality. And we can also come to see the beauty and love in the darkness, in the deep rest we are invited to find through surrendering to what is, finding love for what is, and even finding gratitude for what is.
The whole process, as life itself, invites us to find wholeness as who we are, as human beings, embracing all the many polarities in us, and find in ourselves anything we see “out there” in the world and in others. And it invites identifications to soften and eventually release so we find ourselves as life itself, or what a thought may call love, or awareness appearing as all experience. Or simply what’s here, when images and words are recognized as images and words.
There are many types of dark nights in a spiritual context, and I am only experienced with a couple.
There is the dark night of the senses, where identification with the body and as a human being is loosened.
And there is the dark night of the soul, where remaining identifications are triggered, wear out, and softened or fall away.
For me, the dark night of the senses lasted for about a year. When I was fifteen, I drank a large amount of alcohol for the first and last time, and the day after, January 1st, I felt the world becoming more (and eventually very) distant. I even remember the exact situation and moment it happened. This lasted for a year, and I thought something was seriously wrong and went to see several doctors and specialists, and had several neurological tests done. Not surprisingly, in hindsight, they didn’t find anything. Now, I see that I could call it an “absorption into the witness”. It was still very dualistic, but a very simple dualism between “I” here witnessing, and the world (including my body, emotions, thoughts) “out there” quite distant from me, and appearing quite unreal, like a dream, as if I could put my hand right through it. This seemed to be triggered by the alcohol, and I had been an atheist for several years by that time. This dark night of the senses, if that’s what it was, didn’t seem “spiritual” at all to me. Prior to this, I had some years where I felt very much an outsider and awkward socially, and also “frozen” in some ways. That too may be seen as part of this dark night, or at least leading up to it. (I sometimes hear “dark night” being referred to as “dry” and losing interest in the world. I wonder if this is not another form of a dark night of the senses.)
Spiritual emergencies can take several forms, including kundalini awakening, a spiritual opening turning one’s world upside-down and inside-out, a dark night, wounds and trauma surfacing to be healed, a “dry period” of lack of interest in the world, or more.
These spiritual emergencies may happen “out of the blue” without any prior spiritual practice (as it did for me), or they may happen as an apparent consequence of a spiritual practice – whether this practice is a form of meditation, yoga, chi gong, shamanic practices, or prayer of the “true” or “dangerous” kind (for awakening, be shown what’s left, etc.).
So just as a medical doctor will inform a client about possible side effects of a medicine, especially if these side effects are common and can be severe, it’s good practice for a teacher of any spiritual practice to inform the students of possible side effects of their practice.
To me, it seems reasonable to – at the very least – offer….
A map of the terrain, including (i) the typical phases and facets of the process, and (ii) common and less common forms of spiritual emergencies and their symptoms.
And guidelines for how to navigate this terrain in general, and spiritual emergencies in particular, in the most skillful way possible.
Knowing the map will help students recognize the symptoms when they occur, and see that they are common and even to be expected. It helps prevent or reduce an additional layer of distress, bewilderment, and either inflation (f.ex. kundalini awakening) or thoughts that something “went wrong” (f.ex. in a dark night).
Practical pointers can also be invaluable. For instance, how do I prepare to reduce the chances or intensity of a future spiritual emergency? And if one happens, how do I relate to it in the best possible way? How I ground myself during a kundalini awakening? How do I help see through the distress of a dark night?
In addition, being open and frank about this up front has several benefits. It may help some students decide that a particular practice is not for them, at least not at this point in their life, and they may chose something else that’s gentler and more grounding. It gives the students an idea of how well the teacher knows about and understands spiritual emergencies, so they can chose to go to them – or someone else who is more experienced – before a spiritual emergency takes place, or if or when it takes place. And having more information about these matters out in public makes it easier for people who have a spiritual emergency “out of the blue”, without any prior practice or interest in spiritual matters, to find information, support and guidance.
In terms of education, it seems reasonable to include information about the spiritual terrain and spiritual emergencies in the school system, and in the training of medical doctors, psychologists, priests, and – obviously – teachers of meditation, yoga, chi gong and similar practices. It is already happening, to some extent and in some places, and it may be more widespread in the future, especially as there is more research in and public knowledge of this topic.
If the path before you is clear, you are probably on someone else’s.
- Joseph Campbell
Some factors that may play a role in the duration and intensity of a dark night (and probably any spiritual emergency):
Struggle vs. welcoming. The more struggle with what’s happening, the more difficult the process may be experienced. It adds a layer of suffering, and it’s possible that it prolongs the process (I don’t really know if it does or not). This struggle comes from beliefs and identifications, and the release of these is one of the things that tends to happen in a dark night. So there is nothing wrong with struggle and resistance. It’s just a surfacing of what’s left, with an invitation for us to see through it. Conversely, the more genuine welcoming there is of the process, the more there is an aligning with it, the less struggle and suffering there tends to be. And we can support this welcoming through various forms of inquiry. For instance, what do I find when I look for my ideas of resistance or struggle? Is it really what it initially appears to be? Also, is there really a separation between a me or I and what’s happening? Is it true it’s too intense? Is it true that I know better than life how things should be?
Depth of process. It’s also possible that the “depth” of the process influences how the dark night is experienced. If it’s mainly about the head and/or heart center, it can be intense enough, but it seems that the belly center opening requires even more of us. That has certainly been the case for me. (The dark night preceding the head and heart center openings lasted a few years, with one year that was quite intense. The current dark night, which seems to have to do more with the belly center, has lasted much longer and is far more intense and demanding.) For each center, I assume there may also be several “dark nights” as there is a deepening. And speaking of “depth”, there is probably a lot here I am unaware of as well, including what’s ahead in the process.
Trauma and old patterns. The third factor seems to be the amount of trauma and old patterns we each bring with us, from this and possibly past lives. It seems that I am in the mid-range when it comes to trauma, and the amount that’s come up here has already been quite difficult and at times overwhelming. As someone said, “there is no easy trauma”. Again, the more we can align with and support the process, the easier we make it for ourselves.
So how to we support and more consciously align with the process? What I have found helpful includes:
Taking care of myself through diet, moderate exercise, spending time in nature, seeking support from friends and family.
Doing various forms of inquiry to see through my stories of what’s going on.
Seeking support and guidance from people who have gone through it themselves.
Seeking healing for the trauma and wounds that are surfacing.
Staying with the sensations rather than going into the stories of what’s happening, with the support of inquiry (seeing through my stories). Noticing that the sensations are already allowed.
Meeting what’s here with love, with the support of ho’oponopono, tonglen, placing myself in the heart flame, meeting what’s here in satsang. Inquiry is also helpful here, recognizing what’s surfacing as already love.
Gaining just enough knowledge and understanding of the process for navigating it a bit more skillfully, and finding more peace with it.
All that can be lost, will be lost.
- Jeff Foster
To really take this in makes a difference. It brings me more into alignment with life and reality.
It brings me into alignment with the freedom that life already has in creating and removing any particular form, any particular content of experience.
I thought I would write another brief post on ways of relating to a dark night, mainly since the previous one is more of a draft and quite rambling.
Here are some pointers that have been helpful to me, in no particular order.
Find your own way. What works for some in some phases does not work for others or in other phases. We all need to find our way through it. That’s part of the lesson, it seems, of the dark night.
Take care of yourself. Eat well. Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of water (so your urine is pale). Go for walks. Do strength training. Engage in body centered activities that work for you, such as Breema, shiatsu, massage, and possibly yoga or tai chi. (Be mindful of the effects of some of these, such as yoga, tai chi and chi gong. If the energy intensifies or goes “up”, slow down or do something else.) Seek out a nurturing environment and nurturing activities. Spend lots of time in nature. Walk barefoot. Do gardening. Visualize a grounding cord to the center of the Earth. Seek healing for old wounds and traumas that may be surfacing. Finally, be careful with medications, especially psychoactive medications. Use these as last resort, and if you take any, start with very small doses as you may be more sensitive than average. (I have not been drawn to using drugs of any types, and would avoid it as much as possible.)
Do inquiry on what’s coming up – wounds, trauma, resistance, blame, self-blame and so on. Find what’s more true than your initial assumptions.
Stay with the sensations, as much as possible, instead of going into stories. Inquiry can make it easier to stay with sensations as sensations.
Do mindfulness practice. Contemporary secular mindfulness practice may be gentler, and more appropriate to the dark night phase, than many forms of meditation and some forms of body-centered practices.
Find love for what’s here. This can be as simple as saying to what’s coming up (pain, distress, anger, fatigue, pride, fear), or to our body (heart, brain), I love you, I wish you ease. We can use ho’oponopono, tonglen or metta on ourselves or parts of ourselves, as well as other people in our lives, and the earth. We can place ourselves in the heart flame. We can hold satsang with what’s here. (You are welcome. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really?)
Devotion and prayer can be helpful. Offer it all – the pain, the situation, your body and mind, your life, your resistance – to God (Spirit, Christ, Buddha Mind). Ask for guidance. Ask for inner and outer support. Ask for support in meeting what’s here with love. Ask for what’s happening / your life to benefit all beings. Give thanks for what’s happening (including, or especially, that which you don’t particularly like). Do the Jesus/heart prayer combined with the breath and heart beats: “Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy upon me”. (If this last one intensifies or brings the energies up, try to do it with more ease, or wait until another phase of your process.)
Uncover a clear intention to…. find love for what’s here, heal what needs to be healed, give your mind-body and life over to the divine, follow your guidance, or whatever else seems helpful and aligned with love and clarity. This can be done through setting an intention (temporary value), clarifying your intention (more helpful), or asking life/the divine for support in uncovering a clear intention.
Gratitude can seem difficult to access during a dark night, at least at times. And yet, it’s something that can significantly ease the process. Try a simple gratitude prayer or mantra of of thank you, thank you, thank you as you go for a walk, lie in bed, or do daily activities. Experiment with gratitude lists. These lists can include only what’s easy to be grateful for. Or they can be all inclusive lists, including that which it’s not so easy to be grateful for. (Daily inclusive gratitude lists can be shared with a gratitude practice partner.)
Be mindful of the effects of any meditation and energy practices. Some forms of meditation or energy practices may be helpful, at least at times. For instance, insight meditation may help you see through what’s coming up (wounds, resistance) and who you are (the basic duality), and stability practice may support you in feeling sensations and allowing what’s here. Other times, these practices may intensify the energy running through your system, further open a very open system, and bring the energy up while it could benefit more from grounding.
Learn the basics about spiritual emergencies and dark nights. Get to see that it’s a natural process, not uncommon at all, people get through it, and very few if any wish it wouldn’t have happened when they are out on the other side. This can bring a sense of trust in the process, and some relief from the idea that something “went wrong”. (It will feel that way, and that’s good to know too.)
Seek guidance from someone you trust, who is knowledgeable and skilled in guiding people through spiritual emergencies, and ideally who has gone through it themselves. This person can help you navigate through it a bit more skilfully. (This also goes for therapists.)
Find a community of people going through something similar, whether it’s through reading (people who recorded their stories), on the internet, or in person. These can be a good source of advice, and it can be comforting to know that others are going through the same.
Seek support from family, friends, like-minded people, guides, environment and wherever else you can find it.
Don’t blame others or the world for your pain. That’s not where it belongs, although it’s easy to lash out when the pain seems unbearable. Let people in your life know what’s going on, and apologize as needed. Also, notice and bring to inquiry any attitudes and stories that would get you to lash out and blame others.
Keep it simple. During this phase, which can feel quite overwhelming at times, keep it simple. Spend time in nature. Use a simple mindfulness practice. Stay with the sensations as sensations, the best you can. Find love for what’s here, perhaps using a simple practice such as metta or ho’oponopono. Ask for support (from the divine, from people). Write a simple gratitude list. Don’t blame yourself for not being able to engage in apparently more sophisticated practices. (If you do, that’s OK. And it’s also something you can take to inquiry.)
Give yourself a break. It’s a tough phase. There will most likely be resistance, fear, overwhelm, a sense that something went wrong, and a sense that you are doing something wrong – including in how you relate to what’s happening. That’s part of the process. It’s OK. Life is guiding the process, and it will not always look the way we expect or wish. At times, you may not feel up to doing any of the things that you know may be supportive, and that’s OK too. (It may be a relief to look at shoulds in inquiry, as well as whatever thoughts stops us from – for instance – continuing a simple practice, whether it’s mindfulness or inquiry or something else.)
Self-inquiry on resistance:
Look at the word “resistance”. Is that word itself the actual resistance? (Yes, it feels like it.)
Go to the sensations in the body that gave you that “yes”. Feel them.
Are those sensations the actual resistance? (No. But I see an image of someone pushing, resisting.)
Look at that image. Is that image resistance? (No.)
Go back to the word “resistance”. Look at the letters. Can you find a command to resist on those letters? (No.)
Are the sensations still there? Feel the sensations. Is there a command to resist on those sensations? (No.)
Look at the image of the one pushing something. Is there a command to resist on that image? (No.)
And so on, on any other words, images and sensations that come up around the topic of resistance.
Next, escape. Can I find escape anywhere? Can I find a command to escape what’s here (the sensations here) on any of the words, images or sensations?