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).
It seems that fatigue is quite common among people going through some forms of spiritual emergency, and perhaps especially a dark night.
I can see a few possible reasons for such a connection.
A dark night of the soul typically follows a period of high energies running through the system, for instance from an initial kundalini awakening. The system may be “burnt out” from these energies, and needs to rest and so swings back.
If primal fear & dread, or wounds & trauma, surfaces, it can be experienced as overwhelming and lead to temporary fatigue.
In the fatigue there is an invitation to rest, to quiet the mind and the doing. This may allow the system to reorganize on its own, with less interference from the conscious mind. Here, fatigue functions as a modern form of retreat, or a retreat for those who otherwise wouldn’t easily slow down.
All of these may apply to me. There was certainly a great deal of energy running through my system from the initial opening, and it lasted for many years. When strong emotions surface, I sometimes feel a bit flattened. I was very active for years before the fatigue set in (studies, work, community organizing, art, zen and more), and a fatigue may have been one of the few things that could have slowed me down. Fatigue in combination with brain fog has also slowed down my mind, which may allow processes to take place with less conscious interference.
Blessed are the weird people
- poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadors -
for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.
- Jacob Nordby
It’s 3:23 in the morning, and I’m awake
because my great, great, grandchildren won’t -let -me -sleep.
My great, great, grandchildren ask me in dreams
what did you do, while the planet was plundered?
what did you do, when the earth was unravelling?
surely you did something when the seasons started failing
as the mammals, reptiles, and birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
what did you do
- from Hieroglyphic Stairway by Drew Dellinger
That is how urgent it is. How would we live, if our great great grandchildren were asking us daily what we were doing when the planet was being plundered?
Earlier, I wrote about some reasons a dark night is called a dark night.
It’s dark because life may go against our wishes and hopes, showing us what’s left in terms of shoulds and identifications.
It’s dark because old wounds and traumas may surface to find their healing and liberation – through love.
It’s dark because what’s really going on is obscure. It’s hidden from us.
It’s a night because there may be an invitation to rest, as we do during a physical night.
I also see a few main outcomes of a dark night.
One is a wearing off of identification, which tends to happen on its own – with or without our conscious alignment. (Although it may be less painful, and perhaps quicker, if there is such an alignment and receptivity.)
Another is a seeing through of stories and the dynamics of identification. This may happen through informal inquiry, through a natural curiosity, seeing and understanding. And it may be supported by more formal forms of inquiry, such as sense field explorations, The Work, and the Living Inquiries.
Another is a maturing and deepening as a human being. We may find a deeper humility, a more sincere gratitude, and a deeper patience and understanding of ourselves and others. We have gone through hell, so have a natural empathy with others going through something similar. The dark night may have widened and deepened us in a very human way.
Each of these support the deepening of the two other.
For some of us, a great deal in our lives falls away during a dark night, including health, relationships, jobs and more.
Why is it so?
There are several ways to answer this, and each may have some validity.
When things falls away in my life, it brings me face to face with my identifications. It invites these to wear off, and/or be seen through.
The outer falling apart mirrors an inner deconstruction.
Whatever is not yet healed may surface, and acting on this can cause things in our lives to fall apart. (Acting from wounds, trauma, very young parts of ourselves.)
Some or many aspects of my life may reflect my old life more than my new, and fall away for that reason – whether I appear to chose it or not.
Each of these seem true for me, and more is probably going on as well.
As John of the Cross says, the term dark night refers partly to its obscurity. The real changes in a dark night is hidden from me, as is maybe always true.
Note: When I write about the dark night on this blog, I typically refer to the dark night of the soul as described by St. John of the Cross and also Evelyn Underhill in her book Mysticism. I am not so much referring to how the term is often used in our contemporary culture, although much may apply to that too.
In the most recent phase of my life, I have become much more familiar with emotional pain. Where my life used to be relatively easy and I was consistently quite content and happy, I instead got thrown into cycles of deep emotional pain alternating with relative calm. There is a clear sense that my system is bringing up whatever wounds and trauma are here - from this life and ancestral material, and perhaps from previous lives – so it can be digested. Or…. so it can be seen, felt, loved and released. So it can be seen for what it is. Felt as it is. Loved as it is. Recognized as love. So this human self can heal and mature a little more. So more of who I am is aligned with the clarity and love of reality. Anything not like love and clarity will come up so it can align with clarity and love.
Here are some of the ways I have found helpful in relating to this emotional pain.
Reframing. How I frame the emotional pain makes a difference. If I see it as a problem, or a sign that something went wrong, it’s difficult. I stay in the battle with the pain. Instead, if I see the pain as coming to be seen, felt, loved and released, it’s different. Making it even more personal, I can see the pain as unloved children coming to find a home and love. The unloved parts of me seek the light, they seek the loving presence I really am, and reality really is.
Love. The pain seeks love. Here are some ways to meet the pain with love: (a) Can I meet and feel it with love? Can I allow it to happen within me, (with me) as a loving presence? Is it true that love is not already here? (b) I can say something very simple to myself and the pain, such as “I wish you love, I wish you ease, I love you”. (c) I can use practices such as ho’oponopono, metta or tonglen, either on the pain itself, the suffering me, someone triggering pain in me, and anyone/everyone else in my life and the world. (d) I can meet the pain in satsang. You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really? (This is also a form of inquiry.)
Feeling the sensations. Emotional pain is much easier to deal with when it’s felt as sensations, and the associated stories (words and images) are either set aside (temporary solution) or seen through (more lasting). Where do I feel it in the body? What are the sensations? How is it to feel these? How is it to bring attention to the sensations in themselves? How is it to allow them to be there, to change?
Inquiry. Inquiry can be very helpful here, in many different ways. Through inquiry, I can….
(a) Identify and see through beliefs triggering the pain.
(b) Examine the words and images “glued” to a sensation, making up the experience of emotional pain. As words are seen as words, and images as images, it’s easier to feel sensations as sensations. This, in turn, allows the “charge” behind it to be released.
(c) Examine the emotional pain itself, and the apparent me that’s experiencing or reacting to the pain. Is either as real and solid as it appears?
Also, I can…..
(d) Ask myself: Is it true it’s too intense? Is it true I can’t take it? Is it true I can’t feel the sensations as sensations? Is it true I am unable to feel it within (me as a) loving presence? Is it true it’s not already allowed?
(e) Notice that the emotional pain is here, and that which it is happening within is here – the wider space, allowing, a loving presence. I can notice the content of consciousness (aka in this case “emotional pain”), and consciousness itself (wider space, allowing, loving presence). Both are already noticed, and that noticing can be very helpful.
Additional approaches. There is a range of additional approaches and healing modalities that can help here, including Tension and Trauma Release (TRE), EFT, EMDR, massage, and more.
Support. Finding support can ease the process a great deal. I have found support in friends, people who have gone through something similar, teachers and guides, gaining some understanding of the process, being in nature, walking, nurturing and grounding foods, body work (massage, Breema etc.), taking time, finding some patience with myself and the process, and more.
Transparency. Letting people around me know what’s going on, at least if they are understanding, can prevent some problems. I have found myself behaving “out of character” when the process gets intense, and also, at times, acting on the pain that’s coming up. It helps to remember that my current situation, and people in my life now, are not the “cause” of this pain. It’s much older and more primal than that. And it helps to (honestly) admit to not always being able to relate to the pain in a sane and mature way, and apologize.
Give myself a break. It’s also been important for me to give myself breathing room. Sometimes, just going for a walk, watching a movie, or doing something with friends seems to be the best medicine. It feels good to take my mind off what’s happening, even – or perhaps especially – when the process feels intense and relentless.
In the Living Inquiries, and similar forms of inquiry, we look for a real object, not parts or signs of or something pointing to that real thing.
I can see how the dark night of soul has shown me how I have mistaken certain signs of Spirit, or something pointing to Spirit, for Spirit itself. In my conscious view, I knew what was going on, but at a feeling level I was caught in this misconception.
My mind made to assumptions. First, it took certain words, images and sensations to point to, or be a sign of, Spirit or God. Then, it took these pointers or signs to mean the presence of Spirit or God itself. So when these signs went away, or they didn’t have the same meaning anymore, my mind (at least a part of it) thought it meant that Spirit or God went away. That’s of course not what happened. It was only the signs that went away, the signs my mind had attached to for a sense of safety. As Gerald May says in The Dark Night of the Soul, I had worshipped my own words, images and feelings, and the dark night helped me see and wean me off from it. (At least to some extent, as there is still more to see.)
Here is a quick inquiry:
Look at the word “God”. Is that word God? (No. Although I see an image and there is a feeling.)
Look at the image. See it up on the wall. Imagine touching the surface of it. Is that image God? (No.)
Go to the feeling. Feel it. When you are ready, see if that feeling is God? (No.)
And so on, with whatever words, images and sensations comes up around my experience of God, and also Spirit, the Divine, Christ and so on.
It seems really obvious when looked at this way. And yet, when words, images and sensations are glued together, it seems very real, and it’s easy to mistake it for the real object. Also, our minds largely functions according to it’s own logic, and it’s not “rational” in a conventional sense.
A brief outline of a(n imagined) course on spiritual practice:
- What it is, and is not
- What it is: Training the mind (just like training the body, or training any skill)
- What it is not: It’s not airy fairy, or “mystical” in the sense of strange or hidden
- Overview of the course + tasters + Q&A
- Stability practice
- Training a more stable attention, creating a new groove for attention
- Bring attention to an object, for instance (a) the breath, the sensations of the breath at the nostrils or (b) a visual object
- Insight: Notice attention wander, being drawn into compelling stories (beliefs), bring it back (grace when notice it’s wandering)
- Mindfulness / Natural Rest
- Body scan, feel sensations, allow what’s here to be here
- Notice all is already allowed as is
- Insight / inquiry
- Insight that comes from the other practices
- Insight from inquiry, f.ex. The Work, Living Inquiries, sense field exploration, labeling, Big Mind process, holding satsang
- Devotion / Heart Centered
- Prayer – (a) Jesus/Heart Prayer, (b) Christ meditation (visualize Christ at the seven points), (c) asking for guidance etc.
- Ho’oponopono, tonglen, metta
- Body Centered
- Yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Breema etc.
- A form of stability practice + mindfulness + body awareness practice + grounding (psychologically and energetically)
- Life / Guidelines
- Simple guidelines for life
- Reduces turmoil and drama (suffering + distractions) + mimics a life lived from love and clarity
- Shows us what’s left to look at (get to see beliefs, take to inquiry)
- Spiritual Emergence / Emergency / Maps
- Map of stages and quadrants (AQAL)
- Spiritual emergence – definition, typical unfolding, sign posts
- Spiritual emergency – definition, possible triggers, types + symptoms, how to best relate to it
I’ve met some on the path to awakening who believed that awakening would end all their pain with one big monumental experience, only to come across them later, still dealing with the deeper, more persistent strands of suffering that cannot be undone through one magical experience.
I’ve met some on the path who seemed deeply invested in ideas about it, swimming in intricate layers of intellectualism, only to find them simply rearranging those structures over time, never finding a way out of the loop in their heads that constantly tells them “I know.”
I’ve met some who were searching for awakening in order to feel safe, only to find them later still reacting to a world they imagined to be threatening and fighting anyone who invited them to stop fighting out of fear.
I’ve met some who just wanted to feel good enough, only to find them later still clinging to the same low self-esteem. They believed that awakening would make them feel “good enough” instead of seeing that the whole foundation of good enough v. not good enough is a house made of sand.
I’ve met some who were mesmerized by the shiny glow of spiritual teachers. The shinier the glow, the more they were attracted. As the perceived glow would dull itself in one teacher, it would seem to appear in another. I watched them do this for years, never seeing that the glow is already within them. It was never in the teacher.
I’ve met some who were more interested in defending their ideas about awakening than breaking down the fortress of their own defenses. I’ve watched them fight each other in chat rooms for years, never seeing that they aren’t defending awakening. They are defending a self.
I’ve met some who wanted to completely leave the world behind, only to find out that this actually never happens, for the world as we know it is constructed through thinking. To leave the world behind would be to leave behind the idea that there is someone trapped in this world to begin with.
I’ve met some who were in love with the act of seeking itself, while claiming to want to be free of it. But when the seeking began to quiet, they merely found another way to reignite the spark, postponing their contentment for another two, five or ten years.
I’ve met some who claimed that they had found awakening, only to have pulled the wool over their own eyes. They stopped being aware and started being “people who were awakened.” They seemed more interested in the resume of being awakened than actually being awakened.
But somewhere along the way, I met some who weren’t interested in any of that or who saw the pitfalls in it all. They quietly investigated their experience, through and through, leaving no stone unturned. They sat in this quietness and felt into its magnetic contentment long enough to slowly peel away the layers of pain, over-intellectualism, unsafely, low self-esteem, seeking, psychological self-defense and all stories of being awakened. They burned in the fire of freedom by meeting everything as it arose, instead of trying to move around it or make it go away. They saw that facing their pain directly is the only way to truly be free in the deepest sense, for every act of avoidance makes the pain persist.
They stopped clinging to all the words of a teacher and began deeply questioning the truth of all words, no matter who spoke them. They found that awakening is not a place one arrives at. It is not a resume one posts for the world to see. It is not a denial of the world or a path to get out of the world, but a re-introduction to it, a complete immersion in it, an embodying of it. In that way, the world is not left behind, it is transformed through new eyes and an open heart. It is not a revolution that comes about through fighting, but a deep surrender into an unshakeable peace, even in the midst of conflict. It is not a static place where one claims “all that is true is the changeless space of now” for that would be just another false landing. Life is always changing in that space.
It is not a mental understanding that one can neatly sum up in a book or a post like this. It is a living, breathing, constantly changing realization with a deepening at every corner, an opportunity to look again in the next moment, and the next, to see what is being believed, where the wool is being pulled down once again over one’s eyes. But mostly, it is something for each person to discover. Even this post cannot be the guiding light, for that would merely be, once again, following someone else’s authority rather than trusting one’s own investigation.
The gift that each of these people gave themselves was the openness to continuously relax in the changeless space and allow all changing to happen naturally. The gift is to investigate again and again when the mind clings to its familiar landing points, insecurities or bragging rights. Giving ourselves this gift in each moment eventually gives us the greatest gift of all, which is the seeing that in the end, we don’t know what awakening is. We don’t care anymore. We don’t care about this post. I don’t care. For it too is but a fleeting moment, about to be whisked away into the wind of impermanence like everything else.
In not clinging to what is naturally whisked away, the next moment can arise with brand new possibilities, unencumbered by any of the pitfalls above, and free of all fixed definitions of ourselves, others, the world and awakening itself.
- Scott Kiloby
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, your suffering self, 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.
I also notice some of the effects of this practice for me. It makes the universal human condition alive for me - the suffering, the desire for contentment, and our true nature of love and consciousness. It brings a sense of earthiness and grounding. It increases the sense of light in (or as) my mind and body. It brings a sense of fearlessness.
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.