The last few days, it has dawned on me that I am in a form of dark night of the soul. What initially looked merely like a personal failure now seems to fit into a relatively common pattern.
This has also invited me to look at the overall pattern over the last several years.
A brief outline…
Drunk & Witness
At sixteen, I drank a large amount of alcohol for the first (and last) time. There are several hours of that night that are lost to memory. The day after, I remember clearly that there was a gradual shift into a sense of unreality – over maybe an hour or two. Everything was as if a dream, and I found myself as crystal clear awareness infinitely removed from the world of form.
Now, I recognize this as a shift into the Witness, being absorbed into formless awareness.
This continued and deepened over the following weeks and months, until about a year later (if I remember correctly) when this all bursted into a more full blown opening. I walked down the gravel road to our mail box, it was a dark winter evening, snowless, with a big wind and the stars above. Suddenly, it was as if I was what the wind blew through and the stars appeared within. There was no separation between anything anymore. And there was a tremendous sense of coming home and of joy and bliss. And this too lasted and deepened over the following weeks, months and years.
In the midst of this, there was a bewilderment in trying to make any sense of it all. I had developed a quite strong scientific and atheistic worldview prior to this, with little or no interest in anything that tasted of spirituality or mysticism. Yet, it was exactly in mysticism that I found people who seemed to describe similar experiences. I read a large amount of books in the following years – Fritjof Capra, Jung, Steiner, Yogananda, Jes Bertelsen, Taoism, Buddhism and so on.
All the while, the opening continued to deepen – day and night for years. It was a tremendously intense experience, with a mix of deep bliss and pain. My view became deeply transdual, to the point where I was painfully aware that it was impossible to even begin to describe this in words. Words split, and this was beyond and embracing any and all polarities.
During this phase, which lasted several years, I was enormously productive in terms of studies, reading, painting, drawing, music, consuming culture, engaging with (a small group of) friends, doing tai chi, chi gong, going for hikes in nature, and much more. It seemed that I could do everything, and do everything well.
Fall from grace
During these years, I obviously became somewhat attached to this deeply transdual view and experience. I understood, from direct experience, what all the mystics and sages from so many traditions were talking about. And I could, in some cases, even express it more clearly myself. And there was also a liberation from being caught up and identified as any form, be it my human self or emotions, thoughts or experiences.
So in the midst of this, I knew that it was inevitable to have to loose it for a while. I had to become merely human and learn to live an ordinary human life. And that is exactly what happened, although not in the way I expected. And it was far more painful than I could ever have dreamt of.
During my initial opening, there was a sense of my human self being pulled apart and put together again in a new way. But now, there was a sense of being completely and utterly ground to dust. I had completely lost any connection with God, with any transdual view and experience. I was utterly and completely ordinary and human, and all my passion and clarity was lost.
I ended up being just a passive victim of life as it happened to unfold, without any power to extract myself from it. Where I earlier was able to allow any experience to just unfold within me – within clear space – and leave no trace, I was now utterly in the mud, unable to relate to what was happening in any healthy or sane way. I was unable to do any form of meditation and prayer (although I deeply longed for it, and tried several times). I was unable to read anything spiritual or “uplifting”. I was in utter misery, utterly crushed to dust. And this too lasted for several years.
Looking back, I see that there was an oscillation for maybe two years, with some moments of grace and bliss, and then a complete descending into this misery.
And for a long time – up until just the last few days – this all seemed utterly personal and just triggered by bad decisions and circumstances.
Then, with another change in circumstances (another geographic move), there was another opening, although this time more gradual, soft and far more unremarkable. Now, there is a sense of the ordinariness of it all, both the human life and that beyond the human.
Now, with the return – in a different way – and with being exposed to more detailed readings of the dark night of the soul (and Tozan’s fourth rank), I see that there is maybe a larger pattern to all of this.
Even in the midst of it, in the midst of the deepest misery, I did sense that it was part of a larger process – that I was carried by something deeper, but there was no way I could see what that was or find any comfort in it.
There is still much further to go, even as part of the tail end of this dark night. I am still much of a wreck as a human being, my life is still quite off track in many ways. But at least now, there is another opening and a deeper – and far more unremarkable – integration going on.
And who knows, there will still be many more dark nights of various types. Any attachment is followed by a detachment, and this process can be quite painful. Especially if we resist it, as I did with all my might during the fall from grace.
When I finally came to a point where I could begin to embrace it, it gradually shifted. But I don’t think I could have done that earlier, especially in the circumstances I was in. Of course, what we resist persists, but even knowing that, I was not able to do it. Maybe I’ll gradually learn.