In the five phases outlined by Tozan (Chinese Zen master from the 800s) and Everlyn Underhill (British author on Christian mysticism), there are two dark nights.
The overall process is…
Stable identification with/as our human self, with a glimpse of God/Spirit.
Disidentification with our human self and an exclusively dualistic view. This is the dark night of the senses.
Identification with/as the absolute. The brilliant sun of enlightenment.
- Fall from grace/Dark night of the soul
Disidentification with the absolute.
A deepening and fluid integration of the relative and absolute, our human self and Spirit.
The dark night of the senses is one of disidentification with the human self and a dualistic view, and is often experienced as falling apart and dying. It is often quite painful and dramatic. And there is indeed a dying taking place, although it is just a dying of the exclusive identification.
The dark night of the soul comes from a disidentification with the absolute, and is experienced as a fall from grace. Everything that used to give comfort is taken away, and much that we disidentified with – and thought we were far beyond – comes up and overwhelms us. None of our finely honed coping mechanisms from the previous phases seem to work anymore. We are completely at the mercy of circumstances. Our life falls apart in the spiritual realm, and also in our daily wordly life.
During phase three, we are identified with/as the absolute in an apparently stable way. Everything that we associate with a stable awakening is present, including tremendous clarity, insight, compassion and so on. But there is often also a trace of a sense of it being special, extraordinary and an accomplishment. And there can be the “stink of Zen” in its various forms, for instance through ignoring karma because we seem to be beyond it, being stuck in/as the absolute and ignoring the relative, and – yes – a sense of it being special and an accomplishment, of a subtle superiority and arrogance.
The dark night of the soul comes as a natural correction of this subtle identification and arrogance, and allows us into a deepening and more fluid and ordinary integration of the relative and absolute.