I see (at least) three general forms of unpleasantness in the awakening process.
- Human self healing & integration
One is the awakening and integration in terms of our human self. Bringing more into awareness, becoming familiar with it, integrate it into our life, unsticking, finding healing, finding integration among what we are as human being.
This phase occurs prior to and following awakening. If we do any form of practice prior to awakening, the healing is often addressed to some extent by these practices. We are aligning our human self with a future awakening. And after the awakening, much of what is not healed in us floats to the surface so it can be brought into awareness and find some healing (the “shakedown” in Waking Down terminology).
If we work with a teacher, our teacher will typically do a good job bringing unprocessed things to the surface. In any case, our life will do it on its own – through relationships, family, work, illness and so on.
This healing as a human self is nothing special. It is just what we do through any of the conventional and new therapy forms, from psychotherapy to acupuncture, process work, breema, tai chi, chi gong, and so on.
- Disidentifying with human self
This is the transition from exclusive identification as a human self to finding ourselves as the absolute, as Big Mind. This transition is often experienced as being pulled apart and dying, and can be quite painful, distressing and dramatic. But it is also often accompanied with glimpses of where we are heading, which gives some consolation.
This is the dark night of the senses, and it occurs prior to the awakening as the Unborn (formless awareness) and Big Mind (beyond and including all polarities).
- Disidentifying with the absolute
Following our awakening, we may be identified as the absolute, Big Mind. We spend a considerable time as and become familiar with ourselves as Big Mind. This is the brilliant sun of enlightenment, and it has all the tremendous clarity, insights, nondual view, compassion, capacity and so on that we know from the typical full-blown awakenings. This phase typically lasts for many years, and most spiritual teachers are here.
The problem here of course is the subtle identification as the absolute, as the Unborn and Big Mind. This is often accompanied with an equally subtle sense of it being special, remarkable and an accomplishment.
At some point, we may be thrown into a phase of disidentification with the absolute. This is experienced as a terrible fall from grace. As abandoning/being abandoned by Buddha Mind, God, Spirit. Our life may fall apart in many areas and on many levels. Everything we found comfort in is taken away from us. Our clarity, insights, capacity and so on are completely gone. From being the master of our life, we are at the mercy of circumstances.
This is the dark night of the soul, and it occurs quite some time into an apparently full-blown and stable awakening.
So these are the three unpleasanteries I am aware of in this process.
They are each quite distinct. The first is coming to terms with ourselves as a human being, including the healing work needed in that process. The second is a dissolution of our exclusive identity as a human being, experienced as being pulled apart and dying. The third is a complete abandonment by God, a terrible fall from grace, leading into a new and more ordinary integration.
Still, I see that they are often confused. The main confusion seems to be that between the two dark nights, where both are sometimes collapsed into the former. Even last night, reading Ken Wilber’s essay on “The Spectrum of Pathologies” (reprinted in “Paths Beyond the Ego”), I noticed this collapse of both into one. Or he at least used the label of the latter and placed it on the former.