The dark nights of the senses and soul can be filtered through a focus on beliefs…
The first dark night, the dark night of the senses, is a release of beliefs telling us that ultimate fulfillment can be found in the world, in more money, fame and things, in better relationships, and so on. Not all of these beliefs and identities go, but a majority of them do, enough to reveal the soul level and glimpse into the spirit level.
The second dark night, the dark night of the soul, is a release of more core beliefs and identities, including that of a separate self, and I with an Other.
Here are some examples of beliefs (and their associated identities) that may be worn through during each night:
- Dark night of the senses
Ultimate happiness and fulfillment is found in money, fame, security, relationships, food, vacations, literature, music, art, sports, being in nature. When arrived at, I will remain happy and fulfilled. Or at least, it will alleviate the emptiness I am experiencing, and that is good enough.
- Dark night of the soul
Awakening is good/desirable, delusion bad/undesirable. I need to be of service. The world of appearances is real. Something is inherently better or worse (even if it is all God). There is a separate self here, a doer, someone this happens to/for, someone who is “one with” life, existence, God. I am awakened/deluded. I am on a path. I am.
Somewhere, in both of these cases, there is a knowing that none of these statements are absolutely true. But if this is not clearly seen, over and over, from many different angles, then at least a remnant of the belief is still there. And this remnant is enough to filter the world, to make the belief appear true, to make our human lives be lived as if they are true.
And that is what needs to be worn through, revealing what is already more true to us even in immediate awareness… although sometimes hidden by the dust kicked up by the beliefs.
I don’t know much about how this is experienced by others (would be interesting to do a study in the literature and through interviews) but here is how it was for me…
The dark night of the senses was experienced as a dismemberment, of being pulled apart and put together in a different way, a death and rebirth. There was a great deal of intensity here, a mix of bliss and pain existing simultaneously or shifting from one to the other.
There were amazing awakenings, into everything as God, spirit, intelligent loving awareness, into all as empty luminosity (as Neo discovered at the end of the first Matrix movie), into seeing and sensing energies as clearly as physical objects, into healing abilities, and much more. And also a great deal of pain, of plunges into the shadow, of going as far down as up.
In spite of all this cleaning out, there was still a trace of a belief in a separate self here, which gave birth to forms of arrogance even as that was also clearly seen as coming from only a story (and it didn’t seem to go away, in spite of a clear recognition of and lot of conscious work on it).
I lived in a constant state of experiencing and seeing all as God (day and night for years), everything seemed easy for me, I had a tremendous amount of energy and passion for doing things in the world… and there was still the remains of a sense of a separate self, although this too was transparent to Ground, so inevitably, there was arrogance, even if that was seen as coming from delusion, from a belief in a story, from that sense of a separate self.
Another thing I see now is that the head and heart centers were quite awakened… there was a clear seeing of all as God, Spirit, awake emptiness and form. But there was not the felt-sense of the same. The head and heart centers were open channels, but the belly center not so much.
During this phase, it seemed that I knew how to allow and deal with just about anything happening, because of the support of the awakening… the only thing I could not allow and deal with was the removal of this awakening itself, which is (obviously) exactly what happened.
The dark night of the soul was experienced as everything being taken away… any connection with spirit and God, anything that used to give comfort. And the little that is left gave no comfort either, there was an inability to take comfort anywhere.
Where the dark night of the senses was clearly a process of awakening (into the soul level and glimpsing the spirit level), the dark night of the soul felt completely unspiritual in every sense.
Looking back, I can see that this was a process of everything going to neutral. Of wearing away anything that gives satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of being special, and a sense of I and Other in general.
In the beginning, and long into it, there was a great deal of resistance to what was happening, which created a great deal of struggle and drama. I felt completely derailed in every area of life. At the same time, I was completely unable to do anything about it, even if – in theory, and from the perspective of others – I could have. In the midst of it, there was also a knowing that this was right, meant to be, a part of a much longer process, even if my personality resisted ferociously and my beliefs (awakening good, delusion bad) told me it was a complete disaster.
Now, more towards the end of it (it has still not run its course), there is a clearer sense of it going to neutral… including experiencing everything (with no exception) as space (for a few months about a year ago)… and not only seeing all as neutral (head center) but also feeling, a felt-sense, of it all as neutral (belly center).
This is of course just one way it can happen. It can be faster and easier, through a more full embrace of the process (resistance=drawn-out suffering). And some don’t seem to go through dark nights at all.
I should also mention that the term dark night is used in many different ways. In its narrow sense, it relates to the dark nights that happens in an awakening context. And in its loose sense, as any time when there is a reaction to a loss, or a sense of dryness or not being able to find comfort in what used to give comfort.
In all cases, it happens because life clashes with beliefs, and in all cases, it is an invitation to allow these beliefs to wear off. When it happens in the form of a dark night of senses and soul, there isn’t much apparent choice… beliefs seem to wear off as a part of the process. But when it happens in a different context, there is often an apparent choice of either to keep holding onto the beliefs or more actively allow them to go (through for instance inquiry).
To readers: if anyone know of accounts of dark nights, please let me know. I am familiar with the excellent dark night chapter in Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill but that is about it. You can leave the info in the form of a comment.