In Fire in the Soul, Joan Borysenko says that “crisis resolves in one of three ways.” The ordeal may end when “we slowly put ourselves back together again and life goes on in the same overtly or vaguely unsatisfactory way that it did before,” or “we become so terrified, agitated or depressed that we commit suicide or stay in the desert of mental illness; or we come out transformed, emerging with a new strength, wisdom and vision.”
– El Collie in Branded by the Spirit, chapter 14.
I assume we all have experienced this. There is a breakdown of an old pattern – sometimes due to friction with life – and we either rebuild ourselves as we were, we have a breakdown of some sort, or we transform and grow. And this happens on a range of scales from the many and frequent smaller ones in daily life, to the major and less frequent challenges.
So what about the dark night of the soul? It’s tempting to assume that when a dark night of the soul occurs, it inevitably resolves in the third – transformative – way. After all, that’s what we hear and read about, the folks who came through it profoundly transformed. But is that really so inevitable? Probably not. Evelyn Underhill calls the dark night of the soul the “great sorting house” and that’s my sense too. Some may be able to put themselves back together more or less as before, some may stay in the struggle and never find a resolution, and some do indeed go through a deep transformation – resolving into realized selflessness or not.
God is going to try all different options. There is no one outcome of this.
In any particular case, we cannot know what form the process will take. We may have visions, intuitions, educated guesses and so on, but we still cannot know for certain.
Is there a way to facilitate the third resolution? I don’t know, but here are some approaches that many seem to find helpful: Meditation (stable attention, just sitting, insight). Inquiry, with the aim of discovering something new and different about oneself and the world (for instance questions such as What does this situation want to show me? What is it I don’t want to see here?). Therapy. And perhaps most of all an attitude of receptivity, sincerity and a wish for truth more than short-term comfort.