In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.
I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way. But when I reached the foot of a hill, where the valley, that had pierced my heart with fear, came to an end, I looked up and saw its shoulders brightened with the rays of that sun that leads men rightly on every road. Then the fear, that had settled in the lake of my heart, through the night that I had spent so miserably, became a little calmer. And as a man, who, with panting breath, has escaped from the deep sea to the shore, turns back towards the perilous waters and stares, so my mind, still fugitive, turned back to see that pass again, that no living person ever left.
– Dante, “Inferno Canto I:1-60: The Dark Wood and the Hill.” Translated by A. S. Kline
I keep coming back to this topic as well:
The phrase dark night can be used in several different ways.
In every day language, it can mean a difficult period in life, following a loss of health, a partner, a dream etc.
In a more technical sense, it can refer to a dark night of the soul and a dark night of the senses, and there are probably other ones as well.
The dark nigh of the soul is a process of softening/releasing/wearing off stories telling us that ultimate satisfaction is to be found in experiences. For me, this happened when I was 15 and there was – from one minute to the next – a sense of the world of form retreating and of “me” being pure awareness. Thoughts said or wondered if something was very wrong, and I went to many doctors and specialists that year. I am sure that the specifics of how this dark night happens can vary quite a bit.
This lasted for about a year, and shifted – equally suddenly – into Spirit awakening to itself as all there is, including this human self. Any ideas of inside and outside, of an I and me etc. were recognized as just that, and it was very clear that Spirit – reality – could not be touched by words, they could at most serve as pointers. And that lasted for about ten years. All was revealed as Spirit, and yet, there was something left. There was still some identification with very basic stories, identities and hopes.
The dark night of the soul is a process of softening/releasing/wearing off more basic stories of an I and so on (basic wounds, basic hopes/fears). One aspect of this is healing of basic wounds, another is meeting and befriending the shadow (finding it as part of who I am), and yet another is a wearing off of very basic and primal identifications. The early phase of this went on for about five years, and then it shifted into a more intensified phase with health problems and many losses. For me, this was – and is – a period of reversals, inviting a questioning and wearing off my most cherished identifications.
More basically than any of these, a dark night happens any time beliefs and identifications are challenged by life. Or, more accurately, a set of beliefs about how things should be is challenged by a set of beliefs about how it is, or a set of beliefs about how things are or should be are challenged by reality revealing itself to itself a little more.
– ordinary use, as difficult period of life
– technical, senses and soul
— senses, that the world gives ultimate satisfaction
— soul, more basic beliefs
– more basically, beliefs/identifications challenged by life (and really, beliefs/identifications challenging each other)