Reversals in the dark night of the soul

 

The most intense period of that great swing-back into darkness which usually divides the “first mystic life,” or Illuminative Way, from the “second mystic life,” or Unitive Way, is generally a period of utter blankness and stagnation, so far as mystical activity is concerned. The “Dark Night of the Soul,” once fully established, is seldom lit by visions or made homely by voices. It is of the essence of its miseries that the once-possessed power of orison or contemplation now seems wholly lost. The self is tossed back from its hard-won point of vantage. Impotence, blankness, solitude, are the epithets by which those immersed in this dark fire of purification describe their pains.

– Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism

Following an initial period of clarity and honeymoon, there is a shift where what’s left surfaces. There is a shift which makes it difficult to hold onto old identifications, and there is a shift so that what has been unloved surfaces with an invitation for it to be met, understood, loved.

For me, this happened in several areas of life. Where there used to be a clear and well functioning intellect, I had trouble reading or engaging in much mental activity at all. Where there used to be a great deal of energy and passion, there was fatigue and lassitude. Where there used to be a clear guidance, there was an absence of guidance. Where there used to be a clear experience of all as God, there was an apparent absence of this too. Where there used to be an abundance of inner and outer resources, there was an absence of inner and – to some extent – outer resources. Where there used to be inner strength, there was a sense of weakness. There used to be dignity and integrity, and it now went out the door.

All of these reversals bring remaining identifications to the surface so they can be seen, understood, loved. It brings whatever was outside of my previous conscious identity to the surface, so these can be met, felt, understood, loved and included.

Among the many things that surfaced for me was, sometimes, a thought that I and my process was misperceived. Some who knew me only during this phase identified me with what they saw there and then, which to me was so clearly about this process more than any inherent and lasting characteristic of me as a human in the world. And that too is a support in this process, although it can be painful at the time. That too helps me find in myself what was previously left out of my conscious identity. They see me in this way, and can I find it too? Can I feel it? Take it in? Own it? Find a welcome for it? Find love for it?

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