Aspects of a dark night: wearing off, seeing through and maturing

 

Earlier, I wrote about some reasons a dark night is called a dark night.

It’s dark because life may go against our wishes and hopes, showing us what’s left in terms of shoulds and identifications.

It’s dark because old wounds and traumas may surface to find their healing and liberation – through love.

It’s dark because what’s really going on is obscure. It’s hidden from us.

It’s dark because there may be a “darkening” of the faculties, a dampening of the personal will, the intellect, morals and so on.

It’s a night because there may be an invitation to rest, as we do during a physical night.

I also see a few main outcomes of a dark night.

One is a wearing off of identification, which tends to happen on its own – with or without our conscious alignment. (Although it may be less painful, and perhaps quicker, if there is such an alignment and receptivity.)

Another is a seeing through of stories and the dynamics of identification. This may happen through informal inquiry, through a natural curiosity, seeing and understanding. And it may be supported by more formal forms of inquiry, such as sense field explorations, The Work, and the Living Inquiries.

Another is a maturing and deepening as a human being. We may find a deeper humility, a more sincere gratitude, and a deeper patience and understanding of ourselves and others. We have gone through hell, so have a natural empathy with others going through something similar. The dark night may have widened and deepened us in a very human way.

Each of these support the deepening of the two other.

From the little reading I have done on this, it seems that these three are discussed in the different traditions. And the traditions also have their own emphasis. For instance, Buddhist teachers seem to emphasize the insight aspect, while Christian mystics often emphasize the wearing off and the maturing and deepening aspects. And while I have seen some Buddhist teachers (not all) talk about the dark night as something unfortunate to get through as quickly as possible, Christian mystics seem to look back at it with deep gratitude and as a blessing and grace, even if it was painful and confusing during the darkest parts of the night. I can see both points.

The mind is brought face to face with its own remaining identifications, and the easiest way through is to see through these diligently and systematically. And yet, even to be able to do that requires grace. It requires life setting up inner and outer situations so it’s possible to do it. And at the same time, a very real deepening of the human self may happen during the dark night, and it happens also through whatever struggle (out of fear and confused love) the mind may put up against it’s own healing.

Life wants to experience itself in all of these ways. Sometimes through diligently seeing through the identifications. Other times, through flailing and struggling, until identifications are worn off. And sometimes, as seems to be the case with me, through both of these alternately. (That’s probably quite common.)

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Although I have found a discussion of all these three in different traditions, it seems that traditions – not surprisingly – have their own emphasis. For instance, Buddhist teachers seem to emphasize the insight aspect, while Christian mystics often emphasize the wearing off and the maturing and deepening aspects. And while I have seen some Buddhist teachers (not all) talk about the dark night as something unfortunate to get through as quickly as possible, Christian mystics seem to look back at it with deep gratitude and as a blessing and grace, even if it was painful and confusing during the darkest parts of the night. I can see both points. Through grace, it is possible to minimize the pain and duration through inquiry and allowing it to move through with less struggle. And the dark night is also a blessing, and a deepening of us as humans.

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Even the struggle can be seen in two ways. It’s misguided, yes, and increased the suffering and perhaps duration of the night. And at the same time, it has it’s own gifts and blessings.

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It’s interesting to note that the seeing through tends to be emphasized in Buddhist circles, while the maturing tends to be emphasized in more theistic traditions such as Christianity. That’s perhaps not so difficult to understand since inquiry (insight) is an integral part of Buddhist practice, while devotion and service tends to be emphasized in theistic traditions. Of course, Buddhism also has an emphasis on maturing, devotion and service, and Christianity – at least the more mystical strands – includes guidelines for insight practice, and an understanding of our true nature and the dynamics of identification.

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I also see two main outcomes of a dark night.

One is a wearing off of identification, and perhaps a seeing through of stories and the dynamics of identification. The first tends to happen on it’s own. And the second may happen through informal or more formal forms of inquiry.

Another is a maturing and deepening as a human being. We may find a deeper humility, and a deeper patience and understanding of ourselves and others.

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