Note: See the second version of this post, which is a little cleaner.
Note 2: I am writing this after finishing the post, and I see that if I wrote it again, I would organize it differently. I would start with saying that what works for some in some phases does not work for others or in other phases. We all need to find our way through it. That’s part of the lesson, it seems, of the dark night. And there are things we can do to make it a bit easier for ourselves. We can take care of ourselves (food, sleep, light exercise, perhaps herbs). We can find support from others and a nurturing environment. We can seek healing in whatever ways work for us. We can find guidance from others who have gone through it. We can find a community of people who are going through it. (Easier today with the internet.) We can give ourselves a break. And we can explore more formal practices as a support, such as devotion and prayer (surrender), stability practice (developing a more stable attention), natural rest (being with what’s here), and different forms of inquiry (especially questioning our assumptions of what’s going on, and anything holding us back from meeting and loving what’s here). Another very helpful set of practices have to do with the heart and love (ho’o, tonglen, placing ourselves in the heart flame, metta practice, holding satsang with what’s here). The main invitation in the dark night seems to be to find love for what’s here, and see it is already love and loved. Then on to the initial, somewhat rambling and disorganized, post:
I have been reading about dark nights again, and am reminded of a few different things.
On the one hand, the process seems largely out of “our” control. On the other hand, there are things we can do that will support it and make it a bit easier.
What may make it more difficult is to consistently (a) give up any practices, and (b) try to avoid and flee from any unpleasant things surfacing.
What may make it a bit easier is the usual basic practices, such as:
(a) Devotion. Finding trust, surrender, asking for guidance.
(b) Stability practice. For instance bringing attention to the sensations at the nostrils with ordinary breathing. This can help calm the mind, and lessen the grip of what’s surfacing.
(c) Natural Rest. Allowing what’s here to be as it is. Notice it’s already allowed. And, for support, bringing the mind to feeling the sensations that’s here, as they are. Scan the body. Feel the area(s) with the strongest sensations. This can help soften identification with what’s coming up.
(d) Inquiry. Various forms of self-inquiry and being honest. This can help us course-adjust and see through dearly held assumptions and identifications.
(e) Guidelines for living. The DN can bring up a lot of wounds and trauma, and can feel quite overwhelming at times. When the pain is great, it’s easy to lash out or act out of character – even if it’s just being moody or wanting to be alone – and this can create more complications. I have had my share of it. And if that happens, it’s OK. It can help to let people know what’s going on in advance, and also apologize. It can also be helpful to remember what’s going on, and see how it is to meet the pain with some compassion and love. (Is it true I can’t meet it with compassion and love? Is it true it’s too intense? Is it true it’s too painful?) Meeting the pain with compassion and love helps not acting blindly on it. Also, following some basic guidelines – such as just living with kindness and from honesty – is as always helpful, and especially so in this process.
(f) And a few other things, such as….
(i) Self-care, such as a good diet, moderate exercise, sufficient sleep and rest, finding and maintaining good and supporting relationships. Including and nurturing the body, also through (gentle) yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Breema, walks in nature and more.
(ii) Support in any form. It can be a meditation or retreat center where they know how to support people through the process. Any relaxed and nurturing environment.
(iii) Guidance from someone who has gone through one or more dark nights on their own, and can offer assurance and help point out pitfalls and what may be supportive.
(iv) Healing of any wounds and trauma that’s surfacing. It can be helpful to find someone who understands the DN and are also skilled healers.
(v) Compassion with what’s surfacing. Finding love for it. Perhaps seeing it is already love, confused love. Some helpful practices: Ho’oponopono, tonglen, holding satsang with what’s here, placing myself in my heart flame. Even saying “hello ….” (pain, suffering, confusion). “You are welcome here. Please stay for a while. Tell me what you have come to say.”
(vi) Give yourself a break. Take some time off everything. Go for a walk. Take a vacation. Do something enjoyable. Spend time with in nature. Be with friends. If you do any practices, see how it is to do it with more ease, and go back to the basics. Question your thoughts about not doing it right, failing at surrendering etc.. And if you do beat yourself up for doing it “wrong”, that’s OK. That’s part of the process too.
(vii) Notice it’s changing. It’s already changing. Even in the “darkest” periods, there are times of peace and trust.
(viii) Find what works for you. What works for someone else may not work for you. For instance, any form of manipulation of the breath throws my system into disarray, while it seems helpful for others. Craniosacral work did the same, while I have heard it’s been supportive for others. (That may also have to do with compatibility with the practitioner.) For me, five element acupuncture works very well, and I assume it may be different for some. I have also been unable to do any regular practices in periods, and have instead spent time walking in nature, and found that supportive. For others, it may be more helpful to keep a regular practice. Although there are many commonalities in the different dark nights, it’s also an individual and organic process.
Some resources I have looked at and/or found helpful:
Spiritual Emergence Network. I don’t have personal experience with this or the following organization, but it seems it can be helpful.
The Power of the Dark Night by Adyashanti. Highly recommended.
The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment – Adyashanti, includes discussion of dark nights.
Nothing in my life works out – a conversation between Adyashanti and someone in the DN.
Dark Night: The Breakdown of the Mythology of Me by Jeannie Zandie. An excellent essay on the DN with many practical pointers.
Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram. Mostly for people doing Buddhist practice, although can be helpful for anyone. Very detailed, practical, and precise. (See the initial chapter on the DN here.)
Testimonies and Advice for the Dark Night from the Hamilton Project. Helpful pointers for those going through a DN.
Buddhist Geeks – dark night related podcasts.
Cheeta House dark night resources.
The Dark Night blog post by Shinzen Young. A useful but limited (?) definition of DN.
Open Up and Turn Towards – a video by Shinzen Young.
Dealing with the Dark Night from Dharma Overground. Many resources, pointers and testimonials here.
Enlightenment’s Evil Twin from Psychology Tomorrow Magazine
A Dark Night Exit Strategy by Vincent Horn
The Refugees of Mindfulness; Rethinking Psychology’s Experiment with Meditation – an article on possible effects of modern mindfulness practice and vipassana.
Fierce Grace – documentary about the DN of Ram Dass.
Spiritual Emergency – documentary by Kaia Nightingale. Definitely worth watching.
Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill (also as mp3). The 1912 classic, presenting the DN in a Christian context. This was my first encounter with writings on the Dark Night (of the soul), and I found it reassuring. My process happened to follow the phases outlined by Underhill quite closely, and the description of the dark night also fits my experience very closely (just about all of it….!), and I assume that’s not how it is for everyone.
You Might be in a Dark Night blog post by Ryan Oelke.
The Dark Night blog post from Aloha Dharma. A brief overview (it seems) of what’s described in Ingram’s book.
P.S. There seems to be a lot more about the dark night these days than just a few years ago! I am glad to see that. When I entered the dark night of the soul, I first didn’t realize what was going on. None of my Buddhist teachers had mentioned it, or it’s possible I just didn’t remember because it didn’t relate to me back then. And when I realized it could be called a dark night, I could find very few helpful resources on the topic. Today, just a few years later, it’s quite different.
Ways through it:
(a) Love. Meeting what’s here (pain, pride, fear) with love. Self-love. (Ho’o, tonglen, metta, placing ourselves in the heart flame, holding satsang etc.) Notice what’s here – in ourselves and others – as love. Finding love for it. Meeting it with love. (Including and especially our own pain, reactivity, suffering, anger, fear.)
(b) Devotion. Surrender. Trust. (Prayer.)
(c) Meditation/mindfulness. (i) Stability practice. (Although can increase energy levels + open up, which is not always helpful.) (ii) Natural rest, allowing what’s here. Mindfulness. Feeling sensations. Helpful to stay with the sensations without going into stories. (Inquiry can support this.)
(d) Inquiry. Insight. Seeing through what’s surfacing + fundamental identity. (See it’s already allowed. Already OK. See it’s universal, it’s one of the facets of a very ordinary oneness. See how it’s created in the sense fields. See through beliefs.)
(e) Support – family and friends, environment, guides, fellow dn folks.
(f) Also – diet, exercise, body-centered activities, nature, simplify, finding what works for you.
(Not all are needed, or needs to be emphasized equally and at all times.)
For me, the Dark Night has involved periods where it’s been just about impossible (or so it seems) to do any regular practice. It seems that some push through it, and are able to engage in regular practice, and that’s probably very helpful. For others, it may be important to take it easy for a while, and just do what’s possible. What seems less helpful is to beat oneself up for not doing it right, for being unable to do regular practices etc. (Even that’s OK as it is an invitation for inquiry.)
As suggested above, finding guidance from someone who has been through it, or just reading testimonials, may give us a sense of trust in the process. However it looks, it’s OK. And there are also things I can do to support myself, even if it’s in small ways, in this often very challenging phase.