I thought I would write another brief post on ways of relating to a dark night, mainly since the previous one is more of a draft and quite rambling.
Here are some pointers that have been helpful to me, in no particular order.
Find your own way. 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.
Take care of yourself. Eat well. Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of water (so your urine is pale). Go for walks. Do strength training. Engage in body centered activities that work for you, such as Breema, shiatsu, massage, and possibly yoga or tai chi. (Be mindful of the effects of some of these, such as yoga, tai chi and chi gong. If the energy intensifies or goes “up”, slow down or do something else.) Seek out a nurturing environment and nurturing activities. Spend lots of time in nature. Walk barefoot. Do gardening. Visualize a grounding cord to the center of the Earth. Seek healing for old wounds and traumas that may be surfacing. Finally, be careful with medications, especially psychoactive medications. Use these as last resort, and if you take any, start with very small doses as you may be more sensitive than average. (I have not been drawn to using drugs of any types, and would avoid it as much as possible.)
Do inquiry on what’s coming up – wounds, trauma, resistance, blame, self-blame and so on. Find what’s more true than your initial assumptions.
Stay with the sensations, as much as possible, instead of going into stories. Inquiry can make it easier to stay with sensations as sensations.
Do mindfulness practice. Contemporary secular mindfulness practice may be gentler, and more appropriate to the dark night phase, than many forms of meditation and some forms of body-centered practices.
Find love for what’s here. This can be as simple as saying to what’s coming up (pain, distress, anger, fatigue, pride, fear), or to our body (heart, brain), I love you, I wish you ease. We can use ho’oponopono, tonglen or metta on ourselves or suffering parts of ourselves, as well as other people in our lives, and the earth. We can place ourselves in the heart flame. We can hold satsang with what’s here. (You are welcome. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really?)
Devotion and prayer can be helpful. Offer it all – the pain, the situation, your body and mind, your life, your resistance – to God (Spirit, Christ, Buddha Mind). Ask for guidance. Ask for inner and outer support. Ask for the intensity of what’s going on to be reduced (if it feels overwhelming). Ask for support in meeting what’s here with love. Ask for what’s happening / your life to benefit all beings. Give thanks for what’s happening (including, or especially, that which you don’t particularly like). Do the Jesus/heart prayer combined with the breath and heart beats: “Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy upon me”. (If this last one intensifies or brings the energies up, try to do it with more ease, or wait until another phase of your process.)
Uncover a clear intention to…. find love for what’s here, heal what needs to be healed, give your mind-body and life over to the divine, follow your guidance, or whatever else seems helpful and aligned with love and clarity. This can be done through setting an intention (temporary value), clarifying your intention (more helpful), or asking life/the divine for support in uncovering a clear intention.
Gratitude can seem difficult to access during a dark night, at least at times. And yet, it’s something that can significantly ease the process. Try a simple gratitude prayer or mantra of of thank you, thank you, thank you as you go for a walk, lie in bed, or do daily activities. Experiment with gratitude lists. These lists can include only what’s easy to be grateful for. Or they can be all inclusive lists, including that which it’s not so easy to be grateful for. (Daily inclusive gratitude lists can be shared with a gratitude practice partner.)
Be mindful of the effects of any meditation and energy practices. Some forms of meditation or energy practices may be helpful, at least at times. For instance, insight meditation may help you see through what’s coming up (wounds, resistance) and who you are (the basic duality), and stability practice may support you in feeling sensations and allowing what’s here. Other times, these practices may intensify the energy running through your system, further open a very open system, and bring the energy up while it could benefit more from grounding.
Learn the basics about spiritual emergencies and dark nights. Get to see that it’s a natural process, not uncommon at all, people get through it, and very few if any wish it wouldn’t have happened when they are out on the other side. This can bring a sense of trust in the process, and some relief from the idea that something “went wrong”. (It will feel that way, and that’s good to know too.)
Seek guidance from someone you trust, who is knowledgeable and skilled in guiding people through spiritual emergencies, and ideally who has gone through it themselves. This person can help you navigate through it a bit more skilfully. (This also goes for therapists.)
Find a community of people going through something similar, whether it’s through reading (people who recorded their stories), on the internet, or in person. These can be a good source of advice, and it can be comforting to know that others are going through the same.
Seek support from family, friends, like-minded people, guides, environment and wherever else you can find it.
Don’t blame others or the world for your pain. That’s not where it belongs, although it’s easy to lash out when the pain seems unbearable. Let people in your life know what’s going on, and apologize as needed. Also, notice and bring to inquiry any attitudes and stories that would get you to lash out and blame others.
Keep it simple. During this phase, which can feel quite overwhelming at times, keep it simple. Spend time in nature. Use a simple mindfulness practice. Stay with the sensations as sensations, the best you can. Find love for what’s here, perhaps using a simple practice such as metta or ho’oponopono. Ask for support (from the divine, from people). Write a simple gratitude list. Don’t blame yourself for not being able to engage in apparently more sophisticated practices. (If you do, that’s OK. And it’s also something you can take to inquiry.)
Give yourself a break. It’s a tough phase. There will most likely be resistance, fear, overwhelm, a sense that something went wrong, and a sense that you are doing something wrong – including in how you relate to what’s happening. That’s part of the process. It’s OK. Life is guiding the process, and it will not always look the way we expect or wish. At times, you may not feel up to doing any of the things that you know may be supportive, and that’s OK too. (It may be a relief to look at shoulds in inquiry, as well as whatever thoughts stops us from – for instance – continuing a simple practice, whether it’s mindfulness or inquiry or something else.)
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.
Spiritual Emergence Service. Same with this one.
Books on spiritual emergency can be helpful, such as In Case of Spiritual Emergency by Catherine G. Lucas, The Call of Spiritual Emergency by Emma Bragdon, Journey Through Transformation by Kaia Nightingale, Spiritual Emergency by Stanislav Grof, and The Stormy Search for Self by Christina Grof. Parts of the anthology Kundalini Rising may also be relevant, along with books such as The Far Side of Madness by John Perry.
The Power of the Dark Night by Adyashanti. A great outline of some of the symptoms and invitations in a dark night (DN).
The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment – Adyashanti, includes discussion of DNs.
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, and a good starting point.
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.
Interview with Catherine G. Lucas, author of In Case of Spiritual Emergency.
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.
Some useful pointers from his [Daniel Ingram’s] book: (a) Continue a regular meditation practice, if at all possible. (b) Focus on seeing through what’s surfacing and the confusion around one’s identity, through inquiry and insight. Take care of the emotional stuff as needed, although emphasize seeing through it. (c) Don’t worry if the laser focus that may have been there in meditation prior to the dark night now is gone, and attention is more wide and unstable. That’s typical of this phase. Don’t let this discourage you from continuing your meditation practice. (d) Stay with the sensations, instead of getting caught up in stories. [Inquiry can help release images and words “glued” to these sensations, making it easier to feel the sensations as sensations.] (e) Learn a bit about the typical characteristics of the dark night phase, and the subphases within it. That will give some peace of mind. (f) Avoid blaming others and the world for the pain. That’s not where it comes from. – See more at: http://absentofi.org/#sthash.PIKoZ5Df.dpuf
Note: 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. – See more at: http://absentofi.org/#sthash.PIKoZ5Df.dpuf
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.) Stay with very basic practice, find a way to do it so you are comfortable, nurtured, so would want to do it forever. (With ease.)
(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.) Seeing through the “glue”, making it easier to be with sensations as sensations.
(e) Learn a bit about spiritual emergencies / dark nights. The characteristics. That’s it’s a natural process, and healing. (Even if it’s painful, and it seems that something “went wrong”.)
(f) Don’t blame others + the world for the pain. That’s not where it’s coming from. Questions thoughts of blame / origin of the pain.
(g) Support – family and friends, environment, guides, fellow dn folks. Also, healing. (Although with emotional pain, focus on seeing through it + staying with the sensations as sensations.)
(h) Also – diet, exercise, body-centered activities, nature, simplify, finding what works for you.
Essence: Self care. Knowledge + support. Love / self-love. Staying with sensations. Inquiry. Give yourself a break, while maintaining essential practice.
(Not all are needed, or needs to be emphasized equally and at all times.)
Topics for inquiry: Escape from sensation. I want it to end. I need it to end. It’s too much. Is it true it’s not OK if it’s here forever? Is it true I need it to end? Is it true it’s too much? Is it true I need to escape these sensations?
Do inquiry on any stressful story, including about what you are going through. See through it. Allow the stories their freedom from being taken as true. Look at your stories about what’s coming up, and who you are.
for instance bringing the attention to the sensations of the breath at the nostrils. See how it is to do it in a restful way and with ease. Don’t worry if the focus is not as stable as before, that may just be a symptom of this phase. Does a stability practice seem helpful? Or does it seem to increase the symptoms or bring the energy up? (If so, you may want to do less, or leave it to another phase in your process.)
Give yourself a break. It’s a tough phase. There will most likely be resistance, fear, overwhelm, and a sense that something went wrong and that you are doing something wrong…. including in how you relate to what’s happening. That’s part of the process. It’s OK. Life is guiding the process, and it will not always look the way we expect or wish. At times, you may not feel up to doing any of the things that you know may be supportive, and that’s OK too. (That said, it may be a relief to look at shoulds in inquiry, as well as whatever thoughts stops us from – for instance – continuing a simple practice, whether it’s mindfulness or inquiry or something else.)