Fiona Robertson: The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul: A Journey from Absence to Presence by Fiona Robertson

My friend Fiona Robertson wrote this wise, heartfelt, and insightful book that I am sure will be of help to many. It is specifically about the dark night of the soul that some of us go through at some point in our life. But the insights apply to all the many mini-dark nights of the soul that are part of our human experience. 

When I read it, I was struck by the universality of the descriptions and insights from the different people interviewed for the book. It was as if I could have said just about all of them. I was interviewed for the book so some of them are actually my own, but when I read the others I actually didn’t know if they were mine or not until I read the attribution. (Of course, the people interviewed and the quotes were selected to fit into a narrative, but there is also something often surprisingly universal about the dark night of the soul.)  

The book is a reminder of how the dark night of the soul is a deeply human and humanizing experience. And that it requires us to be real instead of holding onto identities, beliefs, and ideas about how things are or should be. It strips away layers of who and what we are not. It helps us find our wholeness in a far more gritty and real way. 

Bonnie Greenwell: When Spirit Leaps


I have enjoyed reading When Spirit Leaps by Bonnie Greenwell, published this summer. I have known her for a while, from when we were fellow Oregonians.

I can recommend this book for anyone who would like a general overview of the awakening process. The book is written in a deceptively simple style, and there is a lot of wisdom and experience reflected in each sentence. She goes through the different phases of the process, and I especially appreciate that she addresses some of the challenges in the awakening process and ways to navigate them.

Book: The Journey


I was taking a course with a spiritual teacher when, during a question and answer session, one of the students asked, ‘What do I do if an intense emotion comes up for me – how do I find the peace in that?’

She answered, ‘Just don’t move. Let yourself be completely present to the emotion. Welcome it. If a negative emotion arises, don’t run away from it; don’t run off to the refrigerator to eat some food to cover it up; don’t turn on the television to distract yourself from it; don’t call your friends to disperse its energy by gossiping about it. Just stop and feel it. Just let yourself be present to it. You’ll find if you don’t try to distract yourself from it, or push it away or, worse still, dump it on someone else; if you stay still, if you are really present to it – in the very core of the feeling you will find peace. So when you feel a powerful emotion, just let it be – DON’T MOVE. Welcome it.
– from The Journey by Brandon Bays

I looked at this book yesterday as it is about one of many practical approaches to allow, welcome and be with what’s here.

She describes a process of meeting whatever painful emotions are here, staying with it, allow it to transform (new layers emerge), until it all drops into the void.

It’s what I find happens naturally during meditation, and it’s also something I explore in everyday life through different forms of inquiry.

Skimming through her book, I noticed – or imagine – a few beliefs she may have: If I live a healthy life, I won’t get sick. People will judge me as a failure if use conventional medicine. Illness means something is wrong. Disease is terrible. Older people won’t get it. British people are reserved. (Age/nationality stereotypes.) And even if I don’t recognize these beliefs in an obvious way in myself, it can still be helpful to inquire into these and see what I find.

I also noticed a few beliefs for myself: She thinks her insights are special. It’s an universal insight. It’s too simple (to talk about). It’s too obvious (to make a big deal out of). 

Why is it a good thing it’s presented in this way? Why is it a good thing a very helpful process is presented in this packaging? She may reach a different audience than others presenting similar pointers. Some may share her beliefs (about health etc.), feel a kinship and see her as one of them, and be attracted to explore something they otherwise wouldn’t. For instance, Christians or non-Buddhists may not be exposed/attracted to Buddhist teachers pointing to the same.

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Food bubble


But whereas in years past, it’s been weather that has caused a spike in commodities prices, now it’s trends on both sides of the food supply/demand equation that are driving up prices. On the demand side, the culprits are population growth, rising affluence, and the use of grain to fuel cars. On the supply side: soil erosion, aquifer depletion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, the plateauing of crop yields in agriculturally advanced countries, and—due to climate change —crop-withering heat waves and melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets. These climate-related trends seem destined to take a far greater toll in the future.

A quote from Lester Brown’s book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. Read more in The Guardian and Mother Jones.




El Collie: Branded by Spirit


Branded by Spirit is an online book by El Collie on the awakening process as it unfolded for her. Since that’s where I am myself, I especially find chapter 14 – Darkness before dawn – interesting and helpful. It’s a huge relief to know that others have and do go through a similar process and she writes about it with a great deal of wisdom and insight.

Update: I have now read all the chapters, and it’s been very helpful to me. She writes with a great deal of wisdom and insight, and it’s all from her own experience, informed by informed extensive reading on the subject. I have to admit I am familiar with most of what she writes about from own experience (including much unmentioned in this blog), so although I have never thought of my own process as a kundalini process, that may be one way to describe it.

Soul Awakening: The Journey from Ego to Essence


In this time of radically accelerated evolution, the disparity between the conflict and chaos of the egoic state and the stillness of the soul has never been more apparent, both within and without. Has it ever been more important to be in touch with and live from our true, essential Self? Conscious communion with the soul is the foundation of all else in the journey of awakening.

Only the soul can:

  • Provide the limitless love, wisdom, and power to guide us through our challenges into freer, happier ways of being.
  • Embrace, heal, and re-absorb distorted ego-personality aspects.
  • Fulfill our destiny and purpose for incarnating at this pivotal time.

For two decades we have facilitated direct experiences of the soul realms. Soul Awakening relates the archetypal passages and initiations that brought us into that capacity and deepened us in the soul. Because we have lived into  everything we share here,  Soul Awakening offers a  living transmission that inducts readers into greater soul-awareness.

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The Wisdom Jesus


I am reading The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – a New Perspective on Christ and His Message by Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopalian minister.

Her approach is grounded partly in current research, and partly in a view of Jesus as an awakened – and tantric – wisdom teacher. No wonder I enjoy it! Highly recommended.

The Wisdom Jesus is also available as an audio book from Sounds True.

Make Miracles in Forty Days: Turning What You Have Into What You Want


I am grateful for having found Make Miracles in Forty Days: Turning What You Have Into What You Want by Melody Beattie.

It outlines a simple practice: Write a daily gratitude list which includes situations, experiences and emotions you have the most difficulty finding gratitude for. And if you want, find a partner to share this with.

The format is Today, I am grateful for…. which is really a question. How would it be to be thankful for….?

This is a variation of the traditional practice found in many traditions of thankfulness for everything that happens, whether we judge it as good or bad. What this variation highlights, and what I find especially helpful, is specificity. When I write the list, I find specific examples of what to be thankful for, including that which I don’t (yet) feel thankful for.

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Gratitude for all


Gratitude and appreciation is a practice, and it is also a natural expression of who we are when less clouded over by beliefs.

It’s rewarding and helpful to find gratitude for what’s obviously good in my life. It helps me shift attention from my complaints to what is pretty good in life.

And it is even more powerful to include all without exception, including and especially that which I at first don’t appreciate. This helps me find the ground below likes and dislikes, and a softening of identification with my own familiar beliefs about what’s good and bad.

The simplest form of gratitude practice is to repeat thank you – to life, God, the Universe.

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Falling Into Grace: Insights on the End of Suffering


Adyashanti has a new book out, this time an introductory one. It is available only through his website until April or so.

What would it be like if you didn’t need to struggle, if you didn’t need to make an effort to find peace and happiness? What would that feel like now?
~ Adyashanti, Falling into Grace

In the same way that we fall into the arms of a loved one or drop our heads on the pillow at night, we can surrender into the beauty and truth of who and what we really are. In his first introductory book, Falling into Grace, Adyashanti invites us to let go of our struggles with life and open to the full promise of spiritual awakening: the end of delusion and the discovery of our essential being. Adyashanti has found that the simpler the teaching, the greater its power to change our lives. In this book he shares what he considers fundamental insights that will “spark a revolution in the way we perceive life.”

Become all flame


Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

– from The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind

Blog: The Website of Unknowing


One key, I think — coming again from the monastic tradition — is the idea of joyful repentance, which suggests that even the purgative way can be a source of delight in God. Granted, surrendering sin and opening ourselves up to transformational healing can be hard, ego-threatening work, but I see no reason why it must be miserable work. It’s like the question of purgatory: I think Protestants rejected purgatory because it was seen so much as a hellish place. But many Catholics regard purgatory as a place of great wonder and excitement, a room in heaven rather than in hell. Once you enter purgatory, the exit door leads to the great banquet hall. You are there simply to get a manicure and take a lovely bubble bath before your intimate date with your beloved. I for one cannot think of anything more delightful than taking the extra effort to clean myself up before a special evening with my wife. S0 — even for Protestants who reject the idea of purgatory — I think we can all agree that the hard work of holiness and penitence in this life ought to be an occasion for joy, if entered into in the right spirit — a spirit of trust and hope and confidence in God’s love for us, and humble recognition that everything we do to improve ourselves is ultimately a gift of grace to begin with.
– from Mapping the Journey, a post on Anamchara: The Website of Unknowing

I rarely read blogs these days, but happened to find Anamchara: The Website of Unknowing. It is the blog of Carl McColman, and every post is a gem – insightful, informed, well-written, and practical.

His new book is called The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, and will be out in August. If it is half as good as his blog, it will be well worth reading.

Book: Another Science Fiction



The years from 1957 to 1962 were a golden age of science fiction, as well as paranoia and exhilaration on a cosmic scale. The future was still the future back then, some of us could dream of farms on the moon and heroically finned rockets blasting off from alien landscapes. Others worried about Russian moon bases.

Source: NY Times, Reaching for the Stars When Space Was a Thrill

It doesn’t get better than this if you have a fascination for science fiction, early space exploration, cool retro-art, and the futurism of the 50s. Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962 is published in a few weeks.

Byron Katie: A Thousand Names for Joy


No one knows what’s good and what’s bad. No one knows what death is. Maybe it’s not a something; maybe it’s not even a nothing. It’s the pure unknown, and I love that. We imagine that death is a state of being or a state of nothingness, and we frighten ourselves with our own concepts. I’m a lover of what is: I love sickness and health, coming and going, life and death. I see life and death as equal. Reality is good; so death must be good, whatever it is, if it’s anything at all.
– from chapter 33 of A Thousand Names for Joy

We can only be afraid of what we believe we are-whatever there is in ourselves that we haven’t met with understanding. If I thought you might see me as boring, for example, it would frighten me, because I haven’t questioned that thought. So it’s not people who frighten me, it’s me that frightens me. That’s my job, to frighten me, until I investigate this fear for myself. The worst that can happen is that I think you think about me what I think about myself. So I am sitting in a pool of me.
– from chapter 46 of A Thousand Names for Joy

Two excerpts from Byron Katie’s this modern-day commentary on Tao Te Ching. Highly recommended, especially as inspiration for own inquiry.

Book: How to Be an Existentialist



I got How to Be an Existientialist: or How to Get Real, Get a Grop and Stop Making Excuses as a present from my cat this Christmas. She has a good taste in books. It is an easy and entertaining read, and poses some good questions to help us live with a little more honesty and integrity.

I also find that the book stimulates a lot of questions for me, often several on each page, which is a sign of a very good book.

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Book: The How of Happiness



I am reading The How of Happiness, and it seems to be an excellent book. Practical, simple, science-based and effective. I especially appreciate the emphasis on finding practices that fits ones own circumstances and interests (chapter 3), and the pointers on why the preactices work and advice on how to go about the practices (chapter 10).

The author has a column in Psychology Today, and here is a video interview with the author.

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Your Inner Awakening: The Work of Byron Katie


I am listening to Your Inner Awakening by Byron Katie, and this is another audio book I can highly recommend.

This is a great overview of The Work. Katie talks about her own story, the ins and outs of the process, how it may look when applied to the main areas of our lives, and with examples of Katie leading people through investigations of our universal stories such as I need more money. Always with an invitation to the listener to find their own answers and get a taste of the process that way.

The Way of Selflessness



The Way of Selflessness is just out, and I can highly recommend it.

Written by Joel Morwood, the spiritual director of the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon, it is the product of 20 years of working with students and studying the mystical core of the different traditions, all from within a clear and genuine awakening. It is practical, span the traditions, and gives pointers for what you may encounter at different points on the path.

If you take the main practices and teachings of mystics from the main traditions and boil it down, as you would if you boil an ox down to a bullion cube, you will get something like this.

For all its strengths, it may have a few drawbacks as well.

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A few resources


As of August 2009: See this page for updates.

A few resources I have found helpful…


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The End of Your World



I am reading Adyashanti’s new book, The End of Your World and find it very helpful. It is clear. Practical. And an invitation to allow our human self to live within awakening with integrity, in an always more healthy and mature way.

Since I have recently read Wake Up Now by Stephan Bodian, and they both take a similar approach, I am struck by how well the two books complement each other. Wake up Now is for anyone anywhere on the path, and The End of Your World is specifically for those where there has been an awakening, whether it is non-abiding or abiding.
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Stephan Bodian: Wake Up Now


Stephen Bodian has been a student of Buddhism (Zen and Tibetan) and Advaita for decades, is a psychotherapist, and is coming from a clear awakening, and all of that is reflected in his most recent book Wake Up Now.

It is clear. Practical. And when I read it, I am struck by how a lifetime of experience is beautifully condenced into each paragraph and sometimes each sentence. 

He is also the author of Meditation for Dummies which I read this summer and found very helpful. 

And while Meditation for Dummies – appropriately enough – emphasize making our human experience a little easier, Wake Up Now is all about inviting what we are to notice itself and living from within that context. 

I can’t think of many other books that I can recommend more warmly for both newbies and more experienced folks.

Feeding Your Demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict


I have read about half of Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Tsultrim Allione, and am as impressed by the book as I am by the practice. It is beautifully written, simple, insightful and always very practical and helpful.

The five steps of the practice itself is outlined at her Kapala Training website.

History of Mysticism available as ebook


I just received this comment on one of my previous posts:

I thought you did an excellent job of encapsulating the book. However, as you may have noticed, it is no longer available on, as it is Out of Print. The good news is that I am offering History of Mysticism (with some additional text in the Chapter on Gnosticism) as a FREE Ebook in PDF format on my website at: Check it out. And, if possible, please publicise its availability.
Best wishes,
Swami Abhayananda (Stan Trout)

As before, I can highly recommend this book. It is among the clearest and most inspiring books on the history of mysticism I have read, and I am looking forward to reading the new sections on Gnosticism.

And what an honor to receive a comment from the author!

If you would like a copy of the free ebook, send an email with “History of Mysticism” in the subject line to abhayanand [at] aol [dot] com

Resistance within experience



Nothing special here…

Whenever I listen to music, read a book, watch a movie, or similar, I notice the difference between a resistance within and to experience.

When there is a resistance within experience, it usually makes it interesting to me. I am attracted to the experience, and there is some friction there. It feels meaty, substantial, challenging, nurturing.

This is how it is for me with music such as Jaga Jazzist, Meredith Monk, Bulgarian folks songs, and even – for instance – lounge music. Anything that is a little outside of the familiar for me (Meredith Monk), outside of my expectations (Bulgarian folk songs) or shoulds (metal!), or outside of my familiar identity (lounge).

When there is not much resistance within experience, which I experience with Mozart and some writings and movies, there is either not much interest there, or it becomes more of a – sometimes welcomed – relaxation and a vacation.

And when there is resistance to experience, it is quite different. This is when it becomes uncomfortable, and there is a sense of separation and of a separate I disliking an experience.

Buddhism for Dummies



I just started looking at Buddhism for Dummies, and it seems to be an excellent book, written in a way that honors and is faithful to the traditions, yet in a very simple and ordinary language, and always very practical.

If anyone asks me for a good book about Buddhism, I am going to recommend this one. And I am going to read it myself as I have benefited a great deal from the brief sections I have read so far.

When the tagline says “a reference for the rest of us”, I read that as “a reference for all of us”.

Book/Divine Mind analogy



Tim Freke used the book analogy in the longer video below.

Characters in a book don’t exist as separate entities, but only in the mind of the author. And in the same way, we only exist in the mind of the author of this story, in the Divine Mind, in God. This human self does not have any separate I associated with it, but happens within the Divine Mind, as all the other characters and all the different settings and the big stage of the universe itself.

If we look, we find that what we really are is this Divine Mind, this awakeness that this human self and anything else happens within and as.

This reminds me of what came up for me when I read Sophie’s World a while back. The book is a walk-through of western philosophy, woven into a more ordinary narrative story following a young woman and her philosophy teacher.

For the first third or so of the story, they appear like ordinary and real people, to themselves and the reader.

Then odd things start happening, they encounter fairy tale characters, the weather changes to fit their conversations, a dog speaks in human language. Gradually, it dawns on them that they are characters in a story and don’t have any separate existence.

At this point, I thought the story would end with the book/Divine Mind analogy mentioned above, illustrating the view of the mystics – and opening the minds of the readers to some radical reversals of who and what we take ourselves to be – at least as just a thought experiment.

Unfortunately, or not, the actual ending of the book went in a different, more conventional/fantasy, direction. A little anticlimactic considering the promise it had about 80% into the story.

But I did get to write my own ending in my own mind, illustrating the book/Divine Mind analogy, so in that sense I got double benefit.

I am sure a book like that must have been written. If it hasn’t, it is out there waiting for the right person to make it come alive.

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Dream: books being sold off


I am spending a good deal of time buying book treasures from used book stores, mostly on Buddhist and art subjects. I also belong to a Buddhist group and discover, to my horror, that they are selling these books to the public at give-away prices. I had intended only some books to be sold on, and the rest to be kept. Some of the books are rare finds, and may not even be appreciated by those buying them. Even as I try to explain the situation to the people selling them, more are sold.

This dream had a nightmarish quality… spending all that time identifying and buying book treasures, and then having them all sold off to the general public for next to nothing…!

The dream parallels two things in my life:

First, the giving away of my insights and skills freely, without asking for anything in return (including having volunteered a large number of hours for NWEI, and giving away a large number of Breema sessions for free).

The other, more specific to this retreat, a surrendering of conceptualized insights… seeing them for what they are, only thoughts. Only images and sounds created by the mind, arising and dissolving from and into nothingness.

Surrendering is inherent in the process of just seeing thoughts as thoughts, arising from and dissolving into nothingness.

Obsessiveness, apparent disasters, and waking up


Moby Dick The Matrix The Truman Show

There are many stories of obsessiveness, apparent disasters and waking up, mirroring (one version of) the awakening process.

Moby Dick is about one man’s obsessiveness with the white whale (God) which eventually drags him and his ship under (the death of a sense of separate I along with any other belief and identity), leaving only the ocean, the nondual awakening.

The Truman Show is about a man gradually intuiting that his life is a fabrication, the apparent disasters that happens when he attempts to break out (loss of identities and beliefs), and his final breaking out.

The Matrix trilogy is about a man first waking out of the conventional dream, and then through a great deal of struggle finding an awakening that goes beyond and embraces all polarities… Neo and Agent Smith (good and evil, persona and shadow), the machine world and Zion (mind and matter, also in its version of empty luminosity and form), the Matrix and the real world (deluded and awake).