One type of dark night: From early awakening

 

There are many forms of dark nights.

In general, a dark night happens when life strongly challenges what we hold as true about ourselves and the world. That’s why the term “dark night” is sometimes used about ordinary challenging life situations, and sometimes in a more technical sense about parts of a spiritual path and process.

One type of a spiritual dark night can happen following an initial opening or awakening. With a spiritual opening, there is an opening to all as Spirit, and sometimes also an opening to previously unprocessed psychological material. As Adyashanti says, the lid is taken off and it comes to the surface. And that can be challenging in the best of circumstances.

In this type of dark night, we find ourselves in a difficult combination of (a) unprocessed psychological material coming to the surface, and (b) being unable to consistently see through it, or see it for what it is, since our clarity is not yet thoroughly clear or stable. There can be a great deal of difficult material coming up, from this and perhaps past lives. And since we are still “baby Buddhas” our clarity hasn’t deepened or matured sufficiently for us to clearly see everything for what it is. We still get caught in what comes up, at least at times.

As Evelyn Underhill and others point out, this is a deeply human process. It can be humanizing. Humbling. Painful. And it’s a pretty ordinary part of the process for many people. And we do get through it, whether we fight it (painful) or learn to go along with it (a little easier). It’s what I went through for a few years after the second opening (relative nondual clarity for about six months).

See below for a more detailed initial draft.

 

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Clear and crazy

 

This is probably a common experience for anyone, and perhaps especially those with some familiarity with inquiry or meditation.

The content of mind may seem quite crazy at times, especially when wounds and beliefs surface with a lot of energy.

And at the same time, the mind as a whole is not crazy. It’s clear. Presence. What’s surfacing is recognized for what it is – the dynamics of mind when images and thoughts are taken as true.

Both are there, as awakeness (presence) appearing as what a thought may label clarity and craziness.

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Love vs pity

 

There is a big difference between love and pity.

Love comes from clarity and may take the form of recognition. I see myself in the other. I have been there. I see the pain and drama is innocent confusion, whether it’s in me or the other. This is (a more) clear love.

Pity comes from confusion. It’s from a set of beliefs, such as it’s terrible, it’s wrong, and possibly my life is better, I am glad it isn’t me. It’s uncomfortable, implies and creates separation, and can be experienced as slightly condescending. It’s confused love, innocently confused love.

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Going to the clearest or most confused parts of me

 

There seems to be a natural cycle between relative clarity and relative confusion (wounds, beliefs).

One surfaces, then the other, and there is a mutuality between them. They inform each other.

Clarity informs confusion, there is an invitation for it to align with reality.

Confusion informs clarity, there is an invitation for it to become more clear.

And both may happen through some form of investigation and inquiry.

Confusion (wounds, beliefs) surface, and I can (a) open to the experience, feelings, allow them their life, and (b) identify and inquire into the beliefs behind it. In this way, clarity informs confusion. There is an invitation for it to align more with reality. And in the same process, clarity can become even more clear. It may learn something. Find clarity on different thoughts.  Discover something new. Confusion informs clarity.

I notice how these cycles happens at different levels of intensity and different time spans. Over minutes, hours or days, there are shifts between confusion and clarity. And over weeks, months and years, it’s the same. For years, there was relative clarity, and then relative confusion. (For me, this took the form of illumination and dark night.)

And, as mentioned above, when there is an opening to the experience of confusion, and inquiry into the beliefs behind it, then confusion and clarity coexists and inform each other.

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Fascination with scary stories

 

Why are we – some of us – fascinated by scary stories?

I find a few different ways of looking at it.

Evolution

In an evolutionary context, it makes sense that we are drawn to explore scary things through stories. It helps us mentally prepare for similar situations in our own life. We get more familiar with the possible situations and how we may react, we get a bit desensitized to these types of situations so we may be more calm if or when something similar happens in our own life, and we get a chance to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it.

Beliefs

When I take a story about something scary as true, my attention tends to be drawn to these beliefs and what they are about. Again, it’s an invitation to mentally explore these situations in a safe setting, and how I may deal with it if something similar should happen in the real world. It’s also an invitation to explore these beliefs in themselves. Are they realistic? What’s more realistic? What’s more true for me? 

An impulse to wholeness as who I am, this human self

What I see in the wider world is a reflection of what’s here. So far, I have found how each one of my stories of the wider world – including anything scary – equally well applies to me. As long as I think some human quality or characteristic is only out there in the world, or only in me, it’s painful and uncomfortable. When I find it both in the wider world and in me, there is a sense of coming home and it’s much more comfortable. In this sense, being drawn to scary stories in an invitation for me to use it as a mirror, to find in myself what I see out there in the world, and whether the scary story is from “real life” or made up doesn’t matter much.

Finding a characteristic both in the wider world and myself, I can also relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner, so this impulse to find wholeness also makes sense in an evolutionary perspective.

An impulse to clarity as what I am 

There is also an invitation to find clarity here. When I take a story as true, it’s uncomfortable. And finding more clarity on the story, it’s more comfortable. So when I am drawn to what I think of as scary stories, there is an invitation for me to identify and investigate any stressful belief that may come up. Through this, what I am – clarity and love, that which any experience and image happens within and as – notices itself more easily.

I also see that when I take a story as true I tend to get caught up in reactive emotions and one-sided views, and finding more clarity helps me function in a more healthy, kind and informed way in the world.

Summary: Evolution, and who and what I am

It makes evolutionary sense for me to be drawn to scary stories in all of these ways. (a) I become more familiar with the different scenarios of what may happen and how I desensitize to scary situations to some extent, so I can be more calm if or when something similar happens in my own life. I get to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it, in a safe setting and before it happens. (b) I am invited to investigate my beliefs about it and find what’s more realistic and true for me. (c) I am invited to find in myself what I see in the wider world, which helps me relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner. (d) And there is no end to the stories I can investigate, including my most basic assumptions about myself and the world, which helps me function in the world from more clarity, kindness and wisdom. Each of these support my survival and ability to reproduce and raise offspring.

All of these also make psychological sense. It helps me function in the world, and find a sense of wholeness as who I am.

It all makes spiritual sense. It helps this human self – the infinite experiencing itself as finite – survive and function in the world. It’s an invitation for what I am to more easily notice itself.

And all of these perspectives – evolution, psychology and spirituality – converge in one sense, and are the same in another.

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Teachers and audience

 

There seems to be little correlation between how clear or mature and teacher appears to be, and the size of their audience.

Some may be quite clear and/or mature and have a relatively large audience, such as the historical Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and even Byron Katie. These people live their insights, and they present it in a way that’s inviting and helpful for a large group of people. They are interested in and able to express it in a way that meets a wide range of people where they are. They may also be somewhat charismatic, or be good business people. All of this helps them reach a wider and larger audience.

Some may be less clear and/or mature, and still have a larger audience (some popular new age authors come to mind). They meet people where they are, and do so in an engaging way.

This is also very good. It’s a stepping stone, as any teaching or insight is. There is always further to go. It can always be more clear. It can always sink in a bit further. As it’s lived, there is always more to discover.

Some may be quite clear and/or mature and have a smaller audience, even a very small one – just their family and friends. I assume most lives where reality awakes to itself in a relatively clear way fits this category. They may be content with a simple life. They may not have the human packaging to be a teacher or reach a wide audience. They may not be drawn to it. They may be clear it’s not needed. And that’s very good too. Reality awake to itself is lived in any number of ways, including as just an ordinary person living an ordinary life.

When I wrote clear and/or mature, it’s because I suspect that levels of clarity and maturity may be only moderately correlated. Some seem clear and less mature (Ken W. comes to mind), others seem quite mature and somewhat less clear (the head Breema teacher), while some appear clear and mature (Byron Katie, Adyashanti, Bonnie G., Barry). Of course, if there is clarity and it’s allowed to sink in, that does provide fertile ground for maturity at a human level.

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Clarity and confusion, one within the other

 

From a previous post:

Both the “up” part – the clarity, and the “down” part – the healing, aligning and maturing of subpersonalities, is an ongoing process. It can always be more clear. The subpersonalities can always align and mature further. There may be some markers and sign posts on the way, but the process is free of goals or end points – other than in our thoughts.

Of course, reality doesn’t conform to any ideas or models, and certainly not to what I wrote here. It’s free to follow it’s own unfolding, which partly appears to fit and partly goes outside of any ideas.

The “up” and “down” are not only phases of the same process, but they are really the same. Even during the most dramatic “ups” – unabiding awakenings – our subpersonalities are there wishing to find release from their confusion and align with the reality that’s revealed. Often, they may not be heard or seen since it’s so easy to override them in this state. Their voices don’t quite reach up. And when the confused subpersonalities surface more obviously, the clarity, knowing and kindness is still here, although it may appear as an equally faint voice.

When one surface, the other is always there, although sometimes as a faint voice. So it may be helpful to ask a couple of questions.

When clarity is here, I can ask myself: Is it true confusion is not also here? What do I not want to see? What is this situation trying to show me? Which subpersonalities are confused?

And when confusion is here, I can ask myself: Is it true clarity (sanity, wisdom, knowing, kindness) is not here? What is it I know I don’t want to admit I know?

Taking care of things w/out the drama

 

One of the things our culture can teach us is that taking care of things and drama goes together. If it is a difficult situation, drama will help me get things done.

If I don’t recognize that expectation, I may take it for granted and live it out without noticing.

But if I take a closer look at it, I see that there is no inherent connection between taking care of things and drama. On the contrary, drama often comes with confusion and distractions. When it is not there, I can take care of things from more clarity and with more ease.

And as I live this more often and in more areas of life, the initial expectation erodes.

It can become very clear. Taking care of things can happen without drama.

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Forms of clarity

 

A few forms of clarity…

First, the clarity inherent in awakeness itself. The clarity that comes into the foreground when awakeness notices itself, is – at least somewhat – awake to itself. (Including as form, experience.)

This clarity is independent of what happens in content of experience. This content can be quite confused and dull, as it was for me earlier today. Yet, the clarity inherent in awakeness itself is still there, even in the foreground as awakeness notices itself and itself as whatever is happenening in experience.

Then there is the clarity of insight into dynamics. There can be a (relative) clarity into dynamics within content of experience. I may notice how sense fields combine to create gestalts. What happens when there is identification with stories. And so on.

And finally, there can be a mental clarity, a sense of clarity within stories.

All of these come from insight, in their own way.

In the first case, an insight into all as awakeness itself. (Or rather, a noticing of all as awakeness.)

In the second case, a relative insight into dynamics. This one can be reflected in stories, but does not primarily happen within stories.

And finally, a clarity within stories. An ability to arrange imaginations in a way that seems clear. (Sometimes very helpful as guides for functioning in the world.)

Clarity in two forms

 

There are two distinct forms of clarity.

First, the clarity inherent in awareness itself. The clarity of awareness, independent of its content. Dullness, confusion, contraction, spaciousness, bliss, mental clarity or anything else, it doesn’t matter. There is a sense of everything happening, happening within and as clarity. Stainless. Shiny. Clear as space itself.

This clarity is a given so it is easy to overlook. And it is difficult to talk about, partly since it is so familiar, so inherent in awareness itself, and because it somehow hovers on that border between what is content of experience and not.

Then, there is the more conventional form of clarity: mental clarity. The opposite of dullness or confusion, and very much within content of awareness and experience. It is the clarity of thought that is there when the body-mind functions well.

Since these two are independent, it can be interesting to explore how even within mental dullness and confusion, the clarity inherent in awareness itself is right there, as much as any other time.

Tug of war

 

Over the last few days, and especially last night, I have noticed what seems like a gentle tug of war going on in the body. Maybe a tension between dynamics from a mistaken identity and existence inviting in a release of it. A gentle murmuring tug of war between confusion and clarity.

This is probably something that goes on all the time, for most of us. A tug of war between beliefs in stories and what is more true for us. A tension between what we try to take as true, and what we know is true. A tug of war that goes through all of who we are, including the body and its energies.

And sometimes, like now, it feels like something is working itself out. But those are all interpretations, and it feels better to let it have its life without me needing to know.

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Getting familiar with the lack of drama, then curious about how it plays out

 

What I find for myself is that following a shift from confusion to clarity, there is a period of getting familiar with this new clarity followed by a curiosity about how it plays itself out in the world.

I notice it sometimes in how I and others respond to question number 4 in The Work (who would I be without the belief), and also the turnarounds. If there is less familiarity with the shift from confusion to clarity, there is often first a period where the passive expression of that new clarity is emphasized. I may find peace. Clarity. Being OK with or even appreciate the situation. Grateful for it pointing me to the belief and having the opportunity to inquire into it. A release from drama.

Then, as I get more familiar with that clarity, there is often an emphasis on its active expression. I find that I am free to engage from it in daily life, or not, and am curious about how it is to live from it. What is it like to engage without the old drama?How is it to become familiar with engaging from this new place?

So say I have the belief my neighbor shouldn’t play his radio so loudly.

If I am new to the work, or am new to working with this type of belief, I may stay with the passive expression of clarity. I find peace with it. A release from the drama. Appreciate how this situation helped me notice and examine this belief.

Then, as I become more familiar with The Work, or this particular type of belief, I may also include – or emphasize – the active expression of this new clarity. I see that I am free to talk to this neighbor or not, and may be curious about how it is to talk with this neighbor without the drama created by the initial belief. How would it feel, look, unfold? Would the sense of drama come up again, giving me an opportunity to examine it again – or notice other aspects of the initial belief?  How would it be to engage in the world without this drama?

It is of course not always like this. If a situation requires our engagement, our attention will be drawn to that aspect of it right away. And sometimes, it can be good to just rest in the passive aspect of the absence of drama, to deeply feel it.

But in general, it makes perfect sense whenever there is a progression from the passive expression of clarity/lack of drama being in the foreground, to being curious about its active and engaged expression. First, we take time to get familiar with this new lack of drama around a specific situation. Then, we are naturally curious about how it looks when we live from this lack of drama.

Trigger: Watching people new to The Work stay with the passive expressions (which is very understandable) and also notiching the shift for myself from the passive to include the active. Btw: This post is an example of an insight that does not have much practical value, apart from as an anti-dote to the story that people should include both passive/active aspects when they do inquiry.

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Working with

 

In its essence it is simple: Whenever I am caught up in a belief, I often work against myself, life and situations. And whenever there is clarity, I tend to work with myself, life and situations.

And it is – as usual – infinitely complex in how it is expressed, including how it is expressed in different approaches to various areas of life.

Here is a brief list of approaches and tools I have found – and use regularly – that embody working with life: Feldenkrais, Breema, yoga (depending on instructor/tradition), tai chi, chi gong, The Work, Big Mind process, Clicker Training, and Total Immersion Swimming.

I keep noticing the shifts between beliefs/working against and clarity/working with throughout daily life. And this has also come up for me through swimming. Whenever I take up something new, I seek out approaches that work with life, and in swimming, a great approach is Total Immersion swimming.

It helps me swim the way I always knew I could, but haven’t been able to before now: Effortlessly. With ease. Simplicity. Elegance. Efficiency. As a sea mammal. (It is a process, as anything else, and I am just in the beginning of it, but there are already surprisingly quick and major shifts in that direction.)

It was the same with Breema. I knew there had to be a body-work approach out there that works with life rather than against it (which most seem to do), and I had actually given up looking when I found Breema – with its emphasis on no extra, body comfortable, doing it for oneself, giver and receiver both receiving, inviting in healing and maturing at all levels (physical, energetic, emotional, mind) and inviting in awakening as well.

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Turning the other cheek

 

There are different literal and metaphorical interpretations of this perplexing statement by Jesus:

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Here is one way of looking at it that makes sense to me:

When we believe in stories, we are identified with them and try to defend and protect them. If someone says something that goes against these, we automatically defend them and create drama around it. We act from a fixed view, a closed heart, reactive emotions.

Yet, when there is a release of identification with these stories, when there is only clarity, there is no need to defend and protect them. We know they have only limited and practical value, we are familiar with the truths in their turnarounds. Instead of defending against what someone says, we can join with it. We see the truth in it.

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Boundaries vs. clarity

 

Byron Katie briefly mentioned the difference between personal boundaries and clarity during the workshop, and it is a topic that has been of interest to me for a while.

If I create and act from a sense of personal boundaries, there is a sense of something to protect, separation, precariousness, and fear.

If I act from clarity, there is a sense of intimacy, no separation, kindness, trust, peace.

The interesting thing is that my actions in the world don’t necessarily look so different in the two cases. I am in both cases more than capable of giving a clear yes or no, of taking care of myself, of being firm and even forceful when needed.

The difference is in my experience of it. In the first case, of coming from a sense of separation, precariousness, fear. And in the second case, from clarity, kindness, intimacy.

If I am clear, I don’t need to worry about boundaries. But if  I am not, they are certainly useful. And the stress that goes with trying to create, maintain and live from personal boundaries may encourage me to find another way, for instance through inquiry and clarity.