Frognerparken, Oslo

How my dark night started

 

I have written about this before.  And it’s sometimes helpful to revisit the topic since my perspective on it inevitably changes.

What is a dark night of the soul? A dark night of the soul – in a technical sense – comes after an opening or awakening phase and is life showing us what’s left to see, feel, heal, awaken to, and awaken. It’s a phase, and by no means the end of the process. People typically report several dark nights following a classic dark night of the soul. And the naming is perhaps a bit arbitrary as well.

How my dark night of the soul started. For me, it’s pretty clear how it started. I had an opening at 16 which lasted and clarified for several years. I lived from a clear and strong sense of guidance in smaller and larger life decisions. And when I got married about ten years later, I moved to another state in the US against a strong and clear guidance.

Going against my clear guidance, and continuing to do so for the next several years, was the beginning of the dark night of the soul for me. I know that for others, it’s often different. It seems that dark nights can be triggered by a wide range of circumstances and situations.

For the first few years, I was moved along by the momentum from before I went against my guidance. And then I started feeling more and more off track, and more deeply off track. I lost momentum, passion, engagement, direction, and joy in life. I also lost education and work opportunities and friends, and eventually, I lost my health (CFS crash and PTSD), marriage, house and more. There was an almost complete collapse in all areas of my life.

Now, there is a process of gradually getting back on my feet, and that’s a slow process that has included setbacks and also gifts and serendipities.

The label and phases. I don’t need to call this a dark night of the soul, although it does fit the outline and stages described by – among others – Evelyn Underhill in her book Mysticism. There was an initial opening and awakening and a honeymoon period over several years. (The initial phase included a dark night of the senses.) The dark night of the soul had a gradual onset and deepened over time. The darkest phase so far was 4-6 years ago, and it has gradually lightened.

Why did I go against the inner voice? Why didn’t I follow my guidance after I got married? I don’t know the full answer, but I know some pieces. I had strong beliefs about marriage, inherited from my family and culture, and although I consciously didn’t believe them I did at a deeper and more emotional or energetic level.

I felt I had to support my wife in doing her graduate studies in Wisconsin, and that I had to go with her even if it meant that I left my own education (graduate studies in clinical psychology), my friends and community, and the Zen center where I lived and felt more home than I had anywhere else. I felt that since we were married, I couldn’t ethically live apart from her. It wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t look right. So I sacrificed following my guidance, and many of the things most important to me in life.

Not following my guidance also meant I became unable to do activities that meant connecting with my inner life in a more contemplative way. For ten years or more, I had a daily meditation and prayer practice (1-3 hours a day on my own, 7-9 hours when I was at the Zen center) and also a daily drawing and painting practice. Almost immediately after moving, I was unable to continue with this. It was too painful since I tapped into my heart, and my heart told me very clearly I had to get out of Wisconsin and back to my previous path.

The simplest way of looking at this is that I went against my guidance and my life went off track and eventually collapsed. That in itself is a sufficient explanation.

Meeting more of the shadow. In the bigger picture, I can also see that the dark night helped me meet and face a great deal in me I previously was unable to connect with. Since the more complete collapse with CFS and PTSD, a great deal of shadow material has surfaced. A lot of it has been from early adulthood (missing out of relationships due to shyness), teenage years (social anxiety, awkwardness, aloneness), and early childhood (left alone in a crib in a dark room, abandonment, aloneness). Some has been from apparently before this life. (Being shown my next incarnation, being asked if I wanted it, and saying “yes” even if a part of me definitely didn’t want to.) And it has also included a deep and overwhelming survival fear (to the point of sleeping maximum 1-2 hours a night for several months), and a consistent and immensely uncomfortable feeling in my heart.

There has also been a strong fear of losing my mind. For months, I felt I lost all anchor points as soon as I closed my eyes and laid down on my bed.

And at a very human level, there has been strong regrets over lost opportunities, and fear about the future (being alone, sick, poor, homeless). Of course, all of this is very human.

The dark night is very human. The initial honey moon phase was a course in being what I am. Whether we call it presence, love, consciousness, or something else. It was a course in finding myself as that which is always here and not human. And the dark night was and is a crash course in being human.

I see there are many gifts in it. And there is also still a lot of regret, fear, anger, and disappointment. And both are OK. Both are part of being a human and living a very human and flawed life, and a life that also is complete as it is.

Taking comfort in the idea of a dark night. For a while, I took some comfort in the dark night idea. I would walk in the forest listening to the audio version of the dark night chapter in Underhill’s book, or Adyashanti talk about the dark night. It gave me a sense that there was a larger meaning to what was happening, and some hope that it would eventually be over. (A bit part of the dark night for me, and others it seems, is a deeply felt conviction that it will never end.)

Now, the dark night is more of a convenient shorthand. It points to something. It can be useful in communication. And at the same time, I don’t know if this is really a dark night as people talk about it (although it fits all the criteria), and it doesn’t matter so much.

What matters is that I recognize what seemed to trigger it (going against my heart, the quiet voice, my knowing, and continuing to do so), and that it has helped me face a great deal of shadow material (there is, of course, much left, and I don’t know and don’t need to know how much). And in facing shadow material, there is also a weakening and softening of many identities and identifications.

Is it “my” dark night? I cringe a bit when I write “my” dark night, since it isn’t really. It’s a good way to phrase it since it seems more ordinary and relatable, and it’s true in the sense that it’s happening to this human self right here. It’s also not so accurate since it’s life being and experiencing all of this. It’s life appearing as a human being. It’s life being and experiencing the opening, the honey moon phase, the dark night, the presence it’s all happening within and as, and this very human life.

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Dark nights and existential terror is rooted in identification and trauma

 

In my experience, dark nights, existential terror, and even general discomfort is rooted in identification and trauma.

Identification means identifying with the viewpoint of any story, taking it as true, and believing it. And I am using the word trauma in a very broad sense here, meaning what happened when something scared us enough so we created beliefs and identifications to protect ourselves (aka the imagined separate self).

For some of us, it’s easy to either romanticize dark nights and existential terror or see it as something mysterious and intangible that has to run its course and resolve by itself. And while there may be some truth to it having to live out its life, seeing it as rooted in identification and trauma gives us a pointer in how to work with it.

At the root of dark nights and existential terror is identification, and that’s something we can work with in a practical and grounded way. It’s rooted in identification mixed in with all sorts of mild and more serious trauma.

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Bubbles of pain surfacing

 

At some point in a healing and/or awakening process, it’s as if the lid has been taken off the emotional pain that previously was safely tucked away. That happened for me some years ago, and the pain that surfaced was intense and felt overwhelming for quite a while.

The pain still comes up strongly at times, although there are more calm days and when it surfaces it tends to be less intense.

Today was one of those more painful days, and it was triggered by a situation that in itself was very minor.

I sometimes feel like a little kid when small situations are enough to trigger this deep pain in me. Although it’s also something to be grateful for since it’s surfacing to be met, felt, loved, and gently looked at, and why not have it surface based on a smaller situation. In my case, it often seems to be a disappointment and crushed expectations that are the trigger.

So how to relate to this emotional pain when it feels overwhelming? Here are some ways that are helpful to me:

Talk with a friend who can meet your experience with kindness without buying into the stories.

Sit with a friend who can hold space.  Sit in silence. Allow and feel the physical sensations of the emotional pain.

Eat some protein and nutrient rich food. Drink plenty of water.

Go for a walk. Use the body. Get fresh air. Spend time in nature.

Rest with the physical sensations. Notice if images or words come up, and rest with them if they do. Return to the physical sensations.

Notice any wish for the experience to be different. Find where you feel it in the body, and rest with and allow those sensations.

Identify and write down the painful stories connected to the emotional pain. Take these to inquiry. (The Work.)

Relate to yourself, the parts of you in pain, and the painful sensations, with kindness. Use ho’oponopono, tonglen, or something similar as a support.

Let the painful stories be true for now. Allow and feel the emotions surfacing.

Remind yourself about what’s happening. The pain is old and not about the current situation. The stories come from the pain and have only a very limited validity.

Ride out the pain. It’s a storm passing through. Look at the pain when it has subsided some and it’s easier to feel the sensations and explore the imaginations connected with it. With time, your capacity to do this will grow and you can do it while it’s more intense.

Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend, child, or animal in pain. Treat yourself with that kindness.

Treat the pain as you would like to be treated when you are in pain. Meet it with presence, kindness, patience, respect.

Sometimes, like today, it’s often a combination of going for a walk, getting fresh air, eating a nutritious meal, talking with a friend, sitting with the feelings and sensations in silence with support of a friend, resting with the sensations on my own, identifying stories for inquiry, and also riding it out some.

It’s a humbling process. Apart from the healing that can come if I meet the pain with presence and patience, there is also a deepening sense of universality about this emotional pain. We are all in the same boat here. We all experience it at some point in our life.

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Awakening & deep, primal and visceral fear

 

There is a quite common pattern of (a) an opening or awakening, and (b) a deep primal fear happening in connection with each other. Some experience the deep, primal and visceral fear first, and others the opening or awakening first.

For me, there was an initial awakening without the fear, then a second one followed by that primal fear that was more a dread and terror. It was very strong for about nine months and has surfaced now and then – or stayed relatively stable at a lower level – for some years after.

I see it as related to trauma, and a very primal survival fear, and the two go hand in hand and are really the same. Some say it comes up since the imagined self fears for its life. It goes when there is a more clear awakening so it naturally fears for its life. (There isn’t any “it” there to fear for its life, but the mind makes it seem and feel that way through velcro and beliefs.) That may be true enough. The other reason, which makes as much or more sense to me, is that for the human self to deeply heal, that deep primal survival trauma needs to surface and find healing. This allows that part of the human self to realign more consciously with reality, with this new context of all as presence, love, Spirit, or the Divine.

Having this primal fear surfacing has been among the most challenging experiences of my life. It feels like every fiber in me resists it, and yet I know that what’s called for is meeting it in presence, feeling the sensations, and look at the imaginations connected with it. It’s been a long and difficult process for me.

It does feel like something just needs to run its course. Even as I also work with what comes up in a more intentional way.

This primal fear calls for a few different things, and what it is may be different for each of us and at different times in our process. For instance, it may be meeting it with presence, kindness, and patience. Exploring the associated mental images and words. (As mentioned above.) Recognizing it as coming up to protect the imagined self and coming from love. And the presence and love recognizing itself as this fear and trauma, surfacing in that form right now.

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Byproducts of awakening vs its essence

 

This is something I have been exploring and that many talk about.

There is a difference between the byproducts of an awakening or opening and its essence.

The byproducts can be quite varied. It can be a mix of bliss, love for everyone and everything, a deep gratitude, new abilities such as being able to see auras or do healing, download of information, and inspiration to write or make art. I experienced all of these and more during the initial opening or awakening.

The essence is something we have to find for ourselves and it often clarifies with time. We are invited to use the opening or awakening as a pointer to find its essence, to find what it has revealed that remains through the  shifting states and experiences.

Many or all of the byproducts and experiences associated with an awakening fade and go away with time, and it’s easy for the mind to freak out and think that something essential has been lost. But that’s not the case. It’s the non-essential that has been lost so that the essential can be revealed and recognized more clearly.

And what is it that’s essential. What does the awakening, and the coming and going of its byproducts, point to? What remains through the different states and experiences? What’s still here from the awakening, even when the byproducts are all gone?

For me, it’s a recognition of any state and experience as what everything was revealed as in the initial opening or awakening. As presence, love, Spirit, void, or whatever the mind calls it. That’s really all. It sounds very simple, and it is. And it can be quite difficult to remember and notice when the mind creates temporary identifications and beliefs and stirs itself up.

What supports this recognition is meeting shunned parts of my experience with presence, kindness, and patience. To invite it to heal and align more with reality. These parts were formed in a different context, in a much more painful one, and they still exist within that reality, so meeting them in this way when they come up invites them to heal and realign with the reality discovered through the awakening.

As a mentor of mine once said, the initial awakening was free, and the continued clarification requires work.

I should also mention that there is a dark night connection here. If the mind holds onto the byproducts of the awakening as something essential, it can easily create a dark night for itself when they inevitably go away. The mind can go into despair, struggle, and even depression. That’s why it can be helpful to be aware of this before it happens. And it can also be helpful to practice recognizing the essence of the awakening through different states and experiences while it’s still relatively easy. That may not prevent the despair and struggle that sometimes happens when the byproducts go away, but it can at least provide a pointer and a direction for how to relate to and make use of that transition.

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All as Spirit, and a deeper layer of what needs healing

 

When I was 16 and had the initial opening or awakening, all was recognized as Spirit and Love. The divine woke up to itself as everything without exception, and as consciousness, love, and the void it all also is. This was quite strong for several years.

At the same time, I knew that there was still a lot of healing needed for my human self and that the remaining unloved and unexamined parts of my human self created a pull for identification. I worked on this as well as I could, but it was difficult to access as deeply as I felt was necessary.

So what happened was a dark night of the soul. And that brought that material up to the surface without much filtering and without much opportunity to hold it back.

There are many ways to talk about this and many angles to approach it from. Each one with it’s own validity and value.

These parts want what I want, which is to be met in presence, kindness, patience, and understanding.

These parts do not yet know all as Spirit and love. They seek to know.

They seek to know their own deeper reality, which is presence, love, and even void.

Said another way, Spirit seeks to know itself as these parts of me. And to know these parts – the trauma, pain, sadness, anger, fear, grief – as presence, love, and void. As the divine and the play of the divine.

This allows for a deeper healing. And it allows for a deeper and more thorough alignment of more of my human self with reality. This is one of the ways an opening or awakening deepens.

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Center for spiritual emergencies

 

Since the initial awakening in my teens, I have had a dream or vision of a center for people going through spiritual emergencies. It’s definitely needed, although there are plenty of teachers and healers and even centers that can and do help people through these phases of the process.

Here are some thoughts about how it may look:

I wouldn’t promise anything apart from support for people to go through what they are going through. Most of the time, there doesn’t seem to be any quick fixes, and especially not for people going through a dark night of the soul.

It would be interdisciplinary and holistic, with a focus on diet, mindful movement, connection with nature, healing work, and mutual support.

We would work on traumas as needed since traumas are often behind any distress and anything we experience as troubling in life. Spiritual emergencies of different types often trigger traumas, and these are what creates the suffering and struggle.

There would be an emphasis of kindness towards our own experience, along with a gentle exploration of it to see how it’s created and what’s really there (inquiry).

I have no idea if something like this will happen, or – if it does – how. It doesn’t really matter, but I do notice that the dream or vision is there gently in the background. Perhaps it will just take the form of supporting a few individuals through it, as I already have done in a small way, or it could take the form of a center run with a few other people.

Life will squeeze what’s left out of you 

 

When you squeeze an orange, you’ll always get orange juice to come out. What comes out is what’s inside. The same logic applies to you: when someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, or says something unflattering or critical, and out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, tension, depression, or anxiety, that is what’s inside. If love and joy are what you want to give and receive, change your life by changing what’s inside.

– Wayne W. Dyer

I had a private meeting with Adyashanti a few years ago. It was at his office in San Jose, and early on in the darkest phase of the dark night of the soul. (I have written about the dark night in other posts. It’s been a phase of loss, of old trauma surfacing to be seen, felt, loved, and recognized as presence, and much more, and it’s been very humbling in a painful but good way.)

He said that in the time ahead, life would squeeze out what’s left in me.

What does that mean? To me, it means that life circumstances bump up against remaining fears, identifications, and shoulds in me, and that’s when I feel squeezed. In reality, it’s these identifications that are squeezed since they are in opposition to life as it is. It feels like “I” am squeezed because there is identification with them.

If I allow it, or when I get sufficiently worn out and humbled, then life will squeeze out of me these identifications and what wants things to be different. And until that happens, at the very least I get to see what’s here. I get to be more familiar with it.

It does seem that life sets up situations for me specially designed to squeeze me. What’s happening is that I inevitably live from the parts of me that are still “in the dark” (not seen, felt, loved, recognized as presence), and acting from these sets up situations that in turn highlight or squeeze these parts of me. Also, life is rich and some aspect of life will inevitably hit and squeeze these parts in me. There may be more going on as well, including synchronicities that also squeeze.

Adyashanti was right. I have experienced quite a lot of squeezing over the last few years, including right now. Sometimes, it seems relentless. Sometimes, a bit overwhelming. Sometimes, there is a set of amazing synchronicities setting up the squeeze. Sometimes, it seems that life knows exactly how to squeeze me the most. Sometimes, it seems like grace.

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Adyashanti: That may sound easy, but when it’s actually happening it’s more gritty and real than the description suggests

 

As we go through our trials and tribulations, outer circumstances seem to be exquisitely put together specifically to test each part of our realization. These trials and tribulations will also occur from the inside. Your unconscious at some point will start to reveal itself. In the unawakened person, the unconscious never fully comes into conscious awareness, but with awakening our means of suppression and denial are either torn apart completely or wounded so severely that we can’t repress as much.

The unconscious elements of our mind come into conscious awareness, and that is another kind of trial. What’s being asked of you is to meet all of that inner material from the standpoint of divine being, from the standpoint of eternity – to meet it, to understand it, to resolve it. That may sound quite easy, but when it’s actually happening it’s a little more gritty and real than the description suggests.

You could think of these inward and outward trials as a form of purification. You’re purifying the vehicle: body and mind, the same body and mind that you woke up out of when you awakened. Now this vehicle has to undergo its own purification so spirit can fully embody your humanity. And this is where the story of Jesus again provides a powerful mirror, because Jesus is someone who embodied in his humanity the divine impulse, divine being.

– Adyashanti, Resurrecting Jesus

This very much fits my experience.

Dark nights of the soul & trauma

 

There are different varieties of dark nights in a spiritual process. In some ways, there are as many varieties as there are dark nights since each one is somewhat unique.

Still, there seems to be some general categories or facets of dark nights. One category or facet is a dryness or lack of meaning and enthusiasm. Another is an experience of loss of God’s presence or an expansive state. And one is where the lid is taken off of our unprocessed stuff and it emerges to heal and be recognized as spirit itself.

I imagine that each dark night is really an adaption to a new emerging phase, and it’s difficult to the extent we struggle against it and try to hold onto beliefs and identities not compatible with this new phase.

The type where the lid is taken off our unprocessed stuff is especially interesting to me. It seems that it’s mainly connected with trauma. A lifetime of trauma surfaces to be seen, felt, loved, healed, and for spirit to recognize it as itself. And it’s not only one lifetime of trauma, but several. Trauma from our ancestors is passed on through the generations (behavior and epigenetics) and our culture. Trauma may even be passed on from past lives. No wonder such a process can be intense and feel unbearable.

I find it helpful to think of it in a trauma perspective. It makes it more grounded and concrete and points to some ways we can work on it and ease some of the pain inherent in it.

It does seem that the process needs to run its course and lives its own life. And it also seems that we can work on certain elements of what’s happening and make the process a little easier on ourselves.

I have found the following helpful for myself:

Therapeutic tremoring (TRE) to release tension and trauma out of the body.

Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries) to support release of beliefs and identifications. (These create a struggle with what’s happening, and they are also what hold trauma in place.)

Natural rest. Notice and allow.

Heart centered practices. Ho’oponopono. Tonglen. Metta. Towards myself, suffering parts of myself, and others.

Service and work, as I am able to. (There has been times when all I could do was survive, and other times when service and work has been possible and very helpful for my own process.)

Body-inclusive practices such as Breema, yoga, tai chi, and chi gong.

Nature. Good diet. Herbal medicine. Supportive friends. Gentle exercise.

Understanding of the process. Guidance from someone who has gone through it themselves.

More recently, I have found Vortex Healing to be helpful for me in this process and in general.

Why does the trauma surface in this way, and sometimes in such a dramatic fashion? To me, it seems that life is impatient in clearing us and making us better vessels for whatever awakening is here. Any trauma in our system will prevent a deepening and stable awakening, and an expression of the clarity and love that’s recognized in the awakening. It’s also a very humbling process, which means that identifications are stripped off and we become a little more aligned with reality.

Note: When I wrote “categories or facets of dark nights” it’s because these characteristics sometimes seem to appear one at a time (categories) and sometimes several at once (facets).

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The Dark Night of the Soul & The Wisdom of No Escape

 

A typical aspect of the Dark Night of the Soul is a sense that it will never end, or a conviction it will not end.

It’s impossible to imagine it ending. There is no way out. This boundless torture and suffering will always be here.

And that seems to be part of the process.

It’s as if life sets up an inner and outer situation where we see no way out. So our only option is – eventually, often after much struggle – to face what’s here right in front of us. To face that in us that seems really scary. To turn towards that which we may have spent a lifetime running away from and avoiding at all cost.

This situation is sometimes combined with chronic fatigue (as in my case) or other illnesses so we are confined to our bed or house, are isolated, and unable to engage in social or other activities.

In other words, we are strongly encouraged to find the wisdom of no escape.

This is a type of monasticism. We can even see it as a “forced” or amplified monasticism.

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What’s been surfacing in the dark night

 

I keep returning to the dark night of the soul here.

In short, for me it came after:

(a) An early awakening to all as Spirit (God). Or, more precisely, Spirit awakening to itself as all that is with no exceptions. This happened out of the blue, since I was an atheist and had no interest in spirituality before this. After some time, I found the writings of some mystics who seemed to describe a similar shift. (Mid-teens.)

(b) A “download” of huge amounts of insights and inspiration, along with a great deal of energy going through my system. It felt like high power going through regular housing wiring. It also felt like being pulled apart and put together differently. This may have included a dark night of the senses, and reduced identification with my human self. This came with the initial opening or awakening. (Late teens, early twenties.)

(c) Honeymoon phase. A sense of everything falling into place in my life, in amazing ways. (For the most part.) Being guided and held by God in smaller and larger things. Clear and strong inner guidance. Amazing synchronicities. (Early to late twenties.)

(c) Early dark night of the soul. I went against my guidance on an important life decision (where to live following marriage), and this was the start of the dark night of the soul. I felt off track and gradually felt more and more lost and aimless. (From having been very focused and quite ambitious in a healthy way.) There was also a period of a nondual state where there was no self or I to be found anywhere. (Any images or words creating the appearance of an I or self were seen as that.)

(d) Intense dark night of the soul. This came after diksha (which may have fried my brain somehow) and the nondual phase. It started with strong chronic fatigue (CFS), and the lid being taken off what was unprocessed – and unhealed and unloved – in me.

So what’s been surfacing in the dark night of the soul?

CFS symptoms. (Fatigue, brain fog.)

Persistent dread. This is with me constantly these days.

Initially, archetypal material. Heaven and hell images.

Unprocessed personal material. Unhealed and unloved parts of me, especially from childhood and teenage years. Unquestioned stressful stories.

Regression. Going back to early childhood and even before, and then slowly moving forward. Feeling like I am that age. Having memories, wounds and themes from those ages surfacing through my daily life. It’s not quite that linear, but it does seem that I am in the early twenties now.

Fear about the future. Regrets about the past. These too surfacing so I can learn from it, and also to heal, be loved, and for the stressful stories to be questioned. (The stressful stories that brought me to make the choices I regret, and the regretful and fearful stories themselves.)

Sometimes hopelessness. Giving up. Unable to see any way out or through this, including being unable to find peace with it as it is.

Losses of many types. Loss of energy, inner and outer resources. Relationships. Health. Opportunities coming along, and then falling apart. And more.

Trauma surfacing to be healed, loved, and for the trauma-inducing thoughts to be questioned. This is mostly trauma created over time in childhood, from longer lasting stressful situations (at home and with peers).

Sometimes speaking and acting from the fear, confusion and trauma, which has its consequences.

And what is it asking of me?

To find kindness towards my experience, as it is.

To find love towards my experience, as it is.

To invite and allow healing for the parts of me that needs healing.

To question the stressful stories, including the ones (re)creating trauma.

To rest with what’s here, as it is. With kindness. With gentle love.

To love the unloved and question the unquestioned.

To live from integrity. Live from authenticity. Follow my guidance. Noticing, welcoming and questioning the fears preventing me from doing that.

To be a good steward of my own life, in middle of all this, as well as I can. This includes asking for help, when that’s needed.

During the initial phase, there was a sense of all being given to me. Now, there is a sense that I need to grow up. I need to apply what I learned in more difficult situations and in relationship to deeper and more painful wounds in me.

Instead of basking in heaven, as a child receiving everything from its parents, I need to more intentionally bring heaven (love, kindness, presence, natural rest) into how I relate to what’s here. It’s more a sense of work. It’s a process of sobering up.

I am invited to even more intentionally bring what I want (love etc.) into how I relate to my experience, as it is here and now, independent of its content.

I knew all of this before too, and even applied it. The difference is that this situation is far more intense and challenging, and require more intention and work. It’s like going from the ashes to the fire.

Passive and active aspects of the dark night

 

Traditionally, it’s said that the dark night of the soul is passive, in the sense that it comes uninvited and on its own time, and when – or if – it leaves, that’s also on its own time. It lives its own life. As anything does, really.

It’s also active in that it invites us to actively engage with what’s here, to have an active relationship to it. To intentionally and actively relate to it, using whatever tools we have available, whether its kindness, love, gratitude, natural rest, presence, prayer, inquiry, service or something else, and whether it’s structured by guidelines (practices) or more natural and intuitive.

When I look a little closer, I see that the active relationship also lives its own life. That too is, in a sense, “passive”. It’s a gift. Although it can feel very much active and intentional.

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Aspects of the dark night of the soul

 

All these forms of the Dark Night—the “Absence of God,” the sense of sin, the dark ecstasy, the loss of the self’s old passion, peace, and joy, and its apparent relapse to lower spiritual and mental levels [….]

– Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, Chapter 9

In Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill identified these forms of the dark night of the soul. To me, they seem more like aspects, perhaps since all of them at different times have been quite prominent in my experience.

Sense of sin. Yes, in many different ways.

Early on, visions of evil and evil figures from many cultures and traditions, and of being each of them. (Which is true for all of us. They represent aspects of us.)

Impulses to do things I previously pushed aside or saw as “too low” for me. Sometimes even acting on this, at least to some extent. (I am not very proud of it, and find it difficult to give examples here, although what I experienced and did is quite common in many people’s lives. To me, they felt like big things since they were so out of the ordinary for me.)

Dark ecstasy. Yes, pain and suffering, or a “dark desolation”.

Earlier in my process, I used to experience the “dark desolation” as a swing back after going into bliss, ecstasy, and love for everything. Now, since the dark night of the soul set in, it’s been a permanent companion. Sometimes stronger, sometimes more in the background.

Loss of self’s old passion, peace and joy. Yes, again in many different ways.

I lost just about all of my old passions, for painting and drawing (which I used to do every day and thought I couldn’t live without), loss of ability to meditate (which I also did every day, and thought I couldn’t live without), and much else. (Sustainability, sustainable design, community organizing, hiking, backpacking, concerts, theater etc.)

Relapse to lower spiritual and mental levels. Yes, both in terms of “regression” and “stupidity”.

I have regressed back in time, to infancy, childhood, and even before birth. Partly, this has taken the form of images and emotions from those times surfacing. Partly, it’s taken the form of experiencing myself as very young, and to some extent acting and appearing that way. Partly, it’s taken the form of interests from childhood resurfacing, including in comic books, animations, and games.

I feel I have also regressed intellectually. I am unable to read much, while I used to read several books a week. I am unable to write as I used to. In conversations, I often feel utterly stupid and unable to say much, even on topics I used to be very familiar with and could speak eloquently about.

Synchronicity: As I wrote “dark desolation” (dark ecstasy section) the song they played at the cafe I am at said “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.

Synchronicity 2: As I wrote “I am not very proud of it” (sense of sin section) the lyrics of the current song were “I still do things that I shouldn’t do”.

Here is the full paragraph from Mysticism:

All these forms of the Dark Night—the “Absence of God,” the sense of sin, the dark ecstasy, the loss of the self’s old passion, peace, and joy, and its apparent relapse to lower spiritual and mental levels—are considered by the mystics themselves to constitute aspects or parts of one and the same process: the final purification of the will or stronghold of personality, that it may be merged without any reserve “in God where it was first.”

The function of this episode of the Mystic Way is to cure the soul of the innate tendency to seek and rest in spiritual joys; to confuse Reality with the joy given by the contemplation of Reality. It is the completion of that ordering of disordered loves, that trans-valuation of values, which the Way of Purgation began.

The ascending self must leave these childish satisfactions; make its love absolutely disinterested, strong, and courageous, abolish all taint of spiritual gluttony. A total abandonment of the individualistic standpoint, of that trivial and egotistic quest of personal satisfaction which thwarts the great movement of the Flowing Light, is the supreme condition of man’s participation in Reality.

Thus is true not only of the complete participation which is possible to the great mystic, but of those unselfish labours in which the initiates of science or of art become to the Eternal Goodness “what his own hand is to a man.”

“Think not,” says Tauler, “that God will be always caressing His children, or shine upon their head, or kindle their hearts as He does at the first. He does so only to lure us to Himself, as the falconer lures the falcon with its gay hood. . . . We must stir up and rouse ourselves and be content to leave off learning, and no more enjoy feeling and warmth, and must now serve the Lord with strenuous industry and at our own cost.”

– Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, Chapter 9

All of this very much fits my experience. It does seem like a weaning off, a transition from “spiritual childhood” to more maturity and adulthood. I don’t consider myself there at all, but see that that’s the invitation.

Victim identity

 

The last few years, it seems that life has made an extra effort to set up situations where my victim identity comes to the surface. (Illness, loss of relationships, loss of house, loss of friends, feeling alone and unsupported, fear of the future etc.)

It’s easy to tell myself life is doing it so the victim identification can be resolved in me. It’s life squeezing what’s left out of me (as Adya said would happen). It’s easy to tell myself these stories, although I see that I am the one who wants it to be resolved in me. I am the one squeezing what’s left out of me. And I see how I contribute to create these situations.

Life sets it up —> I set it up.

Life wants me to…. —> I want me to….

That’s more true for me, and I can find specific examples of how each is true.

The victim identity alone is images and words. Add associated sensations (velcro), and there is identification. The identity seems more solid and real, and it seems what I am.

At times, the identification is activated and seems solid, real, and what I am. And other times, it may be in the background while still influencing how I perceive and live in the world, and it’s also partially dormant waiting to be triggered and brought to life again by my mind.

So how can it be resolved? I know some ways that doesn’t seem to bring resolution: Ignoring it, trying to push it away, denying it, distracting myself from it, making myself feel good temporarily.

What are some other ways?

Notice and allow. Notice images, words, sensations. Allow. Notice they are already allowed.

Find love for it. Find kindness and love for the victim me, for the images, words, and sensations, for the victim me in the past. Perhaps use ho’oponopono, or loving kindness, or tonglen. Scan back in time, find times where the victim identity came up, and find love and kindness for myself then.

Inquire into it. Can I find the victim me? Can I find the threat? Can I find a command to be a victim, or not be a victim? What’s the worst that can happen if I am a victim? If I am not? When do I remember first feeling like a victim? Can I find the victim me in those memories? Can I find the threat there? A command to be a victim, or not be a victim?

Include the body. Use therapeutic tremors (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises, TRE). Bring the victim identity, and the situations triggering it, to mind while trembling. Go for walks, eat well, spend time in nature, do yoga (Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Breema etc.) as a support for my life, and for finding love for the victim identity and doing inquiry on it.

Ask for support. Ask life (God, Spirit) for support. Ask friends and family for support, if that seems appropriate. Ask people with helpful skills for support through facilitating inquiry and whatever else may support resolution.

What do I mean with resolution? It doesn’t mean making it go away. It does mean inviting in a shift in how I relate to it – the victim identity, identification, and anything else coming up around it.

It means notice and allow.

Finding love and kindness towards it. (Including from seeing that the victim identification is innocent, and comes from a wish to protect the me. It comes from love and kindness. It’s worried love.)

Inquire into it, to see what’s already there. See how the mind creates the victim identity and identification. See any associated images, words, and sensations.

It means treating it – the victim identity, identification, and anything associated with it – with respect. It’s there for a reason. When I see it’s there to protect me, it comes from love, it’s innocent, then it’s natural to find respect for it.

It means seeing that it really, honestly, doesn’t need to go away. When I find kindness and love for it, when I see it’s from love, when I see how the mind creates the victim identity and identification, then I also see it really doesn’t need to go away.

When I see the images as images, words as words, and sensations as sensations, and take time to feel the sensations as sensations, then I see it’s all OK. It’s all innocent. It’s all OK as is. It really, truly, doesn’t need to go away.

Also, when it doesn’t control me or my life anymore, it’s clear it doesn’t need to go away.

Similarly, when it finds it’s own liberation, it doesn’t need to act as strongly to get my attention. When it finds it’s own liberation from being mistreated, vilified, and pushed away by me, it naturally tends to quiet down, and it’s clear it doesn’t need to go away.

As always, knowing this can be helpful. It’s a first step. Even knowing it from previous experience, from a memory, is a first step. It’s like having a menu, or medicine in your hand. And what matters is actually applying it. Actually doing it. Actually ordering the food and eating it. Actually taking the medicine. And doing it wholeheartedly. Doing it thoroughly.

I see that the victim identity is quite central to my deficiency stories. Perhaps it’s like that for most of us. As soon as there is identification, the victim identification is set up to come alive. Even when we construct elaborate ways to deal with it, it may still be there underneath.

Our ways to deal with the victim identification may include creating an identity as as strong, capable or independent. Nurturing supportive friends and family. Using our natural strengths such as intelligence, knowledge storage, friendliness. Creating a life that’s safe materially and in as many other ways we can. All of these are fine, and many are even ways to be a good steward of our life.

And yet, the victim identification may still be there, and when it comes to the surface it’s good to notice, and perhaps explore it a bit. Sometimes, it’s so much in our face that we don’t seem to have many other options than really taking it seriously.

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Why things go wrong in a dark night

 

Recent experiences has brought me back to this topic:

Why do things tend to go wrong in a dark night of the soul?

When I use the term dark night of the soul here, I use it the same way Evelyn Underhill does in Mysticism, largely because the phases and how she describes them fit my experience. I am aware that the types, sequence, and characteristics of the phases people go through can vary quite a bit.

So why do things tend to go wrong in a dark night of the soul phase? Why do things fall apart or away? Why do things tend to not go “our way”?

In terms of contrast: It’s often reverse of the honeymoon phase

A dark night of the soul tend to follow an initial awakening and initial honeymoon phase. During this phase, life seems easy, joyful, and seems to mainly go “our way”. For me, there was a sense of being deeply on track, being held in God’s hand, and living a life full of amazing serendipities.

The following dark night phase has been the reverse of this, and it’s even more noticeable – and sometimes more painful – because of the contrast.

At a big picture level: Life squeezing out what’s left in us

A dark night of the soul is life squeezing out what’s left in us. It’s life rubbing up against remaining identifications (velcro, beliefs) in us, with an invitation for it to wear out, be seen through, and/or loved as is.

Central to this is life flushing out the victim identity in us. It comes to the surface, we cannot escape it, and are invited to meet it, examine it, find love for it as it is.

When I had a meeting with Adyashanti some years ago, he said I would find myself in this situation. And he used the words “life squeezing what’s left out of you”. That’s very much how it feels. I feel squeezed.

Flushing out what’s left from the inside: Victim identities and more

Along with all this, there also seems to be an inner impulse to flush out what’s left. Old wounds, traumas, hurts, pain seems to steadily come to the surface. With an invitation to examine unexamined painful stories, love the unloved, feel the unfelt.

They seem to surface even in the absence of “external” life circumstances and triggers, and although life certainly also has brought a lot of these triggers into my life during this phase. The internal impulse to flush out, and the external triggers, often go hand in hand.

And yes, I know there isn’t really anything internal or external. It’s all part of a seamless whole, all part of this seamless field of awareness. At the same time, it can be helpful to differentiate a bit using these words.

What’s missing: Lack of trust, confidence, resources

In this phase, it’s easy to lose heart. A sense of confidence, trust, and being able to rely on inner and outer resources may be among what’s lost. It’s been that way for me. It’s very humbling, and invites me to see what’s here without the possible defense or refuge of confidence, trust, and knowing I can rely on inner and outer resources. It makes me more naked.

At a more conventional level: Messiness begets messiness

When “the lid is taken off” our wounds and unresolved trauma, and these come to the surface and into focus, our life may reflect this (apparent) turmoil. We may act from these wounds, which in turn tends to create messy situations.

Inner messiness, confusion, and turmoil tends to be reflected in outer messiness, confusion, and turmoil. That’s how it’s been for me. Sometimes more than other times, and in some areas of life more than other.

Questioning the more basic ideas: Right & wrong, dark night, awakening, threats, someone going through it

As long as we hold onto ideas of certain things in our life going right or wrong, and the idea of right and wrong itself, life will rub up against it. Life will inevitably bring us into situations that we feel are wrong, or where something went wrong. (When I say “life” I could easily say “I” here, which would refer to both my human self and also the Big Mind/Heart/Belly Self.)

That’s an invitation for us to question our stories about right and wrong, look at the deficient and inflated selves our life situations brings up (victim, the one in control etc.), and find love for the unloved parts of us and our experience.

Falling away or apart is not the same as going wrong. That something goes against my preferences doesn’t even mean it’s wrong. When things fall away or apart, and it brings up the story of something going wrong, it comes with an invitation to look at that story.

Even the idea of a dark night is good to look at. Can I find it, outside of images, words and sensations? Can I find a threat? What’s the best that can happen? The worst?

And can I find someone going through a dark night? A victim? Someone going through an awakening process? Someone who is squeezed by life? Someone who has something going wrong, or right?

Healing, maturing, deepening

This phase can be a phase of healing, maturing, and deepening. A deepening in trust, prayer, inquiry, love, presence. A healing of old wounds and traumas. A maturing as an ordinary human being in the world.

It’s especially so when we align with this. When we intentionally allow this to happen. When we intentionally play along with it. (Instead of opposing it, resisting, complaining, although that too is often part of the process, and can eventually lead to further healing, maturing, and deepening. That too is part of being human, and noticing what’s here.)

Embracing it all: Being human

This too is part of the dark night of the soul. Embracing it all. Being human. Noticing what’s here. Notice and even find kindness for my human frailties, weaknesses, and  imperfections. I am human, as anyone else. I am no different. We are all in the same boat. There is a huge relief in admitting this, and really seeing it, feeling it, and taking it in.

The initial awakening and honeymoon phase may be a phase of transcendence. A phase of transcending, at least temporarily, our human frailties and weaknesses. The dark night of the soul is an invitation to embrace, get to know, and find kindness for my very human weaknesses and messiness.

Three centers: Including the heart and belly

For me, the initial awakening was a “head center” awakening, a recognition and seeing of all as Spirit. Shortly after, the heart came in, with a love of all as Spirit, and a recognition of all (and Spirit) as love.

The dark night of the soul seems to be a cleaning out of the belly center for me, of the emotional wounds, traumas, and traumas related to the primal survival instincts. It seems to open for a more deeply lived and felt sense of all as Spirit.

Is there a guarantee?

Reading Everlyn Underhill, it seems that the dark night of the soul inevitably leads to a clarification, maturing, and deepening. But that’s because she took people who had gone through it and come out on the other side as examples.

She didn’t look at those who may have gotten lost in despair, resentment, pain, and reactivity, perhaps for decades and the rest of their lives.

Is there a guarantee that this phase will lead to clarification, maturing, and deepening? Will this happen on its own? I don’t think so. I think it’s up to us to intentionally align with and support this process. It requires intention, sincerity, and work. It requires readiness.

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Manipulation and the dark night of the soul

 

What’s a dark night of the soul?

I tend to use the term the way Evelyn Underhill describes it in her book Mysticism. It’s what typically follows an initial awakening or set of awakenings, and an initial honeymoon phase. It seems to be a phase of life squeezing the bulk of what’s left out of us, so it can be seen, felt, and loved. Unexamined identifications come up to be examined. Unloved parts of us surface to be loved. Unfelt emotions come to be felt. It can be experienced as a very dark phase, depending on the duration and intensity of what’s showing up.

As Jeanne Zandi says, any form of manipulation tends to backfire in this period. It just makes things worse. The dark night of the soul seems to be similar to a gestation and birthing process that needs nurturing and support. (And not a problem or illness to be fixed, although there may be things happening during this phase that can benefit from such a approach.)

I notice that if I go as a client to someone who’s trying to “fix me”, it tends to not work. It’s painful, and it often makes things worse for me. It’s happened with spiritual teachers, a therapist, energy work, well-meaning friends, breath work, and more. It feels much too harsh, and it seems to come from a basic misunderstanding of what the dark night of the soul is about.

In the beginning of this phase, I got burnt several times, and now seem to fortunately have wised up a bit.

What does work is allowing and love, and also gentle inquiry to see what’s already here. And that – along with nature, understanding friends, a good diet, some herbal support, rest, and a few other very simple and nurturing things – seems enough.

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Dark night and trauma

 

Following an awakening or opening phase, there may be another where “the lid is taken off” as Adyashanti says. A good amount of what is unquestioned, unloved, and unhealed in us comes to the surface, and we have little or no ability to set it aside or push it away.

It’s as if life wants to heal the human side of us, so we can become better vessels for the clarity, love, and awakening. The more we have questioned our unquestioned stories, the more we have found love for what’s unloved in us and our experience, and the more we have healed and matured as human beings, the better the clarity, love, and awakening can be expressed and lived through us.

For some, this may be more gentle and ongoing, and without dramatic “dark nights” of this type.

For some, it may be relatively short, or less intense. Perhaps if they already are quite healthy as a human being, and relatively free of what’s unloved and unhealed.

And for some, it can be quite dramatic, intense, and overwhelming. I seem to find myself in this category now.

Why is it more dramatic and intense in some cases? I suspect part of the answer is trauma. If there is more trauma – more that is unquestioned, unloved, and unhealed – this type of dark night may be more intense as well, and perhaps even last longer. There is simply more material to question, find love for, and heal.

The drawback then is that this phase may be more rocky, painful, and last longer, and it can impact ones life in many areas. The benefit is that there is an opportunity to learn a great deal through this process. And this may in turn even benefit others. There are plenty of examples of “wounded healers”.

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The dark night of the soul: helpful information, and something the mind can try to find safety in

 

When we are in a dark night of the soul, or what seems like it, it can be helpful to have some information about the dark night of the soul.

It’s easy to think that something went wrong, so information about the dark night of the soul may help us see that it’s OK. I didn’t do something wrong. Life didn’t go wrong. It’s a natural phase of the process, for some of us. Others have gone through it and are going through it. I am not alone. This reframing what’s going on with us can be a relief. And we may also get practical pointers for how to relate to it.

Feel sensations as sensations, as much as possible. Notice and inquire into associated images and words, to make it easier to feel sensations as sensations.

Inquire into any stressful beliefs and limiting identities.

Find kindness for what’s here. Find kindness for the emotions, distress, sensations, wounds, trauma, suffering. Find love for it.

Rest with what’s here. Notice. Allow. See it’s already allowed.

Rest in a conventional sense. Take time to rest.

Be in nature. Go for walks. Garden.

Eat well. Drink plenty of water.

Nurture nurturing relationships and activities.

Find guidance from someone who has gone through it.

These pointers are helpful for anyone going through something challenging, or who is just living an ordinary human life. They are quite universal.

At the same time, it’s possible to create another (limiting) identity out of being in the dark night of the soul. It’s possible to make the dark night of the soul into a “thing”, something that seems real, solid, and “out there”. I may also identify myself as someone going through a dark night of the soul, and make that into something apparently real and solid. (It may be another inflated self, compensating for the deflated self this phase of the process tends to trigger.) I may get invested in it ending at some point in the future, and expect something to happen when it ends. (Awakening. Light where the darkness now is. A stable nondual realization.)

All of this is understandable. The mind wants to understand and conclude, in order to find safety. At the same time, it can be yet another way we limit ourselves and life. It comes with some drawbacks. It can even create more stress and suffering.

I can inquire into these dark night thoughts and identities as well:

What do I hope to get out of it?

What do I fear it means (about me) if this is not a dark night?

Is it true it will end? Is it true I need it to end?

Is it true [….] will happen when it ends? Can I know for sure?

I can see if I can find some of these things as something real and solid:

Can I find the “dark night of the soul”? Can I find “my process”? Can I find an end to it? Can I find [what I imagine is there when it ends]? Can I find me, someone in a dark night?

Can I find a threat? (In the dark night. In it not being a dark night. In it not leading where I hope it will.)

I can also rest with all of this. Meet it with kindness. Hold it in kindness.

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Dark night of the soul: challenges & some remedies

 

The dark night of the soul has its own timing and its own life.

And yet, there are things we can do that can make it a little more bearable, and even align us more consciously with what the process seems to ask of us. (Also based on reports from people who have moved through it.)

Here are some common challenges for people in a dark night of the soul:

We feel that we did something wrong. Or that something is terribly wrong.

We feel that it will never end.

We don’t know what’s happening.

We struggle with and resist what’s happening.

We are caught in painful stories about what’s happening.

We are faced with painful stories surfacing to find liberation. These stories may be old stories recreating deficient selves, perceived threats, compulsions, wounds, trauma, and more. They are unquestioned and unloved.

We may have dread, terror, and trauma surfacing. (To find love and liberation.)

Our identities are “under siege”. Life may put us in situations where our familiar identities don’t fit anymore. (Sometimes, although not necessarily, through loss of relationships, health, work etc)

We experience periods of intense discomfort, perhaps without being able to put a label on it.

Shadow material tends to surface. Whatever is unhealed and unloved surfaces to heal and be loved.

It can feel overwhelming. Unbearable. We can’t take it anymore.

There may be losses – of relationships, health, work, and more.

We may have periods where we are unable to sleep, or get very little sleep.

 And some remedies:

Information. Talking with others who have gone through it.

Inquiry into the painful stories. The beliefs about what’s happening. The beliefs creating the painful experiences that may surface.

Meeting the pain or discomfort with kindness. Holding it in kind presence.

Resting with what’s here. Notice. Allow.

And some more things that may be supportive:

Spend time in nature. Walk. Garden.

Use your body. Swim. Walk. Do gentle physical activities that feels nurturing and supportive.

Eat well. Eat foods that work with your body. Drink plenty of water.

Nurture nurturing activities and relationships.

Receive sessions that are nurturing and supportive. Perhaps massage, acupuncture, craniosacral etc. Find practitioners who are OK with what you are going through, and don’t have a need to “fix” you. (Nothing needs to be fixed, but some activities and modalities can be supportive in this process.)

Find support from others who have gone through it, and are going through it.

Find a guide who has gone through it, and is experienced guiding people through it.

Rest. Get plenty or rest.

Be kind with yourself. Ask yourself what would someone who loves themselves do? (The answer may be very simple and for that moment.)

Be a good steward of your life, as much as you can.

Ask for guidance. Ask for support. Ask for your will be done. (Ask life, the universe, God.)

Let go of limiting ideologies, if they create stress and don’t seem to work for you anymore. (This includes ideologies about food, practices, world views, how you should live your life, and more.)

Ordinary human kindness. Ask for kindness. Be kind towards yourself and others, as much as you can.

See also previous posts on this topic, including for a list of helpful resources. (Adyashanti has talked and written about dark nights. Jeannie Zandi writes and speaks about it. There are several good books on spiritual emergencies, which includes a mentioning of dark nights. Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism has a good chapter on the Dark Night of the Soul, although colored by her tradition and times. There is a lot more information out there.)

Embracing the messiness of human life

 

What we are already embraces – and is – all there is.

An awakening process is, in many ways, a tour of some of the essentials of what we are. All as awareness. All as love. All as dispassionate. All as allowing what’s here. Expansion. Contraction. Bliss. Pain. Suffering. Being human with all that means, including the messiness of human life.

After an initial opening and perhaps even expansion, it’s natural to wish to stay there, to make it into a permanent state. It doesn’t quite work that way. Life may well invite us to recognize all as Spirit, including contractions, pain, and the messiness of human life.

That’s one type of dark nights. The one where we “lose” the bliss, opening, expansion, and may get to experience the reverse – contraction, and the still unloved wounds, pain, reactivity, and other very human parts of ourselves.

To the extent we struggle with this, it will feel even more painful. We add suffering to a process that’s in reality very kind and loving, and even wise. We struggle against it, because we don’t quite recognize this process too as Spirit, as love, as wisdom.

And when I say “we” I mean I, me.

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Comforting stories

 

There are many stories in the world of spirituality. Some seem to apply to my situation now…..

I am being transformed, similar to a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. I am in a dark night of the soul. I am in an awakening process. I am in a kundalini process. It’s a hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell described it.

All of that may be true. Perhaps in hindsight, and if I had knowledge of more cases, it may be even more clear that what I am going thorough fits a particular pattern. It’s universal and to be expected.

These can be helpful stories. They help make sense of what’s going on. They may point me to people who have experience with this, and can help me through it. They may point me to information that can be helpful. They may help me find other people going through something similar, so I get to see I am not alone in it, it’s not personal, and people do get through it.

They can also be comforting stories. In the pain and confusion, it’s easy to attach to stories like that. They give a sense of meaning and importance to what I am going through, and hope of an easier time – and perhaps rewards – in the future. And that too can be helpful. Comfort can be just the right medicine.

And yet, at some point all those stories seem hollow. They are recognized as comforting stories. Stories my mind use to find comfort.

Reality is, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Reality is also that there are other explanations. For instance, I tried a diksha shortcut (a form of shaktipat) some years back, which did seem to lead to some months in a non-dual state, and also to a collapse later on. A collapse of body and mind, leading to CFS and brain fog, and lots of previously unhealed parts of me surfacing. Some years earlier, just prior to the onset of the dark night, I left my guidance on a major life decision, and continued to do so for a while. That in itself is a sufficient explanation of what happened. And it doesn’t exclude any of the other stories. Including that leaving your guidance on a major decision, out of unloved and unquestioned fear, is one of the ways a dark night sets in.

Recognizing this, at a felt level, is disillusionment. And there is a sense of liberation in this disillusionment. It feels good at a deeper level, since it’s more real. It’s more true. I recognize that some of those “spiritual” stories may be true, in a conventional and limited sense. That I really don’t know. That they are stories, imaginations, and not inherent in reality. That my mind has used them for comfort. And that the comfort part, and holding them as true and investing them with energy, doesn’t seem to fit anymore. It doesn’t fit my life and situation anymore.

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Regression

 

During the darkest phase of the dark night, there was a sense of going back to earlier periods of my life – all the way to infancy and before incarnation. Later, my system seemed to revisit childhood and teenage years. Memories, impulses, wounds, unlived wishes, all surfaced. Not surprisingly, I also acted on some of them – which sometimes was enjoyable (playful impulses), and sometimes painful for me and others (wounds, trauma).

For me, this has happened in the form of phases – of weeks or months or even years – where I have felt, and sometimes acted, like an infant, or child, or teenager. These days, I feel like I am in my late teens and early twenties. For others, I know that this may come in a gentler or less  all-consuming way.

In one sense, there is a regression any time we are caught in wounds, trauma, beliefs or identifications. We “go back” to when these dynamics were initially created. We feel, and sometimes act, as if we are five years old (or any other age when these dynamics initially were created).

Also, it seems that we can go back to earlier times in our own life as part of a healing process, or as part of a kundalini process.

And, really, there is no “regression” or going back in time. It’s all happening here and now, including any memories of the past, and any emotions, wounds, traumas, or unlived healthy impulses. Stories of regression can be a useful shorthand to communicate something, and it can also be misleading since it’s all here now.

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Reasons for the dark night

 

I have written about this before, but wanted to revisit it for my own sake.

There are a few possible reasons for a dark night of the soul:

It’s a common stage in an awakening/embodiment process. It seems to be part of the process, for many or most.

It’s a part of natural swings. After a “high” there is a “down”, and the dark night of the soul sometimes comes after a honeymoon phase, an initial “high”.

With these swings, the invitation is to see, feel and love it all as awareness (Spirit, love), and to find ourselves as that which already is and allows it all.

It helps us see what’s left in terms of unloved and unexamined wounds, trauma, fears, beliefs, and identifications. It’s an invitation to find a new wholeness as a human being, and for identifications to (continue) to wear off.

It seems the dark night happened because I left my guidance. I went against my knowing and my guidance on a major life decision, and didn’t leave the situation even if it continued to not feel right. This led to a sense of being deeply off track, and eventually fatigue and collapse at many levels.

All of these may be part of the picture. It’s a natural phase, it’s an expression of natural swings, it’s an invitation to see/feel/love all as what I already am, it shows me what’s left, and it happened the way it did because I left my guidance on a significant life decision.

What are some possible reasons for an especially long and/or intense dark night of the soul? And, in particular, what may be some reasons in my case? (I am thinking of DNs that last 10-15+ years.)

It followed a long and intense initial awakening phase. The unusually high high was followed by an unusually low low. (Respectively 10+ years, followed by a transition, and then 10+ years.)

I may have special difficulties in finding love for what’s here, and examine it thoroughly. Perhaps due to trauma? In my case, it seems that it’s been difficult for me to allow it – the love, trust, understanding, insights – to deeply sink in and work on me at a deep(ish) level.

I continued to go against my guidance for several years, which deepened the sense of being off track, brought fatigue, and led to eventual collapse. I stayed in a situation that didn’t feel right, at a deep level.

On the topic of stages, here are some as described by Evelyn Underhill and Adyashanti.

Evelyn Underhill’s stages: Initial interest, dark night of the senses, illumination, dark night of the soul, unitive life.

Adyashanti’s stages: Calling, awakening, trails and tribulations, abiding tranquility, transfiguration, relinquishment, transmutation.

To me, it makes sense that a dark night of the senses leads to a more abiding tranquility. It seems that the only (?) way through it is to find a deep love for what’s here, including the deepest pain, and recognize it too – including at a felt level – as awareness and love. And it makes sense if this leads to a deeper sense of ease with what’s here, whether it’s easy or difficult, pleasant or painful, “light” or “dark”. It’s a deeper level of “one taste”, one that’s not only seen or loved, but also felt.

Update:

I am adding these points which came to mind:

A year or two before the dark night of the soul happened, I prayed for full awakening no matter what it would cost (for days, in front of the main altar in Bodh Gaya of all places). This is a type of “dangerous prayer” which may give us what we ask for, but not in the way we expect or (think we) want.

About six months before the darkest phase of the dark night, I received diksha (energy transfer) which led to about half a year in a (simple, easy, unremarkable) nondual state. This was followed by sudden fatigue and collapse at almost all levels. It’s possible that this was a response to the diksha. It may have tried to push or force a natural development that is better left to unfold in its own time. (Of course, this became part of my process and how it all unfolded.)

A couple of weeks before the absolutely darkest phase of the dark night (two years after the diksha event), I said another dangerous prayer. I asked to be shown what’s left, and was plunged into about nine months of primal and immense dread and terror.

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Reasons for a long dark night of the soul

 

I have had a dark night of the soul phase that’s lasted for 17+ years now. I see that Adya suggests that this phase typically lasts from five to twenty years, although there are of course exceptions in either direction.

Some possible reasons for a long dark night of the soul (in my case):

It started when I went against my guidance on a major life decision, and I stayed in this life situation even if it felt fundamentally wrong. I stayed due to unquestioned/unloved shoulds and fears in me, inherited from my family and culture. (I have since left that particular situation.)

Going against my guidance on new life decisions. Often due to wanting to follow “expert” advice, even if my own common sense and guidance says otherwise. (And in hindsight, I see that it probably would have been better to follow my own knowning.)

Not meeting certain parts of me with love. (Wounds, identities around being unlovable and unloved, missing out and more.)

Not finding love/peace with certain aspects of my life and life situation. (Regrets about missed opportunities, fear about the future.)

A collapse of body and mind, perhaps partly due to the above. This made the resources I used to have available less available, and it’s been easier to fall into victim identification and hopelessness.

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Why did the dark night happen?

 

I have written about this a few times but wanted to revisit it, mostly as a way to explore it again for myself.

A dark night of the soul, in a technical sense, is what typically happens after an initial awakening (AKA illumination) and before finding a deeper ease with what’s here, independent of what is is (AKA equanimity). (See Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism, or Adyashanti’s Resurrecting Jesus, for more on this.)

The term itself – dark night of the soul – can be understood in a few different ways.

Life is working on us in a way that’s hidden from us. (As it really always does.) It’s hidden and unknown, as in a dark night. This is the original meaning of the word, as far as I know.

What happens may be seen as “dark” in a more modern sense. It’s a challenging phase, dark psychological material may surface, things seem to go wrong, and  (apparently) desired things fall away. The word “dark” is here used in the sense of hidden, or what’s conventionally seen as undesirable.

A dark night implies rest, and rest seems to be an important part of the dark night of the soul, at least at times and for some of us.

Why does a dark night of the soul happen?

It may be due to a burn-out from the initial awakening phase, with strong kundalini energies running through the system.

It’s a natural reversal from going “up” in the initial awakening, and now “down” so both can be met, included and loved.

It may come from an inability to repress material anymore, sometimes due to the opening of the initial awakening. Whatever is unmet and unloved in us (wounds, traumas) come to the surface to be met, loved, included and seen through.

What’s left of identifications (beliefs, velcro) surfaces, so this can be met and loved, and perhaps seen through. (A variation of the one above.) With this comes an invitation to mature as a human being, and deepen in our familiarity with the terrain – human and consciousness.

We may have said a “dangerous prayer”, asking for full awakening no matter the cost, or to be shown “what’s left”. (I did both, at different times. The dark night of the soul started a year-and-a-half after the first prayer, and the darkest phase of the dark night came a couple of weeks after the second.)

We don’t know. Even if the stories above may be helpful, we don’t know.

For me, there may also have been a couple of more specific reasons:

I went into a life situation that felt wrong and went against my guidance, and that’s when the dark night started for me. I stayed because of fears and shoulds, and a hope that it would get better, and it was very draining, which is perhaps what led to the darkest phase of the dark night (with health problems, inability to suppress, and more).

I received some diksha sessions a few years into the dark night. These led to what seemed like a nondual awakening, which lasted for about six months. This, in turn, was followed by a collapse of my whole system (fatigue, brain fog, inability to suppress etc.). I wonder if the diksha forced what otherwise would have been a more gradual, slow and more natural process, which led to a backlash. The diksha energy may also have changed something in me (the brain?) which my system reacted to.

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Disillusioned

 

For a while, it feels good to be “illusioned”…. to imagine – and believe – that something will save me. With this comes the accompanying illusion is that something will destroy me.

It may even be true, to some extent and in some ways. Some things do lift me up, especially when I believe it will. And some things do appear to break me down, when I believe it will.

Then life shows me otherwise, sometimes in combination with inquiry. I see that words, images and sensations – which is my whole experience – cannot really save me, or destroy me. And the me that looks like it can be saved or destroyed is also made up of words, images and sensations. I cannot find a me apart from or “outside” of that.

This is disillusionment, and although it is sobering and a relief, it can also include disappointment, sadness, grief, even what appears as depression. So much of what drove me – the hopes and fears – fall away.

The parts of me reacting to this process can also be met with curiosity. When I explore the words, images and sensations making up the apparent resistance, sadness, grief, neutrality and disillusionment, what do I find? Can I find these things apart from or outside of the words, images and sensations making them up? Is it as solid as it initially seemed? Is it as real? Is it real in the way I thought it was?

Many maps or outlines of the process show a dark night preceding a phase of more ease with what’s here (AKA equanimity). And with disillusionment – seen, felt and loved – does come a sense of ease with what’s here, independent of what it is. A sense of ease with life as it shows up, as it is.

It’s not nearly as glamorous as it may seem when hearing stories about it, or reading the maps. And yet, it is sobering. And it is a relief.

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Collapse

 

For me, the “dark night of the soul” has been a slow – and then faster – collapse.

It’s been a collapse of health, identities, relationships, courage, strength, mental clarity, hope, optimism, authenticity and more.

It was preceded by a life choice where I didn’t follow my guidance, and instead acted on shoulds and fears. I guess it’s possible to say that this triggered the collapse, which was slow at first. (The choice was to move to Wisconsin because of a relationship, even if moving there went against a very clear inner guidance.)

At the same time, a dark night of the soul seems to be a somewhat predictable phase in the process, following the initial awakening (illumination) and going before equanimity (ease through ups and downs). My process has happened to follow this pattern “by the book”, which I know is not always the case.

What is the function of this collapse?

It shows me how draining it is to go against my inner guidance (heart, integrity).

It shifted me out of my familiar roles (which were identified with) and into their reversals. This is an invitation to include a wider range of identities in my image of how I see myself, and for the identification with these identities to soften and even release.

It’s an invitation to inquire into my stories and assumptions about myself, my life, what is happening, and the world.

It’s an invitation to find love for what’s here (fatigue, brain fog, grief, despair, anger, fear, fearful thoughts etc.), and recognize these as love (here to protect the imagined me).

Its an invitation for life to recognize itself as this too. (For the divine, Spirit, love to recognize itself as this too, and not only bliss, mental clarity etc.)

It’s an invitation to find a deeper trust – in life, existence.

It’s an invitation to find myself as that which “is space for” what’s here, whatever it is. (That which allows and is the field of experience, as it is.)

It’s an invitation to find empathy and understanding for others in similar situation, through my own lived experience.

It’s an invitation to deepen and mature as a human being.  And to deepen and mature in “spiritual” recognition and understanding.

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Reorganization & the dark night

 

The dark night of the soul, as any dark night, is a period of reorganization.

There are several types of dark nights, and what I mostly write about here is the dark night of the soul. The phase that typically comes after the initial awakening (illumination) and before equanimity, an ease independent of content of experience.

The reorganization of the dark night of the soul is largely hidden from our view and understanding, which is why it was initially called a dark night. It also involves many apparent losses. Old wounds and trauma may surface to be healed. And there is an invitation to wear out, soften and lose identifications. This reorganization is also similar to what a larvae goes through in the pupae stage. It’s unfamiliar, the old structures and patterns dissolve, and we are unable to see where it leads. The combination of all of this can be very challenging. For me, it’s been the most challenging thing I have experienced in this life, by far.

So what can we do? I have written about this before, so I’ll just mention a few things that come to mind now. And these really apply to any perceived challenges in our lives.

Find love for what’s here – for the inner and outer situation. Recognize that all the different parts of me – including the confusion, pain, anger, regret, sadness etc. – is love.

Inquire into my stories about what’s happening, the labels and what I take them to mean. And inquire into the stories triggering my responses, the sadness, grief, anger, despair, pain, hope, fear and more.

Feel sensations as sensations. Inquiry into the associated stories can make this easier.

Ask /pray for help. Ask for guidance. Support. Ease. Love. Conscious alignment with the reorganization.

Shake it out. Neurogenic tremors. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE).

Spend time in nature, use your body and senses in nature.

Find mutual support. Find people who have gone through something similar, or are going through it.

Take care of your body. Eat well, get plenty of sleep. Use your body. Exercise.

Seek out some basic understanding of what’s happening. Read about the dark night (Adyashanti, Gerald May, Evelyn Underhill and others.)

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