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.