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.