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.