Dark nights and patterns


I am still reading Bernadette Robert’s Path to No Self. She writes about the path better than almost anyone I can think of, especially in a Christian context.

At the same time, although what she writes about are elements in many paths to awakening, the sequence is clearly a reflection of her own. As they say, if there are 7 billion awakenings, then there are 7 billion different awakenings. Not everyone go through each phase, and not in the same sequence, and there are elements in other paths to awakening that is outside what she describes. When she writes, she gives the impression that there is one main pattern in the awakening process, and she does not seem to fully acknowledge the variability in her writings. Which is fine. Something has to be left to the reader to wrestle with and clarify for themselves, beyond what the writer explicitly mentions.

I can also see that my initial take on the dark nights was, as I suspected, a little off in terms of the Christian tradition.

In general, a dark night is any time beliefs and identifications wear off. It is a letting go of who we thought we were. And this can be gentle and easy if we didn’t quite believe it in the first place, or we use a process that is effective and gentle such as The Work. Or it can be a struggle if the attachment is stronger, and we resist the wearing off. As usual, resistance=suffering (resistance to experience, that is).

Then there are the specific dark nights of the senses and the soul, as St. John of the Cross writes about.

As I understand it, the dark night of the senses puts us on the path. It is a disillusionment with the world as being able to provide us with what we are looking for (essentially, lasting happiness, and freedom from suffering). We realize that being dependent on circumstances for our happiness is a precarious situation, and look for something else. It is a wearing off of beliefs of the world being able to provide lasting happiness, and identities related to that. (Not a full wearing off, just enough to put us on the path, and the wearing off continues on the path.)

The dark night of the soul leads us into the unitive life. It is a wearing off of beliefs and identities of being separate. There is still a sense of a separate self here, an I with an Other, but now an I that is one with the larger whole and God. It is an awakening at the soul level, to the alive presence, to all as God and consciousness. It is a relatively stable awakening.

For Bernadette Roberts, the transition into realized selflessness from here was more of a slipping into it. She didn’t need another (dramatic) dark night for it to happen.

As she points out, it is the torments inherent in the unitive life that wears off the last beliefs in and identification as a separate self. In the unitive life, there can be a great deal of bliss and joy, yet also torments in terms of (a) not being able to fully share it with anyone, (b) others not being interested in it, and (c) seeing how every experience and insight is still filtered through, and tainted by, this sense of a separate self.

These torments are, in a sense, a dark night happening within the unitive life.


Torments of unitive life, and open mind


I am reading Bernadette Robert‘s Path to No-Self, which is a beautiful and clear description of her own path to selfless realization, described in a Christian context.

Two things have stayed with me from the final few chapters…

The first is the inherent torments of the unitive life, the state of oneness with God, yet with still a vague sense of I and Other there.

There are the torments of (a) not being able to express clearly the beauty, clarity, insights, wisdom and compassion here, in one’s own life or words, and also (b) it often not being appreciated, or understood, by others. For myself, I can also add the torments of the intensity of that phase, of extremes of energies going through and massive amounts of reorganization needed of the human self (probably not everybody goes through this).

The beauty of these torments, which Bernadette Roberts describe so clearly, is how it prepares for a final release of a sense of I with an Other.

The remaining sense of a separate I is what gives birth to the torments in the first place. The identification with the particular identities of this separate I gives resistance to what arises in different ways. It is a resistance to what is, which ultimately is the Ground of awake emptiness & form inherently free of an I with an Other. This resistance is what creates the torments, and also what helps burn through the resistance itself, the sense of an I with an Other.

The other thing I found interesting is Phase V, the Open Mind, a practice of going outside of ones habitual perspectives and views, of finding fluidity among a range of perspectives which then tends to reveal the inherent neutrality of any situation (my words).

This is very much similar to the turnaround part of The Work. And, as BR mentions, it seems to be an essential (?) part of the shift from the unitive life, where there is still a sense of a separate I with a particular perspective, to selfless realization which is free from any fixed identifications and perspectives (so also able to play freely with them and make use of them as the situation calls for).

As she also mentions, the fear before entered into is that it will make us into zombies, doormats or nihilists, but what is really happening is just this freedom to play with and explore a range of perspectives and viewpoints, seeing them all as stories of only practical and limited value (not absolute truths). And the whole process is infused with heart and compassion, which gives a practical direction that thoughts alone cannot provide (she doesn’t talk about this explicitly, but it is there between the lines).

The heart (love, compassion, empathy) gives the direction and is the main guide for actions in the world, it tells us what, and the head (stories, views, perspectives, frameworks) tells us how.