I decided to rewrite this post:
It seems that a dark night is called a dark night for several reasons, and it may all have one function.
It’s called dark because what happens may go against our wishes, shoulds and identifications. There may be an apparent loss of divine presence or connection. Things may fall away, including what looks good to us. We may lose our health. We may have a sense of regression (spiritually and psychologically).
It’s called dark because dark things may happen, such as loss (or relationships, work, health, identities etc.), and dark things surface, such as wounds and traumas (to be seen through, healed).
It’s called dark because there may be a darkening of the faculties, a dampening of the personal will, the intellect, awareness of Spirit, morals and so on. There may even be a reversal of these. A strong will goes absent. A bright intellect goes dull. Clear morals give way to immoral impulses and perhaps actions.
It’s called dark because it may appear that God’s presence is gone, or that God’s guidance or grace is gone. In reality, what we took as a sign of Spirit may be what’s gone, as a way for us to recognize Spirit as any content of experience. Also, the dark night is just another form of God’s grace and love, even if may look very different to our conscious mind, at least early on in the process.
(Yes, I am aware that the language here about “dark” and “moral” is very conventional. I am writing about how all this may appear to a conventional view.)
It’s called dark because what’s really happening is obscure to us, it’s hidden. What a dark night does to us at a deeper level, how it matures our human self and soul, is hidden from our conscious view. (This is not unique to a dark night, it’s really always the case.)
It’s called a night because it’s an invitation to rest, just as a physical night. There may be an invitation for physical rest, after a period of activity and high energies running through our system. It may also be a rest from analysis and mental activity, and more elaborate practices. What it’s not necessarily a rest from is basic practices such as mindfulness, inquiry, prayer, and heart practices. (These may be very helpful, perhaps even more so than before.)
The one main function of all of this is to bring us face to face with identifications, and invite these to soften, be seen through, or wear off. This can be supported by inquiry, prayer, giving it over to the divine, and consciously aligning with the process.
Whatever appears “dark” does so only because we see it that way. It can equally be seen as light, and as a “brilliant day”, since the whole process is an invitation to see and shed identifications, leaving us – in view, heart and feelings – more aligned with love, clarity and reality. And we can also come to see the beauty and love in the darkness, in the deep rest we are invited to find through surrendering to what is, finding love for what is, and even finding gratitude for what is.
The whole process, as life itself, invites us to find wholeness as who we are, as human beings, embracing all the many polarities in us, and find in ourselves anything we see “out there” in the world and in others. And it invites identifications to soften and eventually release so we find ourselves as life itself, or what a thought may call love, or awareness appearing as all experience. Or simply what’s here, when images and words are recognized as images and words.
Note: When I write about a dark night here, I am mostly referring to a dark night of the soul in a technical sense, as one of the typical phases of a process of awakening. Some of this may also apply to other dark nights in an awakening process, and even dark nights in a more loose and everyday sense.