When we go through a dark night of the soul, it can feel like a train wreck.
It can feel like everything – ourselves, our life, the process – is a messy, confusing, disorganized, and overwhelming wreck.
I know it did for me, and it still does to some extent.
Dark nights are talked about in two contexts.
One is as it’s used by most people, as a metaphor for an especially difficult period in life. For instance, divorce or an existential crisis.
The other is more specific to the awakening process. In the process of exploring our nature, we can go through several different kinds of dark nights.
In general, dark nights happen when life rubs up against our cherished mental representations – of who or what we are or how our life should be. We can explore these and find what’s more true for us. And often, they just have to wear themselves out. It’s a necessary cleaning-out process.
Any remaining beliefs, identifications, emotional issues, traumas, hangups, and so on are distortions that make it difficult to live more consciously from and as the oneness we are. We may get caught up in them when they are triggered. And even if they are not obviously triggered, they are here in our system coloring our perception, choices, and life.
Awakening itself doesn’t necessarily clear all of that out. It seems that many of us need stronger medicine.
THE BIG PICTURE OF MY PROCESS
I have written a brief bio in another article but will give a summary.
In childhood, I had memories (flashbacks) to life between lives, and I felt a strong longing for it – for the divine – even if I didn’t consciously know what it was.
At age fifteen, I got a mysterious illness (which turned out to be CFS). At the same time, the world – anything within the content of experience – also moved very far away. In hindsight, it seems like consciousness went into an observer-observed duality.
One year later, the initial awakening shift happened. From one moment to the next, all without exception were revealed as God. Everything, including all human experiences and culture, was God.
This led to a ten-year honeymoon period.
Followed by the beginning of a dark night when I went against a clear inner guidance on a major life issue.
For some years, my focus was mostly on daily life and community projects.
I then got back into these explorations, and there was an extended shift into a clear no-self state.
And after all of that, it felt like everything collapsed.
THE DARK NIGHT AS IT HAPPENED FOR ME
THE BEGINNING OF THE DARK NIGHT
The dark night started when I got married in the US and abandoned many of the most important things in my life (Zen center, friends, Utah, graduate program, etc.) in order to move to another state to support my wife in taking her MA there. I went against a very clear and strong inner guidance, and it led to me feeling profoundly off track.
The more intense phase started several years later. Following strong pneumonia that kept me bedridden for weeks (which my doctor refused to treat and called “walking pneumonia”), my health collapsed. I initially got CFS following an Epstein-Barr (mono) infection in my teens, and my health had gotten better after that. Following long pneumonia, my system was very weak and then collapsed into acute and severe CFS. I spent the next months in the classic dark room unable to function in daily life.
My memory of this period is fuzzy. I remember going through a phase where archetypes were presented to me and moved through me in different ways. For instance, one night I experienced an apparently endless stream of “dark” archetypes from all of the world’s cultures moving through me. As each one came up to me, I moved into its face as if it was a mask and I experienced that archetype from the inside for a while until the next one came up to me.
SHOW ME WHAT’S LEFT
After a few years, I got a little better, moved back to Norway, and asked the divine “show me what’s left”. (AKA a dangerous prayer.) This led to a whole new phase.
Within one week, I was overwhelmed by a profound survival fear coming up in my system. For about nine months, it was so strong that I was lucky to get one or two hours of sleep early in the morning. And during the day, all I could do was walk in the forest while listening to Adyashanti. The fear was so strong and intense that I couldn’t understand how I was somehow still here. I felt completely overwhelmed. I asked the divine to do anything for this to pass. Even death seemed far more preferable than this, and I also knew it was not a solution. This experience was beyond anything I have ever experienced.
About nine months in, the intensity turned down slightly, although the profound and primal survival fear lasted for several years after this. It’s still here but at a generally much lower volume.
The lid was taken off the primal fear, and it was also taken off deep traumas and issues in me that were still unprocessed and unhealed. It seems my system is no longer able to bury these as it did previously. They are here, right on the surface. And I know there may be more I am not aware of.
RESTLESSNESS AND AVOIDANCE
Since my teens, I had a laser focus and loved silence, meditation, and resting in and as my nature. I loved it more than just about anything else. And during this dark night, that all changed. I shifted into a pattern of restlessness and avoidance because of the overwhelming fear and trauma surfacing. It became much more work to meet and be with what was coming up, and it was as if I had to learn it for the first time.
This has been a period of losses. I lost friends, especially during the most intense period. My marriage ended (which was good since it didn’t feel right). I lost my house, belonging, and money. And so on. It has been a period where I felt I lost just about everything.
The last several years are also characterized by a series of false starts. Something happens that seems very good to my personality, and then it falls apart relatively quickly. Several relationships started and ended during this period.
LOSING ANY ANCHORS
At the beginning of the most intense period, around 2011, I also lost any sense of inner anchors. When I turned off the light at night and put my head on the pillow, I couldn’t find any anchor points anywhere. This also brought up fear although also felt like another adventure.
My system has felt disorganized. I am not sure when this started. When the strong traumas and primal fears came up? In any case, I felt like my psyche shattered into a million pieces all pointing in different directions. It’s been very difficult to make good decisions and I see myself behaving in ways I know is far from optimal and in ways I wouldn’t have earlier in life. In several situations, I saw myself acting against my better judgment.
After the primal survival fear diminished slightly, I noticed an extreme discomfort in my heart. This one too was with me for several years. I think I saw Jeannie Zandie talk about something similar, describing it as a shard of glass in the heart. For me, this went away during the Core Veil class in Vortex Healing. A VH teacher said that my core veil was hanging on by a thread before this class, and that may be what created the immense discomfort.
COMFORT AND SUPPORT
What gave me slivers of comfort and support during these years?
A bit from partners and friends, although their love and support didn’t reach quite into the most painful places in this experience.
Nature has been immensely helpful to me. I have spent as much time in nature as possible.
During the most intense period, I found comfort in the Dark Night of the Soul chapter in Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism. Most of what’s described there fit my experience exactly, and it was a comfort to know that others had gone through something similar. I remember seeing the comedy in Underhill describing different ways people experience the Dark Night of the Soul and finding that just about all of it happened with me. I seemed to need all of it, and not just one or two variations.
In general, finding others who had gone through it themselves was a big comfort to me, including working with one facilitator who had come out on the other side and could guide me somewhat.
Five-element acupuncture helped some during the most intense period, although often for just a day or two.
Vortex Healing may have helped provide a kind of turning point in this process. It does feel that the divine put me on a slightly different path after I got into VH.
Before the dark night, I typically took pride in doing things on my own. I rarely needed to ask for help. That also changed during this dark night. I had to ask for help. I became the one who needed help from others. And there is a beautiful blessing here too. I learned the beauty of receiving and allowing others to help.
WHAT MADE IT MORE DIFFICULT
It’s not a surprise or secret what’s made this phase of my life more difficult for me: how my system has reacted to deep trauma. Deep and painful beliefs and identifications creating and holding in place the trauma, originally created as a survival strategy in a difficult family situation. The more we have of this, the more difficult the cleaning-out process can be. It tends to become more messy, painful, and perhaps drawn out.
The dark night has lessened in intensity but is not over yet. I still feel like I have been hit by a truck: disoriented, partially in shock, and parts of me find it difficult to trust life.
It started when I got married and went against clear inner guidance, which is twenty-five years ago. And the far more intense phase started fifteen years ago.
It has not been a quick process for me. Perhaps because some traumatized parts of me are strongly holding onto old survival mechanisms and associated beliefs and identifications. These need to wear out.
THE INVITATION IN THIS DARK NIGHT
What was the invitation in this dark night? And why did it happen?
I cannot say anything for certain about the why. But it does seem it happened as a kind of reversal of the long honeymoon period following the initial awakening shift. During the honeymoon, everything fell into place in miraculous ways, I lived in a soft bliss, I had a lot of passion and direction in my life, and so on. During the dark night, everything fell apart, I lived with a huge amount of pain, I completely lost direction in life, and so on. When it goes up, it goes down.
The invitation here is more clear. The invitation is to clarify what I am and live from it, and not be so caught up in changing states, experiences, and situations. The invitation is for my center of gravity to shift more fully and viscerally into and as what I am.
More specifically, it is to…
Not only generally see all as the divine, but also see what my personality doesn’t like as the divine.
Not only see it all as the divine but more consistently find the genuine love for it all that’s already here, including for what my personality doesn’t like.
Not only have my center of gravity in what I am when things are easy, but maintain this center of gravity when it’s challenging and difficult things come up. To maintain this center of gravity when my old habit is to join in with reactivity and the issues coming up.
I can consciously explore this and invite in these shifts. I can prepare the ground. But the shifts themselves are always grace, as is the noticing and any active exploration I engage in. It’s all grace.
And the same goes for exploring and inviting in healing for my traumas and issues, especially the more central ones put in place early in life and related to my parents and family. For instance, my habit of not speaking up and not standing sufficiently up for myself. (And being repeatedly disappointed for that reason and having resentment come up.) And related to that, my issue around wanting to hide and not be seen, and having resentment for not being seen.
In general, the invitation is to wear out – and consciously explore – some of my remaining beliefs and identifications. These are typically put in place early in life to help us survive, and they are often rooted in and held in place by fear. A fear that’s unfelt, unloved and exiled. And has a scary story behind it that’s not sufficiently examined.
As Evelyn Underhill says in the dark night chapter of Mysticism, this is a messy and thoroughly human process.