Dark nights

I was going to write about the difference between dark nights and depression, but realize I am not really qualified to write about that topic.

So instead, I’ll write about some of the characteristics of the dark nights from own experience, and for my own benefit.

Initial one

The initial dark night (the dark night of the senses) happened in my mid-teens.

It started with identification as what witnesses and the world seemed to retreat and appeared far away. It lasted for almost exactly a year, and more must have happened but I cannot remember exactly what. I and the doctors were convinced I had an illness, but even with extensive tests they couldn’t figure out what.

A year after this began, there was a shift into a nondual state and then unity.

During this time, the “dark night” continued in some ways. There was a sense of dissolving, of being pulled apart and put together differently, of high intensity – as if very high voltage was put through regular house wiring. Since this happened through a very clear recognition of all as God, it was OK although it was also very intense.

This initial awakening lasted for about ten years, and the intensity was definitely stronger the first few years although it continued throughout.

Second dark night

The second dark night (dark night of the soul) started in a much more mundane way. I simply moved from Utah and the “best” situation in my life, to Wisconsin and the “worst”.

Here are some characteristics of this phase:


I lost just about “everything” that was most important to me, one thing at a time, and this includes things in the world (friends, community etc.), in my “inner” world (unity, all as God, insights, passion, engagement, flow, joy), and also health, ability to meditate or pray etc.

It started relatively slowly, with periods where I felt like my “old” self again, but then intensified up to chronic fatigue a few years back.

Bubbles of confusion surfacing

This may be the most important aspect of the dark night. Bubbles of confusion surface.

These are current beliefs surfacing because they are in conflict with reality, and also old experiences surfacing because there were not allowed to flow through the first time.

When these surface they may fill the whole field of experience and so my whole world. It is sometimes quite intense. And to the extent I get caught in it – which I sometimes do – it can be very painful.

I call them bubbles because that’s what they seem like. They get burped up, fill my field of experience for a while, and then pass.


There is a sense of dissolving, especially as soon as I turn out the lights and pull the bed covers up. This is quite similar to what I remember from the initial dark night.

Inner structures and familiar landmarks are nowhere to be found.

Gradual onset and release

There was a gradual onset of the dark night, which then moved into complete darkness during the first couple of years of illness, and there seems to now be a gradual release.


I experience all as space – the whole field of experience.

There was/is one exception to this and that’s the sense of “personal will” as a point or small ball in the head area. This one is softer now.


Throughout all this there is an underlying trust. I know somewhere that all is God and all is good, even if I don’t always feel it and even if it sometimes gets covered up by surfacing confusion.

What the second dark night asks of me

What is this asking of me?

It’s quite simple, it asks me to align with reality.

And to the extent I resist, there is struggle and the process may keep going for longer.

Of course, these are all processes playing themselves out – including any sense of an “I” resisting or not.

It’s all God’s will, including the appearance of a personal will.

Additional notes

For me, it seems to be a quite “Christian” path, at least judging from Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism. What’s happening here fits quite closely the phases she describe.

The initial dark night (of the senses) was intense and difficult at the time, but also “child’s play” compared with the second one. And it’s not surprising since the first one cleanses the perception, while the second one does away with remaining beliefs. The first one prepares for perceiving reality, the second for being it.

The first awakening was a head and heart center awakening. There was a clear seeing and a heart that couldn’t close. The second dark night is more about the belly, mentioned elsewhere on this blog.

I should also mention that during the initial awakening, even during the nondual “phase”, there was a clear knowing of the overall process. There was a knowing that reality awake to itself would fade into unity, and then into a dark night, so everything human could align more closely with reality. There was also a knowing that the human could reorganize within nondual awakening, but it would have another flavor if the awakening faded into unity and then completely. It would be deeper, wider, more juicy, I would know – from own experience – more of the human experience. This allows for more beliefs to surface, and also for a trust when I meet it later – whether in myself or others.

I am reminded of this passage from Mysticism:

It is interesting to observe how completely human and apparently “unmystical” was the culminating trial by which Suso was “perfected in the school of true resignation.” “None can come to the sublime heights of the divinity,” said the Eternal Wisdom to him in one of his visions, “or taste its ineffable sweetness, if first they have not experienced the bitterness and lowliness of My humanity. The higher they climb without passing by My humanity, the lower afterward shall be their fall. My humanity is the road which all must tread who would come to that which thou seekest: My sufferings are the door by which all must come in.” (p. 337)


  • characteristics of the dark night
    • initial one


  • dark night vs depression
    • adya + evelyn underhill –
    • depression
      • tend to be stable
      • or bipolar, switch into manic
    • dark night
      • can be very intense
      • but sometimes clears up, no trace of it
      • and sometimes also opening, glimpses of what’s ahead
      • also, know it’s not true – may get caught in it for a while, but even then know it’s not true – just something that needs to wear/burn itself out
    • …..



Adyashanti and Evelyn Underhill both talk about the difference between the dark night of the soul and depression, and it fits my experience too.

Depression tends to be relatively stable, the stories fueling it tends to be taken as true, and if it switches it may switch into a manic state.

The dark night can be very intense in periods. Whatever is going on can clear up on a moments notice, as a clear sky is revealed after a storm has passed through. There are sometimes glimpses of what’s ahead, especially in the latter part of the dark night. And although I may get caught up in the thoughts/emotions for a while, I still know – somewhere – they are not true. It’s just something that needs to wear/burn itself out.

Lately, old beliefs/emotions surface and go haywire for a while, yet there is not so much of the getting caught up in it. It’s all recognized as happening within and as awareness. It’s old stuff – old beliefs/emotions – that need to burn themselves out. The image came up of a wound up wind-up toy winding itself out. The more I get caught in the story/emotion or resistance, the more friction there is and the less it’s able to wind itself out. And the more it’s allowed to do it’s thing, the more it is allowed to wind itself out.

2 thoughts to “Dark nights”

  1. still seems like depression is the dark night without awareness.
    it still is life challenging beliefs, just less background awareness of the bigger process.

  2. Yes, I agree. Stress, depression, anxiety, dark nights, it all involves reality rubbing up against dearly held beliefs. And also, “dark night” is used to refer to many different things, including the more narrow/technical sense that for instance Evelyn Underhill uses it in.

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