St John of the Cross talked about two dark nights, the dark night of the senses, and the dark night of the soul, and that’s also how Evelyn Underhill sets it up in her Mysticism book.
It’s also how it’s been for me.
Initial dark night of the senses
The first dark night, the dark night of the senses, happened in my mid-teens. First, there was a year of being absorbed into the witness (as I understood it later, looking back at it), and of the world “retreating” in a way. I had been a quite hard-core atheist since elementary school, and had no interest in spirituality or religion whatsoever (I didn’t have a very high opinion of people interested in those things).
Initial opening, illumination, and continued dark night of the senses
Then, there was the initial opening or awakening, everything – without exception – revealing itself as Spirit, as God, as awareness. Within this, there were several years of a deep and often quite intense reorganization of the human self, often especially intense during the night. It felt like being pulled apart and put together in a different way, more aligned with Spirit awake to itself, more aligned with reality. During this time, I also did a lot of prayer (Heart Prayer, visualizing Christ in the six directions and the heart), meditation (stability practice, just sitting), some Buddhist practices (Ngondro), tai chi and chi gong, and some quite focused shadow and projection work. In some ways, the dark night of the senses continues for several years, especially in terms of the experience of being pulled apart and put together differently. There was also a clear sense of “higher beings” working on me during the night. During this time, there was also quite dramatic swings from “up” into bliss and “down” into shadow materials, all clearly happening within and as Spirit awake to itself, within and as Love. During this time, there was also a huge inflow of insights and inspiration which translated into music, art, writing, studies and more. Along with this came the ability to see auras, see what’s going on with people medically and their path to healing, invite in healing, and so on. This lasted for several years, although it did mellow a bit with time. The more intense phase of the dark night of the senses lasted for perhaps the first 3-4 years, and the illumination for about ten years altogether.
Second dark night of the soul
Then, as my life circumstances changed, mainly because I went against my inner guidance on one particular (major) decision, the dark night of the soul set it. It started gradually and along side the illumination, and then got darker and more complete over time. The illumination faded more completely, and the dark night of the soul set in more completely and fully. Eventually, it led into major health problems, deep archetypal shadow material surfacing, intense and primal fears (dread, terror) surfacing, and also a sense of completely dissolving. This too lasted for years. The initial and “milder” phase lasted for 5-6 years. Then there was about a year in a nondual awakening phase. And this shifted into the very dark phase of the dark night. Just as it set in gradually, it seems to lighten gradually.
At this point, it’s easier to see and feel all as Spirit and love again, as it was initially. And it’s all happening in a different context as well. It’s slightly more mature, perhaps, and yet, it still feels like I am always beginning. It’s still the first step. It can always be (much) more clear, more mature, lived more fully. And that feels very good.
I also see that during the illumination phase, there were still beliefs and wounds there, especially at an emotional level, and the second dark night brought (many of) these to the surface. Everything in the human eventually seeks to align with reality, and even if much comes up during the second dark night, there will – I assume – still be things surfacing for the rest of my life. This too is an ongoing process. I also see that the first dark night was about realigning to recognize all as Spirit, and the second to allow many of the remaining beliefs – especially at an emotional level, and especially primal and early childhood ones – to surface so the stuffed emotions can be felt and move through and the beliefs inquires into.
Having gone through this myself, it’s easier to get a sense of where others are in this process. Some teachers, perhaps most, seem to be in the initial awakening phase. Only a few may have gone through the second dark night, and I am very grateful for having connected with some of these, including Adyashanti, Byron Katie and Barry.