As my posts here show, I have been exploring the dark night again recently, and especially the dark night of the soul.
I realize that my experience with the dark night of the soul can be seen as a quite long period with two distinct phases.
Dark night of the senses. Around noon the day after my first and last binge drinking, at age fifteen, the world seemed to “retreat” from me. It became very distant, and also seemed “unreal” as if I could put my hand right through it. I went to doctors and specialists, and had many neurological tests done, and they – not surprisingly in hindsight – found nothing. I had no idea what was happening, although I now see that this may well have been a dark night of the senses.
Opening & illumination. After the initial opening or awakening at age sixteen, there was a 10+ year long phase of what Evelyn Underhill calls illumination. I had a great deal of energy and passion, and there was a sense of my life being on track in a deep soul sense. I also engaged in spiritual practices for hours daily, including prayer (the Jesus/heart prayer mostly) and meditation (Tibetan and Zen). I was a student and then graduate student, I worked, I lived at a Zen center, I did art and photography, I spent time in nature, and had a very active and rich life. I followed my guidance and heart closely, in smaller and larger things (with a few smaller exceptions).
Initial phase of the dark night of the soul. Then, I left my guidance (for a relationship), and that was the beginning of a gradual “decent” into the dark night. For the first several years, I was still very functional, much as before, although now there was a deep sense of being “off track”. I was also unable to do any spiritual practice. (Mainly, it seems, because it reminded me how off track I felt, and it was too painful.) After five or six years, after reading Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism, I realized that what I was going through fit the description of a dark night of the soul.
Nondual phase. Then, this seemed to turn and I genuinely thought I was at the tail end of the dark night. I began a regular meditation practice again, I did inquiry, I went on retreats and everything seemed to go “better” for me. I also received diksha a couple of times, and asked for a clear awakening, and that’s what happened. I had about six months of a clear non-dual awakening, this time without any bells and whistles. (Of course, from the nondual context, it’s not really a “phase” since time and space, along with any sense of self, is recognized as constructed by images and words.)
Second phase of the dark night of the soul. Then the second phase of the dark night set in, and this was quite sudden and dramatic. I had a form of chronic fatigue during the initial awakening, although it was offset by the huge amounts of energy flowing through my system at that time. Now, the chronic fatigue set in for full. I initially spent weeks and months in a dark room, unable to function much, and the CFS has gradually lightened since then. This phase has lasted a few years now, and much has happened during that time. It really feels like a reversal in so many ways of the illumination phase. Initially, some deep archetypal material surfaced, especially around life and death, and “good” and “evil”. Then, a huge amounts of shadow material surfaced. And wounds and trauma surfaced and continues to surface, from this lifetime and possibly previous lifetimes, along with ancestral material (from my culture and birth family). A couple of years ago, I had six months with intense and almost unimaginable dread and terror. Things continue to fall apart in my life (relationships, friendships, health, work, etc.). It’s as if I am being dismantled at a much deeper level than before. Although I am not sure, it may be that the diksha (which was quite intense for me) “burnt out” something in me, and that contributed to this more severe second phase of the dark night of the soul.
Three centers. During the initial awakening phase, I was very aware that it needed to deepen and would continue to unfold. Looking back, I see that this was first an awakening of the head center (all revealed as God to God, Spirit awakening to itself as all there is), followed by an awakening of the heart center (all recognized as love, love awakening to itself as all there is). The dark night of the soul seems to be very much about the belly center, a preparation of an awakening of the belly center (all felt as God, the divine feminine). The awakening of the head and heart centers was relatively easy on me, although there was a sense of huge amounts of energy running through my system. It seems that the awakening of the belly center requires far more of me, perhaps also because it brings up wounds and trauma, and seems to uproots primal fear and survival instincts. Where the head center awakening is a reorganization of view, the belly center awakening seems to include a cleaning out and reorganization of the emotional level.