Dark night as a bloody train wreck?

Montparnasse derailment

I saw this classic photo and was reminded of something a friend said a few years back. After I had shared my experience with the intense phase of the dark night of the soul I was going through, he – having gone through a similar phase in his own life – said, yes, it’s a bloody train wreck. 

It really is, or can be. 

I am talking about dark night of the soul in the old-fashioned sense here, as a phase of a spiritual path. The dark night of the soul that, as Evelyn Underhill described it in Mysticism, tends to come after the initial awakening and honeymoon phase (illumination).

First, there may be a phase where we enter the path in a conventional way (I skipped this one). Then, an initial spiritual opening and awakening and a honeymoon phase (for me, lasted for several years). And then, a dark night of the soul. A phase where “everything” seems to go wrong. Loss of health. Relationships. Property. Reputation. Ability to stay centered and meet whatever happens with equanimity. And so on. It can seem like a relentless series of losses in all areas of life (as it has been for me). 

We tend to lose what we relied the most on, and what was most precious to us. 

Did something go wrong? Did we make a mistake?  

No. It seems to be a relatively common phase of the path. At least common enough for many to have written and talked about it, and for me to have found others who have been or are going through it themselves. 

So why does it happen? It seems to be a deepening. 

The illumination phase can be short or long. It gives us a direct taste of the divine and often of all, without exception, as the divine. If it lasts for a while, as it did for me, it can be a wonderful phase of discovery, bliss, and things falling into place in our life in amazing ways. It helps us familiarize ourselves with all as the divine. 

Then, we lose that footing. That which seemed like it never would go away does. Where things fell into place in amazing ways, things may now relentlessly go wrong in equally amazing ways. It can feel immensely painful, overwhelming, and as if it’s never going to go away. 

A few things seem to happen here. As Underhill mentions, it’s a very human process. It doesn’t feel spiritual at all. Just as we are faced with losses in our life, we are faced with what this brings up in us of emotions, reactions, painful memories, and more. And this is an invitation for a few different things. 

It’s an invitation for healing what’s unhealed in us. It comes to the surface with an invitation for us to find healing for it. 

It’s an invitation for healing our relationship to life and the life situations we find ourselves in, and also our relationship to what it brings up in us including the pain. Can we befriend it? Can we find it as a support for our healing and maturing? 

It’s an invitation for giving it all over to the divine. Let Your will be done. I give it all over to you. We deepen in this orientation while also being engaged and taking care of our life in an ordinary sense and as best as we can. 

It’s an invitation for more thoroughly seeing it all as the divine. The life situations, and what it brings up in us. Can we meet it as the divine? Can we feel it as the divine? Can we even find love for it as the divine? 

It’s an invitation to surrender to it. To notice, allow, and rest with it, and to do the same with whatever it brings up in us including the pain. To see that, as much as something in us would like it to go away, it’s actually OK. 

It’s an invitation to befriend our humanness. The messiness. Confusion. Embarrassing. Humbling. Immature. Angry. Sad. Reactive. The universally human that we too have and are. 

With all this is an invitation to notice. To notice what’s going on. And to notice the effects of how we relate to it. It can even be an invitation to explore various spiritual practices and healing modalities. We can learn a great deal of practical value in this process. 

It’s an invitation to allow the process to work on us. Notice we don’t know what’s actually going on. Find some trust and patience with the process. 

As we heal as human beings, we are better able to live from the clarity, kindness, and wisdom available to us. And the same goes for more thoroughly recognize everything, without exception, as the divine. (If we still have a theistic orientation, we can say it’s from the divine.) 

The overall invitation is to deepen in healing, clarity, and heartfulness. In that sense, it’s the greatest gift we could receive. It’s not what we, at a human level, would choose. But it can come with great gifts. 

There are other types of dark nights. In contemporary use, it often refers to a difficult time in our life whether or not there is a (recognized) spiritual context. In a spiritual context, it seems to happen when life or the spiritual process rubs up against remaining identifications. It can feel dry, empty, disorienting, and so on. 

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