“In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.â€ – St John of the Cross
At the best of times, it’s not easy to talk of suffering. But it would seem that more people are going through inner spiritual catharsis. This article was primarily written in 2008, for those who know something of the dark night. It was following my own experience through the dark night, some 3+ years ago.
I say ‘an individual experience’ because each person’s experience is different, and this post relates how it was for me. Yet in essence, the dark night is but one, whoever we are. Thus, through understanding our own self, we can understand another. Self-understanding is the only real knowledge. And indeed, you could say the dark night of the soul is the start of a process through which self-understanding arises, and clarity of wider Truth dawns.
The term ‘dark night of the soul’ was coined by a Carmelite Monk in the 16th Century, St John of the Cross, who used it as the title of a poem and thesis that he wrote. The text tells of the saint’s mystical development and the stages he is subjected to on his challenging journey towards union with God.
Until the dark night arrives with full momentum, suffering is resisted. But on this occasion, the suffering that arises is felt intensely. Such despair can continue for days, weeks or even years. During this time, there may be a feeling of being abandoned by God or the Universe and the presence of much internal anguish. Life may seem to offer no reassurance whatsoever, no matter how many â€˜goodâ€™ things there are outwardly. There just seems to be no way out or forward. The dark night is not just another low period in oneâ€™s life, it is the lowest of the lows, with an intensity of despair that cannot easily be expressed. The individual may feel greatly isolated in this experience, and this isolation itself leads to an intensifying of the pain felt, until defeat is total. Defeat, that eventually, given an adjustment period, becomes welcome surrender.
Until then, the road seems full of sharp stones. But, the most important thing to understand at this time is that there is a deeper, spiritual meaning to this situation. There is a hidden purpose to it. In these moments of darkness the Divine is touching and purifying us. This is not at first apparent, because that is the design. We must first experience that which is not Truth, so that when Truth does shine its torch on us, we thankfully recognize It and take the offering of transformation. How could we fully appreciate joy if we did not know what sadness was? How could we know strength, if we did not know weakness? How could we know freedom and love, if we did not know what it is to feel trapped and embarrassment? How could you enjoy are really good stretch if your body didn’t know what tension was? The negative counterpart, when experienced, leads to exquisite empowerment and inner knowledge.
But it is the nature of human beings that it is often at the last hour, when things have reached an extreme point, that we summon the strength and endurance to learn this lesson. Hence it is no surprise that for some people the dark night of the soul occurs, since with feelings at an extreme, they cannot run away now. Would we have listened when the going was good? We haven’t listened so far! Thus with the depths of pain that the dark night brings, it becomes much more difficult to escape and make it fine again. And this is the very nature and purpose of this experience. It forces the individual and precipitates a more honest look at their life and at themselves. During this night raw honesty arises of its own accord. Were it our choice we would surely hide, as has been our want.
Now, the call to awaken to the truth of the shadow self is heard, reluctantly at first. There may be rebellion! There may be anger. All of these are to be welcomed, as they will release you. When faced with ourselves full-on it is inevitable that we will see some aspects as undesirable. These are just the doorway, not the final frontier. What lies beyond the doorway is now to be discovered from a place of the unknown. Scary, but no choice. Not once this process has started. Of course, the â€˜speedâ€™ of it is according to oneâ€™s willingness to take away the ego mask.
The lesson is one of learning that vulnerability is an expression of fuller humanity. In allowing a level of vulnerability, it becomes unavoidable to face the pain which we have thus far inflicted on ourselves and on others. At this point in the dark night, much introspection is required, for a certain period. It is the process of embracing the shadow self. Embracing the darkness in oneself, it becomes easier to embrace it in others. The offering is a softening. You have been too harsh in the identity you have been carrying, and now, thereâ€™s weariness from the effort. Love, given and received, is made much more possible through greater acceptance of that which is not love. And it is not loving to constantly whip yourself everyday for everything you do â€˜wrong.â€™ So you make a choice for Love and Kindness.
The real despair in the heart of human beings is a feeling of being separate from everyone and everything, including, and especially God. The gift of the dark night is that one has an opportunity to find out that there is a completeness, a Oneness within oneself, that even includes â€“ and gradually dissolves – those feelings of separation. And yes, this process can be grueling, frightening, frustrating or challenging in some other way, but a level of this is necessary.
As we see the truths about our own shadow or pain, ego begins to be relegated from its primary position. This relegation involves great anguish for a human being for there has been no other known way to be, up to this point. Hitherto we have been ego. Ego has run our life for us. Thus, it is a loss; and grief and great sorrow may be felt for an identity that must now be let go of. This can take some adjusting, and we should not be overly concerned with how we are doing along this path, as simply being present to whatever is arising.
Ego makes an empty shell out of a person. It offers no real substance, and causes one to live a second-hand life lived from second-hand opinions, these forming a wall around the person ensuring the inner experience of separation remains in place at all times, no matter how much we may outwardly laugh.
The seeing of ego, is the experience of our own death in life. And although it is hard road, it is one that must
be travelled, because what has been accumulated, must eventually be released and transmuted. The ego is an illusion, yet it does still exist within the confines of the vast, diverse game we play. A vastness that now starts to become apparent, as the opaque layers of the identity onion are shed, one by one. The revealing of the non-existence of ego is however not just death, but rebirth. The true state of being â€˜rebornâ€™ can only come through dying to our conditioned thinking, whether religious, cultural, social or whatever; it cannot be given from external sources or means eg religious or otherwise.
The dark night provides an intense period of growth which would otherwise take much longer. Human beings are prone to wanting an easy ride, and whilst a life lived from an ego-based mind is in fact a life of suffering, it is nonetheless easy because it is what we know. It is much easier to be unhappy than it is to be happy, for in creating happiness for yourself and others, you must traverse your unhappiness.
In all reasonableness, we could not have expected it to be easy now could we, given our ways?!
If during this time, inner resources of courage and endurance can be summoned to the fore, then That which is blocked by ego will shine forth. This is the peace and joy of our own intrinsic Divine nature. This is what has been waiting to be revealed with much patience for many a lifetime. And finally we get it.
When the extent of the egoâ€™s controlling ways are seen for what they are, beliefs, concepts and judgments become greyed out. It may sometimes seem that freedom in reality is not the freedom previously imagined; it may feel like an alien feeling. In time, it feels more natural.
As one sees things in this new way, the world may appear to be more crazy than previously thought! But the mental hospital that the world now seems, is also now known to be perfect. Perfect in the sense that this is how it is. How could it ever be any other way?! Reality has the last word, and you see that now. There is nothing wrong. There is nothing to change in this moment in which one finds oneself alive. Saying that, does not mean that things are necessarily beneficial or must stay the same, or that they do not need to change. Of course, the play that weâ€™re all participating in does not a need a whole new plotline, thatâ€™s for sure! But in essence, you have had a merging with Truth, or rather, realized you were already and always merged, and it was traversing darkness that led you to light. This is the way that Truths are revealed to you, from the very bosom of your own life, the Light shines forth in clarity. Oneness is experienced from within your own life, not from a book.
The dark night is the wake-up call we sent to ourselves to remind us of our true purpose on Earth. I believe all who awaken to the truth of their own Being must experience their own dark night at the dawn of awakening.
It is ultimately a gift that reveals real Self and brings one back to the unadulterated, untarnished state of our Divine nature.
Afterthought: You could say that the Earth and all its people are, collectively, experiencing the Dark Night. This is not exactly hard to see. How and when the Light will truly and fully shine who knows precisely, but I certainly sense a broader Consciousness threading its way through the intricacies and subtleties of life on this planet. May it continue to shine brighter and brighter as the months go by, cos God knows, we need it.
Comments, as always, very welcome.
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