Jan 6, 2011

The Dark Night of the Soul

I stumbled upon this very insightful post on the dark night of the soul. (It can also be found here.) Here's an excerpt but I think the whole thing is a must-read for anyone who is going through this painful  process of alignment.

The dark night of the soul is a process many spiritual seekers go through at some point in their lives, I being one of them. The dark night is not mentioned that much in spiritual texts and teachings. A lot of the times, we are being told to be happy, raise your vibration, look to the light, but none of this will be lasting until you have loved the dark.

The dark night of the soul is an overall beautiful experience where a person’s ego/false self is “dying” to their true Self which is LOVE or in other words one is realizing the ego self is false and never really existed. This process can occur at any point in one’s life, but it usually emerges after a spiritual seeker has attained a lot of spiritual knowledge or growth. This is because the ego is now being called out for what it is and it tightens its grips on you to hide you from the light that you are.

Even though this is a very beautiful and sacred process, it can be perceived at the time as very difficult. Especially when you are in the thick of the fog. This is why it is called the dark night of the soul (it may feel like a dark century of the soul to some lol). You feel as if you are stuck in the dark with no hope of seeing the light again. You already feel totally alone due to this process, and ontop of that it is not talked about often in spiritual texts. This is because a lot of us look for the light only and try to run away from the dark, not realizing that the dark will only grow larger the more you ignore it.

Many think they have done something wrong when the symptoms of the Dark Night appear. Especially if they just went through so much perceived spiritual growth. This is furthest from the truth! When you find yourself in the Dark Night show gratitude because you are going through a sort of rites of passage or a spiritual detox. The pain you feel is the pain you have tried to suppress for years, decades, and even lifetimes. It is now finally bubbling up to the surface to be healed with the love you give it. Even though it seems painful to face this pain, you should feel honored that this pain is finally flowing out of you. We don’t even realize the heavy baggage that we have held onto for so long.

It seems to me that the dark night of the soul, experienced by so many lightworkers and spiritual seekers, is tumbling out of the new age closet. As I've discussed ad nauseum, there has long been active suppression of "negative" states in new age circles. This is one reason that, as 11orangeankh11 says, people think they've "done something wrong" when they find themselves in a process like the dark night of the soul; just as, tragically, they do when they experience illness or adversity. These states don't accord with the "positive attitude" and "staying in the light" that so many new age ideologies insist are important for manifesting what we want. But "want" is an ego function and the dark night of the soul is about dissolution of the ego. Here is one explanation of how the ego comes into conflict with our spiritual expansion, resulting in the dark night of the soul.

Your ego, your limited sense of self, your inadequate complex of ideas about who you are had to be dissolved. Your ego was, you begin to see, eclipsing higher consciousness and your true nature. Your old sense of self was inadequate to your new hopes and proper state. Your suffering intensified because of a major misapprehension. You were too used to thinking of yourself based on inputs from your previous experiences in life. On and on through life, you gathered information and responses from the world which indicated to you what kind of person you were and are. These superficial units of related inputs became integrated in what is called the ego — your sense of self, your sense of who you are. As long as you allowed this inaccurate or only partial sense of who you are to dominate, you could not know or abide in your true nature.

Your ego sense is so powerful — you invest it with so much of your thought and feeling — that your attitudes of life become based on an egocentric perspective. The ego gains a progressively greater foothold on your entire life because your basic attitudes about your existence and essential nature are strongly linked with ego.

Then, your ego sense, due to your suffering or your limitations in life, wants to have more power over circumstances and a more pleasant life. The ego sense often becomes motivated to seek higher consciousness and, thus, greater ability to dominate in life. Not always, but often, it is the ego sense which most eagerly pursues higher consciousness. It wants to be in charge; it wants to manipulate events and make life come out more to its satisfaction. [emphasis added] But, as long as your ego dominates, it is on a collision course with your true nature and your higher consciousness. There’s going to be a showdown. There has to be a confrontation sometime if your higher consciousness is ever to emerge, if you are ever to know truly who you are and what your human capabilities are.

I bolded the passage above because, in my opinion, this is where our spiritual growth gets derailed by the new age obsession with "positive thinking." The Secret and other "law of attraction" vehicles flatter the ego by promising that we can control our environment and get everything we want if we just learn how to think the "right" way. We won't get sick, we'll own multiple properties and cars, and have oodles of time to soak up the rays on our yachts... but only if we stay positive. The grandiosity of this notion can actually put us on a collision course with spirit and plunge us into the dark night. Our shadow self can only be willfully suppressed for so long before it erupts into conscious awareness. And we can't fully come into the wholeness, or oneness, we seek if we are cleaving to the dualism of that positive vs negative world view.

The dark night of the soul comes into the vernacular by way of a poem by the Carmelite priest St. John of the Cross who cataloged his experience of this painful journey of transformation. I first became familiar with this work while listening to Celtic artist Loreena McKennitt who adapted the poem and set it to music.

But the experience of the the dark night of the soul is not confined to this Christian tradition and is recognized in many wisdom traditions. Like the divine madness it has long been recognized as a sacred state and spiritual gift. Colleen O'Connor gives a little background in her interview with spiritual teacher Andrew Harvey who shared his experience of the dark night in his book The Sun At Midnight.

The Sun at Midnight, a new book by mystical scholar Andrew Harvey, describes how he rebuilt his life, his faith, and his marriage after the split from his guru, Mother Meera. It's centered on the Christian concept of the "dark night of the soul," in which the false self must die so that the true self can be born. This mystery of annihilation is found in many religions throughout history, from the shamanism to Sufism. Often there is anger, despair, and a sense of abandonment by God. But, as Harvey relates, the dark night of the soul is the true passage to Christ-consciousness. [aka, unity consciousness] You think that you are at your furthest from God, "but you are actually so close that you are blinded by His Glory and think it night."

Like the many people who have been plunged into the dark night after crashing headlong into the limitations of "new thought" paradigms, Harvey came to his experience after a brutal disillusionment with his spiritual path. For those unfamiliar with his story, here is a brief recap: Harvey, who had always been openly gay, fell in love with a young man named Eryk. He was shocked and horrified to learn that the support he had expected from his guru Mother Meera was not forthcoming. Her acceptance of his homosexuality was conditioned upon his never acting on it. He was given the choice of celibacy or marriage to a woman. In particular, she wanted him to marry and write a book about how she had healed him and made him "normal." Instead he wrote a book about his shattered faith in Mother Meera and his descent into and resurrection from the abyss.

I wonder how many people come to their dark night because of disillusionment with spiritual teachers and teachings. I experienced a number of such disappointments before I was brought to the inward, teacherless process of the dark night. Disillusionment is painful but, given the option, how many of us would knowingly choose delusion? The dark night is an eruption of the true self, tearing brutally through that which is inauthentic in our belief systems. This can include spiritual teachings we've followed for years.

In the video player above is a series of short lectures by Chrism on the dark night of the soul and the potential for suicide during kundalini awakening. I include them not because I think everyone in a dark night is going through a kundalini crisis but because I think much of what he's saying can be more broadly applied. One thing I'd add to his discussion of suicidal ideation, the third video in the player, is my own theory on why this happens so frequently during the dark night, lightworker syndrome, and other manifestations of spiritual emergency. I think we can become focused on death, not just because of the pain and sense of isolation, but because we are going through the process of ego death. As Karen Bishop says, of the lightworker phenomenon, we are dying while we're alive. On some level we know we're dying but much of that awareness is buried in the unconscious. The way the conscious mind interprets it is in a kind of death fixation that results in -- sometimes simultaneous -- terror of (hypochondria) and longing for death (suicidal ideation).

In the video on suicide, Chrism describes the frustration of the dark night as being like the butterfly inside the chrysalis. It feels its new wings but wonders what to do with them because it's still in an enclosed space. This is one of the most apt analogies I've ever heard to describe what it's like to be simultaneously so expanded and new and yet so maddeningly stuck in a confining reality.

But there is more to the symbol of the butterfly that makes it one of the primary archetypes of transformation. To fully appreciate butterfly as symbol, you have to understand what really happens to the caterpillar when it's in the chrysalis. A butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings. It doesn't just sprout them and then emerge. A butterfly is a completely remade caterpillar. While it's in the chrysalis, the butterfly secretes a digestive enzyme which dissolves its body all the way down into a gelatinous state. It reforms from that raw material into a wholly new creature; one that can fly. This, in a sense, is what is happening during the dark night of the soul. The ego, that which defines your body and mind, and holds you together as you, is being broken down into its rawest state. Not surprisingly, many of us find this process of dissolution uncomfortable. But it is a passage between a shallow, ego-centered centered faith and a mature experience of the divine.

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