Recently during an off-line conversation, the subject of the “Dark Night of the Soul” came up. I touched on this subject once when talking about The Rapture. It is mainly a Christian idea although similar ideas of a time of desolation and loneliness on the spiritual path arise in other teachings.
I’ve seen it used to describe a number of related experiences.
One is where we fall deeply into our suffering. Get into a loop of identification that self-reinforces itself into deeper and deeper pain. We’ve all had versions of this like having a tantrum or a depression. Generally, this is ego induced although occasionally, soul can use it as a means to break out. Create an untenable situation something like Eckhart Tolle experienced.
Another is during the forward journey where we are confronted with our dark side, the shadow aspects we’ve been unwilling to see. If we’ve not yet let them go, the deepening allowing will bring our inner dramas into awareness. Be seen for what they are. The trick here is that the fear of the shadow is greater than the shadow itself. Once we’re willing to just take it as it is, it shrinks considerably. We bring light to the shadow.
A deeper layer of this can occur when we first fully see the story. See the game we’ve been playing. It can be disturbing to see what we’ve been caught in. It’s kind of a bigger version of realizing we’re in the middle of totally embarrassing ourselves. Acceptance of what has been will help clear it off, making way for the truth of our being. This is not to say we need to like it, just that we see it as it is. Letting it be lets it go.
Similarly, when ego begins to be really seen, it can kick up quite a fuss if we engage it. The key there is just to notice and not play the game. As Ruiz says, don’t believe it. Then it will dissipate. Maybe even pop altogether.
It’s worth noting here that as we see emotions more clearly and directly, they may seem to get bigger or “louder”. The key is just to see “ah it’s an emotion” and let it move on through. Not to believe it or engage it so much. Allowing it to flow will let it complete and leave. Resistance will keep it around.
It’s important to recognize that all of these are responses or reactions to the process. It is not necessary to have a “Dark Night” or any of these experiences. We may just see the ego and have it “pop” then and there. Or have it slowly fade into the sunset. Gracefully shift from a me to wholeness. If something does come up, we simply allow the process to unfold and step into the silence if and how we can.
That silence cultures a detached observer. Then you’re not taking the drama so seriously, not believing all those thoughts. They leave more easily then and stop coming back when there is no one to entertain them. Every story needs a teller.
The Christian idea of a Dark Night seems to relate more to the experience of being deserted by God. Where we see the shadow of ego but do not see a way out. Where we realize our “faith in God” is just another story. We seek a true connection with God but cannot find it in the shadow.
This is a curious thing. We are and there is nothing but God. Yet we become caught in the effects of the play of life and seem to lose our connection. This is a simple effect of clarity of consciousness. Without that seen connection, fear arises, creating a sense of separation of self and other. This unintentionally reinforces the “loss”. Mind responds to this sense of separation by making a story and the ego is born.
We can see this play out in the life of a young child as they begin to pull away from mother. Until they are clear on who they are, it is very fearful to not know where mother is.
God has never left. If anything, it is we who have left God. And we blame God for this. (laughs) Because our connection with God has been silent for such a long time, when God does return to direct experience (felt, seen, heard, etc.), it can sometimes take a bit of time to accept. We may think God is keeping a distance when in fact it is our own sense of separation doing it. Some further clearing of the heart is necessary.
To be clear here, I’m talking about God in form, God the personal. For westerns, we will often come to God the impersonal first. God as the silent immutable ever-presence.
Again, we see that connection to the silence within is the key. It can be very subtle or transcendent at first. But it is what you hold in common with all things. It is God without form.
Put another way, the silence is who you are. It is what is seeing the silence. But because of remaining identification, you think ‘I am these thoughts and ideas’ or ‘I am these feelings’. And so part of you seems separate from the silent observer. This points to the essence of Self realization – switching from a me observing silence to silence observing a me. Funnily enough, that which sees all this remains the same – it is only what we’ve associated it with that effects our experience of life.
Keep diving into the silence and coming out. In India, they tell the story of dying the cloth. You dip it in the dye, then bleach it out in the sun. Repeat until the colour is fast. Going out of the silence and into the world is your bleach, making the silence stick. It may not seem like it but it becomes more lively in your awareness. Then the witnessing observer gradually becomes more present.
The process takes a bit of patience. We can be hard on ourselves when we see it. But it’s OK. This has been going on for a long time. Now we see it so can begin to end it. Bit by bit, like peeling the layers of an onion. Soon we get to the bottom and the treasures of being are uncovered.