Friday, 29 March 2013

The Dark Night of the Soul

"The darkest part of the night is just before dawn"

Dark Night of the Soul" (Spanish: La noche oscura del alma) is the title of a poem written by 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross, and of a treatise he wrote later, commenting on the poem.

         "O guiding Night,
           O Night more lovely than Dawn,
           O Night that has united the lover with his beloved
           Transforming the Lover in her Beloved."

I couldn't find a better opportunity to write on this subject today being Good Friday - when Jesus went through immense suffering - a period of dark night of His soul.

 The dark night of the soul is a period of intense turmoil faced on the journey of spirituality. It is a period of immense confusion, inner-conflict, chaos and helplessness perceived and experienced by the person. It is an ordeal every seeker passes through. This phase is destined to come into our lives, in order to come face-to-face with our 'other' aspect. This 'other aspect' is what some psychologists call THE SHADOW.

All of us are born complete, perfect in our thoughts and feelings until the time we begin to categorize our perception of the world and its associated experiences. From about the age of 3, we start living in the illusion of duality  - split from the source first as 'I' and 'The Other'. Then starts the split life of categorizing the world into ever conceivable opposite forms - good/bad, ugly/beautiful, small-big, etc. 

Check out the following short video on shadow. It is a beautiful presentation on this subject:

Note: All of us possess split personality or multilple personalities. We often project the image that is best suited for survival consciously. Our brain's main function is primarily to sustain our existence - survival mode! The thoughts that arise after the brain processes the inputs from the environment are only miniscule. Not only does the brain register thoughts with a delay of fraction of seconds, but it takes only selective thoughts for projection, the rest being dormant in the subconscious mind - which if unused/ redundant is either deleted from the memory or goes into the unconscious memory.

In psychology-spirituality, the term 'shadow' stands for that dormant part of us, that we do not consciously project. This is normally the dark side of us, which remains embedded and forming our karmic patterns and sapping our energy. In Christian philosophy it has been referred to as THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. Jesus, Moses, St. John of Cross, etc. had gone through this. Jesus himself let out the deepest pain by expressing his human side, behind the 'prophet' image, by crying out in pain while on cross: "Father, Why have you forsaken me? ". It has also been said that Jesus went through his dark night earlier to this episode, during his ordeal of 40 days and 40 nights where he was lured into temptations by the devil.

Suffering seems eternal. Feelings of abandonment, powerlessness and at the extreme end even suicide tend to arise from the depths of of the self. In short, the self is completely exposed with repressed energies surfacing and appearing to devour the energy of the self !

It so happens that the phase of dark night appears mostly at a time when the spiritual seeker has almost neared enlightenment - or to put it in another way, as if the spiritual seeker 'feels' enlightened. Then comes the dark night with a bang! As the world is a projection of our mind, the seeker suddenly finds himself/herself in a peculiar place, with peculiar people and peculiar events happening that shakes the very foundation of his/her spiritual conquest - unaware that it was all self-created!

This phase is created and projected by the sage for the purpose of bringing out the shadow-side, accepting its presence, acknowledging its significance and releasing it with love and thus allow healing to happen.

'I am enlightened' is a subtle ego that still lurks within the sage (seeker). The sage faces perils unbeknownst to him/her as to how could such drastic things occur. The challenges that come in the way puts the sage in a whrilpool of chaos! This chaotic whirlpool churns out all the hidden negativities that lay dormant within the sage - fear, anger, violent demeanour, extreme emotional outbursts,tears, burning sensation, inferiority complex, etc. The sage ends up chanting statements repeatedly without being aware like:


The period of dark night of the soul is a testing phase for the sage. It is actually a blessing in disguise because all the repressed negative energies have an opportunity to be released. In facing one's demons, by being conscious and allowing the negativities to surface, one not only gets to see all that one is not, but also feels compassion for all those possessed by such negativities. At this time, the body goes through a tremendous revolution from inside, although it is not visible from outside. Many blockages are removed and there could be frequent surge of energy flowing through the various chakras. The healing progresses and if one is conscious at this time, one notices visible changes in food habits and breathing pattern. One needs to consume a lot of water at this time and live on a healthy diet especially a lot of fruits and vegetables to ensure steady supply of energy due to the restoration in progress. On the social side, one would benefit a lot in the presence of trusted friends, supportive family members and understanding people around. The guidance from a spiritual guru would be very beneficial, provided the guru lets the student to find his/her own way and give motivational support only where and when necessary.

Healing at this time can be explained with the analogy of a soiled pan. To remove the grease, you would run hot water over it, leaving it there for a few hours, then with a cleaning agent start scrubbing the whole pain. The water in the pan becomes darker and darker on the surface, but deep inside, where the bottom of the pan is being scrubbed, you know that it the cleaning is getting effective.

Similarly, during this crisis of the spirit,though everything appears messed up, the truth is that healing is going on. At the peak of this crisis, one finally surrenders to the Divine Will. The dark night of the soul is a brief period of crisis like the solar eclipse. Although it is dark for a while, the sun is never extinguished.

Like in swimming, when all resistance is given up and the body surrenders to water, holding the breath, one is naturally pushed to the surface and it becomes easier to float, breathe and swim. Similarly, the soul instead of sinking deeper and deeper, finally manages to emerge from its own projected illusions and sees reality for what it is. At this stage, the sage learns acceptance his duality - of what the sage is not. Knowing what the sage is not, the sage then CHOOSES to be what he/she should be.The sage knows that he/she has more strength and courage then he/she had ever imagined. Done away with the victim mentality and all false illusions, the sage now projects his/her gratitude to the universe, and takes part in the creative manifestation of his/her life's purpose. The sage now truly begins to live out his/her authentic self; the 'Dharma' or the true nature of oneself.

The God within makes peace with it's other self - the devil for one is incomplete without the other as life is but a dynamic play of the interdependent complementary opposite energies. Having learnt true compassion, love and humility, the sage becomes a light unto himself/herself and like a candle, guides the way for others going their own dark night.

Happy Easter - May we resurrect from our darkness like Jesus Himself.

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