thelerner

Dark night of the soul

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I was pondering aspects of problems as a person gets deeper into meditation, stumbling blocks that turn into pits.  As synchronicity would have it, I found an article in the Atlantic about the Dark night of the soul.   The very subject I was thinking about. 

 

Here's the article- https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/the-dark-knight-of-the-souls/372766/

and here's a couple excerpts.  For some this is a catastrophe and wondering about thoughts of members.

 

"

"I started having thoughts like, 'Let me take over you,' combined with confusion and tons of terror," says David, a polite, articulate 27-year-old who arrived at Britton’s Cheetah House in 2013. "I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought 'Kill yourself' over and over again."

 

Michael, 25, was a certified yoga teacher when he made his way to Cheetah House. He explains that during the course of his meditation practice his "body stopped digesting food. I had no idea what was happening." For three years he believed he was "permanently ruined" by meditation.."

 

".. he finally felt awake. But it didn't last.   Still high off his retreat, he declined an offer to attend law school, aggravating his parents. His best friends didn't understand him, or his "insane" stories of life on retreat.

"I had a fear of being thought of as crazy," he says, "I felt extremely sensitive, vulnerable, and naked."

 

"..Psychological hell," is how he describes it. "It would come and go in waves. I’d be in the middle of practice and what would come to mind was everything I didn't want to think about, every feeling I didn't want to feel." David felt "pebble-sized" spasms emerge from inside a "dense knot" in his belly.

 

He panicked. Increasingly vivid pornographic fantasies and repressed memories from his childhood began to surface.

"I just started freaking out,.."

 

The articles find that this dark phenomena happens across the spectrum of meditative practices, appearing more in the most intense retreats.  Treatment can take 6 months to 3 years to never.  Having close access to a experienced teacher can prevent or help, but that is not the case in most seminars where students outnumber teachers 20,30,80(?) or more to one.  In truth few have experience taking people down from this, and no amount of reasoning, philosophy or quotes tends to be a magic cure.

 

To me, the best thing is preventing it in the first place.  ie when things get strange or too heated, slow down or stop.  Long walks, talks with friends.. ground and normalize.  

 

Yet, there are fruits to the dark night of the soul.. people can come out of it stronger, or ruined in a nihilistic 'everything tastes like dust' psyche.  Glenn Morris who'd take people through Kundalini-esque experiences put heavy emphasis on staying happy, saying energy moves better through a happy system.  This goes beyond New Age thinking. 

 

Imo, doing heavy duty meditation (& energy work) you have to be on the positive side of neutral.  Because our conditioning our culture pulls us towards darkness.  The average western has seen countless (10,000's) of murders, rapes, disasters on TV, and ofcourse real life in the paper.   Our consciousness pooh poohs it and turns the page, maybe a deeper part of us does not.

 

We have to be positive just to keep at neutral.  Probably very positive cause its a rough nasty world.   Otherwise entering the void,  the darkness sucks like a black hole and we may not have the pull to escape it. 

 

So, that's the bad news.  The good news is the cure is enjoying the world.  Friends, family, good food, fresh air, blue sky, childrens smiles, a toddlers crooked walk.  The world is full of every day phenomena of things going right.  Learn to appreciate them.  Smile when you can, in life and meditation. 

 

In the practice of The Secret Smile, one of the aspects is humor.  Not just ha ha humor but seeing the foibles of the world with sympathy.. loving compassion.  We laugh at sitcoms because of the foolishness displayed, we need enough space to gain some of that.  It also helps to do some work that improves the world, be it charity at home or at large.  Thoughts are fine, but imo like our psyche's the world and its problems small and large need a push in the right direction.   A little consistent work, smiles, some hours, a donation, it all helps. 

 

 

Edited by thelerner
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3 hours ago, thelerner said:

We have to be positive just to keep at neutral.  Probably very positive cause its a rough nasty world.   Otherwise entering the void,  the darkness sucks like a black hole and we may not have the pull to escape it. 

 

So, that's the bad news.  The good news is the cure is enjoying the world.  Friends, family, good food, fresh air, blue sky, childrens smiles, a toddlers crooked walk.  The world is full of every day phenomena of things going right.  Learn to appreciate them.  Smile when you can, in life and meditation.

 

I think you are on to something. Remaining positive, as you say, is a good thing.

 

I feel it is important to separate our sense of happiness from our sense of pleasure and pain. Traditionally we are told that pleasure brings happiness and pain unhappiness. This view of happiness is, in my opinion, childish. By predicating our happiness on circumstances outside our control we invite disaster. I much prefer to disconnect the two. Thus I may feel pain but remain happy. Conversely I may feel pleasure and also remain happy. In other words, although I may be tired, and hungry, and feel pain, my overall attitude and outlook is still positive. That, to me, is a mature way to approach life.

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2 hours ago, Lost in Translation said:

 

I feel it is important to separate our sense of happiness from our sense of pleasure and pain. Traditionally we are told that pleasure brings happiness and pain unhappiness. This view of happiness is, in my opinion, childish. By predicating our happiness on circumstances outside our control we invite disaster. I much prefer to disconnect the two. Thus I may feel pain but remain happy. Conversely I may feel pleasure and also remain happy. In other words, although I may be tired, and hungry, and feel pain, my overall attitude and outlook is still positive. That, to me, is a mature way to approach life.

That is a truth I too often forget.    

 

For me, few things examine the paradigm of disconnect more then Wim Hof training. In the breathing part you're faced with holding your breath (after breathing out) as long as possible, which requires learning to relax into what's essentially voluntary self strangulation.  It takes awhile but you learn to accept and observe neutrally.  Similarly for the cold showers, it begins somewhat tortuously and you gradually disassociate, til its just a sensation, you don't need to feel emotionally about it. 

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This darkness that people experience after plenty of meditation is a necessary part of the path, and it is one of the primary aspects of meditation.  Of course we wish to practice non thinking, and of course thoughts and memories will surface anyway.  These are often the very thoughts and memories that people keep busy to suppress, they don't want to self examine, so the self examining comes during periods of mental quiet.   These dark thoughts and memories will not stop until you work through every single one in your entire past life.  Castaneda had a way of dealing with this.  When you get to one of these dark memories just take a big inhale, turn your head to the side (I can't recall which side but I think it was to the right) exhale and let it go.

 

I don't think a person can completely switch off their thoughts until they have covered all events of their past life.

 

This is seeing your dark side and it is an essential part of progressing along the spiritual path, and it is true that there is more darkness in people's awarness these days, but you've got to go through it if you want to get to enlightenment.

 

It takes guts, ruthless self honesty, and a stiff upper lip to face the music, and the music must be faced.  The fact is that a lot of people don't have the guts, self honesty, or persistence that it takes, so what's to do?  You can give them their pacifier and advise they stop meditating for ever or for awhile so then it's a dead end.  A lot of times they realize it's because of the meditation so they'll stop their meditations anyway.  There is no easy solution.  You just need to know that this is how you work through your karma; to feel remorse, not only for your own dark side, but for everyone elses, is how you work through your karma.

 

You need to know that eventually you will get through it and then there will be more peace, you have embraced your dark side and love yourself anyway, with clarity.  Those who avoid it will be forever stuck in hell.

 

It's also true that a person can begin feeling a little crazy, and they realize that they actually have been crazy all along (thinking too much is a form of insanity), and they then realize that everyone else is crazy too, then they realize it's not all that bad.

 

You have to go crazy before you can get sane, you have to go through hell before you can get to heaven.  There are no short cuts.

 

Joseph Campbell speaks of this, he says that many myths from all over the world are similar.  The hero of the story enters some dark cave of fear and battles some monster, when he comes out the other side he is a changed person and a true hero, a leader.

 

It's the way it is, go for it.

Edited by Starjumper
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The road to heaven leads through hell.

 

My take on it is that people can see meditation as stress reduction and a way to improve themselves in their lives with their current mindset. I on the other hand am getting comfortable with the idea that I meditate so my mindset can change, so my life will change and the experience in this reality will change.

 

But after having had periods of depression and suicide attempts and such, I (my ego) kind off lost the fear of death gradually. Took about 10 years.

 

Where I started a deep Yoga Meditation recently, I realize going into a certain trance; which with practice will lead to something akin to the death of the ego. Or whatever that would mean. Now this experience can be very scary or it can be the most fulfilling experience and it would be most likely a bit of both :)

 

Thing to remember is; we are only in this body for about 100 years or much less in many cases. Don't take it too seriously and smile a lot. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

And I do feel sympathy; it is so very scary to be human. Yet it can be so rewarding.

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Hello,

 

In Taoist Medicine, TDN is associated with a weak Spleen, Earth fails to nourish hence our consciousness feels disconnected, lost. 

 

In meditation retrats this often happens because of the sudden release of an already weak spleen. Modern society is heavily taxing in the balancing organ/element/phase. Too much thinking and worry harm the spleen...put an incorrect/imbalanced diet and poor or irregular eating patterns on top of that and our hard working spleens can't simply cope anymore.

 

Good info here:

 

https://planetherbs.com/blogs/lesleys-blog/snap-your-spleen-back-in-shape-part-1/

 

https://planetherbs.com/blogs/lesleys-blog/snap-your-spleen-back-into-shape-part-2/

 

Maciocia's "The Three Treasures" is an excellent presentation about a variety of health issues from the internal organs imbalances from the 5E perspective. There is no need to learn all those herbal formulas since it is more suited for TCM practitioners specialised in Herbal Medicine but if you peruse the document you'll soon realise that there is an underlying pattern to most conditions. 

 

Link:

 

http://www.three-treasures.com/downloads/Three Treasures Manual.pdf

 

 

A very valuable and helpful document.

 

Hope this helps :)

 

 

Edited by Gerard
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The biggest problem is no one ever tells the person going through  the "dark night" that the mental stuff that rises is not Who they really are. I struggled for 5-6 years with this but managed to doggedly continue with my Taiji and meditation practice. All sorts of crap rises up to the surface. More we push it away, the stronger it becomes, tailspinning rapidly out of control. 

 

That's why a group (sangha) and a teacher are so important. 

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52 minutes ago, Gerard said:

Maciocia's "The Three Treasures" is an excellent presentation about a variety of health issues from the internal organs imbalances from the 5E perspective. There is no need to learn all those herbal formulas since it is more suited for TCM practitioners specialised in Herbal Medicine but if you peruse the document you'll soon realise that there is an underlying pattern to most conditions. 

 

Link:

 

http://www.three-treasures.com/downloads/Three Treasures Manual.pdf

A very valuable and helpful document.

 

Hope this helps :)

 

 

That download is pretty information heavy.  Above my paygrade but seems like a newer version of some very expensive Traditional Chinese Medicine tomes. 

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I think going into the practice with a knowledge that “This May happen” would help immensely. Seems like it’s a lot worse when it’s unexpected. 

 

The flipside to that is ... you’ll be waiting for the axe to drop. Unwarranted fear. Not everyone has these dark, astral type experience. 

 

Good call about knowing when to slow down, or stop altogether. The idea of “pushing thru it” Doesn’t apply here. Resistance and force is not beneficial to meditation or the meditator. 

Edited by Fa Xin
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In my humble opinion, you have been talking about psychological "nigredo" as was described by Jung. The real nigredo or sol niger is a stage in western alchemy and I suppose, it can not be experienced unless you are a potent member of a genuine Alchemy Lodge. And I've heard they are extinct and non-existent in our days.

 

Sol niger
The body must be dissolved in the subtlest middle air: The body is also dissolved by its own heat and humidity; where the soul, the middle nature holds the principality in the colour of blackness all in the glass: which blackness of Nature the ancient Philosophers called the crows head, or the black sun.

5aca49f00a248_solniger.jpg.71eb4868982310f6dfadcf8fa09d9206.jpg

 

 

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The dark night is neither a period of psychological depression nor an alchemical stage, it refers to a quite specific stage of development toward spiritual maturity experienced by mystics and contemplatives. 

 

The dark night of the soul is a spiritual crisis that according to the mystical Christian perspective prepares the soul for divine union, which is experienced as successive stages of darkness. This darkness is in fact part of the necessary purging of self-love in all its forms, which is also perceived as a painful stripping away.

 

In the dark night of the soul there is no relief available even if it is desired, no escape from the abyss or the void, and the only way out is through it. 

 

 

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57 minutes ago, Bindi said:
 

The dark night is neither a period of psychological depression nor an alchemical stage, it refers to a quite specific stage of development toward spiritual maturity experienced by mystics and contemplatives. 

 

The dark night of the soul is a spiritual crisis that according to the mystical Christian perspective prepares the soul for divine union, which is experienced as successive stages of darkness. This darkness is in fact part of the necessary purging of self-love in all its forms, which is also perceived as a painful stripping away.

 

In the dark night of the soul there is no relief available even if it is desired, no escape from the abyss or the void, and the only way out is through it. 

 

 

Yes - I've always defined the "dark night of the soul" as this, too.  I guess people can have different definitions of the term, or experience things in different ways.  I'm guessing there's many seekers on the path who are in this stage for an indeterminate long period of time.

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8 hours ago, Kara_mia said:

the middle nature holds the principality in the colour of blackness all in the glass: which blackness of Nature the ancient Philosophers called the crows head, or the black sun.

5aca49f00a248_solniger.jpg.71eb4868982310f6dfadcf8fa09d9206.jpg

 

 

 

sounds neat

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Most dark nights are reflective of the being born, reborn or hatching or getting harvested archetypes..

 

The means at the beginning are that you are innocent but do not have the required knowledge to fulfill your destiny.. so you go through what some would term a process of suffering..

 

But ultimately that suffering is just like cracking an egg..both due to the crash, random and chaotic pieces must be shed to grow up to your full potential..

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Awesome topic! Serious importantometers hitting max and staying there.

I felt the need to post this now but i’ll be back with a clearer head soon, skip if you want, it’s not i portant :)

 

Not done reading all the posts or links but this is some highly important stuff to adress, i’m personally invested in it and it seems that The Dark Night(s?) are warned about in a lot of traditional sources.

Zen writings (still funny) are pretty clear about the ”do or die” nature of the path. Daoist sources talk of pitfalls, malpractice, insincerity, imbalances and never deny the yin darkness, cessation before reanimation and so on.

 

i’ve not been thoroghly sheltered in life but i cant even begin to immagine what people go through on the daily, what some consider normal etc.

But the dark night seems like a point some reach because of the truth of ”do or die, your choice.” is pretty easy to push ahead. But staying in refusal of willingness to continue, it being worth itself and to fight for. TM mentioned the Diamond Core.

 

Nothing dissappears, darkness can be repressed and every bill comes due.

TDNoS is scary as life, i’ve started to see part of it as a cave, during a certain time it looked like the arena of irony, one for hopeless battles and wars and then i actually used some of those IQ-points i used to be so proud of and realized i could leave. Then i realized the cave was part of me, it’s a useful place and i return there anytime i’m unwittingly afflicted by selfgrandiose stupidity and a feeling of powerlessness. It’s like a collection of roads that lead someplace when i take a wrong turn and mistake obvious shit for impossible conundrums, sorta.

 

At one point i was trying to describe sorrow and unwittingly went into a ”room” full of familiar entities, it was a dimly illuminated hall and everyone was gathered there, sunlight came in through an opening in the roof and when i came in everyone fell silent. A sensation of recognition filled the room and i was acknowledged by those present, i cried and cried and realized that the sunlight was shining on a center where something was missing, but it wasnt lost. It was not my place to stand in the light of course but i had neglected showing up for a long long time, thinking it wasn’t there or that i wasn’t part of the solution. Turns out i was wrong. As soon as i had accepted my willful absence and stopped being ashamed of having been too foolish to realize it, everybody stood up, said ”welcome back, we missed you” and went about their business.

 

That wasn’t the cave, that wasn’t leaving the cave, but realizing the nature and contents of the cave were part of something i’m part of it got easier distinguishing what was me, what was false-me and what wasn’t me.

I think that preambled what i call ”The Dark Pre-dawn Wee Hours of the Soul.”

 

I dont think it’s an affliction, i think it’s what happens when stubbornness and acceptance don’t agree. Maybe?

Edited by Rocky Lionmouth
Furthering
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The image I get and like from some of the comments here is one of a self that’s grown strong enough through personal cultivation to allow the integration of darkness as part of a multi-faceted fluid self that needs to be accepted fearlessly in all its sometimes unpleasant and contradictory aspects; a self that's totally whole yet not necessarily unified.

 

It's an image of a self that's aware of itself as a circumference that holds these many aspects of the totality of what it means to be human, rather than a self that can only function as a single-pointed controlling centre.  A laissez-faire self. 

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I've seen people who's dark night went from heavy depression to delusions of grandeur.   I think they could have recovered or at least sought help if they weren't so heavily into esoteric arts, where some interpret the highest levels to be godlike.  Bad bad combination. 

 

I think having trusted friends (or teacher) keeping you grounded is essential ie someone to say 'no you're just full of shit'.   Matter of fact I think in (super high) Kabbalah there may be a custom of having a partner just for that reason, to keep you grounded and not escaping into delusions, bliss or world beyond. 

Edited by thelerner
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To me the dark night is the full acknowledgement of the humanly constructed self, the egoic self formed to protect the heart and mind from painful truths. Seeing that egoic self fully and absolutely clearly, and recognising that this humanly constructed egoic self lacks 'light', in that moment of recognition there is room for 'God's light' or 'True Self' or 'True Nature'. 

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The dark night might be equivalent to the Zen notion of making yourself empty before you can be filled, if that emptiness is seen as darkness/void.

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If there`s something you`re doing that consistently makes you feel good and only good, you can be sure it has nothing to do with genuine spiritual growth.  We all have our dark sides and if we are to blossom into full consciousness of our whole selves that darkness will have to be faced -- never a pleasant proposition.  But does this mean that all the difficulties we encounter in our spiritual work should be toughed out and powered through?  I say no.  Readers of this board are in all different kinds of situations in their lives and there`s no single best answer.  Many of us need to maintain a certain level of function to be able to work at our jobs and care for our families; not everyone has the economic or psychological wherewithal to flirt productively with debilitating depression or kundalini induced crackups.  And another thing, not every painful experience is a road to integration and harmony.  Plenty of them are merely dead ends.

 

So how do you know what to do?  This is where having an experienced teacher and supportive community come in handy.   

Edited by liminal_luke
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On 4/8/2018 at 7:37 PM, Fa Xin said:

Yes - I've always defined the "dark night of the soul" as this, too.  I guess people can have different definitions of the term, or experience things in different ways.  I'm guessing there's many seekers on the path who are in this stage for an indeterminate long period of time.

It is what Daoists call “facing the inner demons”. It is transcended by right knowledge and fortitude. 

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50 minutes ago, dwai said:

It is what Daoists call “facing the inner demons”. It is transcended by right knowledge and fortitude. 

 

"The authentic dark night is nothing less than a compassionate and beneficent gift of God. It is 'the wound that only God can heal'."

- Peter Holleran

 

If right knowledge and fortitude are sufficient to transcend it, it is not the dark night of the soul. "Facing the inner demons" is necessary to arrive at the dark night though.  

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"The mystics say to God, "more pain, more pain." — No! I don't want it. I know what I am. We're not strong enough. Don't ask for such a thing...You're going to go out and seek that? Who are you, Saint Francis?! We're talking about an ego-crushing experience! You are not going to come out better for it, you're going to come out a little humble. That's called eating crow. If you didn't eat crow, that's not the ego-crushing experience..Once that happens there is something made available. You are opened up a little bit, but usually it takes the whole cosmos to do it...for most of us it really has to be delivered. We're put through it...But as long as the ego has that persistent arrogance and a whole network of defense mechanisms to block out anything from coming in, it's not going to get that Grace; so the world has to come and crush it so that a little Grace might come in. But no one willingly goes out to seek it, take my word for it."  - Anthony Damiani

 

 

 

Edited by Bindi
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Bindi, thank you for your above two posts. What you’ve written parallels insights I’ve gained from working through my own long-term ego crushing experiences. I was struggling with how to express these same sentiments and you’ve saved me the trouble with your concise words and quotations. 

 

(BTW I could add some qualifiers as you've written from a Christian perspective whereas I relate more to Daoist 'reality' but highlighting such differences would only serve as a distraction from the essential truth of your posts.) 

 

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