VIII. Dark Night of the Soul
1. The soul and loss of God
2. Experience of the dark night
3. Total surrender required
Materials needed: Journal, collage materials
Dark night of the soul
The circle of love*
The paradoxes of love*
Reaching out (optional)
When things fall apart*
The bond with the Beloved
The Holy Bible: The book of Job*
J. B. or
The book of Job by thomas Moore
The stormy search for the self (optional)
Exercises and practices:
Dark night of the soul
* You may already have these books.
“Being, not doing is the first aim of the
mystic.” – Evelyn Underhill (1961, p. 381)
It may be difficult to see what Being has to do with a dark night of the
soul. First we must acknowledge that the spiritual journey has crossed
over from simply trying to live a good and moral life into mysticism.
We are now on a mystical and spiritual journey. That means that the
individual puts identification with the only Being first and foremost in his/her
list of priorities. Everything else, the world included, fades into
insignificance. A singular commitment is made to dedicate one’s life
to this journey and to persist until death or the journey is completed.
We have called this surrender. Now surrender takes on a new meaning,
that of ego annihilation. So, at this point, the soul emerges as the
primary journeyer. We have to call on the Beloved to sustain and protect
us as we undertake the initiatory journey into the depths of our psyches to
be reborn as god-people. The Trinity now becomes: Godhead, Humanity
(son of man) and Spirit. Christ came into the world to show us how to
be god in the world. This is our role, the part we are meant to play
in the drama of involution/evolution. We cannot do it unless we acknowledge
The Soul and Loss of God
The dark night, according to St. John of the Cross (Peers, 1959) has two
substages: dark night of the senses and dark night of the spirit. Dark
night of the senses [and egomind], as St. John describes it, is basically
renunciation as we have met it before with some new insights into the ego
quirks and spiritual materialism of novitiates as he saw them in his monastery.
Remember from Yoga that the senses are tools of the mind. Therefore,
renunciation of the world weans the senses, old habits and learnings away
from their targets of gratification during which time the first signs of abandonment
set in. Accompanying this are feelings of dryness, emptiness, and yearning
for God all of which leads ultimately to the “strait gate” to the dark night
of the spirit which is experienced by the very few who will go on to union
in this lifetime.
At this point, we need to revisit soul since the focus is now on that rather
than on ego as it has been up to now. Soul is our personal essence (Almaas’
name for it), the individual “I” that is spirit rather than ego. It
is our sense of presence or beingness, that which feels and is capable of
intense suffering due to separation. Soul is larger than body, ego,
intellect and personality and probably encloses them. It is part god
and part human, that which is immortal and reincarnates. By comparison,
the Higher Self is an objective witness entity, spirit is the spark of life,
and Spirit is Divine Love which has no personal characteristics. It
is pure Presence and Love, a wholly divine entity. Beyond Spirit is
the Divine One, the only Being or Ultimate Reality. This is just to
get our terminology straight.
Soul is exceptionally hard to describe because it has no form as such.
Still it is partly human, the numinous aspect of a person. In most of
us in western societies, soul has been largely repressed in favor of ego domination.
We might, as a result, expect some ego-soul conflicts. Whereas ego
operates in an externally-oriented manner in an intellectual, linear fashion;
soul is inner-directed and manifests through intuition, symbols and
creative arts as its forms of self-expression. Soul is fed by beauty,
love, harmony, silence and solitude. So when we get caught up in frenetic
daily routines we starve our souls and, more often than not, lose track of
the communicative channels to it.
In the dark night of the spirit, the soul is purified and purged
of all its past learnings and the deeply rooted imperfections that survived
the dark night of the senses. This is an intense stripping process of
all faculties, affections, feelings, and understandings. Even previous
blessings have to go leaving the soul completely open, vulnerable and helpless
in order to receive God’s love.
The Divine Light that accomplishes these tasks is perceived by the soul
as intense darkness as if the brightness of it blinded one’s eyes.
This is the night aspect of the process. Suffering of the soul in this
stage is intense. Toward the end of the stage, the soul falls passionately
in love with God and begins to reach out and search for God. These passions
subdue the will. God guides the blinded soul through the darkness and
purging and protects it from all that is not God. The ladder to God
summarizes stages of the dark night of the spirit, and St. John’s book concludes
with a description of protective disguises and blessings inherent in the
process. The stage ends with union with God.
Underhill says each transition in the spiritual journey creates a crisis.
So far we have seen awakening and illumination as periods of equilibrium and
light while purification was a time of disequilibrium, pain and suffering
as the personality was cleansed. Now we are faced with a second disequilibrium
and darkness called the dark night of the soul. The dark night involves
the death of ego and rebirth of the soul which has been hiding in the depths
of the unconscious. Death and rebirth is initiation, historically called
a descent into the underworld of darkness and despair. Such is the dark
night because it involves a sense of abandonment by God. Underhill (1961)
describes it this way:
Sooner or later, however, psychic fatigue
sets in; the state of illumination begins
to break up, the complementary negative
consciousness appears, and shows itself
as an overwhelming sense of darkness and
deprivation. This sense is so deep and
strong that it inhibits all consciousness
of the Transcendent; and plunges the self
into the state of negation and misery which
is called the Dark Night. (p. 382)
. . the self can do little but surrender
itself to the inevitable process of things; to
St. John of the Cross ((Peers, 1959) gives us the perspective of the feeling
of abandonment by God. He says, “But what the sorrowful
soul feels most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks, that
God has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into darkness;
it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God has forsaken it.
the operation of that unresting Spirit
of Life which is pressing it on towards a new
and higher state, in which it shall not
only see Reality but be real. (p. 386)
. . the self which thought itself so spiritual,
so firmly established upon the super-
sensual plane, is forced to turn back,
to leave the Light, and pick up those qualities
which it had left behind. Only thus,
by the transmutation of the whole man, not by
a careful and departmental cultivation
of that which we like to call his “spiritual
side” can Divine Humanity be formed. .
Exercise: Dark Night of the Soul
1. Read Dark night of the soul by St. John of the Cross (Peers,
1959) . There are numerous copies available by different translators,
so it should not be hard to find. It will be most helpful to outline
it as you go because it can become very confusing. Also read chapter
5 in Circle of love. Take your time and reflect on what meaning
these books have for you. Can you distinguish between the dark night
and depression? What are the critical defining factors of the dark night
that enable you to discriminate it from other kinds of depression or “blues?”
Would you call this stage a conflict between the ego and the soul?
How does the dark night qualify as ego death? Where does the soul come
into this equation?
2. Also read Paradoxes of love, pp. 42–51 and When things fall
apart chapter 10. How do these books give an added dimension to
the problem? Can you find the parallels between Sufism, Christianity
and Buddhism? What do they all have in common with respect to the dark
Experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul
There are several characteristic ways in which the dark night is experienced:
as emptiness, dispiritedness, meaninglessness, longing and loneliness, loss
of faith and disappointment, initiation, and sometimes as spiritual emergency.
We will look at each of these independently.
We have spoken of the unconscious as the probable void or godhead out of
which everything is created. The ego has erected a major defense against
our awareness of the unconscious because to become aware of it would threaten
ego’s very existence. However, babies and young children seem to be
still in contact with the source from which they came, and this shows up in
the nightmares of preschool children just prior to the closure of the threshold
by the ego at around age five. From this time on, ego is invested in
protecting its self-image which requires maintenance of the separation from
the godhead. Washburn (1995) discusses how this comes about in great
detail in The ego and the dynamic ground. Among other things,
he notes the terror that is generated by threat of an encounter with the
numinous. This is the threat of non-being or loss of ego-identity.
Something in us always knows that it is possible to become engulfed by and
lost in the Divine One.
Now compare this with St. John’s dark night. He says that the purpose
of the dark night is for God to purify and purge the soul. This is done
in darkness in order to protect the process and the person from interference
from the outside world, intellect or ego. In short, we are not able
to be aware of what is happening in us for our own protection and, therefore,
must trust that it is for our own good. This requires surrender.
And this surrender is guaranteed by the darkening of understanding.
This is a stage of the journey that cannot be helped by the mind.
In dealing with the feelings of emptiness, prayer would be my first recommendation
because it has the qualities of dialogue. In prayer, you can ask for
help, express a need for trust, beg for Presence, surrender, open yourself
to the Beloved and work on acceptance. Prayer can range from something
as simple as “Help!” to long prayers devised by others for specific
purposes. It differs from meditation in that it is usually attempted
dialogue. We want something if only a feeling of connection. In
meditation, we simply open to whatever the Beloved wishes to bestow or not.
A dialogue might merge into channeling if there is a relationship with inner
guidance. Or a prayer may not elicit any response in which case we
can continue to call God or beat upon the cloud of unknowing.
Another form of prayer is a brief, light touch in which we stop what we
are doing for a moment and reach out to touch the Beloved. It may just
be an acknowledgement of Its Presence or an expression of gratitude for a
beautiful sunset. The more we can remember to reach out and touch the
One, the easier it becomes to make a connection. Remember that it is
we who must make the initial move as our space cannot be invaded. . . usually.
Perhaps that is why a sudden opening is experienced as trauma.
We may also make use of formal religious services if such is available and
compatible. Sometimes religious ritual can be enormously comforting.
If there is no compatible religious group nearby, you might create your own
by gathering a circle of friends to share your own rituals with you.
Or you may do it alone.
1. Read Eternal echoes, chapter 5, (Reaching out, chapters
7-9), Paradoxes of love, pp. 72-84 and When things fall apart,
chapter 4. Make some notes of what resonates with you.
2. Begin to practice the “touch and go” form of prayer by tuning in
briefly whenever you think of it. This can be while waiting for a stop
light, waiting in line somewhere, in the shower or bathtub, before meals,
at bedtime, etc. If you just don’t think of it, find some way to remember
throughout the day. I once put red cupid angel stickers all around the
house to remind me. Your message can be gratitude for something nice
or just a simple “Hi, are You there?” Don’t be surprised if you get
This is a term coined by Bugental (1984) to describe a condition “. . and
the emotional aspect of that condition in which a person is unable to bring
significant life intentions from the unconscious through subjective processing
and thus to actualization” (p. 49). In other words, the person can neither
act nor create. Note the reference to the unconscious again in this
context. What Bugental has described in the quotation above defines
creativity or lack of it because the source of inspiration for creativity
lies in the unconscious. It is the potential for creativity that brings
joy to the work we have to do in life, so we need some access to unconscious
inspiration. Without it, we feel empty, lifeless, and often downright
depressed. There is a sense of isolation and aloneness as we imagine
that no one else feels this way nor can they understand what we are going
through. We cannot explain our lack of energy and ambition, the fact
that nothing motivates us to move to help ourselves. There is an overwhelming
sense of helplessness and hopelessness. All of these symptoms can be
seen as ego defenses against awareness and terror of the power of the dynamic
Another source of dispiritedness may be anger at not being able to function
nor to understand why one cannot. Because such anger may be seen as
irrational, it can be repressed as well. This is a common source of
depression, so it also may be a trigger of dispiritedness. Bugental
ties this malaise to blockage of intentionality. In other words, we
cannot bring to fruition those things that we feel support our sense of identity.
So, if Spirit is working on our souls in the dark night in a way that denies
our ego-image, we are blocked in our usual ways of satisfying our wants and
needs. You may want to read this article as Bugental goes on to talk
about relinquishment (what we know as renunciation) and how to distinguish
dispiritedness from depression as a clinical category. He also addresses
The response that seems most useful to me here is acceptance. If we
understand the general framework of what is happening to us, it becomes easier
to wait for change to occur. If we accept that our malaise is due to
God’s working with our souls, we can find more patience to watch the process
and cooperate with it.
Accepting and using solitude to meditate and reflect on the journey will
assist the process as well. You may find you are jealous of your solitude
and wish to protect it from outside intrusions. This is all right during
this period as being quiet in mind and ego allows the Beloved to work with
less interference. It is helpful to develop the ability to say “No”
to those who may have been used to popping in without warning or to telephoning
you at all hours. Even children are capable of understanding the need
for peace and quiet. If you explain to loved ones that you need this
time for solitary reflection for your own health, they will be less likely
to view it as rejection. Often children are willing to do meditation
with you if that is not too distracting.
Contemplation, meditation, chanting, dance, running and other forms of gentle
exercise may also help. All spiritual practices are useful with one
exception. If you are experiencing kundalini vibrations, heat, etc.
and are bothered or frightened by them, do not meditate but use more active
forms of contemplation. Exercise gets your pulse up and your muscles
oxidated which, almost by definition, makes you feel better. Hatha Yoga
is excellent. It not only tones your body, relaxes the mind and renews
the spirit, it also may put you in the company of like-minded others.
1. Read Psalm 22, Paradoxes of love, pp. 1-411, 84-95, and
When things fall apart, chapter 7. The Bugental article
can be found in The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 1984, 24,
(1), 49-67. Make some notes about how you experience this phenomenon.
Also compare the idea of dispiritedness to descriptions of the emotional responses
to the dark night. Can you make a list of all the feelings and emotions
that might come up as a result of a threat to your own ego-identity.
What does the term ego-death evoke in you? How would you deal with it
if and when you are confronted with the possibility of it? How might
mindfulness practice be of help when you feel dispirited? What does
the Sufi perception of the Beloved offer to help sustain us in the dark night?
2. If you are able to completely quiet your mind in meditation, what
do you then feel? In this situation, you are not experiencing your ego-identity.
Does that frighten you during the meditative experience? Compare the
experiences of meditation and the dark night, and make some notes about what
3. Select some form(s) of exercise you can do on a daily basis and
pledge yourself to it for a month. This can be formalized exercise,
housework, gardening, walking, hiking, dance, Yoga, whatever makes you
glow a bit. If it gets you out of the house, all the better. Go
walk your dog, or someone else’s. Clean up the garage.
The smoke in chakra five means lack of clarity and confusion. One
of the manifestations of this often is loss of purpose in life. You
will recognize this as one of the defining characteristics of the mid-life
crisis. But it can occur any time in life. It seems that it is
only when we have exhausted our own repertoire of solutions to life’s problems
that Spirit can get a foothold into our psyches. We have seen how this
type of crisis can set off the awakening that begins the spiritual journey
and how it motivates a person to do the purification of the personality that
was essential at the third chakra level. Now it may re-emerge as the
ego is challenged once again to give up its more deeply rooted and favored
agendas. However, this is the final purification. We even think
of it as purification of the soul as opposed to purification of the personality
and ego. In this case, reason and intellect block the clarity of truth
we are seeking.
Truth is in the eye of the heart. Notice that the eastern traditions
have long said that the mind of wisdom is in the heart. And that there
is where we must seek the truth or seek to validate the truth. However,
when the intellect that is used to govern all decision-making is blocked in
its purposes, there is usually a cloud of aroused emotions that follows.
And, in fact, this is what may happen in the dark night. In the darkness,
intellect cannot function properly, so it retaliates with a cloud of unknowing.
However, the wisdom of the heart is not affected by this upheaval and remains
Meaninglessness and loss of purpose may result in a form of depression or
dispiritedness. We feel low because there seems to be no reason for
living especially in the pain of so-called rejection. Again, acceptance
and making an effort to understand the process can help to bring meaning to
the situation. Surrender helps to the extent to which you can bring
yourself to it. Keep in mind that this is a gradual process that will
become easier as you go further into it. My experience has been that
everything I want or like in my life is being systematically taken away from
me, not roughly but gently as you would relieve a child of a medicine bottle.
“No, this is not good for you. Here play with this other toy.”
This can apply to favorite TV programs, food, house plans, old friends who
are dying, your favorite route to work, your favorite brand of jeans, a supplement
that worked especially well for you. You get the drift. Maybe
this has been true all along and I am just now noticing it. The important
thing is that, now that I am noticing, my focus is being kept on it as a systematic
renunciation of attachment. And it is getting clearer and clearer and
occurs more and more often. Noticing these things helps because you
realize that there is another Being in this with you, one who is guiding
Faithfulness and persistence help too. Determine to stay in there
with it until it is finished. One way of doing this is to get into
your Observer Self and watch the process. This can be very interesting
even entertaining at times when you can catch your behavior with a touch
of humor. It gives you more perspective on the issues that come up,
so you don’t need to get so blown away.
Humor, it goes without saying, can be a godsend. Granted this is the
most serious thing you have probably ever done, it can still have its
lighter moments. Remember that one of the hallmarks of a saint is joy
1. Read the article by A. H. Almaas called “Clarification of the Personality.”
It can be found online at http://ridhwan.org/clarpers.html.
Think about how Almaas’ ideas fit with those of Washburn and St. John of the
Cross. You may have to do some studying to see which concepts match
in the various articles. However, if you do so, you will be rewarded
by an understanding of how universal these practices are. Ultimately,
this may help you surrender.
2. You may be lucky enough to live with a clown (this could be an
animal, a family member or a roommate). If not, find a source of humor
and touch in to it regularly especially when you feel sorry for yourself.
Playing with a cat or dog is good. Seek out children and play with them.
Find games you can enjoy either alone or with others. Do art work.
Find engaging music and dance. Read funny books. Take occasional
deep breaths as you do these things. The more the better.
Longing and loneliness
In the condition of the dark night, we not only feel abandoned by God, but
we may discover we cannot find any support from those we know and love
unless we happen to be living in a spiritual community where there is likely
to be someone who has trod this path ahead of us. Like Job, whom we
will visit in a bit, our friends either think we are becoming peculiar or
that we have earned our woes through some fault of our own. We “should”
just make more of an effort to pull ourselves together. Our attitude
is wrong or we expect too much out of life. We should get treatment:
either a tranquilizer or other modern drug to put us out of our misery, or
we should get some therapy. None of these will help except perhaps a
transpersonal psychotherapist who may have some training in spiritual journey.
Otherwise, a therapist will try to help you adapt to your situation which
really cannot be done on any kind of permanent basis. Drugs may abort
the process to the detriment of your journey. However, if your depression
is intense, you should see a therapist to discover whether there is a clinical
basis for it before attempting to surrender to it.
All of this produces a profound sense of isolation and loneliness.
Here I am all by myself confronted by the meaninglessness of my life and there
is no help to be found. I feel homeless, empty and deeply yearn for
the unnameable. This is a prime condition for addiction. In fact,
many alcoholics well know that the emptiness they try to fill with alcohol
is a loss of God or contact with a Higher Power. This is undoubtedly
true of other addictions as well. We grasp for anything that will dull
the ache of longing.
In addition to the lack of support, we also may find ourselves alienated
from the world as a result of the practices that have brought us through a
great deal of renunciation. We no longer take pleasure in the usual
activities and social events such as parties. We find the mindless chatter
and gossip that goes on in most social gatherings irritating, so we begin
to avoid them. We may discover that we cannot think of anything to
say to people especially those we do not know. And we yearn for a community
of like-minded souls with whom we can share our spiritual journey.
In short, we deeply need something more satisfying, but we don’t know what
The most helpful insight I had around longing was that the longing is the
loving. If you feel alone and that you do not know how to love God,
consider that you may be expecting it to manifest in the usual ways that you
love people. And, in fact, loving people is loving God since the godspark
is in everyone. This can be a challenge – to see that. But,
beyond that, think about compassion, empathy, sympathy, awe, respect, healing,
caring, helping out, as well as all the other forms of giving you can generate
in yourself. They are all loving, and they are loving God no matter
to whom they are directed in your external life. Loving yourself is
also loving God. It is an old adage that in order to receive something,
i.e., love, we must give it to others. So find a way to give to others
and see if it is returned to you.
Radha’s tears come as a result of separation from God. Radha was the
human beloved of the god Krishna in the Hindu tradition. Krishna wooed
her, then left her. Sound familiar? Radha is a symbol for the
human soul in love with God. Radha’s tears also come in moments of ecstasy
when the love affair is going well.
1. Read Paradoxes of
love, pp. 52-71, and the Introduction and chapter 1 in The bond with
the beloved. The latter book is all about the dark night, so you
can continue with it at will. Chapters 1-3 in Reaching out by
Nouwen (1975) deal with the movement from loneliness to solitude if you want
to go into that in more depth.
2. Sit with these ideas for a while, then reflect on your aloneness.
Think about the difference between aloneness and loneliness and solitude.
All are conditions of being by oneself, but the quality of each is different.
3. Take a few moments every night before bedtime to review your day
and write down all the loving moments you have given out in whatever form
they occurred. Notice the number and variety of them. Consider
that they might be love messages from the Beloved to whomever you gave them
using you as a conduit. You may also notice that they nourished you
as they traveled through.
Loss of faith and disappointment
Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the dark night is the loss of faith
or temptation to loss of faith. This comes as a result of not being
able to understand what is happening or of a conflict between what we believe
and what we are experiencing. We could see this as a transition from
a belief in God to knowledge of God. Our religions ask us to believe,
but belief is different from knowledge. We know something because
we have actually experienced it. Belief is second hand. Someone
else experienced it. Faith is knowing without experience. It could
be placed somewhere between belief and knowledge. Or we might
say it is intuitive knowledge which lacks actual experience. For example,
I know there is a god, but I have not yet come face to face with Him/Her/It.
Many of the scriptures say that human beings cannot come face to face with
God and live. This is another example of the terror of the dynamic
Meanwhile, I am in a state of grief and mourning because the relationship
I had with Spirit appears to have changed. Either Spirit is gone completely
or the relationship is attentuated or trivialized. Swami Radha called
this a test of ideals. Can I continue with my worship and devotion and
love of God even when It has apparently withdrawn from me? And, if
so, for how long can I sustain it? There are several ways people can
react to this predicament.
Loss of love for God. Where there had been a mutuality in the
relationship be-fore, now it feels as if I do not know how to love God.
How does one love something that is not in a body? that manifests only
as a Presence? Without realizing it, I turn my back on the Light and
cry because I have lost the love of my life.
Plato’s cave. When I turn my back on God, I stand in my own
shadow and the world with all its complexities and pleasures seems dead and
black to me. On the other hand, when I turn my back on the world to
face God, the world becomes my shadow. So I behave like the prisoners
in Plato’s cave unsure of my own perceptions of reality (see Appendix A).
If you would like more information on the shadow, read the “Shadow” edition
of Parabola, 1997, 22, (2).
Heart closed. When I can no longer tolerate my grief and suffering,
I close my heart and am unable to give love to anyone else as well.
Furthermore, because I have shut myself off, as if to pull my dungeon in behind
me to grieve, I cannot reach out to anyone else for help or sympathy.
And I no longer love myself which is perhaps the greatest pity of all.
It may be that, in this condition, we can accept love only from our animals
who do not make demands upon us. To become unable to love or to accept
love from another feels like the depth of despair and hopelessness.
A person can go through all the routines of the day, talk to people, keep
house, go to work, keep up with personal hygiene and still not be present
to others or to the work. One operates on automation and habit while
the grief simmers internally.
Here is another opportunity to develop patience. God cannot be commanded
and is more likely to be helpful if our attitude is one of humility.
Divine intervention is a form of grace that comes when least expected.
There is no time in the divine realm. So we wait. . . and pray.
It might be useful when feeling impatient to remember that God is working
in the darkness and accomplishing things we are not aware of. There
is a plan being fulfilled of which we cannot be conscious at this time.
So we wait.
Read Healing Communication, ch 7, Paradoxes of love, pp. 142-159.
What is bodhicitta? Is that something you would be interested in striving
for? Why is silence important? Why is love beyond dualities?
What is the relationship between choicelessness and unity?
Job as personification of the dark night
It is possible to suffer all this and not lose faith in God. And,
in fact, doing so may even move the Divine One to compassion and repentance.
This is the story of Job. In the story, God is tempted by Satan to allow
him to abuse Job to see if he can shake his faith in God. For whatever
private reasons, God acquiesces. Satan then takes away all Job’s possessions
and his family. He bestows a plague of boils and other persecutions,
but Job does not waver in his faith even to the point of death which God
Here we have abandonment and withdrawal coupled with the injustice of the
persecution of an innocent and good man who loves God. Why would God
Job’s strategy. Job was successful in weathering the dark night
for several reasons that might be instructive for us. First, he was
not afraid of God. He was not confused because he had a strong, resilient
faith that what God was about was just what he needed, however painful.
His heart stayed open because he trusted God. He did experience the
longing and loneliness of separation. So did Jesus. So did David
and probably all the great saints at one time or another. Job’s sense
of meaninglessness was resolved when he finally detected the reason for his
trials and he was able to forgive God for hurting him.
Read the "Book of Job" in the Bible first. Then read either
or both of the following: J.B. a play by Archibald MacLeish and/or
The book of Job with commentary by Thomas Moore. Please do this
before continuing because we are going to examine the symbolism in the Book
of Job. If you want to study this in depth, you might include Transformation
of the God-image: An elucidation of Jung’s Answer to Job by E. F. Edinger
Interpretation of Job. All scriptures that tell a story should
be read as symbolic of the spiritual journey in some or one of its aspects.
The story line attracts attention, but the meaning lies within the individual
symbols of the story. In the case of Job, my take on it is that Job
represents the soul or the ego, either would be relevant. The tortures
he undergoes are analogous to the suffering of the dark night when all that
is valued is taken away from us, even the love of family and friends seems
to be gone. In fact, we may be ridiculed by some people for clinging
to God even when He seems to be hurting us.
When Job insists on maintaining his love for God in spite of the persecution,
God is moved to rescue him and to restore his losses. Some interpreters
see this as a story about the evolution of God into a more compassionate being
as if He were not perfect to begin with. This does not make sense to
me if we believe God is omniscent, omnipotent and omnipresent. But here
we have another belief.
What does make more sense is that we project our own issues and images upon
the Divine One, then rationalize our own behavior accordingly. God makes
a bet with the devil. God turns away in the face of our distress.
Then God repents and makes restitution. These surely are human behaviors
projected onto the One to try to make sense of why we suffer in life when
we are trying so hard to be good. The error occurs in assuming that
if we behave ourselves God will make everything right for us. So, when
He does not, we feel victimized and betrayed.
It is easy to feel betrayed in the dark night because the rules have changed.
We have been good and tried to live a moral and compassionate life.
Yet we suffer this abandonment and loss of love and light that formerly graced
our lives. Why? I think it is because we have to go to the Beloved
empty handed, bearing all our love only for the One. All of our commitment
must be to the One as well. We cannot divide our loyalties at this point.
Some for family, some for work, some for God. Now we need to give the
full force of all the love of which we are capable. In that sense,
this is a test.
But think of it another way. Unless I can make a full, unencumbered
commitment to the Beloved, how can I be God in the world? Enlightenment
is not the end of the line. Service is. Once I am identified with
the One, I must come back into the world and give assistance to the transformation
that is ongoing. To do this, I cannot be swayed by allegiances to anything
else. This does not mean I have to leave my family and friends physically
or my home or give all my worldly goods to the poor. But it does mean
I must put God first in everything I do or think or feel. Total commitment.
Total surrender. Job did this and so can you. Hopefully we can
let go without having to undergo the same tortures he did. We can learn
from the experiences of others.
It seems to me that trust is critical. To bolster trust, we can study to
find every proof possible that God indeed exists and is benevolent.
We can go out into nature and marvel at the handiwork of a Higher Power that
has had the intelligence and love to create a gorgeous world full of animals,
plants, stars and people for us to enjoy and to remind us of Love and Light.
If we doubt God’s benevolence, which is easy to do in these troubled times,
we must subtract our own ego choices from the equation first. One measure
of our godliness is that we have been trusted with free will. That we
choose to turn it to materialistic profits, greed and warfare is not God’s
fault, but ours. I am sure the One suffers along with us as we consider
the devastation going on all around us.
And, finally, we can engage in the spiritual practices that are designed
to help us access the Beloved directly. As we move closer to the Light,
our faith grows in proportion to the darkness, so we are not left without
recourses. Imperceptibly we are drawn into the arms of the Beloved in
the enfolding darkness even though we are not aware of it at first.
We could think of the dark night as an initiation. It involves trials
and tests of our commitment and faith. Tremendous anxiety if not downright
terror may be generated. There is a huge unknown. We have to depend
on someone else to guide us as our own faculties are useless. We do
not know where we are nor how to escape. It is dark and there is a
threat of engulfment by unknown, powerful forces. There is no timeline
to assure us that it is limited in scope. This has all the characteristics
of an extended, intensive nightmare.
However, we have chosen this or we would not be here. It is important
to realize that much of what we experience has already been chosen on the
soul level over and above the conscious choices we are able to make in daily
life. Before we came into a body, we chose our parents and the important
interpersonal encounters we would make in this life as well as the lessons
we needed to learn. If we do not take responsibility for these choices
we are at the mercy of fate. Usually we can identify what choices we
made with a little quiet introspection once the possibility of that
becomes known to us. Then the responsibility becomes a further choice.
Such a choice frees us from victimization.
In the dark night we confront the death of ego in its self-serving aspects
and rebirth of the soul into Light. All of the illusions about who and
what we are must be relinquished in order for us to greet and merge with the
maturing soul in its journey to the One.
You may be familiar with the myth of Persephone who was the daughter of
Zeus and Demeter, goddess of the grain, in Greek mythology. One day
as young Persephone is picking flowers in the meadow, the earth opens and
she is kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld. Demeter is distraught
and wanders the world in search of her daughter. When she finally finds
her, Persephone is allowed to return to earth but only for two-thirds of
the year because while in Hades she ate some pomegranate seed, a symbol of
death. Therefore, she must return to Hades for the other third
of every year. Because of this, Demeter, in her anger, caused the vegetative
life of the world to shrivel and die during those months. Now Persephone
was a girl when she was kidnapped, but when she returns to Hades later on
she becomes its queen. We can see this story as a metaphor for the
maturation of the soul if we think of Hades not as hell but as the unconscious.
In such a case, part of the soul remains unconscious in the emptiness of
the void. But another part of it can be brought into consciousness
through its sojourn in the dark night and thus restored to life on earth.
Its queenliness would be attained through marriage with the king of the void
– the Beloved One.
It is only in western religions that Hades is equated with hell and darkness
is considered to be evil. In other traditions, the chthonic is considered
to be the womb of creation, the divine feminine. “In the unconscious
lies the archetypal feminine – her roots are buried deeply in the rich soil
under the dark waters. . . Chthon refers to the depths. . . a sense of fullness
within the emptiness. . . a darkness which is full of potential, vibrant,
life-giving” (Joslin, 1982p. 31). Given this, we must suspect that the
motivation for a negative interpretation of the underworld is control over
the population, especially women.
Along these same lines, we have the story of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and
Earth (Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983) who was also variously a grain, love,
war and fertility goddess in Sumerian and Akkadian cultures thousands of years
before Christ. In this story the ruler of the underworld is Ereskigal,
Inanna’s older sister. Inanna makes a descent into the underworld to
challenge Ereskigal and suffers judgment and death for three days and nights
before being restored at the behest of Enki, the god of wisdom. That
both of these descents were made by women is significant when we consider
that the soul is often thought to be feminine and God to be masculine.
This duality enables the spiritual marriage (hierogamos) to occur. When
we speak of surrender to a lover or to the Beloved, reference is made to
the same kind of union.
So we may consider the dark night to represent the soul’s descent into the
dark womb of creation in which it is protected during its incubation in order
to be reborn as a mature soul. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus
has reference to the same process. So do the Eleusianian mysteries.
The death and resurrection of the son of the great mother idea goes back even
further into Egyptian history. There is probably an analogous myth
in every religious tradition. It originated in the death and rebirth
inherent in food crops in temperate regions of the world. What would
this mean to us standing on the brink of the dark night? It is reassurance
that the suffering we are undergoing is only temporary and something new and
glorious will be the outcome. We will be reborn and able to start life
anew on a higher level of consciousness and beingness because we will be
able to live the god sparks within us at a conscious level.
Draw or make a collage of initiation. This may refer to an initiation
you have actually experienced or merely to what you have learned about it.
Some social initiations are christening, baptism, first communion, confirmation
or other puberty rites, graduation, marriage, divorce and death. If
you use one of these, treat it as a death and rebirth event looking for appropriate
symbols. What died in you? What was reborn? How?
What was the refining process? Have you had spiritual initiation into
an established order? If so, you may use that. Have you
had an initiation directly from Spirit or the Divine One? Select what
is most meaningful to you at present. When finished, put the picture
up where you can live with it for awhile and journal your insights into the
process and its value for your life.
All of what we have been discussing is a normal transformative process that
occurs during the process of spiritual development. What constitutes
a spiritual emergency is an unexpected or accelerated part of this process
that causes an individual to become unable to function in daily life.
It can be distinguished from psychosis in a number of ways that I am not going
to go into here. The stormy search for the self by Christina
and Stanislav Grof (1990) describes and documents the whole process of spiritual
emergency including the various forms it may take and how it is related to
the dark night of the soul. They also chart the differences between
spiritual emergency and psychosis. Spiritual emergency is a more radical
shift in the balance between the conscious and the unconscious, so that the
latter “overrides ordinary awareness” (Grof, 1990, p. 33). In their
chapter “The Dark Night of the Soul” the Grofs discuss various kinds of feelings
of fear, sense of devastating loneliness and isolation, fears of insanity,
internal chaos, and the confrontation with symbolic death.
If you have reason to believe you may be experiencing a spiritual emergency
or someone close to you is, you may want to read this book. Another
resource is The call of spiritual emergency by Emma Bragdon (1990).
She also deals more briefly with the dark night. If you need to talk
to someone, there is a Spiritual Emergency Network, based, I believe, at the
California Institute of Integral Studies. Phone 415-648-2610.
They have a website at The California Institute of Integral Studies [alternate site is The Center for Psychological and Spiritual Health which is the new form of the Spiritual Emergency Network.
On the whole, the major difference between psychosis and spiritual emergency
is that in the latter individuals have not lost touch with reality and can
be reached through normal communication channels. They may even recognize
what is happening as part of their spiritual journey probably because they
have been engaging in practices that were instrumental in causing it.
One of the important reasons for finding a teacher is that there is a need
for preparation so that the bodymind is prepared to withstand the forces being
unleashed from the unconscious. Hence we do extensive purification.
What is happening here is a psychic opening, and it can be very traumatic
if it occurs suddenly and the person is not prepared for it. Kundalini
psychosis is a well-known example. Kundalini is the fire that burns
up ignorance, but in the hands of a pseudo-guru who may be raising it
for reasons of his or her own ego-inflation, it is an exceedingly dangerous,
incendiary bomb. This is why it is so important to make sure your teacher
or guru is legitimate and part of a spiritual lineage of training. I
might add that psychic experiences are not kundalini.
There is a great need for discretion, discrimination and discernment in
this area as well as in the dark night. The Spiritual Emergency Network
can help with this as well.
All attachments that chain us to physical reality must be renounced.
Notice the emphasis on “attachments.” That means a reordering of priorities.
All the habits, conditioning, experience and traumas from the past must be
sifted for their meaning and value for learning and then be either discarded
or kept if they are still useful. All needs for control based on ego
agendas must be given up. Faith must be cultivated until it can flower
and support our next tentative steps into paradise. Fears of the unconscious
must be overcome in order to meet the numinous Light of the Beloved.
What this all adds up to is Surrender.
Acceptance is needed for surrender and trust is needed for acceptance.
May the Beloved grace you with the trust you need in order to proceed.
Almaas, A. (2003). “Clarification of the Personality.”
Diamond Heart, Book IV, article online at http://ridhwan.org/clarpers.html.
___________. The Holy Bible.
Bragdon, E. (1990). The call of spiritual emergency:
From personal crisis to personal transformation. San Francisco:
Harper & Row.
Bugental, E. & Bugental, J. (1984). “Dispiritedness: A New
Perspective on a Familiar State.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology,
24 (1), 49-67.
Chodron, P. (1997). When things fall apart: Heart advice
for difficult times. Boston: Shambhala.
Edinger, E. (1992). Transformation of the God-image: An elucidation
of Jung’s Answer to Job. Toronto: Inner City Books.
Grof, C. & Grof, S. (1990). The stormy search for the
self: A guide to personal growth through transformational crisis.
Los Angeles: Tarcher.
Joslin, H. “The Deep Feminine.” Inward Light, XLV
MacLeish, A. (1958). J. B.: A play in verse. Boston:
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New York: Riverhead Books.
Nouwen, H. (1975). Reaching out: The three movements of the
spiritual life. New York: Doubleday.
O’Donohue, J. (1999). Eternal echoes: Exploring our yearning
to belong. New York: Cliff Street Books.
Peers, E. (Tr. & Ed.). (1959). Dark night of the soul by Saint
John of the Cross, 3rd. revised ed. New York: Doubleday.
Plato. The republic: Book VII.
Underhill, E. (1961). Mysticism: A study in the nature and
development of man’s spiritual consciousness. New York: Dutton.
Vaughan-Lee, L. (1993). The bond with the Beloved: The mystical
relationship of the lover and the Beloved. Inverness, CA: The Golden
Vaughan-Lee, L. (1996). The paradoxes of love.
Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.
Vaughan-Lee, L. (1999). The circle of love. Inverness,
CA: The Golden Sufi Center.
Washburn, M. (1995). The ego and the dynamic ground: A transpersonal
theory of human development, 2nd ed. revised. Albany: State University
of New York Press.
Wolkstein, D. & Kramer, S. (1983). Inanna queen
of heaven and earth: Her stories and hymns from Sumer. New York:
Harper & Row.
In this unit, we have been examining the dark
night of the soul. In Unit IX. Acceptance,
we will go more deeply into the role of acceptance in surrender.
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