A dark and stormy night (of the soul)
My apologies for the extended hiatus between blog posts. I have been hunkered down in Mexico riding out the proverbial "dark night of the soul," or more accurately -- the latest of several.
The Dark Night is a dependable feature of the spiritual path ... and as many of you who have had them know, the dark night can render you unable to get much done besides caring for your most basic survival needs. Which sounds a lot like severe depression. It is not depression, exactly -- more of an active nihilism with moments of intense terror -- but the practical effects are much the same.
I spent long hours doing next to nothing except my practice and walking the dog, and sometimes sitting in stillness on the couch reminding myself that "Really, this is the most important work you could possibly be doing right now." And it is.
The other thing I did a lot of was short answers to deep questions on Quora, and recently I realized I'd actually built up a small body of work while I thought I was being so unproductive. So to make up for my absence I am going to repost some of those answers here. Let's start with a more detailed exploration of the Dark Night, itself:
Q: What is the dark night of the soul in terms of spiritual growth?
A: As ego (the unreal “you”) realizes its demise is imminent, it panics. It doesn’t want to be replaced by a Divine Self that has and requires no separate identity. It can’t comprehend the meaning of a life that neither needs nor wants any of the things most humans crave to feel good, worthy and complete. It wasn’t built for that; it was built for keeping itself safe; for competition and conquest; for finding a mate; for self aggrandizement; for judgment and comparison; for grasping at ever more of … it doesn’t really know what, but it always finds an object it needs.
But the time has come to put away childish things.
At some point in the Awakening process, the ego suddenly understands that it must dissolve. It sees that not only can it no longer exist in the Awakened presence, it never really existed in the first place. It was just an intricately arranged accumulation of other people’s ideas. All the things it was told were good and meaningful have turned out to be meaningless. A lifetime’s worth of effort, and for what? It feels duped, angry, and doomed.
So then it pulls out a most insidious trick, and plays dead.
When ego plays dead, it takes with it every tool it has ever used to prop itself up: Motivation, creativity, clarity of intention, physical vigor, feelings of well-being, sense of connection, purpose, and finally, hope. It can take away the very will to live. It strategizes, “Fine, you don’t need me? See how you feel after I’m gone.”
Fortunately, our built in biological survival drive keeps most from exiting stage left when this happens, but our inner landscape becomes very dark and bleak. However, we might think of it not as a descent into oblivion, but as sterilizing the soil in a garden so that the egoic weeds can’t grow back, but our Divine Awareness can grow strong and blossom unencumbered.
Support is so very important when the dark night hits. Find someone who has been there, if possible. Remind yourself that it won’t last forever, and that there’s light on the other side. Smoldering remnants of the ego may remain afterward, and your spiritual work will continue, but whatever pieces of ego do try to sprout up again will be weak and stunted, easily visible against the newly scorched landscape, and a cinch to pull before they get out of control. ~Rishika