Navigating a Dark Night of the Soul; Part 1


You ask my thoughts
through the long night?
I spent it listening
to the heavy rain
beating against my window.
-Izumi Shikibu

I awoke and I did not know where I was. Is it the middle of the night, early morning? What day is it, weekday, weekend? What woke me up? In the distance I hear rumbling thunder.

I started to write this blog because I was searching for the Meaning of Life, finding myself in a particularly Dark Night of the Soul. I saw both my parents die in quick succession, saw all I had strived for, fall to pieces, and even spiritually I encountered some devastatingly disillusionments. I was abruptly thrown out of my comfort zones, and found myself in what appeared an impossible situation, with only Selchie’s choices facing me. I was seriously challenged in every area of my life, and saw no guiding lights to aid me through what I had to face. All my dreams just collapsed into impossibles. I had to re-revalue all my beliefs, and all that I thought was good or bad.

I looked at my parents lives, and at those of my ancestors, and was filled with its irony. How could something that started so brightly, with such good intentions, end so tragically? I looked at my own life and asked myself how is it possible that I could have been so wrong, so deluded, and yet so deeply felt that I was doing the right thing, and even though I truly walked my talk? I even started to question my own sanity. I looked at life around me and so no better examples to guide me through the dark night. Even the wonderful promise and the miracle of what happened in my country; South Africa, was now revealing its darker side, shattering the euphoric hope that the peaceful marriage of the conflicting parties brought. The hard realities of our transformation was revealed in all its ugliness, with seemingly impossible challenges facing our newly united country. Yet what I saw in the rest of the world looked even worse, and quite clearly the environmental degradation was even worse than originally thought.

Is there any meaning to life, I asked myself. Does all of life end in bitter tragedy? Even those who have lived a good and successful life, are doomed to die the slow and painful death of old age. For so many years, I kept a positive outlook, no matter what happened, and did indeed believe that everything happens for the best, but now I felt my innocent trust shattered. Like Persephone, I found myself abruptly torn from Spring’s innocent wonder, and thrown into the dark world of Hades. I was filled with despair, and could see no way out. I ran this way and that way, searching frantically for a way out. Every way I tried only ended in a dead end. I cried for help but no help came. I had to admit to myself that I was trapped, and did not know the way out, neither could I expect any rescue. No bitter tears I cried, nor hopeful inspirations could free me from the Dark Night I found myself in. All I could do was to surrender and wait; I had reached the limits of my imagination. Painfully, and slowly, from the ashes of my life started to emerge the meaning of life, my personal philosophy. Even though I knew the night could still get a lot more cold and dark, and even though I stopped saying a long time ago that it at least could not get worse, because it certainly can, I could sense meaning in the chaos. Slowly my scintilla * started to sparkle.

There is no danger to life from a blizzard as long as you keep your head. The fact that so many white men freeze to death in the North is chiefly due to another of their superstitions about cold, to the effect that when you are caught in a storm without shelter you must keep moving continually, because if you stop and sit down, and especially if you go to sleep, you are sure to freeze to death. The Eskimo rule, which is exactly the opposite of this, is a sensible one. Just as soon as you make up your mind that you lost. And don’t move until you know where you are going. A white man, following his principle, will walk about until he is thoroughly exhausted and usually until his clothes are wet with perspiration. The time finally comes when he has to stop through weariness and sleepiness. His powers of resistance have been brought so low that freezing to death is the common, and in fact the nearly universal, outcome.

Of course the best thing when you are lost in a winter storm is to put up a snow-house, but that is sometimes impossible, either because a man does not know how, or else because the snow is too soft and cannot be cut into blocks. The thing to do then is to find a small stone or a piece of sod or anything else that can be brushed free of snow. Sit on this with your back toward the wind; rest your head on your knees and go to sleep if you can. Sleeping will help you to pass the time away, and there is no danger in it, for as soon as you begin to get cold the chill will wake you up – always provided that your clothes are dry and that you are not exhausted before you sit down….

On one of his caribou-hunts from this camp Natkusiak was caught by just such a blizzard as that in which I had been about a week before, and was away for two days. A man fully dressed at this season of the year wears two coats – a thick outer one and an inner one made of fawn-skin. Natkusiak on this occasion was wearing only the thin fawn-skin, and we were therefore considerably worried about him; but on the third morning he came home all safe and smiling, saying that he had had the best sleep of the winter. My Life With The Eskimos – Vilhjalmur Stefansson 129-130

How often do we in the western culture not keep on walking until when caught in one of winter’s blizzards? We rant and rave against the elements, at the unfairness of our situation, but we do stop until we fall asleep exhausted, our resources spent. Could not this be equated to the Dark Nights of the Soul, life’s disturbances, and crisis? Do we in this world, at this time not find ourselves in one of winter’s blizzards? We know the writing is on the wall, but we believe we must just keep on walking, until we find our direction. Above all do stop and sleep and dream of the way ahead.

Thomas Moore writes; “ … the body in distress reveals the state of the soul. In William Blake’s language, the body is the soul.” The earth also is our wider body and in distress, reflecting the state of humanity’s soul. Illness itself, reflects Thomas Moore, is a Dark Night of the soul. “ Illness uncovers a world of meaningful issues that you may have covered over with lively preoccupations of your active life. Now there are no distractions. You have to look closely at what has been revealed.”

Today the rate of change in our society is faster than ever before. People can no longer expect a predictable future and, in many cases, not even a safe one or secure one. This lack of stability in individual lives and social structures is forcing people in every stratum of our existence through an accelerated process of change where they must face the death of the old. As a culture we have been conditioned to fear this great dark unknown and have little knowledge and few tools that teach us the mysteries of this rite of passage. Because we do not understand the purpose of this dark phase and are ignorant of its terrain, we resist death and letting go of some aspects of the past in order to embrace the new. We are filled with terror and panic when we consider the physical death of a the body and planet, or the psychological death of a relationship, way of life, addictions, identity, or belief system. The stress of the dark times in our lives can make us dependent on chemical addictions or compel us to take desperate actions. People are searching for guidance as they struggle with feelings of grief, depression, anxiety, anger, and madness in coping with their losses – both the immediate ones in the fabric of daily life, and the ultimate loss of a loved one or their own imminent death.” Demetra George

What is a successful life? What is my unique purpose, what is the purpose of humanity? Just as Persephone had to lose her innocence, to find her power in Dark Hades, where she ruled as queen, and where she found her unique ability to inhabit both the Dark World and the Bright World, so I had to lose my naive innocence, to find my strength. I see a world of pain, horror, suffering and death, but I also see a world of joy, beauty, wonder and love and purpose. I know that although I do not know all the answers, I know the meaning, or rather I sense the meaning that arises out of the chaotic darkness, like a miraculous birth.

The Western culture is a solar culture based on active masculine heroic qualities, inactivity and surrender feels alien in this environment. Our inner lunar qualities regulates that which is unseen and mysterious to the solar eye, yet it works in conjunction with the active principles, both are needed for life to flourish, each in its own timing. Day and night, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. In the western culture the soulful aspects of our being has been seriously neglected. The soul itself is deep and mysterious; no intellectual discussion will bring any understanding to the soul. The soul’s language is that of Images, music and poetry

Each that we lose takes part of us;
A crescent still abides
Which like the moon, some turbid night,
Is summoned by the tides.
Emily Dickinson

Dark Nights of the Soul, are a reflection of the inactive feminine principle, the dark moon cycle, and is essentially mysterious. When I reflect on the subject and my personal experiences in it, I feel a strong urge to lapse into poetry, and images and symbols, myths and stories fills my mind. There is a lot of interest today in the goddess aspects, however there is still very little understanding of the Dark Goddess, the Dark Mother, yet she has never stopped to influence our lives in a very direct way, whether seen in a real or symbolic way.

We tend to search for the answers to our life’s challenges in the outer realms, yet the outer realms, the material world, are like symbols in the night sky, clues of a treasure hunt to find the jewel that lies inside us; a Divine archetypal image dormant within us. Some calls our inner guide the daemon or daïmon, to express an inner guiding presence that escorts and inspires our search for truth on our spiritual journey. It is said that the daemon is an invisible presence linked to each one of us from birth, whose purpose and bond with us remains sacred and mysterious, since it is linked to our spiritual awakening process. However, at the beginning of our spiritual quest, the daemon, as an inspiring initiator, guides and attunes our consciousness towards our ideal model. Because the ideal model is our spiritual counterpart, our ego needs to recognize it, and the daemon is that inner presence that shows us the way. However, for the ego to recognize this Divine Archetypal Image inside us, it first has to shed the illusions, and conditioning we acquired in our growing up. This where the dark night comes in …

Dark Nights of the Soul can come upon one in many ways, through, illness through the loss of a loved one, betrayal, love itself, loss of a job, life’s transitions, or just an inexplicable depression where indeed you find yourself lost, and the way ahead obscured in dark confusion. Whatever the cause, it stops you dead in the tracks, as if caught in a winter’s blizzard.

How do know whether you have experienced a dark night of the soul? Just as with love, you know you have experienced a Dark Night of the Soul, when you had been transformed by the experience. The word experience is the key element of the Dark Night, you will have no clue what it is if you had not experienced it. In that aspect alone it is a reflection of the mystery of spiritual transformation, and it is therefore also an experience of creation in process. In reality nothing has any real meaning if it had not been experienced. It is only through experience that any transformation can occur. The alchemists takes raw elements and through active processess breaks down the elements into their pure form, then combine them through the Hieros Gamos out of which is born the fabled philosopher’s egg. What the alchemists do on the outside, they also do on the inside, so that they themselves go through a process of purification, to be transformed through process and be reborn as a new transformed being, a glittering Phoenix, burning with Fiery Intelligence – Divine Genuis. What is experience – that which is felt in your body, thus reaches the soul through emotions.

What is the human being? The human being is a transitional being.

When we speak of mystics and prophets, enlightened beings and magicians, we are really speaking of individuals who are emerging from the bestial state of humanity toward a new and divine state of humanity, something more than our present humanity – what one might call super humanity. As we look and see this, we realize that our present state is a transitional state of being, something in between what we have been and something else that we are in the process of becoming.

Within and behind all of the encrustation of religious dogma and creed … there is this message of a fiery intelligence and a conscious evolution toward a divine or super humanity. This fiery intelligence, the being-consciousness-force from which creation emerges and that tends to generate increasingly higher and more refined life-forms of increasingly greater intelligence is essentially, what the Kabbalah calls ‘God’ ..The process of working out what is necessary for continued progress in a conscious evolution is called tikkune in the Kabbalah, which means correction, repair, mending, or healing. When it (that which is in the process of creative evolution) is ready, it passes into a cycle of progress, what is not ready goes into a cycle of regress to work out what is needed for progress … ” – Tau Malachi

I think that one can say that both from a metaphysical and scientific point of view we are indeed beings in transition towards a super-humanity, yet we understand so little about the process of transformation from a psychological point of view. What happens to the ‘mind’ of a caterpillar undergoing a metamorphosis? It is now quite widely accepted that thoughts directly influence the physical, however, this knowledge is mainly used to bring about better health, better material conditions and to be happy. But something is missing here, we have forgotten the Chaos Theory, the importance of the seemingly chaotic state within which change occurs. We see chaos as an aberration, an unnatural state of being, something that one must make every effort to escape, yet chaos is the natural agent of transformation, of the process of creation, and evolution.

What appears as chaotic, meaningless is a part of a cycle of growth. What really appears to us as meaningless is that which we do not understand. Nothing in my experience is meaningless.

Expansion and contraction is within every cycle of life. We have great difficulty in excepting contraction as a natural part of life, we want to be forever expanding, forever happy, forever in the light, but this cycle is in both the macrocosm and microcosm . Why can’t we just be always happy expanding, always happy? Why must we breathe in and out?

It is a matter of digestion. Every organism must digest everything it receives properly, rhythmically. What is true for the biological world is also true for the psychological. Our anxieties, emotions, sense impressions, griefs, and sorrows, have to be properly digested. If the pressure of undigested experience overwhelms the system, our biorhythms slip out of gear. Likewise, the major experiences and crisis which comprise our biography must be adequately digested before they can unite with the core of our being. Only when the psyche has digested the ‘nutritional’ experiences which come to it can a fresh cycle of impulses trigger a new phase of action. Any imbalance in the digestive process, whether physiological or psychological, will eventually unleash the energies which produce the crisis needed to restore the equilibrium.” William Bryant

The same can also be said of societies that must also go through these stages and indeed, societies also have their dark nights of the soul. Like individuals nations must properly digest their experiences – especially their disasters. The key to this mystery are the cycles of expansion and contraction, in which growth is interrupted and suspended while new refinements of form and function are introduced. These moments reveal phases of interiorization and reorganization which eventually create the super-organized essence, the idea, of the plants contained in the new seeds. In us these ‘contractions are the critical periods between assimilation of experience and the new impulses released for future change – they are our crises.

In the macro-cosmic cycles we know the same processes occurs, where the vessels of former universes are shattered in the process of the creation of new universes – one form of life being transformed into another. The stories of Armageddon and the Apocalypse also reflects this – hence the process of radical transformation that supports the emergence of what amounts to a new specie of humanity, a divine or supernal being.

The Black Mother is not easily understood – she is, perhaps, the most veiled or concealed aspect of Sophia. She is at the very heart of the creative process, and while she may be clearly experienced in the body and life process, yet she may also be experienced as completely disembodied rather than incarnate – completely transcendental. She is the primordial manifestation of the Divine Feminine – the Deep of the Void and Chaos from which all things arise and come into being. In her essence and nature she is unthinkable – completely inconceivable and incomprehensible; and yet she is the very primordial ground from which all being-consciousness-force emerges.

Although transcendental, and such things as beauty and horror are one and the same to her; yet, she is brooding and immanent, ever present in our experience of a constantly changing reality – and as the motivator of constant change or transformation, her immense power goes without saying. Equally, the Dark Mother is the Great Virgin, completely self-contained and hidden in herself, and though the very principle of change, often called ‘Destruction,’ which is the power behind all Creation, yet is she, in her essence and nature, never changed.

Chaotic and unpredictable, uncertainty and unknowing, dread and terrible – these are words that describe her; yet, so also are words such as sweet and all-giving, liberating and uplifting, and illuminating. She is the core of the Creative Process – the journey into Void and Chaos and Destruction from which a New Creation arise: Mother of the Apocalypse!

Yeshua says, “One must be reborn of the Holy Spirit to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” This, in truth, is a mystical death – passing back into the womb of the Deep of Void and Chaos, those Bitter Waters (Marah), to arise as a child of Light. As any woman can bear witness, the fullness of the womb leads to an explosive and chaotic event of giving birth, so that with birth both mother and child pass through a great ordeal – in this the Black Mother is perfectly known by women. Indeed! She is innately known by women within their own deep and unspoken but natural and instinctual qualities.

Here, of course, we speak of the Dark Night of the Soul and the Cloud of Unknowing – which leads to the realization of the True Light. Yet, until there is a mystical death, and the embrace of the depth of Darkness, how shall the Bright Mother, the Queen of Heaven or Enlightement be known? My dear Tzaddik in these matters, Mother Sarah, would often say, “Those who say they know the Bright Mother, never having embraced her Dark Splendor, do not know her, and cannot unite with her in full until they are willing to the Darkness.” …

Kali Imma and Kali Kallah are not well accepted in our society and culture – rather they are ignored and avoided, demonized, as it were, because they cannot be defined and packaged by finite and linear reason, or controlled when invoked. Few women truly embrace her, and even fewer men – yet, it is she who brings about a true and full metanoia (spiritual transformation or conversion).

The difficulty is this – she is the honest truth of life, much of which is deemed unacceptible or undesirable. You see, the Black Mother/Bride is enigmatic, for while she brings into the Light, she also is among monstrous, horrific and demonic things. She is present in everything without exception, and empowers the entire play of cosmic forces – divine, admixed and demonic.

I’m reminded of the truth that action of creation is at one and the same time the action of destruction. This is reflected in the transition of the Maiden to the Mother, for example. The state of the Maiden is shattered as she comes into being as the Mother – that which was passing away as that which shall be comes into being. This is the reality of the present moment, always. This seems directly connected to the twofold action of purification and consecration

She may reveal delights of the senses, yet also the error of grasping at them; she can guide through unseen spaces, revealing deep secrets, and lead us into new horizons; she can heal and nurture, and she can cut straight through our deepest delusions and shatter the bonds of our self-grasping – she becomes so many things to us, and yet she is none of them, for she is the Great Void itself!Tau Malachi

Indeed! She is the Supreme Trickster, operating quite outside of the confines of conventional wisdom and the dullness of unenlightened society – but how can one not love her, she is the perfect delight of liberation! “  –

Next I will explore the stages of a Dark Night of the Soul. In truth this is just a brief introduction…

That sweet night: a secret,
Nobody saw me;
I did not see a thing,
No other light, no other guide
Than the one burning in my heart.
– John of the Cross

*Medieval theologians described the personal brilliance in the Latin word scintilla, the spark that lies at the heart of a person.

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