As I have discussed in my previous articles on the Dark Night of the Soul, all of us will encounter and has experienced a Dark Night of the Soul. If all goes well, after each dark night the ego has matured a little more and moved up another step, and sees a little wider picture of the world; entered a new paradigm of understanding. However, for those of us that seeks more than the ordinary illumination, a particular Dark Night will be the only way to go beyond ordinary consciousness.
For as long as you can remember you have searched, you have wandered that lonely path. Indeed the path has not been without its rewards and many wonderful breakthroughs had been made, lighting up your understanding with joyful illumination. At times the going had been tough, and at other times you hardly felt the gravity, spurred along by with excitement of your discoveries. You may even have had some wonderful visions and experiences. You have tried to live your life according to your beliefs, looked at your mistakes with honesty and compassions, and slowly you have made progress, until you could see that you really have made a lot of progress from what now seem such a distant past, when you first began your journey consciously.
Then one day, you find yourself utterly lost. Catapulted into the abyss by circumstances you could not have foreseen, for it emerged from your blindside. You try everything you can think of to get yourself out of the abyss, but nothing helps. You find yourself more and more lost. It feels as if even the wild power that had spurred you onto the quest has left you, even the gods are silent. You feel yourself utterly abandoned, even among the encouragement of others, and even though others try to reach you with their love. You feel as if you are enclosed in an impenetrable cocoon where no one or nothing can reach you. There in your isolation you try and think desperately what could light you up again, what could bring you joy again. But it is as even your feelings have abandoned you. Your thoughts may even turn to suicide, but you have come too far to to except that as an option. Yet, you feel that you want to die; you cannot return to your old life, and you cannot imagine a new life that will bring a solution to your feelings of desolation.
Your ego has reached its nemesis. All your life your ego has been able to do something to pull you out of any difficult situations. Your ego has even assisted you to bring you this far. You realize now that your ego actually wanted to to bring about your transformation, so that it can claim the credit for your enlightenment. Has it not assisted you in your spiritual practices, had it not had a hand in acknowledging the areas where you needed growth? Here in the abyss, in the darkest night, the ego has to admit that it cannot do anything to bring about that transformation you so deeply long for. There is nothing it can do, no skill it can apply, nothing it can will, nowhere it can go, nothing it can buy to bring about that which you so long for. Finally your ego has found something it cannot do. Finally your ego has reached its darkest night, and it recognizes that it itself is standing in the way of your transformation. It has to let go of any hope to bring about the transformation you so desire. Finally your ego realizes that it has to die; at least what it perceives as death, letting go of doing and surrender to a higher force. Let go of all it thought it was, for nothing it thought it was can now help in any way. In this dark night no intellectual reasoning, no matter of what high order will suffice. It has come as far as it can. The wholeness of being that you seek, is unimaginable to your present state of ego.
Nothing that the caterpillar thought it was can prepare it for what it can potentially become. What it thought it was, has served its purpose and brought it to full maturation of its first stage, even helped it survive all the dangers it faced, but now to go forward it must die to what it thought it was. In fact, it has to go against all its survival instincts, forget about all it has learned about survival, and growth in the physical world. What once brought meaning to its life, is now meaningless. Willingly it has to spin its own cocoon, its coffin, using the last of its reserves, surrender to the Dark Goddess, and then to wait upon grace.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
In a strange dark land I find myself. Yet, as my eyes become accustomed to the dark, a strong feeling of deja vu fills me. As I look around, some landmarks trigger almost forgotten memories of an ancient map I once saw. From somewhere, perhaps inside me, I hear the stirrings of a once familiar song, and I am drawn deeper …
Entering a dark night is like entering an unknown terrain, or going on a vision quest in the wilderness. When you are journeying in an unknown wild area it helps to have a map, so that you will at least know where you are. You may not know what you will encounter there, or exactly how long the journey will take you, but you will know the direction.
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the Heroes of all time have gone before us.”
– Joseph Campbell
One may feel utterly alone upon finding oneself within a dark Night of the Soul, many have gone before us, and have left behind maps of the terrain; through myths and legends, ancient initiatory rites, the Kabbalah, and in modern times what depth psychologists calls, depth maps of the psyche. All agree that the human personality is always on a journey of soul making, or maturing the ego. Although the adventures may be outer, they are really inner, into psyche’s depth realm. The ego, emissary of the daylight world of consciousness, must encounter the unknown zone of its own origins and secret destiny. Only after this nekyia, underworld journey, or dark night of the soul, comes the rebirth and return, of the solar hero. It is a timeless adventure, ever, yet never the same, for each hero is also an individual.
Because we are unable to experience and understand all of reality at once, we must take ‘bites’ of reality the size we can ‘chew’. We then form an image based on our best guesses as to the nature of the whole ‘pie’. The image formed is much like a map of a poorly charted territory.
We use this map to navigate the events and situations encountered in the world, just as an explorer uses a map to find their way through a jungle they have never previously encountered.
All the impressions, images, thoughts, events and situations the individual has experienced come together in that person’s mind. There they interact with each other to create an internally consistent, dynamic image of the world that provides the individual a means by which to cope with the environment. Even though the map will be generally internally consistent, it may or may not be consistent with the external world it is attempting to map.
Sometimes the map will be accurate and reliable, while at other times, the map will not provide the necessary accuracy and the underlying fears and distress that had been allayed will re-emerge.
Included in the ‘map’ of reality, must be a map of the individual themselves. Just as the whole map must form a coherent and consistent image, the map of themselves must be similarly coherent and consistent. I must be able to link who I was yesterday, who I am today, and will be tomorrow or my ability to interact collapses. Memory is thus an integral part of creating an identity that persists over time.
Whenever a situation is experienced, it must be compared to the map. There are four possible responses to any experience. Firstly, we can find it consistent with the existing map and absorb the experience into our being. Secondly, we can find it unacceptable and reject it, thereby relegating it to our ‘shadow’. Thirdly, we can distort or reinterpret the experience so it can remain congruent with the map and then absorb it into our being, or finally, find the experience so disturbing that the map breaks down, leaving us unable to relate to our world.
Our identity is therefore created from our past and how we interpret it.”
– – Victor McGill
We know that memory itself is an imaginal process, what we think we are and what we think our past is, is an imaginative reinterpretation of events, so that our world will make sense to us.. The key in any process of transformation is indeed the imagination. The deeper part of ourselves works more with images and emotions than with thoughts and words. Imagination is far more than idle fantasy, it is actually a manifesting power, The hero faces seemingly impossible odds but is rescued with the aid of magical guide. Often when you enter into the creative process you can become lost in the chaos of choices, and get stuck in uncertainty. It is then that you have to establish the attractor, and define what it is one wants to create, which then set in motion the process of bifurcation, which magically resolves the situation.
In a dark night you receive an image of your true nature, which you could not have imagined before. Just like the caterpillar dies to its former image, before it receives a new image of what it will become, and is then formed according to that image. When you are stuck in a dark night, your ego has not let go completely yet, and the image not received.
The stages of transformation applies to all dark nights; from the rites of initiations, little deaths, transitions into adulthood, and all life changing situations, including the mystical dark night. Just like having a map of an unknown terrain, knowing the stages of the dark night may help you understand what is going on when you feel the darkness of transition.
Stage 1: Disintegration/ Separation/ Departure
Just as with boy in story of initiation, you unexpectedly find yourself in a situation, where the old form of your life no longer functions well. This part of the process is marked by a cracking and shattering of the old form. This may happen suddenly, or there may be a gradual disintegration. This a time when major structures in our lives, such as our relationships, family, job, health, home, or belief systems, begin to break down and no longer function well or serve our sense of purpose. Some kind of truth about the reality of our situation is trying to break through our habitual conditioned mindset, and this overriding force acts to break up our situation.
The purpose of this stage is to break up the old and this occurs via the process of disintegration
This phase includes what is known as the Call.
That which has to be faced, and is somehow profoundly familiar to the unconscious – though unknown, surprising, and even frightening to the conscious personality – makes itself known; and what formerly was meaningful may become strangely emptied of value … This first stage of the mythological journey – which we have designated the “call to adventure” – signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.
– Joseph Campbell
You can say no to the call, but it will turn your world into a meaningless wasteland. To say yes, to the call may indeed feel like facing the storm. In the western culture the Call almost always involves a traumatic event, or life-changing event. The soul waits for, or creates, a trauma, something extreme that will loosen the ego’s grip on its old way of belonging in the world. The soul has been waiting for this moment, the moment the ego was ripe enough for the descent, developed well enough to withstand the experience of dissolution, yet still vulnerable enough to be dissolvable. The call is almost always unexpected, and unwanted, even if you have lived a spiritual life, death is never easy, though this is exactly what is required. The soul tricks us through various means to undergo an ego death, she knows exactly what would force us into descent. You simply cannot deny its call, and still be “alive” afterwards. The outcome of the call itself is however also not predictable, and what prompted the initial irresistible impulse, often just a decoy for beginning the descend, for the wanderer to begin its journey.
When we do not fully understand the cyclical process of change leading to death and rebirth, we desperately try to hold on to what was and is no longer. Most of do not really understand for we have not been prepared, so this is a common reaction that leads to shock, a disruption that leaves us feeling shattered.
Demetra George describes the symptoms of this stage;
We have a sense of unreality as we move through each day. We can’t believe that this is really happening to us. We may be overcome with panic and anxiety attacks because of our sudden precarious and insecure position. We don’t know how we are going to be able to manage and carry on. We may alternate between a state of numb denial and hysterical instability. Frantically running to and fro, we may try to bargain and make a deal with our partner, our parent, our child, our boss, or our banker in the attempt to “save or salvage what we can” from the relationship, homestead, or whatever life structure is in jeopardy.
Outbursts of anger and rage about the unfairness of our situation are common and are often directed toward those who we think caused our difficulties, toward fate, or toward God. Mentally we feel disorientated, fragmented, unable to concentrate or make decisions. Physically we may feel nervous, anxious, jittery, or have difficulty sleeping and eating. Insomnia, indigestion, shaking, sweating, and heart palpitations are all physical symptoms that frequently occur during this stage. … The more we try to hold onto the old form and deny what is occurring, the greater the disruptive force we unconsciously create in order to break us free from our attachments.
While it is theoretically possible for some super conscious individuals to achieve liberation and instant transformation during this first stage, most of us struggle with our various attachments, and have to move to the next stage of transformation;
You must leave the home of your former identity, and then prepare yourself for the descent – soul initiation.
Next; Purification/ Liminality/ Initiation