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Dark Night of the Soul

By Kiara Windrider, Jan 12, 2005

There are many stages to enlightenment.  Bhagavan refers to enlightenment as making a hole in the wall of the mind, a wall that keeps us separate from the direct experience of divinity.   Making the initial hole is the first step in the journey of enlightenment. The larger the hole, the deeper the state of oneness that we experience.  When the wall disappears completely, there is no longer any separation between oneself, nature, creation, and God.

For some, like Ramana Maharshi, the wall is completely obliterated in a moment of time.    For most people, however, it is a more gradual process.  If the wall is broken down all at once it becomes difficult for the person to function in the normal world, and so in the majority of cases, a slower process is required. A small hole appears, which widens in time as the physical body adjusts to the shifts in energy and perception.  The “deeksha” is one avenue through which this hole can be created.

The gradual widening of this hole in the wall is often accompanied by what we might call “the dark night of the soul”.  Our sense of identity as a fixed ‘self’ separate from the rest of the universe is a peculiarity of the human brain, which begins to undergo a shift when the deeksha is given.  The dark night of the soul is simply a metaphor for the dissolution of this sense of separate identity.

Most of us are more attached to our self-identities than we realize.  Our personal histories, psychological personalities, social roles, and purpose in life are all derived from the idea of a fixed self.  Indeed, our very search for meaning in the universe is based on the sense of a personal identity. What would we be left with when this begins to dissolve? Who would we be when we are no longer recognizable as a fixed and separate self?

The more attached we are to our experience of a personal self, the more devastating it can be when we recognize that this is merely an illusion projected by the human brain.  The ‘ego’, which is just another term for the personal self, throws up all kinds of resistance in response to what it perceives as its own imminent death.  All our emotional ‘stuff’ comes up as old patterns of psychological self-preservation move up to the surface.  A sense of existential darkness pervades the psyche.  All our life-support systems, including our ‘spiritual’ props and support, begin to drop away.  Our very ‘faith’ in God, which all too often is the ego’s substitute for a direct experience of divinity, begins to crumble.

The dark night does not have to be painful or difficult, however.  It is only so when there is an extreme attachment to the illusion of a fixed and separate identity.  All fear eventually boils down to the fear of dissolution, the fear of death.  Once the process of enlightenment begins, and we open to the realization that the self who dies is itself an illusion, the journey becomes smooth and exhilarating.  We enter into a place of mystery, letting go our fears and expectations, carried along by great big winds across the sky.

In esoteric circles, this process is often referred to as a ‘soul initiation’.  It is said that this is the process that all initiates must undergo before they come into the flowering of their divinity. It can be symbolized as a process of death and rebirth.  What dies is the ego.  What is born in its place is an inner divinity arising from the knowledge that everything is a flow of oneness. Jesus himself underwent this process in the “forty days of wilderness” preceding his public ministry, which established him in the state of permanent divine union.

This journey through the dark night cannot be measured in linear time.  Whether it lasts for moments or for years depends entirely on our willingness to undergo the death of ego.  Paradoxically, this death takes place once we understand that there never was a separate self in the first place.  It is simply a rearrangement of perception, which opens the pathway needed for our true nature to express itself.  We recognize that we are, and always have been, simply a flow of consciousness expressing itself moment by moment in the theater we call life.

Once this realization occurs, accompanied by a shift within the neurobiological structure of the human brain, we are established in a state of mastery.  There is no more room for separation or judgment in our perceptions of life.  Synchronicity becomes our daily experience.  Miracles happen all around us because we are no longer restricted to a linear perception of reality.  We establish a field of harmonic resonance all around us which becomes contagious.  There is no longer a need for psychological drama or existential suffering.  We radiate beauty and joy everywhere we go, simply because we are no longer capable of experiencing or expressing anything else.

For many of us, this realization is still in the future.  However, knowing the end makes the path easier.  Knowing that there is a radiant dawn at the end of the night makes it seem somewhat shorter.  Ultimately, once we awaken, we realize that the long dark night was itself an illusion, much like our dreams of sleep dispel into unreality in the light of day!

Long dark night

Desolate winds howl in icy winter night.
The pilgrim stops in his endless wanderings,
And lends his own voice to the wind.
How can it be when the sky is emptied,
When nothing remains to obscure the sun,
That life is strangely fed in this mystic darkness?
The silent vastness ebbs and flows.
These riches can only be seen
By one whose eyes are empty of seeing,
When the fires of desolation
Have flared up, then died away,
When the last embers of hope and certainty
Have faded in the night.
How can it be, my Friend,
That I hear you so clearly now
When everything I have ever known
Has smoldered away with these embers?
The storms of separation have passed,
Only the wet snow bears witness.
The dark night is revealed
As doorway to deepest light.
I have found my voice
In the softly running, silent living,
Wild pulsing heart
Of Eternity!