Q: Could you explain “the dark night of the soul” to me?
First I should tell you that it is a very simple thing. It is a stage in the evolution of a highly evolved human being when he is at a pivotal point in his development.
All that has gone before, although it was of value in earlier times, is to be recognized as limited and something to be laid aside in order to enter into a higher segment of the aspirant’s life. The character of the state of development he is to enter is vastly different from prior stages and is a tremendous leap forward. This is a very real watershed in his evolution and the rupture between past and present is drastic, even violent, and is a period of great pain, confusion and even despair.
The need to press forward, leaving the past behind
Because he does not realize the need or the nature of this utter cutting off of the past, which includes things to which he has dedicated himself as most sacred and which he cannot conceive being without, this process is nothing less than traumatic.
In fact he feels at least subliminally that he is moving toward death, which it is: a death of all that went before and a birth of things of which he cannot begin to conceive. No one reaches this point except through dedication to things of the spirit, and that means total loyalty to religion(s), to a path he has traversed through many lives, but all of a limitation and defect he does not perceive and which he would regard as blasphemy if someone spoke to him of it.
No consolation in the dark night
Therefore everything in his soul and heart goes dark and a state of utter deadness or numbness results which is worse to him than any torture he could conceive. It is as though the world and every thing and everyone in it is as dead as he feels, and therefore he has not a single thing to hold to for assurance, what to say of consolation. He feels nothing but emptiness and hopelessness.
Even God becomes nothing but an empty idea. Yet he does not stop believing in God, though he seems to have lost any relationship he thought he had with God. God is there, but does not respond to his reachings out toward him, so to him God is not there. It is as though there is no God, but he knows there is, and that can only mean that God has closed himself from him, turned away and become indifferent to him.
Since God is the only thing that is ultimately real, he has entered into a condition beyond death in its terrible void. And there is no change in that condition, just complete stagnation or stasis, abandonment to nothing.
Patience and Perseverance
He never stops yearning for it to end and for some form of divine communication to come.There is only one course open to him: remaining in that state, not seeking to leave it or change it. Just being in it. But he never stops yearning for it to end and for some form of divine communication to come. Jesus said: “By your patience possess your soul” (Luke 21:19).
He does not know it, but in his holding fast and refusing to let go of his desire for contact with God he is developing mastery of his spirit. His resolve is like that of Isaiah: “I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face, and I will look for him” (Isaiah 8:17). So this he does, though without hope. He hopes hopelessly. Yet there is nothing else for him to do, and he considers nothing else.
And then it suddenly ends as an undreamed of dimension of life appears and opens before him and he enters it as in a dream, beginning to awaken into a reality that before he would have thought impossible, even a delusion.
He dares to think what before he would never have dared to think. He dares to learn and know what before he would have considered insanity and blasphemy. He becomes what previously he would have prayed to die rather than become.
He sees all his previous light to have been darkness and his beliefs about God to have been an indefensible joke. And that is just the beginning of “being transformed from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18).
The situation for the yogi
Though they may have minor ups and downs in the beginning, true yogis never go through the dark night because they have already gone through it, often in a previous birth, for yoga is the dawn after the dark night.