Friday, June 12, 2009

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Institute for Spirituality and Psychotherapy offers a number of lectures for download including "The Dark Night of the Soul: Psychological and Spiritual Perspectives."

The lecture is delivered by psychotherapists Frances Vaughan and Bryan Wittine and is described by the following:

"In contemporary depth psychology, the term ‘dark night of the soul’ is sometimes used to describe periods that are central to the journey of individuation. During these periods old ego-identificationsbreak down and old values no longer hold true. This presentation focuses on how therapists can honor these periods as an opening of our client’s deepest longings so they might come to appreciate life’s greater meanings and find a more fulfilling relationship with Mystery."

Among the points that Vaughan and Wittine make regarding 'Dark Nights' that I found of particular interest were:

There are two types of dark nights according to John of the Cross who coined the phrase; the night of the senses and the night of the spirit.

During the night of the senses we relinquish our appetite for things of this world and our attachment to things of this world - material goods, status, money, etc.

During the night of spirit we relinquish our attachments to spiritual beliefs and ideas in which we are oriented towards separateness and multiplicity and turn instead towards a consciousness where we are oriented toward unity and oneness with the absolute.

During the Night of the spirit our spiritual experiences and beliefs come into question and we are faced with the absense of the divine (nobody is out there giving us answers.)

The dark night is mysterious. We don’t know where it’s going or what we’re supposed to do. And it’s not something that necessarily just happens once. Dark nights seem to generally happen after we’ve experienced some illumination, when we know there’s more. Dark nights are hard to be in and are thought by some to parallel the Buddhist teachings of impermanence. Also, the cultivation of the “don’t know” mind (a Buddhist concept) can be helpful during dark nights.

The dark night of the senses often shows up in midlife when we discover that the right job, car, partner, etc. won’t do it. Ultimate satisfaction will never come from outside of ourselves.

Dark nights involve giving up illusions

Staying with the experience of the dark night eventually leads to the dawning of the light in some way.

During a dark night we frequently feel like victims, feel sorry for ourselves and gradually we may begin to take a stand such as, "this is no longer acceptable." It is here that we begin to mobilize energy. Often this is angry energy and we enter a period of being an adversary – we may take political action, confront an abuser, become angry at God, etc. Eventually we may shift our anger into a creative endeavor and give up the role of advesary, eventually evolving into co-creators.

Dark nights force us to let go, and every time we let go we are freed up to open our hearts to love.

The dark night is part of the human experience. We can remind each other that we are not alone and that these times are deepening our capacity for compassion and loving kindness.

The dark not is not the same as clinical depression and generally involves the following:

We retain our sense of humor
Our Compassion in enhanced
We feel in spite of the discomfort that there is a sense of rightness about the process
We seldom feel desperate to escape the process
The deeper one goes into the dark night, the qualities of frustration and annoyance diminish and an openness to the dark and not knowing evolves

The dark night has been descriged as a period of 'divine discontent.'

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