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Dealing with the Dark Night

Should I avoid the Dark Night?

Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/28/12 6:00 AM
Dear All,

I have been practising mindfulness & breath meditation, mostly as prescribed by the book Mindfulness in Plain English. My practice has mostly been consistent for a few months, and recently I have been regularly doing 30 minutes each evening. I have also been very mindful of practising metta during my waking day. I feel I have been successful in improving both mindfulness and loving-kindness.

My recent three-day home retreat over the new year, and the last few months have, I feel, definitely pushed me further down the road. I feel different, I feel more mindful, and to some extent, I feel my thoughts are different.

My good friend has warned me that I am quickly progressing down the path towards the Dark Night. The next few months in my life are important to me, on a purely financial level. Assuming, for now, that the material world, my necessities, and some luxuries are still important, should I take measures to avoid the Dark Night?

Some suggestions were:
1. stop meditating all together
2. focus on concentration meditation to improve my concentration but avoid the Dark Night
3. go full steam ahead with mindfulness in order to enter and emerge from the Dark Night as quickly as possible

I have no idea what I can or should do. If I hadn't been warned and I wasn't at this important financial point in my life, I would continue with mindfulness meditation as best as I could.

I would really appreciate any advice or thoughts anyone may have.

Very best wishes,


RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/25/12 7:46 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
HI Cammil -

I don't think it's possible to avoid the dukkha nanas, but you might a) be past those (!), b) go through those in a blink(!), c) negotiate them fine from the cushion.

As per not wanting to screw up a useful financial thing, I would say that if you start getting sick, disgusted, miserable, irritable with people - pay attention to those low sensations right away. There are lots of basic exercises (like 20 minutes on an elliptical) that can neutralize exaggerated negative mental states while you track them on the Insight maps and practice.

It sounds like you have a useful practice going. If you have good concentration, then when dukkha nanas arise, you can calmly abide there (calm abiding ("samatha") is the concentration of tranquility, as metta is the concentration of "loving-kindness"). On the cushion would be a great place to do this, versus in person/professional life.

Best wishes,

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/26/12 11:00 AM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
My sense of the progress of insight is that it is some kind of natural maturation process which not everybody goes through, and among those who do, not everyone finishes. An analogy might be like buds, then flowers, and then fruit in a plant (notwithstanding the reproductive aspects of the analogy, just the sequential aspect). Suppose you are a gardener, and you prune and water and fertilize and shade a certain plant a certain way. Once it buds, it will flower. There might be a way to tend it which promotes budding, and another way to tend it which suppresses budding. And once it does flower, there might be a way to tend it which promotes big, healthy, juicy fruit; and another way to tend it which promotes no fruit at all. And this may vary season to season, year to year. But apropos the Dark Night, in this analogy, say that although the flowers are a normal stage of the process which may lead to fruit, they also happen to smell bad or attract lots of pesky insects which you don't want in your garden right now, or for some reason might be inconvenient.

A key idea in the map of the progress of insight is that once someone crosses the A & P, they will wind up in the Dark Night just as surely as a plant that buds will produce flowers. Knowing this, the "insight/meditation" plant can be cultivated either to promote flowers, or fruits, or whatever the gardener wishes, but the natural process has a certain internal dynamic which can be tended or directed to a certain extent but not directly controlled.

So if you don't want any Dark Night (flowers) right now, don't cultivate any A & P (buds). Don't take hallucinogens, don't do any more intensive meditation retreats, and generally avoid extreme experiences. Another aspect of this analogy is that many plants of a certain age (especially the kinds that wind up posting on this site) appear already to have crossed the A & P, wittingly or unwittingly -- but the buds might be very small and not obvious. You indicate that you have a subjectively different quality of experience since doing a 3-day home retreat, and maybe you crossed some critical threshold there. Evidently something must have changed, since you feel different! And it is also possible that you have already set something in motion, you could be walking down the street tomorrow, and you could spontaneously have some extraordinary experience followed by a crash. Unlikely, but if it does happen, you will have a much better idea of what is going on and hopefully won't be as badly blindsided as most people unfortunately are.

The import of my response is about understanding the process. I don't know what practice is most likely to keep things level and steady for you "off the cushion" for the next few months. My guess would be that keeping up some sort of modest practice would help keep you in touch with your inner process in a way that will promote skillfully navigating this territory. Good luck, and do keep us posted!

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/26/12 4:39 PM as a reply to Tarver .
Thank you for your answers.

I feel I may have over thought this. It appears that the Dark Night is not debilitating, just unpleasant. I certainly do not mind going through a difficult period if I can still function at work.

Today I am up to 32 minutes meditation. I feel encouraged by your responses and I am going to do my best and continue with my practice. If it is of interest, or of help to anyone here, I will endeavour to update you with my progress.


RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/26/12 4:54 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
The Dark Night can be and has been debilitating for some, but doesn't necessarily have to be so for you. There was a podcast recently on Buddhist Geeks quantifying the average substantial debilitation as 3.4 years. What isn't clear (at least to me, yet) is what proportion of people this happens to, or what access to information those people had at the time. This is pretty close to the cutting edge of research on the topic, even though in one form or another these practices are 2500 years old. We are the first group of people ever in the history of the world to try this stuff out with the Internet to facilitate our Sangha.

Please do let us know how it goes. I am subscribed to this thread, and I am interested in how it turns out for you. emoticon

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/26/12 5:01 PM as a reply to Tarver .
3.4 years! Well if that's the case, then I might as well get started now.

I will be sure to update this thread with my progress. emoticon

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/26/12 5:24 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
From what you've said so far, it's clear that you're interested in making progress and it sounds like you're quite committed to practice. Dark Night doesn't need to be the horror story that some people would have you believe, don't get me wrong it can be fairly unpleasant at times but if your practice is strong and you bear a few practical things in mind then you'll be absolutely fine.

- Don't expect Dark Night to be this nightmarish and impenetrable wall of suffering, it's really not the way it is. Yes, there are times when you'll feel fear without anything appearing to have caused it to arise, you'll probably notice a sense of disgust and disillusionment with things, you'll likely go through a brief phase of wishing you could just switch off and not have to deal with the world at all, and then you might find that you get a big blast of all of these feelings at once before, if you practice well, you'll find yourself in a far, far more pleasant place where all of the stuff that went before seems so much less of an issue. That's essentially a brief description of how feelings shift as you go from DN into Equanimity, which is where the damage is done i.e. Path can occur, it's natural and doesn't require "you" to do anything other than stay present.

- Don't try to fight with Dark Night and it's often chaotic, buzzy, and annoying vibrations. In insight practice, Dark Night does you. Relax and allow things to happen without trying to push or control them, attractive as it may seem it's counterproductive and you can actually have a really nice time when in 3rd vipassana jhana if you can ride it out. In practice, just be there and observe calmly and without getting involved. Develop equanimity towards these things and it'll unfold by itself.

- In real life, when you know you're in DN territory just try to be more aware of your behaviour around others and how you react. Flying off the handle or losing your temper with people isn't uncommon but can be avoided simply by being mindful, bring that relaxed observation into your daily life and see things with equanimity as you would on the cushion.

- Read this and resolve in a similar fashion, it's a beautiful resolution from MCTB and it's been extremely important in my own practice.

The second piece of advice is to have a “no-bleedthrough” policy when you suspect you are in the Dark Night. Simply refuse to let your negativity bleed out onto everyone and everything around you. Failure to do so can be disastrous, as your profound lack of perspective, fixation on negativity and the suffering from your fundamental crisis of identity can easily get projected out onto things and people that simply did not cause that suffering! No one appreciates this at all and it does no good whatsoever.

Combining these two pieces of important advice, resolve thus, “I have recently crossed the A&P Event and I know this by the many obvious signs of that stage. Now I am feeling strangely reactive and negative about things that ordinarily I am able to handle with more balance and clarity, and I know that a good part of this is due to the inevitable Dark Night that follows the A&P. I realize that I am in a less than ideal position to skillfully deal with the personal issues that are driving me crazy, as I am likely to project the suffering from the illusion of duality and the odd side effects of the Dark Night onto these issues.

“I have been warned that this is an extremely bad idea from those who have successfully navigated in this territory, and I have faith that they know what they are talking about. Even if these issues are real and valid, I am likely to blow them way out of proportion and not be able to bring balance and kindness to them. By contracting into my own reactive darkness and confusion, I could easily hurt others and myself. Thus, I resolve to keep my darkness to myself, tell only those who are skilled in navigating in dark territory, or at least share it with others in a way that does not project it out on my world and them, and so will spare those around me needless suffering which they do not deserve. In short, I will use the meditation map theory to keep the reins on my dark stuff and to deal with it in ways that are known to help rather than harm.

“I will make time for insight practices and retreats during which time I will simply see the true nature of the sensations of whatever arises, however horrible or compelling, and not indulge in the content of my stuff for one skinny instant if this is within the limits of my strength and power. In this way, I will be able to navigate this territory skillfully and not damage my daily life. Should I fail, I will actively seek help from those who are skilled in helping people keep a healthy perspective in the face of dark issues until such time as I can face the Dark Night as recommended.

“When I have attained to the first stage of awakening, that will be a great time to see how much of my negativity was really valid and how much was just due to my own lack of clarity and the side effects of the Dark Night. From that place of clarity, I will be much more likely to fix those things in my life that really need fixing and attention and be able to dismiss easily those paper tigers that I have created for myself. By not trying to take on all of this at once, that is, by gaining deep insights before tackling the personal issues, I am more likely to lead the happy and wise life I wish for myself. I will attain to both liberating insights and insights into my issues, and this will be of great benefit to myself and all beings.”

- The progress of insight is like a perpetually cycling machine, once your on you're there until you're done so Dark Night isn't something which can be avoided. It's more useful to look at it as an opportunity to gain insight into those less satisfactory parts of your experience which we normally prefer to avoid. There's a deep honesty at this stage and you can go really quite deeply into things, it can be very revealing and clear out a lot of shit that you didn't need in the first place.

Don't go into practice expecting your experience to line up exactly with someone else's, it's easy to do without even realizing but it prevents you from getting to grips with your own experience as it happens. There are things which are fairly universal but there are things which seem fairly unique to each practitioner so find what works for you and run with it.

Let us know how you get on and be sure to ask if you find yourself stuck at any point, and welcome to the DhO as well.


RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/26/12 6:38 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
I'm going through it now. I haven't had any big frights but I definitely feel squished into the present moment more as a habit and there is a little bit of buzzing and soreness in my head like a hangover but I'm starting to enjoy smoothing it out with metta and concentration. I think doing vipassana by itself is not good enough for me. I think that cultivating metta and samadhi along with vipassana is a good thing. I also like looking at mental phenomenon arising and passing away so if I get interested in saying the wrong thing at work (which happened more often in the past) I start enjoying letting go of those impulses and then enjoying the benefit of "wow, I'm glad I didn't say that or do that." When something passes away it's important to enjoy the relief and not ignore it.

For work I also like to use the GTD: Getting things done method by David Allen. He understood that a lot of frustration was because we get so overfilled with tasks and you can alleviate the stress by putting everything (including personal deadlines) into one personal organizer. I do that with an iPhone app. By listing things in actionable events all that stuff is off your mind because you organized it and made time for it. It's no good to enter "learn new language" in it but to break it down to actionable events. "Finish x number of problems on language course". If you do that you'll be more organized than most people at work and get lots done. Outbursts are likely if there is obstacles to your goals so if you keep your mind on that and make a resolution to watch impulses pass away before acting I think you should be better than those who are not meditating.

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/28/12 6:00 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Thank you all for your responses.

I look forward to some first hand experience that I can convey back to you all.

Best wishes,


RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
1/30/12 3:45 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Cammil Taank:
I feel I may have over thought this. It appears that the Dark Night is not debilitating, just unpleasant. I certainly do not mind going through a difficult period if I can still function at work.

I'm surprised nobody commented on this. It may not be debilitating, or it may be. It may be "just unpleasant" or it may be much more, or maybe even less. Gathering from what I've read of people's reports here and from people I've met in person, I don't think that there is any predictor as of yet which can tell you how debilitating or not your Dark Night experiences will be.

I don't see any reason not to be have some preparation for a worst case scenario. Since your concern is work, these are the things from my own experience which may be debilitating:

1. Physical pain, agony, fatigue, lethargy. If physical side effects come up, you may not have as much energy or strength to accomplish as many tasks during the day. You may need to spend more time in bed, or taking bubble baths, getting massages, or just relaxing.

2. Emotional reactivity, and projection. If this stuff comes up, you may end up unloading on some poor unsuspecting colleague or boss, etc.

3. The insights themselves. I think this may be the trickiest one of them all. You will be having profound insights into impermanence, suffering, and non-self. One way this may translate: Impermanence... Your job: it's just a flittering spark coming and going for a brief moment on the surface of this vast and infinitely deep universe. Money? It comes and goes, you can never hold on to it. It never lasts forever. Suffering... The rat race of chasing this, chasing that... you're whole life you've been chasing objects of the world, and for what? As soon as you get them, they slip away. No-self... You don't own any of this. Money isn't yours to possess. You aren't your job title, you aren't your so-called "successes", your self-centeredness has gotten you nowhere.... etc... etc... Do you see where this is headed?

Number 3 is tricky because you may be so caught up in a new illusion that you begin to intentionally destroy areas of your life. How would you carry on with your job if all of a sudden it seems to be completely insignificant, transient, impersonal. If you had no idea why your doing it or why anyone would do something like that and it all seems so pointless, what would you do? could you just keep going with it?

There are ways to deal with this stuff and remain functional (some of which have been suggested in this thread already). And, it seems to go easier for those who are prepared and informed so that they can recognize "oh, this is the Dark Night, I won't take it to seriously."

On another note, I think other parts of the path can also be debilitating. The A&P can hit like a manic attack. You can imagine how annoying the born-again religious type people can be. This sort of evangelical, manic, overly-enthusiastic mysticism can be quite disruptive as well. I'm sure I alienated lots of people by telling them how I had figured it all out and how I was a buddha and whatnot.

As an anecdote, I had a friend who one day decided to try this sexual energy meditation that he read about. He crossed the A&P and then started going to parties all the time on lots of drugs with a bible and he would freestyle rap bible sermons for hours and hours. No one knew what the hell was going on with him, although I recognized it because I had crossed the A&P a year or two earlier (but, still I had no idea what exactly it was either). People thought it was cute at first, but after 6 hours of beligerant freestyle rap of the old testament and various mystical/spiritual themes, people got pissed off at him. Eventually, he sorta disappeared (as he hit the dark night), and a couple years later I heard a report that he was in prison. He was definitely weird to begin with, but at least he had been functional for his whole life before that point.

While there's no way to know what you'll go through, and it may be super easy, I think it's worthwhile to know about the other possibilities.

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
2/2/12 3:05 PM as a reply to Daniel Johnson.
Thank you for your frankness.

I appreciate the spectrum goes from negligible to devastating effects. I wonder what the likelihoods of ending up on that spectrum are.

If my past life is anything to go by, then I am optimistic. In general I am quick to get caught up in emotions, but equally quick to free myself from them. Logically, I understand that in some sense, these emotions are transitory, and I don't think I can unknow that.

The other way of looking at it: if the risks of entering the Dark Night are really that unknown, then it is no different from crossing the road. I just need to make sure I am fully aware when I'm doing it.

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
2/2/12 3:27 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Cammil: The other way of looking at it: if the risks of entering the Dark Night are really that unknown, then it is no different from crossing the road. I just need to make sure I am fully aware when I'm doing it.

I like that analogy.

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
8/8/12 5:56 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Dear Cammill,

You sound like a pretty positive person practicing in a healthy way, making steady progress - great!

If you truly wish to liberate yourself then you should keep practicing, and if you keep practicing you will reach said stage.

If you're not fussed about liberation then you could just stop and therefore avoid the dark night, though it should be noted that there's no guarantee that you won't make some progress through the stages of insight without formal meditation practice!

Concentration and insight go hand-in-hand; by only practicing concentration, you cannot guarantee that you will not (accelerate) progress through the stages of insight.

You don't need to know anything about the dark night to reach it, and indeed, pass through it.

The information you have learned from books etc. about the dark night is useful to you in the sense that once you are there, IF it is giving you a hard time (though from your brief personal description the outlook is good, if that's anything to go by) then it gives you the reassurance that:

- You haven't done anything wrong
- You are making good progress
- Many other people have been through the process, it is quite natural
- Yes, you might feel crap NOW, but it WILL PASS (anicca), just surrender
- You should JUST KEEP GOING to come out of it

If you do choose to continue I would recommend learning about the signs then pretty much forgetting about it until the time comes, at which point you can use that information to help you through.

For what it's worth, I recently returned from my second Goenka retreat, having entered the Dark Night near the end of my first 18 months previous. At the end of the 3rd day I surrendered and entered equanimity (yay!). Unfortunately I knew nothing during my first retreat and thought I'd somehow done something wrong, and subsequently left on the ninth day. For 3-4 weeks afterwards I felt pretty bad at times, which was exacerbated by my reading horror stories from various sources on the internet. Luckily, I found MCTB and was able to begin to understand what had happened. When I went back on retreat I was able to use the signs as a guide that everything was going as it should, have faith in the process and JUST KEEP GOING. During the 18 months I was able to function quite normally, and really only experienced any significant DN symptoms during/after some sits or occasionally when I got really stoned, but again, I knew why I was feeling like this so it really wasn't a big deal. If I'd have known what I know now, or if they'd at least have told me about the DN when I got there, it would have made things a lot easier.

As Daniel says, it's just plain wrong not to warn people about the DN, but the flip side is that they can get fixated on it and possibly not practice as a result of the anticipation.

Hope this helps,


RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
8/8/12 8:52 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
Not everyone experiences a dark night.

And if you don't, that's fine.

Mine was long ass though.

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
8/8/12 11:52 PM as a reply to Cammil Taank.
If you wish to just practice basic meditation/mindfulness/breath/concentration without making progress in insight then make a formal vow not to make progress in insight. This will delay progress, though likely not for forever if the process has already been set into some amount of motion.

When you are ready to engage in insight practices again, make a vow to resume progress.

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
8/10/12 4:50 AM as a reply to Tom Tom.
Hi Guys,

Thanks for your ideas.

I currently find the formalisation of these stages a distraction to practice. I think I have progressed, and that to me is important. Where I am is not so important.

That said, I now feel equanimous more often than not. Perhaps I have passed the dark night, perhaps I have not. If there are "bad" stages through which I must pass, then they're only perceived as "bad" in the mindset I have before passing through them.

Through a little reading, (especially 8 mindful steps to happiness) my morality and wisdom have improved greatly. I feel more at peace. I intend to focus my meditation practice on concentration.

I have also taken up yoga and this has done wonders for my meditation. I think an oft neglected aspect of meditation is the physical one. If one can sit perfectly still, with one's muscles perfectly relaxed, it is much easier to still the mind. That's what I have found.

My outlook is positive. I'm confident I'm on the right path.

Love & peace to all.


RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
8/10/12 12:53 PM as a reply to Tarver .
 Tarver :
There was a podcast recently on Buddhist Geeks quantifying the average substantial debilitation as 3.4 years.

Wow! That's both remarkably long and incredibly specific! Could you link to the podcast?

RE: Should I avoid the Dark Night?
8/10/12 2:37 PM as a reply to N A.
N A:
Could you link to the podcast?

>> Here. <<