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Getting past the dark night of the soul

Getting past the dark night of the soul
dark night
Answer
4/30/18 10:36 AM
Hello, all.

I have been referred to this place by a friend of mine. So far, it seems like a pretty cool community of like-minded people.

This thread is about my dealings with the dark night of the soul. Two years ago, I had what you might call a "spiritual awakening experience" during which I realized that I am pure awareness. For a month, I was in and out of states of extreme bliss, joy, love, peace, and total mystique and wonder. After about a month, these states passed and I entered into a state of relative ordinariness. Soon after I began to become very melancholy as I continued with my meditation practices, and eventually the melancholy turned into horrible misery and insanity which has pretty well lasted until now (two years later).

Emotions I had never felt before started coming up, intense anxiety, horrible depression, at times I felt like I was schizophrenic. All the while, I was obsessively trying to get back into some sort of "enlightenment state" and was trying many different practices. During this time, at least in a spiritual sense, I was completely alone. Listening to different teachers on the internet always saying different things would confuse me about where I was on the spiritual path, which would make me feel even more insane. I can't go into TOO much detail, as it would take much too long to type out everything I've experienced over the last two years. It's just been very dark, miserable, and downright insane.

Fast forward to now. I have a strong aversion to practice (my usual practice, the one that I resonate with the best, is shikantaza) because I associate practice with this insanity and horror, and yet after talking with my friend who referred me to this site and after reading some other threads, I believe I may be able to go beyond this stage into "bigger and better things" if you will. I've come here for some much needed guidance. Can anyone tell me where I might be on the path and what I might need to do to move forward?

These days, I am actually feeling a little better and less insane and fragmented. I'm exercising more, which is helping me feel healthier, and I'm getting out and socializing with people which is helping me feel less isolated. Yet there is still this undeniable string of experiences and insights that I have had as a result of spirituality that I feel I shouldn't ignore or abandon, and there is still this fear that I associate with spiritual practice because I sometimes feel that my mind will completely come apart if I continue with meditation. Any advice would be very helpful, friends. Thank you.

Shawn.

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
4/30/18 12:35 PM as a reply to Shawn Bradley Magierowski.
The first thing to know is that this is an absolutely classic description of the dark night: the breakthrough, the loss of access to the states that revealed themselves to you during the breakthrough, the desperate chasing of those states, and the upwelling of things like fear and loneliness. I can say that I've been through this myself and I know that many, many other practitioners here can say the same.

Speaking from my own experience, I needed to learn that practice was about opening to the unpleasant and neutral in life and in meditation at the level of bare sensations. There is no "bigger and better"--only this, right here, right now. "Whatever happens in meditation, that's meditation."

I also understand the impulse to quit practicing: After coming apart during a 7-day retreat at what was then the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in Colorado, I put formal practice, for the most part, on the back burner for about the next 10 years. 

In my own case, this was a time in which I felt the need to make changes to my life--to use my degree and get a decent job; to date and work on my relationships; to identify some of the harmful psychological and emotional conditioning that I was suffering from and re-enacting. 

It sounds like what you're going through is quite intense. If you've had significant childhood trauma or have struggled with depression, anxiety, bipolar stuff or other challenges, I think (and others may disagree) that it's fine and maybe even advisable to keep practicing but to also work on these fronts as well with great care and gentleness. Knowing, though, that attributing all of what you're going through to psychology could be completely wrong and that, in fact, you could just be making great progress through the nyanas as a result of practicing well.

Exercise and social interaction--yes! Metta practice for yourself as well as gratitude and appreciation practices also could help potentially. 

I'll leave it to others to talk about taking it from here in terms of practice/vipassana, etc. But I will say that my initial practice was shikantaza as well, but it was an outward-focused one in which I sat with eyes open and experienced/non-experienced states in which the foreground was all that existed. What I really needed was to see how my mind actually worked using Four Foundations of Mindfulness practice. I don't know if your practice was as tuned away from the body as mine was but I was all about space, silence, no-thought and paid not a whit of attention to how my mind actually worked. Didn't help when I'd stand up from the cushion and go around interacting with my own (generally harmful) thoughts and/or dealing with other people. 

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
7/18/18 11:11 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tashi Tharpa:
The first thing to know is that this is an absolutely classic description of the dark night: the breakthrough, the loss of access to the states that revealed themselves to you during the breakthrough, the desperate chasing of those states, and the upwelling of things like fear and loneliness. I can say that I've been through this myself and I know that many, many other practitioners here can say the same.

Speaking from my own experience, I needed to learn that practice was about opening to the unpleasant and neutral in life and in meditation at the level of bare sensations. There is no "bigger and better"--only this, right here, right now. "Whatever happens in meditation, that's meditation."

I also understand the impulse to quit practicing: After coming apart during a 7-day retreat at what was then the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in Colorado, I put formal practice, for the most part, on the back burner for about the next 10 years. 

In my own case, this was a time in which I felt the need to make changes to my life--to use my degree and get a decent job; to date and work on my relationships; to identify some of the harmful psychological and emotional conditioning that I was suffering from and re-enacting. 

It sounds like what you're going through is quite intense. If you've had significant childhood trauma or have struggled with depression, anxiety, bipolar stuff or other challenges, I think (and others may disagree) that it's fine and maybe even advisable to keep practicing but to also work on these fronts as well with great care and gentleness. Knowing, though, that attributing all of what you're going through to psychology could be completely wrong and that, in fact, you could just be making great progress through the nyanas as a result of practicing well.

Exercise and social interaction--yes! Metta practice for yourself as well as gratitude and appreciation practices also could help potentially. 

I'll leave it to others to talk about taking it from here in terms of practice/vipassana, etc. But I will say that my initial practice was shikantaza as well, but it was an outward-focused one in which I sat with eyes open and experienced/non-experienced states in which the foreground was all that existed. What I really needed was to see how my mind actually worked using Four Foundations of Mindfulness practice. I don't know if your practice was as tuned away from the body as mine was but I was all about space, silence, no-thought and paid not a whit of attention to how my mind actually worked. Didn't help when I'd stand up from the cushion and go around interacting with my own (generally harmful) thoughts and/or dealing with other people. 
My God. This is such the case. Take any of my recent posts here. Acting like a big baby much of the time, being overwealmed by and simultaneously clinging to Insight. Missing like heck the high spacelike mind states that used to be "called up", and finally starting to see the true nature of "hopelessness" via the ownerless nature of mindstates and practice itself.

From what I can tell (and I'm most definatly "gappy" in Understanding at best) Acceptance is the only soution, and Surrender (when it spontaneously occurs -- some call this Grace) is the only actual Power. The lens of Sati will keep finding new resolutions of defilement forever and ever...

Upekka!

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
4/30/18 1:31 PM as a reply to Shawn Bradley Magierowski.
Hello, Shawn,

To add to what Tashi says, "practice was about opening to the unpleasant and neutral in life," here is an extract from the opening of Unveiling Reality:


As a young man of seventeen, I was unexpectedly gifted with a knowing and an experience of oneness with the source: an intimate universe on the inside and at the same time an equally intimate universe on the outside. I was conscious and clear between the two, yet I was being in the oneness of both at the same time. My awareness of reality expanded in ways that I could never have imagined. I experienced joy, love and deep, inner rest, and I became dearly re-connected to a true way of being, that at the time, I could not comprehend with my mind.

That true way of being slowly dissipated and after one year, everything vanished as quickly as it had come. I found myself feeling profoundly empty and incomplete. I thought that life could only be meaningless and superficial without the intimacy and the nectar of experiencing oneness with the source, reality, Truth, and without the contentment of the nourishing way of being I had come to reside in. Yet in the midst of what seemed like incredible loss, I had a tiny, little knowing: I still knew the true way of gentleness and rest that I had so warmly been reacquainted with throughout that year, though I could not understand nor experience it.

Instead of simply residing in that way of being I knew was true, at any personal cost to my emotions and mind, I initially attempted to regain the sensations of Truth. When I allowed my own honesty to become finer, I realized it was not experience itself that mattered, just Truth ... but I thought I had lost my way. I began to strive and search intensely through many different means, relentlessly pursuing anything I believed might show me the way back. And as consciousness ... that took me deeper and deeper within myself. I allowed honesty to look at each doctrine, each teacher and each technique I encoun- tered, only to discover that they were all less than absolutely true. I became completely devastated. Each time I discovered yet another untruth, I let myself drop even deeper within. As consciousness, I was at the bottom of my own well, a well I had carved out through letting myself be continuously cracked open, deeper and deeper ... and there was no water.

At last, through simplicity of heart, through pure and absolute honesty, I just simply let go. I surrendered ... unconditionally ... to just simply being at the bottom of that well of darkness and never again trying to get out; warmly never again hoping for water.

And it was at that moment that I became re-immersed in the benevolent reality of pure being. I became filled with the same absolutely immaculate reality of Truth I had known before, only this time, to the depths that I had inwardly allowed myself to be hollowed out.

I now knew that I not only loved Truth more than my own personal life, but that Truth could only be truly known through sheer honesty, and surrender in openness and softness to what that honesty reveals. Truth is loving reality with an open hand, instead of pursuing reality with the clenched hand of personal necessity and demand.

There was a continuum of awakenings that followed over the years. I remained in constant honesty and surrender to what I knew was true, allowing my own self-created constructs and attachments of mind and emotion to die. And as that took place, my ability to function as integrated consciousness — to function as a being of what I am in love with most — began to live. More and more deeply I realized that I would only serve Truth; live in surrender to what I know ... at any personal cost. I am no longer my own. I belong to Truth. I have no interest in power or personal identity, just a love of true being, upheld by an absolute inner honesty of heart.

It is so easy for everyone to just simply rest as consciousness in that same true way of being. All it requires is untainted surrender to what you honestly know is true, and all it will cost is your personal wants and needs. All it will cost is just your personal dream ... your illusion. Then, as you continue to let in Truth to the point where it has replaced everything in you that is untrue, then you come into true form. You come to know your real self, and you come to realize and live the reality you were in when you were very, very young. You begin to grow as a real human being, a beloved servant of Truth, instead of as a human “wannabe,” a slave of your own illusion.

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
4/30/18 3:49 PM as a reply to Shawn Bradley Magierowski.
Sounds like you are doing the right things.  

This is the low down.  We see the world as a bunch of individual spirits driving meat machines around and we hold these spirits responsible for their actions and we believe that they are what loves, what suffers and what matters.  I call them leprechauns.  All of us grew up believing that we are leprehcauns and so are all the other creatures of the earth.  Thing is, when you really look at it it is easy to see that leprechauns are fictional.  They just do not really exist.  You had a glimpse of that truth and it felt holy and amazing and truer than real life.  Actually, though, believing in leprechauns is irrational in regular ordinary life.  Science teaches us that is it nonsense.  The problem is that we feel like leprechauns and so assume that we must be.  You saw - wow i am not a leprechaun and then all of a sudden you really really feel like one and it doesnt make any sense.  

Thing is, since leprechauns are not real, none of this makes any difference and no one is control and all the suffering you feel is just conditioned anxiety your nervous system is off gassing in its confusion.   There is nothing that you have to do to improve the world or yourself, so the problem is how to just chill and be happy.  that is what a buddha can do.  Anything that makes it easier for you to just chill and be completely happy - as is your right! - is a good idea.   

Ice cream, dogs, bob marley, friends, comedy, massage, etc. 

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
4/30/18 10:28 PM as a reply to seth tapper.
Your writings never get old for me Seth. Makes me laugh and yet so true... *claps*

All the advice above is golden. You can't go wrong unless you yourself allocate the mental distribution to the empty stuff and weigh yourself down (Feel THE suffering if you do so, not good?  Let go!). See the 3Cs (Are you in control? No? Let it be!) in them and just watch them come and go. Get comfortable resting in the transience... 

THE general practice concept/instructions are spelt out clearly in MCTB Chapters 14-19. It seems like this is the season for recommending it. emoticon

Good specific instructions: http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/the-yogi-toolbox-discerning-three.html?m=1

In Brief: LOSE the clinging to content and work on a sensate level whenever you can and especially when in trouble (on AND off practice). Resist looking at the contents of whatever shit happens and investigate/see the 3Cs in them. You need Equanimity to get through the Dark Night. Learn that through this practice, losing the grip that stuff have on you and you become the Happy Rock. Remember to switch on the investigative mindfulness whenever you smell Suffering and blast the 3Cs torch on them. Go read them and ask questions, if any.

Yeah if you are in a position to have a teacher, definitely go for that! I'd have saved much self-torture that way...

All the best...

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
5/1/18 5:43 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Yilun Ong, when you urge people to "resist looking at the contents of whatever shit happens," I think you're being imprecise. Don't you mean 'resist buying into or believing in' the stories the mind generates about its contents? How can you understand your mind and how it works if you resist looking at any part of it? Isn't it helpful to know mind states: judging, wanting, doubting, investigating, etc.? How can you know them without gleaning the content? It might also take actual reflection on content to see the difference between primary and secondary emotions: the flash of fear the occurs after someone cuts you off in traffic and that is then followed on by anger; the twinge of self-doubt and self-criticism that occurs just before you feel jealousy and then have a harsh, critical thought about the object of that jealousy. No?   

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
5/1/18 6:06 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Yes Sir! I admit to being lazy! (I can't compare to your attention to detail - your phenomenological reports are stunning!) Let's have the words out from the master's mouth for best understanding!

Excerpts from MCTB
Try this little exercise the next time some kind of strong and
seemingly useless or unskillful emotion arises. First, stabilize precisely
on the sensations that make it up and perhaps even allow these to
become stronger if this helps you to examine them more clearly. Find
where these are in the body, and see as clearly as possible what sorts of
images and story lines are associated with these physical sensations. Be
absolutely clear about the full magnitude of the suffering in these, how
long each lasts, that these sensations are observed and not particularly in
one’s control.

Now, find the compassion in it. Take a minute or two (no more) to
reflect on why this particular pattern of sensations seems to be of some
use even though it may not seem completely useful in its current form.
Is there a wish for yourself or others to be happy in these sensations? Is
there a wish for the world to be a better place? Is there a wish for
someone to understand something important? Is there a wish for things
to be better than they are? Is there a wish to find pleasure, tranquility, or
the end of suffering? Sit with these questions, with the sensations that
make them up, allowing them to be strong enough for to see what is
going on but not so strong that you become completely overwhelmed by
them.

Notice that fear has in it the desire to protect us or those about
whom we care. Anger wants the world to be happy and work well or for
justice to be done. Frustration comes from the caring sensations of
anger being thwarted. Desire is rooted in the wish to be happy.
Judgment comes from the wish for things to conform to high standards.
Sadness comes from the sense of how good things could be.

Thus, those who wish for the end of suffering should strive to be
kind, stabilize the mind, and carefully and precisely understand the
actual truth of their experience in each moment in a way that goes
beyond content.


Notice that the person assumes continuity of the existence of the
Big Issue. They also assume that all thoughts about the Big Issue are
either self, the property of self, or separate from self. Further, they are
not working at a sensate level, trying to see the true nature of the
thoughts and physical sensations that make up the Big Issue and the rest
of their reality.

Shifting to the sensate level reveals things about our
stuff that can be very helpful for keeping it in perspective and not getting
overwhelmed by it. It also develops habits that make it easier for us to
shift to a sensate level when we do formal insight practice.

Practice seeing like as described below:

“I sat down on the cushion, and I tried to see each of the sensations
that make up the breath. Interspersed with these physical sensations
were mental images of the breath. Interspersed with all of these
sensations were also thoughts about the Big Issue. They were quick and
seemed to also involve some mildly painful or disconcerting physical
sensations in the region of my stomach. I could see these come and go
and that they were observed. I could feel as they arose that there was
something irritating about these quick sensations.

“I noticed that most of my experience was made of sensations that
didn’t seem to relate to that Big Issue. Sometimes I noticed the three
characteristics of the sensations that seem to be related to the old Big
Issue pattern of sensations, and sometimes I was able to stay with the
sensations of breathing. However, regardless of which sensations arose,
I was generally able to see some aspect of the true nature of them. Thus,
I find that I am able to keep practicing and not get lost in old, circular
thoughts about that Big Issue that do me little good and have caused me
much pain.”

"Occasionally, there were some quick sensations interspersed with these about that Big Issue, like little
phantoms vanishing in a sea of flickering color and form."

"It was just that their unsatisfactory aspect became more predominant, and there were a few sensations relating to the Big Issue."

“I may have noticed a few hints of what dualistic perspectives remain
and the basic pain and confusion they cause."


RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
5/1/18 7:51 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
This is great! 

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
4/30/18 6:35 PM as a reply to Shawn Bradley Magierowski.
Hey Shawn, I think you really need to work with an experienced teacher. Taking the DIY approach can leave you floundering for a long time. In ters of teachers who are available and able to help with issues like this, I can really recommend some of the ones who have trained with Culadasa (John Yates, PhD). Direct message me if you would like their details emoticon 

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
5/3/18 12:35 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Hi Anna, I'm actually not sure how to direct message on this site, but I would definitely be interested in getting in touch with a teacher.

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
5/4/18 3:27 AM as a reply to Shawn Bradley Magierowski.
Absolutely get in touch with a good teacher. One who works in a tradition that you trust somewhat. This has been one of the biggest helps for me. Keep looking until you find one that you can trust (a trust born of your interactions with them and your gut/heart). Be really weary of new age teachers or teachers who create their own unique special paths.


Apply all common sense stuff such as exercise, healthy food, cut out as much junk media as possible, etc.

Taking the 5 precepts every day can be really really helpful, particularly the one about not lying and the one about intoxicants. Learn to breathe slowly and try to be as grounded and practical and compassionate and chill as you can.

RE: Getting past the dark night of the soul
Answer
5/3/18 1:14 PM as a reply to Shawn Bradley Magierowski.
Shawn Bradley Magierowski:


These days, I am actually feeling a little better and less insane and fragmented. I'm exercising more, which is helping me feel healthier, and I'm getting out and socializing with people which is helping me feel less isolated. Yet there is still this undeniable string of experiences and insights that I have had as a result of spirituality that I feel I shouldn't ignore or abandon, and there is still this fear that I associate with spiritual practice because I sometimes feel that my mind will completely come apart if I continue with meditation. Any advice would be very helpful, friends. Thank you.

Shawn.
Advice? Make sure there is a lot of pleasure in the practice. It starts replacing pleasure elsewhere as a submlimation and then it's easier to break the concentration down into emptiness because you an always go back to the concentration. Metta practice can help as well.

Make sure you develop a lot of boundaries around bullies in your life so that the practice is balanced with a strong sense of self. Any psychotherapy to deal with childhood issues and losses will help your practice.