Friday, September 27, 2013

Adapting to the World

The decisive crisis of the "dark night" is not resolved until a basis switch in direction takes place in the personality.

Typically during the "dark night" one uses refined rational control (guided by a largely hidden type of spiritual  intuition) in one's attempt to negate attachment to conscious phenomena. This applies especially to the deeper conceptual structures that form the normal framework for ego existence.

As we have seen this is associated with the transcendent aspect of spirituality (which unconsciously is associated with a degree of repression of primitive impulses).

As remaining rational control is gradually eroded, the faint intuitive light associated with one's decisions fades completely and one is left alone in the dark with no sense of direction. Though existentially this provides the opportunity to truly act in faith, unfortunately it is associated with great potential danger.

One may now have reached a state of physical and emotional exhaustion with signs of pathological depression steadily growing. Also there is no means of adequately communicating the spiritual basis of  this problem. On the contrary anyone concerned with one's well-being, is likely to consider the very suggestion as confirmation of a pathological state and urge the return to "normal" living.

Also because one is now so ill-equipped to deal with the outside world, external "crosses" only conspire to make the situation worse.

All this may well lead to a crisis event representing yet another type of conversion.

Paradoxically, only in the very moment that one seemingly abandons faith itself, does the first faint sign of recovery takes place.
What this actually represents is the surrender of the unduly transcendent focus adopted (which for many years has prevented "lower" primitive impulses from enjoying any autonomy).

So the pathological element of depression that is experienced relates in large measure to the unhealthy repression of such instincts (all in the name of transcendent spiritual desire).

Therefore though one considers this the final defeat i.e. the letting go of transcendent faith, in fact it is the first step to an important new phase of rebalancing, where the immanent aspect can be gradually harmonised with the transcendent.

Putting it crudely the transcendent aspect represents spirit over nature; the immanent aspect in reverse represents nature over spirit. So only when one  can properly balance these two aspects can the divine spiritual be properly integrated with one's natural human identity.


It would not be correct to exaggerate the speed with which this adjustment can take place.

In my own case having reached my lowest point, it took some time before recognising that things had subtly changed.

Pathological depression still remained, though I was aware that a floor had been reached. And I took the fact that things were not continuing to get worse as the first positive sign of improvement.

Likewise I noticed that though still very dark, my mood had lightened to a degree. Most of all freed now of the unrelenting attempt to discipline all ego attachment, I gradually began to feel more relaxed and better able to focus on rebuilding a relationship with the world.

So I stated returning to many of the "normal" things that had been put on hold for so long. I was now able to drive a car, swim, and feel more confident in social situations.

Thus with a new job, the experience of dating girls (for the first time in my life) and a number of additional outside activities it seemed that life had at last returned to normal.

Indeed for a while it seemed as if the lengthy "dark night" stage which had preceded this new life represented just some strange aberration which thankfully had now passed.

However this new situation did not last long. Though on one level I was managing OK, I realised that I was not really deriving any true fulfilment from my activities.

Also I noticed that I was becoming keenly sensitive to projections (both affective and cognitive) which were greatly disrupting the security of this new existence.

So when I look back now, this overall period, which lasted for nearly 5 years, represented a necessary interlude. So on the one hand it allowed me to recover from the severe stress that had accompanied the "dark night"; equally important it allowed me to successfully readapt to the world and its various demands and pleasures,

So once this adaptation had run its necessary course, it was time to embark on the next stage of the spiritual journey.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul (7)

We return here to providing a holistic mathematical perspective on the "dark night" stage.

As we have seen the first level of the 3rd band (of which the "dark night" is the final and most important stage) is defined in terms of 2-dimensional interpretation.

Thus starting with the dualistic phenomenal distinctions (that characterise the 1st dimension) one then attempts to approximate as close as possible growing nondual spiritual awareness through a process of dynamic negation of attachment to all conscious symbols.

So this dynamic negation of conscious phenomena constitutes the 2nd of these two dimensions.

So we posit conscious phenomena in a linear dualistic manner (+ 1). We then unconsciously negate such phenomena in a circular nondual manner ( – 1).

Such positing and negating in experience leads to an ever increasing dynamic interaction as between the external (objective) and internal (subjective) aspects of experience. In this way, ever more refined dual recognition (freed of rigid attachment) becomes increasingly compatible with growing nondual awareness.

Now, positive interpretation of 2-dimensional understanding relates to the rational interpretation of this complementarity of opposite poles in experience.

However this indirectly again leads to the making of dualistic distinctions (albeit of a paradoxical kind).

Thus to release the pure nondual intuitive awareness of what is implied by 2-dimensional interpretation, one must negate such indirect rational notions.
In other words without such negation, passive attachment would inevitably be associated with such understanding.

So again "the passive night of spirit" as St. of the Cross intends, relates to the negation of such attachment with respect to the deeper conceptual appreciation of this complementarity of opposites.

Thus in holistic mathematical terminology it relates directly to the negation of 2-dimensional understanding (more properly of rigid attachment to such understanding).


This in terms of the development of true holistic - as opposed to analytic - interpretation, the "dark night" represents the most crucially important stage, where truly deep intuitive awareness (that is unconscious in origin) is consolidated as a habitual aspect of experience.

Put another way, the truly integrated - as opposed to differentiated - interpretation of reality, depends on the substantial development of such intuitive awareness.

Therefore in future, the proper development of integral - as opposed to analytic - science will be greatly dependent on authentic experience of this "dark night" stage.

A great tragedy in our culture is the total lack yet of any proper notion of the nature of integral science (and its great potential importance). And of course at an even deeper level, this reflects the corresponding lack of any notion of the nature of integral mathematics (on which the scientific notions are based). And because of the possible confusion used by integral which has a specialised analytic meaning in conventional mathematical terms, I customarily use the term holistic mathematics in this context!   


My initial interest in the Riemann Hypothesis derived directly from a holistic mathematical interpretation of the "dark night".

Now with respect to the Riemann Zeta Function, the first of the trivial zeros relates to the Function that is expressed in terms of the dimensional value (i.e. power)  – 2.

Now again this Zeta Function is defined as the infinite series,

ζ (s)  =   1–s  + 2–s  + 3–s  + 4–s  +……..,

Therefore when s = – 2,

ζ (– 2) = 1+ 22   + 3+ 42  +……..,

Thus in conventional linear terms,

ζ (– 2) = 1 + 4 + 9 + 16 + .........  which clearly is divergent


However according to the Riemann Zeta Function,

ζ (– 2) = 0.

Therefore, my initial attention was devoted to giving a satisfactory explanation of this seemingly nonsensical result.

Interestingly St. John in speaking of the "dark night" process refers to its purpose as "nada".

Now "nada"when translated means "nothing".

In my primary school years in Ireland the mathematical symbol 0 (i.e. zero) was customarily referred to as "nothing".

So as I reflected I began to realise that negative dimensional values of the Riemann Zeta Function were properly defined in a qualitative - rather than standard quantitative - manner.


This is a huge unrecognised issue in Conventional Mathematics!
Here, numerical values are defined in reduced terms with respect to their merely quantitative values.

This correlates in turn with a solely rational (dualistic) interpretation.

However properly understood in dynamic terms all mathematical understanding reflects the interaction of rational (quantitative) and intuitive (qualitative) aspects.

So a purely qualitative understanding of number (reflecting merely intuition) would be thereby nondual (with no quantitative value).

Put another way the first trivial zero (where s = – 2) corresponds to a Type 2 (holistic) rather than Type 1 (analytic) interpretation.
Quantitative values reflect 1-dimensional interpretation (where the external objective notion of number is separated in absolute terms from its internal counterpart).

However qualitative 2-dimensional interpretation reflects the complementarity of both external and internal aspects.

And as we have seen negative 2-dimensional interpretation reflects the negation of any (dualistic) rational element, thereby obtaining a purely intuitive nondual appreciation (which is nothing in quantitative terms).


Thus, true appreciation of the nature of the most simple of the trivial zeros provides the key to the realisation that the Riemann Zeta Function requires both Type 1 (conventional) and Type 2 (holistic) mathematical appreciation for meaningful interpretation.

The deeper implication again of all of this is that once we properly get to grips with the cognitive understanding that unfolds with "higher" level development (starting with Band 3) that the very nature of Mathematics and Science profoundly changes.


Though I have been saying this now for decades, little or no recognition yet exists out there of its great potential significance . Unfortunately this will remain the case until we begin to properly recognise the existence of these many higher bands on the psychological spectrum.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul (6)

Perhaps the most characteristic experience of the "dark night" is an intense feeling of grief.

In some ways this is very understandable. Grief is a response to loss. So, quite literally what causes the most grief is the loss of what matters most to us in natural and spiritual terms.

And as the "dark night" entails the substantial negation of all conscious matter with respect to one's experience, this leads to great feelings of loss.

Such grief is then greatly intensified through being tightly confined in considerable darkness within an extremely congested psychological environment with no means of distracting oneself from the situation.


Some years later, when reading about physical black holes, I began to realise that they have strong complementary links with the psychological "dark nights".

A black hole arises when a massive rotating star burns up all its energy and collapses inwards creating huge internal gravity. This is likewise associated with a dramatic slowing down in time (with respect to events outside the black hole). Likewise matter in the vicinity of the black hole gets sucked inwards due to the enormous gravitational pull exerted.

It is very similar in a complementary psychological manner. As we have seen the "dark night" follows an extensive period of illumination. Now with a spiritual "star", this can lead to a rapid transformation associated with a feverish frenzy of creative activity. Inevitably, the spiritual energy that fuels such activity eventually gets depleted and when this happens the focus switches rapidly inwards in the desire for spiritual regeneration.

This leads to a dramatic upheaval with respect to psychological experience where (all) concepts and perceptions within one's immediate range of experience get sucked inwards through a powerful unconscious attraction. Not surprisingly one's inner world feels extremely congested and dark.

And this internal gravitation is so intense that like a black hole no light can escape.


The word grief has close connotations with grave (and by extension gravity).

Grief therefore represents the psychological counterpart to the physical notion of gravity, just as spiritual illumination provides the corresponding counterpart to physical light.

In fact normal grief always represents a loss of what matters to us. So when phenomenal relationships that are most meaningful are taken away, grief is the natural reaction. This loss of what is external in a conscious manner creates a corresponding drive inwards in an unconscious direction causing a psychological contraction in the very dimensions (of space and time) that underlie customary experience.

As is well known physical gravity (especially inside a black hole) is associated with a great slowing down of time (relative to events outside the black hole).

Likewise someone suffering from grief  will experience a corresponding slowing down in the psychological experience of time. So time literally will hang heavily over one! Indeed in extreme cases of loss, each moment will feel like an eternity due to a dramatic change in the psychological perception of time.


So once again light and gravity are revealed as complementary forces in both physical and psychological terms.

For pure physical light (in terms of its itself) time does not pass with all eternity a single instant.

Likewise in psychic terms, with the pure experience of spiritual light (as in the experience of true joy), time does not pass (with all eternity again a single instant).

However it is the reverse in terms of gravity. With pure gravity each instant lasts an eternity. And this is equally true in physical and psychological terms.

It is interesting how the theological teaching on the existence of hell is based on the loss of God which can be construed as the experience of pure grief (where a single instant would seem to last for all eternity).


This also helps to explain why the physical notion of gravity is so elusive (with no gravity particles yet detected).

Whereas the notion of physical light has an external manifestation that can consciously be registered, gravity relates inherently to the internal nature of matter (which in psychological terms relates to the unconscious).

However because of the unbalanced nature of present science which is based on mere external conscious type recognition, no coherent means exists for properly understanding the nature of gravity.

So in a more enlarged paradigm it will be necessary to incorporate both conscious and unconscious recognition in psychological terms that will then correlate with a physical reality containing both external and internal aspects.

Indeed in the spiritual literature, it is well recognised that this internal gravitational darkness represents a hidden form of light (i.e. the unseen light).

This would suggest that physical gravity likewise represents itself a hidden form of light (i.e. an internalised form of energy).

This would also ultimately explain how electromagnetic energy and gravity are but different manifestations of the same superforce.


Another interesting connection relates to the equivalence of matter and gravity.

Einstein of course is famous for establishing the equivalence of matter and energy.

But as energy and gravity are complementary an equal equivalence relates to matter and gravity.
Indeed a black hole can be seen as the physical means by which matter is most efficiently converted into gravity.

Likewise from a spiritual perspective, the mystical "dark night" can be seen as the psychological means through which the experience of matter is converted into gravity (i.e. grief) at an unconscious level.

Thus physical gravity relates to the holistic counterpart of the unconscious in psychological terms.

However its true nature will always elude a scientific paradigm that seeks to interpret reality in a merely conscious (analytic) manner!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul (5)

The “dark night” stage usually culminates in crisis.

Though one may with considerable good will conscientiously follow for several years an extremely arduous spiritual path, it seems to lead to abject failure.

One remains confined to an extremely dark oppressive underworld suffering an immense burden of grief and anguish.

Worse still all signs that one is on the right road have now disappeared with everything suggesting that one is totally lost.

Also, any remaining energy in the will seems to have evaporated.

One now can become depressed in a pathological manner. The darkness that once was associated with a (hidden) spiritual light, may resemble a thick form of treacle in the mind slowly suffocating one’s remaining strength.
Not surprisingly as one finds it more and more difficult coping with the world, external problems continually grow.

In any case because of the development of one’s “higher “spiritual self one may have devoted little attention to conventional skills and pursuits.

It takes a considerable time to realise that single-minded dedication to the spiritual life (with its strongly transcendent focus) has by degrees become a great problem.

In other words one now needs to switch back from (transcendent) spirit to (immanent) nature.

However initially this may be very difficult to achieve.

As one reaches a highly passive state (now lacking the capacity for all but the most mundane activities) the troubles of the world resonate with one in a dramatic fashion.

Though unable to do anything worthwhile to actively relieve such problems, one becomes painfully aware of the poor, the starving, the homeless, the sick and bereaved, indeed in a general way with all human difficulties.

In one way, this is a good thing as it keeps the focus away from self pity. Rather one realises that the dimensions of human suffering and misery are truly unlimited. However while trapped in this underworld of darkness unable to see any hope of relief, it psychologically proves very wearing and compounds growing pathological symptoms of depression.


There may now be a desperate attempt to readapt to the world.

I remember in my own case that I had not yet learnt basic tasks such as swimming, driving a car, playing a musical instrument or learning to dance. This lack had then in my earlier existence inhibited me socially and was perhaps therefore a factor in later seeking  a radical “spiritual” solution.


So it was at this time at my lowest ebb, that I tried to make a start to master these skills, which in my then state of mind was extremely difficult. I remember in particular the first night of ballroom dancing, just dreading the arrival of the instructor!

However the crucial turning point does not really arrive until one reaches the stage where paradoxically one finally gives up on one’s spiritual quest.

In other words one can no longer ignore the signs. Whatever one’s intentions, the journey has led to a horrible psychological state, leaving one incapable of coping with increasing difficulties.

So, in finally admitting that it has been a tragic mistake, one seemingly let’s go of faith itself! However what one really surrenders in this moment is this exclusive identification with its transcendent focus.

And in that moment of seeming despair, remaining conscious control is finally relinquished and nature mysteriously reborn, with the unconscious now at last free to be given direct expression.     

Dark Night of the Soul (4)

As I have stated, initially I derived great support on the “dark night” journey from the accounts of St. John of the Cross (which in so many ways intimately described my own experience).

In the early days, there was a fairly consistent pattern where contemplative calm would reign on one day each week. So I would use this day to read over again his writings. These reassured me of the spiritual value of what was happening, while bracing me for the inevitable difficulties ahead.

However I gradually became aware that this great bond in itself amounted to an important spiritual attachment, that would eventually have to be surrendered.

And this eventual surrender came about through a growing disillusionment with his strong transcendent stance (which I began to see as potentially unhealthy and unbalanced).


Indeed I would be now strongly of the opinion that an unduly transcendent emphasis characterises not only Western but also Eastern accounts of the mystical journey.

And this transcendent focus itself reflects the dominance in these cultures of the masculine principle.

For example, reason and logic is customarily associated with the masculine and the senses and emotion with the feminine principle respectively.

In Western spirituality, a very definite hierarchy is preserved whereby the senses are considered as the “lower” and reason as the “higher” superior part of the human psyche.

Therefore from a religious perspective, the goal is to use the “higher” aspect of reason (guided of course by spirit) to effectively control the “lower” aspect of the senses in the mystical journey towards unity.

However there is an equally important immanent aspect to spirituality, which requires the reversal of the transcendent approach.

Therefore from this perspective, we need for example to be able to freely tune in to sexual feelings and fantasies to understand clearly what these are telling us about our hidden unconscious desires.

The upshot of this is that despite the best will in the world, an unduly transcendent approach, through its attempt to control instinctive impulses, will inevitably lead to a degree of censorship and repression.

In other words underlying the traditional transcendent approach is the mistaken view that instinctive impulses are “lower” and thereby unworthy of the disciple seeking unity. And as I say this attitude inevitably will then lead to the censorship and repression of unconscious desire that ultimately can create a significant psychological problem.

Having said this I would maintain that the “dark night” will typically be heavily associated with the transcendent aspect of spirituality. Because the spiritual conscious (with its supra-rational appreciation) at this time is much more developed than the unconscious, it is therefore quite appropriate to use this refined form of reason to gradually negate all excessive attachment.
However from a more comprehensive perspective, one should be aware that this eventually creates a significant problem in the gradual repression of unconscious impulses (especially of a sexual nature).

To be honest during this time, I was never troubled with erotic fantasies or temptation and therefore misleadingly concluded that I had successfully overcome sexual desire. However it was only later I realised, that I had unknowingly repressed such instincts through a refined form of rational control.

Looking back I would now say that the deep depression that can occur after many years on the “dark night” journey can be due in large measure to the accumulation of repressed primitive instincts arising from an unduly transcendent approach to spirituality.

I have yet to come across a contemplative writer that properly addresses this important issue of psycho sexual dynamics!

The typical traditional approach - arising from this mistaken Christian hierarchical view - is though perhaps inevitable, that sexual temptation for example is a problem to be resisted. Usually it is only indirectly mentioned in terms of value laden terminology e.g. “assaults of the senses”, “instincts of the lower self”, “promptings of the devil” etc.

So quite clearly the spiritual disciple is expected to deal with such temptation when it occurs (through rational control guided by spirit).

However because the unconscious has not yet been able to speak for itself (on its own terms) at this stage it still will remain relatively immature.

This therefore entails that the “successful” resisting of temptation will inevitably entail a substantial degree of sexual repression.

And when this accumulates over time, the unconscious begins to protest at this unhealthy imbalance through growing problems of depression.


Now, I would be especially cautious of using St. John as a guide at an advanced stage of the “dark night” for his stated approach is uncompromisingly transcendent throughout and therefore if followed only too likely to lead to the problem that I have mentioned.

There is then a mistaken dichotomy maintained as between the normal spiritual depression that is an inherent aspect of the “dark night” journey and pathological depression (due for example to continual repression of unconscious dynamics).

The fact is that even in the case of an authentic “dark night” journey, pathological depression is likely to accompany the characteristic spiritual darkness of the stage.

Indeed this is even more likely to be the case for someone who has conscientiously modelled practice on the stark guidelines of St. John!

In fact I have noticed a significant discontinuity in his writings.

His formal treatise on the “dark night” is totally uncompromising with respect to its transcendent focus.

However when one then reads his more poetically inspired “Spiritual Canticle” it contains a much stronger immanent direction.

However St. John never formally addresses this important switch in direction i.e. from transcendent to immanent in his writings. 

And this is a truly central issue. For without such a switch in direction at the appropriate time, the “dark night” stage is likely to culminate in severe depressive illness.

I would imagine that this was true of his own case i.e. that there were ultimately significant pathological elements present in his own “dark night” experience.

I would also imagine that this led to a crisis whereby a decisive switch took place in a more immanent direction (where for example sexual fantasies would have been given much freer reign). From the refined erotic nature of the Spiritual Canticle, it is pretty obvious to me that this is in fact what happened!

However rather than openly address such issues in a formal manner, it seems as if St. John was compelled to simply hint at them in a somewhat veiled poetic fashion, due to the restrictive conventions of the time.

Therefore though perhaps understandable that he chose to act in this way, it is important that we now properly address the significant issues involved.

I started off the “dark night” as a massive fan of St. John’s writing. (I still am).

However as an overall guide to the contemplative life (and especially coming out of the “dark night”), in a very crucial sense, I would see it as unbalanced.

As I have said before, the ascent of a mountain peak represents just one part of the equation. One must equally give attention to its corresponding descent!

Though in transcendent spiritual terms, still on the ascent of our mountain, already a decisive switch in direction is necessary to prepare one ultimately for its successful descent.     

Dark Night of the Soul (3)

There are really two distinct phases to the "dark night of the soul" or "the passive night of spirit" as St. John more precisely defines the stage.

In my own terminology this relates to the deep negation of the formal supra-rational structures providing the intellectual framework for the (circular) holistic appreciation of reality.

And as concrete perceptions have their roots in such deeper formalised structures, it likewise entails the continuing negation of holistic super-sensory perception.

All this of course presupposes the substantial negation (through the active nights) of earlier (linear) analytic structures both perceptual and conceptual.

So overall this stage leads insofar as is possible for the individual involved to the substantial negation of all conscious activity so that one is left operating more and more from pure faith.


Now there are huge psychological dangers associated with this journey (which from my experience are not dealt with properly in the spiritual literature). As we shall see shortly, though severe depression is only too likely due to the extremely arduous nature of the stage, these problems have I believe been greatly compounded through a faulty representation of the unconscious dynamics involved.

Paradoxically though the trials of the "dark night" may be most dramatic in its earliest phase, one is not as likely to suffer depression at these times. This is due to fact that the ego - which is not yet fully tamed - is able to provide the vigour and enthusiasm to keep going.

So there is still a conviction at these times that despite all the difficulties that a deep underlying spiritual meaning is to be found in the darkness.

Thus the first phase relates to the negation of the more externally based supra-rational structures.


I remember in my own case that this process went on for at least two years. During the first year there was a continual longing to obtain some relief (in the form of spiritual light) which never came.

So after another year of constant darkness, I reached a certain acceptance of the state and was able to settle into a routine, still carrying out daily activities in normal fashion (though of  a somewhat restricted nature). I was also attuned to periodically receiving in a passive manner precious mystical touches (communicated to the intellect or alternatively the will) that reassured me of being on the right path.

It is then that the focus turns inwardly to the internal structures that still enjoy some conscious independence.

I have read many accounts of the dark night where moral scrupulosity becomes a major issue, so that. the spiritual aspirant keeps going over decisions again and again seeking some kind of moral reassurance.

Perhaps we can explain why this is the case!

Because conscious light has been largely taken away by now from external activity, the only area where any remaining ego sense can be experienced is in the taking of moral decisions.

One's only security therefore now lies (with everything else seemingly lost) in being fully faithful to one's conscience.

This can lead to a excruciating scenario where one is constantly faced with what might be called "the marginal decision". In other words, though such a decision may relate to the small minutiae of one's daily activities, one feels compelled to conscientiously weigh up the pros and cons in a prolonged manner before taking a certain action.

Eventually a faint intuitive signal is received in faith to take a certain course. In this sense the immediate problem is resolved and one thereby can remain faithful to conscience. However one is then quickly faced with taking another tantalising decision, where an even more prolonged wrestling is required. So like a weight lifter trying to raise every greater loads above his head, one is faced with this Sisyphean task of daily battling with one's conscience.

What actually happens here is that the faint internal light (still remaining with respect to decision-making) now undergoes steady erosion due to the continual negation of internal structures (driving one ever deeper into the unconscious regions of personality).

So eventually the faint light by which one exercises decisions fades completely and one no longer can enjoy any reassurance that one is doing right.

Thus one is now left alone in the dark with the growing conviction that one has completely lost one's way.


It is in the very nature of the stage that other many other things at this time tend to conspire to greatly compound one's difficulties.

Because one may now have been engaged for several years in an unrelenting journey of great psychological severity, one can be on the verge of emotional and physical exhaustion.

External events are also likely to turn against one. I remember at this time that my father suddenly died (which was a significant blow). Also I started running into growing problems in terms of maintaining employment.

It also becomes increasingly difficult to avoid now coming under closer scrutiny from family, friends and colleagues who begin to detect that one seems somewhat withdrawn and depressed.

However though they may mean well in urging you to behave like everyone else, this in fact creates more isolation than ever. For one is now in total darkness with no means of re-establishing customary contact with the world. Also, in being totally restricted to this amazingly congested underworld of darkness, one experiences unspeakable anguish and grief  that is simply impossible to communicate.

The true crisis point is now arriving!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul (2)

The "passive night of the spirit" in my terminology represents the negation of supra-rational type understanding.

This entails a strong cleansing directly of the spiritual faculties relating to the deeper universal conceptual framework (both affective and cognitive) underlying customary conscious experience and also (to a lesser degree) of the conative aspect of will which represents the most fundamental and central part of the psyche.

And as the more superficial concrete structures of sense have their deeper roots in these spiritual faculties, it also entails a renewed cleansing of (conscious) sense attachment.

Though it does not represent the most advanced of the contemplative stages it certainly proved - at least from personal experience - by far the most prolonged and difficult.

As I have said before, every stage on the psychological journey in its own way is unique with intense revelations that are never quite replicated at other stages.

However in an important sense this is easily the most unique stage, with a kind of internal anguish and suffering - though so keenly felt at the time - that becomes impossible to recall when the stage has passed.

This is due to the fact that - in relative terms - an exceptionally marked acceleration in contemplative type development takes place, which creates huge pressures on the personality (which is not yet sufficiently mature to properly cope with such acute transformation).

So one can very quickly get plunged into an extremely dark and oppressive underworld, where all sorts of weird unconscious happenings occur, and where no relief may be experienced for many years.

For one who has not directly experienced this night, it is truly impossible to properly imagine for nothing in customary experience can prepare one for what is involved.

In many ways from a psychological perspective, it is like being committed to a tiny underground prison cell with no light visible and then gagged and bound hand and foot. As St. John puts it, one  feels as if suspended in mid-air unable to breathe. In fact, one's normal breathing pattern does slow down so much during this time that it sometimes appears as if one is not breathing at all!


As I stated in a previous blog entry, during the previous (positive) illuminative phase the deeper cognitive (and affective) faculties become plentifully imbued with a pure intuitive light.

However though this initially powerfully restores one's conviction of progressing on the spiritual path with a new found meaning and role in life, it gradually leads to increasing conflict, as the old ego based self cannot properly coexist with the pure light of spirit.

So one may build up over a lengthy period of time to making another major surrender, where one willingly foregoes even the passive use of the intellect and affections.

Now this surrender does indeed represent a new conversion. However instead of leading to an outpouring (into external conscious experience) rather it leads to a dramatic inpouring of light into the - as yet immaturely developed - unconscious regions of personality.

And as St. John describes so well, the intense anguish and suffering that is then endured is due to the clash of this pure spiritual light with ego based desires and imperfections.

Now to a degree one enters this stage expecting things to be difficult. After all, one will have already endured a previous "passive night of the senses".

However if we can look on this earlier experience as a quick dress rehearsal for the main event, this later experience truly represents the "real thing" which goes well beyond in severity what one could possibly have expected.

The very reason I confidently can assert for example that mathematical reality - when appropriately understood - is really nothing like we presently imagine, is that for many years, my own life resembled nothing that could be envisaged from customary experience.

Indeed in this threatening underworld where unseen dangers lurk at every turn, one quickly has to learn new survival techniques. And as the cognitive and faculties are now so tightly bound both with respect to their active (analytic) and passive (holistic) use, one must operate largely in faith whereby one takes decisions in a blind manner (though still guided in an unseen manner though faintly received intuitive signals).


The earliest period of this dark night - which in its totality can last unrelieved for many years - is likely to be the most dramatic, where intensive purgation followed by moments of  great spiritual tranquillity, intermingle with regular frequency.

When one reads the famous "dark night" poem by St. John of the Cross it paints a very attractive and positive picture. However when one reads his stark commentaries, the accompanying trials seem almost unbearable in their difficulty.

And this indeed represents a key paradox about this stage.

Because it does represent a stage of rapid contemplative development, despite all the suffering endurance, it conveys true authentic meaning to the self. So one keeps desiring for an intensification of this contemplative experience.

Also though still remaining in darkness, there are times when the night is very tranquil and one can feel at peace in a loving communion (without words). Occasionally, pure mystical touches may be conveyed to the will or the intellect (in my case less to the affections) that are received in a deeply intimate passive manner (without exciting ego desire).

However just as one begins to feel more secure, one then gets dragged down ever deeper into the unconscious, with even more desolation and anguish than before. So overall one inhabits a dynamically shifting psychological environment and must remain constantly vigilant.

St. John describes graphically the typical anguish and suffering. Much of the time it can feel like a bad case of sunburn where due to the intensity of inward contemplation, one's customary faculties feel completely dry, remaining parched of all supporting intuition.

Also - especially after a bout of intense contemplation - returning to normal duties can cause an extremely raw internal feeling akin to the flesh being torn from one's bones.

At other times it feels as if an inner earthquake has occurred, where one seems in danger of falling into the abyss. However, paradoxically one can then perhaps feel the strong support of an invisible spiritual presence.

Then when the crisis passes, one can feel a strange sense of anti-climax, as one realises that authentic spiritual meaning is most profoundly present when facing the greatest danger.


Also, sensitivity can become so acute that dealing with outward events can trigger what feels internally like electric shocks.

At other times one can undergo a feeling of intense desolation. And the just when one is tempted to believe that this is more than one can go on enduring, peace is mysteriously restored and all forgotten (with the desire for an intensification of inner contemplation increasing).


Indeed this is the very nature of spiritual trials in that the purer they are, the less trace they leave in memory. Thus though one may recall later that one had a certain trial, one can no longer relive the experience.

In fact from a practical point of view this represents a very important consequence of this stage.

Due to the continual erosion of conscious constructs and perceptions, one's memory can be deeply affected with many skills becoming (temporarily) eroded. Thus in work terms, one may be only capable of performing menial and simple tasks (where one's ability to perform is likely to be least affected).


Though one will be undergoing all this (and much more) on a daily basis, it will remain completely hidden from friends and colleagues. One quickly realises that it would be pointless to even try discussing what is now transpiring within, as customary experience does not provide a sufficient basis for true understanding or empathy. In any case, one is meant to cope with such situations as well as possible alone.

Though much is made in the contemplative traditions about the need for confiding in trusted spiritual guides, I always remained deeply sceptical of their practical value.

There might be some hope in a traditional monastic community (of like minded individuals) though even here, St. John has plenty to say regarding the damage done by inappropriate confessors.

To be truthful, my sole true support for several years came from the writing of St. John himself (which resonated with me in the most intimate manner). However for a lay person in the world it is less feasible to confide in anyone that can properly understand. And as I have said before, all persons are unique with their own special idiosyncrasies.. So no general template - even for those sharing the same experience - is ever likely to suit a particular individual.


The best way of coping, though unlikely to always remain sufficient, is to carry on dealing with all the inner change privately, while outwardly fitting in to society as normally as possible.

Over time in attempting to be true to my own experience, I began to distance myself more and more from St. John. I have already mentioned some of these problems in the last blog entry!

In particular I feel that he has far too little to say on the whole problem of how one, while enduring the "dark night" experience can best adjust to the world and its responsibilities.

Therefore though the night is a highly passive experience, I would maintain that the preservation of an active dimension remains extremely important in terms of maintaining overall personality balance.

Also, though I do not doubt his sincerity and integrity, I later came to see his spiritual worldview to be unbalanced to an extent (with an over-emphasis on spiritual transcendence).

This is encapsulated in the very title of his best known treatise "The Ascent of Mount Carmel".

As we know the ascent of a mountain like Mount Everest for a skilled mountaineer represents only half of the task.
It is equally important having reached the peak, to be also able to make the descent to firm ground once again. But where is "The Descent of Mount Carmel" in his formal writings?

So I have been spent a great deal of my life subsequently trying to deal with this - largely overlooked - aspect of contemplative development (i.e. making it properly compatible with active involvement in the world).

St. John himself became embroiled in disputes within his order leading to imprisonment (and ultimately premature death).

Though these conflicts may indeed have been inherently difficult to resolve, part of the problem probably relates to an unduly negative attitude to worldly affairs.

Thus, with a more balanced approach, I imagine that it may indeed have been possible for him to deal with at least some of these problems in a more diplomatic conciliatory manner (without loss of spiritual integrity).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul (1)

Though the "Dark Night of the Soul" is a term widely employed in many different circumstances, it is originally associated with the Spanish poet and writer, St. John of the Cross in a specialised spiritual contemplative context.

In common parlance it is now used to refer to a period of special difficulty in one's life.

For example in my own country, many people would have therefore experienced a "dark night of the soul" in terms of dealing with severe aftermath of the recession here following the international financial crisis of 2008.

However in the mystical literature it is used more narrowly to deal with an especially difficult transformation that an advancing contemplative must face before attaining stable union with God.

However, even here the term can be somewhat vague, as several "nights" may be required along this journey.

Indeed St. John refers to a whole series of such "nights". For example he refers to initial "active nights" of both sense and of spirit. Then he deals at greater length with the more severe "passive nights" again of sense and spirit. And in one place he mentions a further "night of will".

Then in her highly influential book, "Mysticism", Evelyn Underhill uses the term "dark night of the soul" to refer to what St. John would identify  merely as the "passive night of spirit".

However Underhill makes a valuable distinction here in that for some people (using the Dominican monk, Henry Suso to illustrate) that the active element could be much more pronounced even during its most severe manifestations.

This in turn raises the important point that just as there are a number of distinct personality types (that can for example be identified in terms of the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs classifications) equally the "dark night" would be likely to operate in a distinctive manner for each of these types.

So in fact the account that St. John gives of the process - which is heavily based on his own unique journey - reflects closely a particular personality type.

I remember at one stage becoming keenly interested in this issue when I was attempting to understand why for many years I resonated so strongly with the various details of his experience.

What I concluded was that though the depth endured may indeed have differed, that we both shared very similar personality profiles. Thus in Enneagram terms I would classify St. John as a  4 with a strong 5 wing; in my own case it would be somewhat complementary as a 5 with a strong 4 wing.

There are also good reasons to believe that - in appropriate circumstances - this personality profile would lead to the most extreme manifestations of the "dark night".

When one looks at the diagram representing the Enneagram the only gap (without inter-crossing connections between other numbers) occurs between 4 and 5. This would suggest therefore that the consequent attempt to attain full personality integration (for a personality comprising both 4 and 5) would require the greatest journey in pure faith.

So what always impressed me about St. John's account is that even though it is based to the most intense degree on inner subjective experience (representing the 4 type) he still has the necessary detachment to be able to look at this experience in a systematic objective manner (representing the 5).


However  I would like to make the point that substantial personality transformation - even to the extreme lengths of a St. John - is not the preserve of an any one religious tradition. Indeed it can still be entirely valid without being allied to any religious tradition.

So in the Christian tradition the "dark night" will always be identified as arising from the desire for union with God (and indeed a God that is understood very much in terms of its own accepted symbols).
However properly understood the "dark night" will also be part of the experience of anyone who ardently seeks the full integration of personality (which may not be directly interpreted in a religious manner).

Now St. John's account clearly reflects the spirituality of a Roman Catholic monastic order (The Carmelites) at a particular point in Spanish history where open expression was still heavily censored.
One for example may question the validity of an account where the important issue of psychosexual development is completely ignored! Unfortunately honest discussion on this matter has always been taboo in Christian writing (which to my mind represents a huge limitation therefore in its overall value).

So his own writing inevitably suffers from this and is thereby not suited as a universal template for all such experiences.

Also it suffers from the problem I was mentioning - which perhaps St. John did not properly appreciate - that his account reflects the experience of just one personality type. Did he seriously consider in writing up his account that it could be applied unmodified to all spiritual proficients (even within his own order)?


Perhaps my greatest reservation with this whole approach is that it is so exclusively tied up with spiritual transformation. Therefore, the important changes in intellectual and affective experience, that accompany each stage of spiritual growth, are almost entirely ignored. This is a very important point! For if  appropriate affective and cognitive structures are not properly developed at each stage, this in itself will set severe limitations to further spiritual transformation (of a balanced nature) .

For example we may validly ask - though apparently not many do - what is the implication of a dramatic "dark night" episode for example with respect to one's understanding of physics or mathematics?

Or from the affective point of view what is the effect of such an experience on the nature of psycho sexual development?


Thus in an attempt to get away from this exclusive religious identification of the "dark night", I have tended recently to use more Jungian based language. This hopefully can incorporate the benefits of the traditional approach, while opening up the experience as an integrated stage of advancing psychological development.

Thus the "dark night" always relates to a special intensification with respect to holistic unconscious development.

Also it does not inevitably pass, so that one is soon back again in the world of conscious symbols.

When development is especially deep, one may spend most of one's remaining existence in the darkness of the unconscious (thus remaining in the "dark night") though as in a cinema periodically become better accustomed to "seeing" in this darkness. Such an experience would be consistent with an unbroken awareness of spirit as ever present in reality, but yet in a way that is rarely filled with any consoling light (as consciously manifested).

This is now becoming apparent from the accounts of well known saints such as Paul of the Cross and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

But again such experiences should not be exclusively identified with recognised saints of this tradition, as it greatly limits appreciation of the many roads that can be taken to reach the same destination.