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 I 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 an 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!