Dark Night of the Soul

Although the “dark night of the soul” depressed_manhas fallen into common usage, I would like to credit St. John of the Cross for his treatise by that title written in the 16th century.  Since we have been discussing the possibility of alternate views on “depression” his work seems quite relevant.

St. John of the Cross describes the “dark night” and extols its purpose and benefits to spiritual growth.  Notice the similarity of his descriptions to depression.

“The dark night puts the sensory and spiritual appetites to sleep, deadens them, and deprives them of the ability to find pleasure in anything.  It binds the imagination and impedes it from doing any good discursive work.”  (The Dark Night, Book 2, Chapter 16)

“…although it may seem to them that they are doing nothing and are wasting their time, and although it may appear to them that it is because of their weakness that they have no desire in that state to think of anything.  The truth is that what they will be doing is quite sufficient…”  (The Dark Night, Book 1, Chapter 11)

“Spiritual person’s suffer great trials, by reason not so much of the aridities which they suffer, as of the fear which they have of being lost on the road, thinking that all spiritual blessing is over for them and that they have been abandoned* since they find no help or pleasure  in good things.”  (The Dark Night, Book 1, Chapter 10)

For someone on a spiritual path that thinks themselves “depressed” I highly recommend, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross.This work includes The Dark Night of the Soul and The Ascent of Mount Carmel where he begins his discussion of the dark night.  He divides the dark night into three phases:  the active night of the senses, the passive night of the senses and the passive night of the spirit.

The active night is where we are actively turning from things that provided us with “empty calories”.  It is where we decide that twelve hours of television a day may be entertaining, but it doesn’t really satisfy us.  Or perhaps we decide that while certain foods taste good, they ultimately make us sluggish or contribute to ill health.  In this way we “actively” enter a dark night of our senses.  We are turning from simple sensual pleasures and looking for more inner meaning.

“We are using the expression “night” to signify a deprival of the gratification of the soul’s appetites in all things.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 1, Chapter 3)

Here he refers to “things” meaning “worldly” things in contrast to ultimate reality.  He further explains that it is a dark night because turning from worldly things is a dark night for our senses, relying on faith is a dark night for our intellect, and reaching enlightenment is a dark night to the soul in this life.

However, we can only get so far with that process.  To get to enlightenment, St John says we need to enter a passive process by which unseen forces (God) begins to change us. The passive process is best described as depression.  Before we were actively turning from superficial pleasures and now we inherently find no pleasure in anything.  This includes not only worldly things, but our spiritual practice as well.

“The soul suffers great pain and grief, since there is added to all this the fact that it finds no consolation or support in any instruction or spiritual master.” (The Dark Night, Book 2, Chapter 7)

The Buddhist parallel is “purification”.  Purification is the process by which our “shit” arises, we watch it without reacting, and that is the end of it.  This process is facilitated by mindfulness based meditation.  St John advises:

“If those souls to whom this comes to pass knew how to be quiet at this time, and troubled not about performing any kind of action, whether it inward or outward, neither had any anxiety about doing anything, then they would delicately experience this inward refreshment in that ease and freedom from care.” (The Dark Night, Book 1, Chapter 9)

The dark night is completely individual and unpredictable.  It can be short, severe and brutal.  It can also last years and years.  Usually the longer courses of dark night are intermingled with times of illumination.  Hmmm… sounds a little bipolar.

So perhaps when you are thinking you might just be cursed with mental illness you can consider other possibilities:

“It will happen to individuals that while they are being conducted along a sublime path of dark contemplation and aridity, in which they feel lost and filled with darknesses, trials, conflicts, and temptations they will meet someone who will proclaim that all of this is due to melancholia, depression, temperament, or some hidden wickedness.” (The Ascent to Mount Carmel, Prologue, Section 4)

On that note, I will slip back into my night.  The effort that I applied to complete this post has been great and I am spent.  I now relax into the infinite repose that is the nature of ultimate reality and I can breath again.  Being is enough.

Want to read more St. John of the Cross?  Here is a post on contemplation.

* I replaced “God has abandoned them” with “they have been abandoned” for a more universal appeal.

Chispa in Bardo

Bardo is the name of the state that occurs after death.  I’m not sure how the Buddhists get all their information, but the description of the state (or actually, series of states) is quite detailed.  The state is described as confusing and scary for the normal person, but an advanced practitioner can use in depth knowledge of the state to optimize the experience and achieve enlightenment and avoid a forced rebirth.

While I am not an authority on the bardo, I have a basic understanding of what goes on.  First, when you die, there are many visions and the like that can be confusing and scary.  Typically the state of mind that was the predominant state during your lifetime and/or what occurred in your mind at the time of death will define what happens next. For this reason, I am used ThetaHealing soon after Chispa’s death to reach out to her with calm and comfort.chispabardo

Chispa died in a terrifying experience.  She also lead a life that was filled with fear.  She was abandoned at an early age and did not have much security.  However, she also knew the warmth and protection that I offered for four years.  She had been becoming more comfortable with people and had many friends.  My hope is that the “reign of terror” was over for her and that she would have an opportunity in the bardo to be reborn free of great fear.

Actually, one of the reasons that Buddhists believe euthanasia is detrimental is that they suspect it may prevent the animal or person from exhausting and completing the suffering of a particular cycle.  The idea is that if you don’t get it done in this form, you will just need to come back and do it again.  As much as I don’t like the sound of that, since we have better ways to complete karma these days then by “toughing it out”, I can appreciate its relative truth.  It is possible that Chispa’s horrible death was really a blessing in that she realized her worse fear and perhaps in some way cleared it.

Another interesting thing about the bardo is that we are not formless.  We actually take on a form that is similar to what we will be reborn as.  If we are coming back as a human, our bardo body will be human like.  However, it will be in miniature – not a baby, but the size of a child.  The bardo body only lasts seven days.  If we do not find a suitable rebirth situation, then we will be reborn in a second bardo body.  This cycle can repeat seven times.  Using earth time the longest amount of time someone can be in bardo is 49 days (seven times seven).

This means that every seven days after someone dies they have the possibility of a different rebirth.  For instance, it seems to me that even if the first bardo body is “dog” the second one could be “human”.  In addition, the transition between bardo bodies is a opportunity to realize truth and become enlightened.

How does rebirth happen?  This is where the spacelessness nature of bardo comes in.  Actually there is space, but bardo beings can move lightening fast.  If two parents are copulating anywhere and they are a suitable match to the mind state of the bardo being then the bardo being is attracted to the activity and shows up in time to enter the womb and be born again.  My understanding is the bardo being enters the womb due to it’s attraction and then is subsequently “trapped” there.  Sure, we “choose” our parents, just not voluntarily.

Can I help Chispa in her bardo state?  As a ThetaHealer Instructor, I regularly teach people how to talk to angels and deal with other beings in the unseen world.  Geez, if I can do that, I figured I should be able to talk to Chispa’s bardo body. I gave it a shot.

I was able to make contact and I wasn’t talking to a dog anymore.  It was promising that I felt in contact with a human.  I got the sense that I would meet this “person” when they were in their late teens. I was actually glad the dog was dead and she was taking on a form with higher potential.

I’ve heard people talk about having a better relationship with people after they have died.  I now have a better understanding of that possibility.  Chispa was no longer limited by her dog persona.  I didn’t have much in common with her when she was a dog.  Now she was free of “dog” and in a sense wiser than me.  She could finally appreciate all that meditation I had been doing.

I wondered if there was some type of practice I could do with her in theta that would get her enlightened rather than being reborn.  What was possible?  I was already dedicating everything I was doing to her enlightenment.  While it is not possible to change her karma, it is possible to influence what seeds are ripening or her.  If she is experiencing the security and calm of being with me, then she will naturally create a rebirth with a similar vibration even though there was the potential of a fearful rebirth.

Since our thoughts influence the environment which a deceased being is immersed in, it is very important for us to think positive.  This is the reason that it is not good to let grieving and remorse linger.  Our prayers and offerings have a direct effect on the mental environment and can benefit our deceased friends.

Saying “Yes” to the “Big Money”

I took a workshop on nonviolent communication once and as I was standing at the snack table a woman commented on how she couldn’t eat a specific food because she was allergic.  A second woman asked her if she wanted to get rid of the allergy and offered to do it.  The first woman didn’t say yes or no.

I don’t have any allergies, but I was intrigued why the woman wouldn’t jump at the chance to get rid of an allergy.  I imagined that she didn’t trust the other woman and/or didn’t believe that she could just get rid of an allergy standing there in the middle of a class.  I wondered about how the second woman could get rid of allergies, but I didn’t ask.  Later, when I began to study ThetaHealing, I suspected the woman might have been a ThetaHealer, because “pulling” allergies is easy to do and works most of the time.

Today I am thinking about how we say “no” to offers and why.

I am reminded of another story.  I heard this at a big speaker event for a 12 step fellowships.  A woman talked about how she used to pray to God for the addict boyfriend she wanted to keep.  Over and over she would ask for that relationship to work.  Now, she realizes that she was begging God to give her a penny when God had a $100 in his hand he was trying to offer her.  Her conclusion:  Often we only ask for a penny when we could have a $100.

When I first found out about enlightenment I was thrilled.  Someone had figured out how to end suffering, sickness, aging and death.  And it wasn’t just some unknown person, it was the Buddha.  Even I had heard of him.  And so it seemed credible to me.  As soon as I heard about it I was ready.  I signed up for it.  No hesitation.

Yet, other people are not instantly thrilled.  I am flabbergasted.  Why wouldn’t someone embrace this path immediately?  Well, perhaps, like that woman with the allergy, they simply don’t trust the teachings and/or they doubt it is even possible.  Or maybe they are going after something they think will bring them more satisfaction (the penny) instead of accepting what is unimaginable (the $100).

I know that twenty years ago, I couldn’t even imagine the level of contentment, competence, and peace I feel today.  Twenty years ago I was not grounded and centered.  Even the change in the past three years has been mind-boggling.  And still I am completely different from what “I” will be when enlightened.  Indeed, I cannot imagine and do not even care to speculate what that will be like.  I’ve talked about this before in the post on What’s Left After the Unveiling.  I am glad that I’ve chosen over and over again to not settle for the penny and to be open to saying yes to unlimited possibilities.