Dark Night of the Soul

Love’s Ordeal: The Dark Night of the Soul

A Dark Night of the Soul always arrives uninvited, yet it could be the best thing to ever happen. It’s a sacred initiation into the underbelly of the soul that will make you feel cursed and blessed at the same time. Dark Nights of the Soul are all the rage these days. Our civilisation is self-destructing and we seem powerless to stop it. Some say we have brought ourselves to this dangerous precipice through our collective blindness, arrogance and selfishness, and that may be true. But we may also be on the brink of a breakthrough.

I don’t want to get into a forensic examination of our nihilistic culture. It does no good to pick at your wounds. I want to find a way through the darkness to the light at the end of the tunnel – if it exists.

The best we can say of these dark times is that we have entered a Global Spiritual Crisis designed to release us from our bad habits into a revelation of the true nature of Reality. Whether or not we succeed is yet to be seen. Many are now being plunged into their own personal spiritual crises as old structures disintegrate and certainties are challenged.

So what is this process called the Dark Night and how can we find our way through it?

Dark Night Rising
Dark Night Rising

Not a Dark Night

Most people experience periods of sadness and darkness in their lives at some point, and the phrase ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ is often used to describe them. But this may not be entirely accurate. ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ may be one of the most misused phrases in English, along with words like Love, Mysticism, and God.

A Dark Night of the Soul is not just a normal depression (although that can be hard enough to live with). It isn’t about having a difficult time because things aren’t going your way and you’re not getting what you want out of life. Many people struggle with the negative emotions and confusion that can arise due to big life changes like losing a job, getting a divorce, or suffering with failing health, but that does not equal a Dark Night.

Those with a spiritual practice also encounter problems as the subconscious is stirred up, giving rise to heightened sensitivity, confusion, fear and negativity. But these disturbances can usually be handled by continuing to practise.

A Dark Night goes deeper.

What is the Dark Night of the Soul?

The Dark Night of the Soul most often occurs as part of the spiritual path. It is a crisis of meaning and identity that rips the ground out from under your feet. Once you reach a certain point of the spiritual journey the Dark Night becomes inevitable and can come as quite a shock.

Say he knows you are ready to receive him and to be annihilated in love. Can you say YES to that?” – Mirabai Starr

It begins when everything seems to be going so well. Many people take up meditation or spiritual practice with the intention of improving themselves. You want to be happier, calmer, healthier, more in control, and so on. There is nothing wrong in this, and for a little while it even works. But there is another side to meditation and spiritual practice which is rarely understood, at least not by beginners.

There is an inherent paradox at the heart of this approach which ultimately undermines itself: the ego is attempting to improve itself, but the ego is part of the problem.

Meditation is designed to undermine your sense of self. It gradually shifts the focus of identification away from your small personal perspective onto the unlimited ground of your experience – awareness. In time, this deconstructs the ego and all its attachments. A regular and consistent meditation practice will break up your mental habits, disrupt your value system and force you to confront the shadow side of your consciousness.

Of course, the ego will only cooperate with this process as long as things are going well and you appear to be making progress. As soon as the ego gets wind of its imminent destruction, all hell breaks loose and you enter the Dark Night of the Soul.

from Shinzen Young
from Shinzen Young

So the Dark Night of the Soul is a process of transformation which takes you from identification with the ego to transcendence and identification with the higher Self. To put it another way, it takes you from reliance on the self to reliance on the divine. You move from believing you are in control of your life and your choices, to an acceptance that this is impossible and you are not, and never have been, in control.

It is an act of sacred destruction involving the purgation of the personal will and a confrontation with existential despair, sometimes called the Death of the Ego. In the Dark Night of the Soul, you consciously live through your own death.

When does the Dark Night begin?

Hold your Light
Hold your Light

Technically, the Dark Night begins after awakening and represents a point of no return. It tends to happen after an encounter with the truth of No Self or non-being. Through an act of grace, you attain insight into the true nature of the self, or a state of mystical union with God, and the true work of spiritual practice begins.

This work involves the self learning that it is not separate from life. Everything that happens from this point on is designed to undermine that sense of separation until you can surrender totally and unconditionally. It sounds a simple thing, but the ego can put up quite a fight.

The depth and subtlety of your attachments will slowly be revealed as the Dark Night unfolds. I’ve lost count of the number of times I believed I was following the higher Self’s will, only to discover my ego had slipped in the back door and taken over.

Back in high school, there was a boy in my class who was always pulling pranks and messing about. One day, the English teacher, a rotund man with an enormous ginger beard, sent this boy to stand outside the door in punishment for being disruptive. But the boy (I can’t remember his name) managed to slip back into the room unnoticed. He crawled between the desks and slid into his seat while the teacher’s back was turned. The entire class remained silent until the teacher turned around, saw the boy and erupted in anger, sending the rest of us into fits of laughter.

This is what the ego does. It distracts, entertains, misdirects, and generates drama, all in an attempt to avoid the inevitable. In a very real sense, the Dark Night of the Soul is just one long ego tantrum.

God ties your hands and feet to be able to carry on His work without interference; and you do nothing but struggle, and make every effort, but in vain, to break these sacred bonds, and to work yourself according to your own inclination. What infidelity!” – Jean-Pierre deCaussade

Different versions of the Dark Night

Darkness this way comes

The phrase ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ was first used by Christian mystic St John of the Cross in his classic text of the same name. He describes two different spiritual crises: the Night of Sense, and the Night of the Spirit. The first acts as preparation for the second, and while both are tough, the Dark Night of the Spirit is excruciating.

In the Night of Sense your attachments to worldly pleasures fall away as the senses are purified. Then in the Night of the Spirit your mind empties and your will is broken. Everything falls away and you are powerless to act. Even meditation and prayer stops working at this point. You may feel lost and abandoned by God, or as if you are falling into madness.

There is another Dark Night which goes beyond even the Night of the Spirit, but this happens rarely and seems to be reserved for saints. In this, the soul suffers on behalf of others as an act of service.

Some of the descriptions of the Dark Night of the Spirit are truly terrifying. The soul is pulled into an existential abyss and torn apart. It is a spiritual rite of passage, like Jonah slowly dissolving in the belly of the whale until he is ready to fulfil his divine destiny. You may believe you are in darkness, but that is an illusion. As St John of the Cross explains:

“Darkened and emptied, the soul is purified and illumined by divine light. Like the ray of light that remains invisible even in the middle of a room as long as it has nothing to bump up against, so this divine light is invisible to the purified soul and she thinks she is in darkness.”

All seems lost, but you only suffer at this stage of the process because you still believe you are separate. If you can let go and allow the apparent darkness to do its work, the light will return and you will see with new eyes.

The Dark Night in other traditions

In Buddhism the Dark Night of the Soul is called Falling into the Pit of the Void. It can happen after you gain insight into the emptiness of all phenomena and see the reality of No Self.

In Vipassana the Dark Night is experienced as part of the dukkha nanas which arise following the realisation of Arising and Passing Away (A & P, for short). In this tradition, these stages of the path have lovely names, such as Dissolution, Fear, Misery, Disgust, and Desire for Deliverance. These are seen as challenging stages of the process and are considered a sign of progress. The aim is to continue practising until you gain Equanimity.

It’s interesting to compare the experience of the Dark Night between traditions as each has its own characteristic approach. Reading descriptions of the suffering of the Christian mystics is a hair-raising experience; there seems to be an awful lot of wailing and misery and ‘woe is me’ type stuff. David says, “You have put far from me my friends and acquaintances; they consider me an abomination.” And this from Ezechiel: “I shall gather up the bones and light them on fire. The flesh shall be consumed and the whole composition burned, and the bones shall be destroyed.”

And Jeremiah has this rather spectacular rant:

I am the man who sees my poverty in the rod of his indignation. He has roused me from slumber and led me into darkness and not into light. He has turned and turned his hand against me all the day. My skin and my flesh he has made old. He has broken my bones. He has built a fence around me and encircled me with bitterness and labour. He has set me in a dark place, as those who are forever dead… He has thwarted my footsteps. He has become as a lion, hiding in secret places. He has twisted my steps and broken me in pieces… One by one he has broken my teeth. He has fed me on ashes. My soul is a stranger to peace…

It goes on…

corrupt
Scorched Earth

Although I can relate to some of the sentiments expressed, there is another part of me that thinks (perhaps uncharitably) “get over yourself.” Maybe the emphasis on suffering that characterises Christianity affects the way these experiences are described. In contrast, Buddhism emphasises equanimity and selflessness, and so the experience of the Dark Night is seen as a stage to move through without getting attached. Perhaps there’s no real difference in the experience, just in the cultural conditioning and language used. (Also, it’s unfair to quote out of context. When you’re in the middle of it, the death throes of the ego feel very real, even if they are ultimately illusory.)

I have found both approaches useful in their own way. The torment and suffering described by the Christian mystics puts my own pain into perspective, and the rationality of Buddhist equanimity helps me to let go of that pain and not take it personally.

Dark Night or Pathology?

Shinzen Young describes the Dark Night of the Soul as Enlightenment’s Evil Twin and says that in modern terms it would be described as Depersonalisation and De-realisation Disorder (as it is listed in the DSM). He also thinks it’s quite rare. The true Dark Night happens, he says, when you have trouble integrating the insight into selflessness and non-being.

>Watch a fascinating video of Shinzen Young discussing Experiences of the Dissolution Process with a man who had a terrifying ordeal as part of his awakening.

The breakdown of the self can be disorienting and makes it hard to deal with daily life, but there is a real danger in seeing this experience as pathological. As Shinzen indicates, it’s only a problem if you can’t let go of the self, and you’re much more likely to have that problem if you think the Dark Night is a bad thing. This experience is not a sign that something has gone wrong.

Perhaps we struggle with the dissolution of the self because our culture is so egotistical. To move away from the self towards selflessness could be seen as naïve, deluded or crazy, but that doesn’t mean it is.

Who will have a Dark Night?

Some say the Dark Night is an unavoidable part of spiritual awakening and will be experienced by everyone in some form or another. While others say it is rare. Perhaps this just reflects different definitions of the Dark Night, but it does seem to be the case that some people go through it relatively easily, while others have extreme problems and find the loss of self terrifying.

Willoughby Britton of Brown University has researched the Dark Night of the Soul, which she defines as “the inability of an adult to work or take care of children”, and says that serious complications requiring hospitalisation occur in less than 1% of cases.

That definition seems extreme to me. In my (admittedly limited) experience, I was able to hold down a full-time job during one of my Dark Nights, and graduate from college during the first, and in neither case was it easy. My third Dark Night is underway now and although I have bad days (and weeks), I am slowly learning to let go.

Perhaps the quality of your experience depends on other factors, such as the structure of your personality, the stability of your spiritual practice, access to a good teacher for guidance, and karma. If you find yourself mired in a Dark Night, the chances are you have been through it before, especially if your spiritual journey begins with a descent into darkness against your will.

Most people encountering the Dark Night will do so because they have chosen to work on themselves as part of a spiritual practice. But it is possible to have an insight into the nature of the self and non-being without having any kind of spiritual practice. This was how my spiritual journey began, and I can only assume my soul prepared for the experience in other lives (either that, or I am nuts!). This is particularly hard because you are plunged into a kind of hell without any sense of why or what is going on.

What is the point of the Dark Night?

Reveal your Light
Reveal your Light

The Dark Night varies in length and intensity. You may burn through it fairly quickly, or it could take years or even lifetimes. Willoughby Britton’s research found it lasted from six months to 12 years, with an average duration of three years.

You may also experience more than one Dark Night. The deconstruction of your ego attachments happens over a long period of time so it may take many attempts to strip back the layers of your personality. The Dark Night is like a storm system circling round and round. It hits you for a little while, then moves away and life settles down, only for the storm to return. It will do this as many times as is necessary for you to let go of whatever no longer serves your spiritual growth.

In the end, the point of the Dark Night of the Soul is to bring you to enlightenment. Most people don’t achieve this in one hop, as it were. It takes time and discipline and practise. And compassion, patience, and humility.

And you must be ready for the experience. Paradoxically, you need to have a strong sense of self before you will be willing to sacrifice that self. That strength is required because the process of dissolution can be so punishing. Those who are too weak-minded or who lack courage, will not get far along this path.

For anyone who believes mystics are wishy-washy or that love is for fools, all I can say is: try it!

Ultimately, the Dark Night is about love. Can you say yes to life even if you are suffering? Can you keep your heart open even as it is breaking? Can you live up to your highest ideals in a less than perfect world that seems intent on self-destruction?

If he could see his nothingness and his deadly, festering wound, pain would arise from looking within, and that pain would save him.” – Rumi

>Addled: Adventures of a Reluctant Mystic is a fictionalised account of my experience of awakening and the Dark Night. Find out more here.
Related Posts:
Visit the Dark Night Resources page for tons of links:resources-dark-night

Images: fun & games; scorched

Trackback: http://makeheaven.com/jessica-davidson.html

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39 thoughts on “Love’s Ordeal: The Dark Night of the Soul

  1. I wondered if it might be helpful to (very briefly) share something I’ve learned, that’s been confirmed by my experience. The Indian spiritual tradition says that we come into each lifetime with deeply imprinted energy patterns that have been formed by our past actions (karma is their word for it; or, “as you sew, so shall you reap” are Jesus’ great words for it). In Sanskrit they’re known as sanskaras. And they very strongly influence the desires that drive us in this current lifetime. The basic process of a true spiritual path is purification: purification of these samaskaras, and of the limited self, what people are (beautifully) sharing about here as ego-identity. And yep, it does have to be annihilated for our experience of the true, higher Self to become constant. This process of purification is orchestrated by an awakened inner energy (which we are mostly all born with in an unawakened state) known in Sanskrit as the Kundalini Shakti. At a subtle frequency level it’s like a fire. It is this blessed, and profoundly purifying fire, that creates what we experience as the ‘dark night of the soul’, because all of those samskaras have to come up, in order to come out. ‘Come up’ means rise to the level of our conscious experience of thoughts and feelings. And as many of you are sharing, they can be incredible agonizing to experience. Yet at the same time, because we are being freed from them, it is the most profoundly beneficial thing that can happen in a human incarnation, because it leads to the highest (and most difficult) goal of human life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience Robert.

      The sanskaras are your conditioning and attachments, and it can take an age for them to be burnt through. Sometimes it feels like I’m dealing with things that have been around for longer than I have, at least in this particular form, and I wonder how much longer it will take for the fire to do its work. Thankfully, it seems to go in cycles so you get a little respite before it starts up again. On each turn it gets deeper, and harder. But the light of the higher Self is always there – leading the way.

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    1. Thanks Michael.

      Maybe I’m biased – or perhaps just ignorant. I’ve never really studied the Judaeo-Christian tradition. I was raised as an atheist, not even that actually – I was raised on nothing – so when I went looking for something to help me, Buddhism seemed the obvious fit, being more psychological or philosophical. It meant I didn’t have to think about the whole ‘God’ question. I wrote this post a couple of years ago, so maybe that’s starting to change now as the dark night deepens…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jessica, I dabbled in just about everything and still am interested in many non-Christian things. Or apparently non-Christian, I guess I should say. For me it was a natural progression from Freud, Jung, New Age stuff, Asian religions, Christianity. And I still try to synthesize the best from each perspective… and get rid of the rest! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I keep circling around the struggle I am having with the solitude that seems inherent to this process. I am married and thus not totally alone but there comes a point quite often where I can’t go anywhere but inside myself and suffer alone with it.

    It is nice to find external perspective and shared experience that reasonate if for no other reason than to remind me that there is a purpose to what is happening to me and that the separateness I feel is likely the greatest illusion I deal with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Anthony. I’m glad you found this post helpful and thanks for sharing your experience.

      Aloneness is one of the hardest parts of this process to deal with – whether you’re in a relationship or not. But it does serve a deeper purpose: to bring you back to your deeper Self. And once you’ve made contact and know that who you really are is connected with everything else – then you realise you’re not really alone after all.

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  3. Dear Ms. Davidson

    Thank you for posting such an interesting and informative piece. I also wanted to thank you for taking an interest in my writings as well. A couple comments.

    As I am inclined to superimpose the spiral structure over things, the same can be done for the process you described here. It is similar to a bouncing ball, that starts our high and gets lower with each bounce until it stops. A crude, but illustrative metaphor for the gradual dissociation of the ego-complex. Each time around, there is a phase that could be considered a “dark night of the soul”.

    As to lamenting about our society, you are correct that the Western cultures glorify the little ego. This makes it relatively rare for people in our society to even get the ball bouncing. However, if you have not found the works of Dane Rudhyar, I recommend his book “Culture, Crisis and Creativity”. After reading it, you will likely no longer lament our culture but see it as akin to the beautiful and colorful, but dying, leaves of Autumnal trees.

    Also, when discussing the “dark night” (not Batman…hehe)…it is worth pointing out the temptations of both Christ and Buddha. Both of these are archetypical depictions of the entire Universe conspiring to knock the most advanced of seekers from the path of enlightenment. These stories represent the deepest aspect of the dark night of the soul as both Buddha and Christ struggled to shed the last remnants of their egos.

    Finally, a comment to Roger Causwell:

    Sir, I recommend you strongly pursue your study of science to the utmost degree. Again, it is like a spiral and you will come back around to the ideas under discussion at a much higher (or deeper) level of understanding. I recommend you stay away from popular science by media scientists but instead study for example, the philosophical writings of Erwin Schrodinger, one of the founders of quantum mechanics. His writing is all over the internet. In addition you should become thoroughly familiar with the works of Greg Chaitin, Wolfram, Godel’s incompleteness theorems, and the implications of quantum mechanics and relativity theory for everyday notions of causality.

    If you come to understand these topics with any depth, you will have a much better idea of what you ask for with your demand for objective evidence.

    Best to All,

    Don

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Don. Thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I recently stumbled across your blog – it’s a fascinating read. I’ve downloaded What is Science? and I’m looking forward to reading it.

      The Dane Rudhyar book sounds good – I’ll find a copy. I’ve only read one of his astrology books, which was great. ‘Culture, Crisis and Creativity’ sounds fascinating, from what I could find out about it online.

      I read an interesting book recently called Dispelling Wetiko by Paul Levy and he discusses the idea of ‘the universe conspiring to knock the most advanced of seekers from the path of enlightenment’ – the darkest, most unconscious part of the universe, the shadow. There does seem to be something in me, and perhaps it’s in nature or consciousness or the fabric of reality (whatever that may be), that wants to pull me under – especially whenever I make progress in the other direction. And it does seem to move in a spiral, as you say.

      Thanks for writing a great comment, Don.

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      1. Hi Jessica

        A pleasure to meet you. Thank you for the kind reply. Thank you for the kind comments. If you wish to leave comments on What is Science on my blog, please feel free to do so.

        Rudhyar’s CCC is what brought me into the fold, so to speak. I read that book and thought, “this is occultism???” It was way more intelligent than any philosophy I had read to that point, and from then on, I began voraciously studying occult and mystical thought.

        Swami Krishnananda also speaks about the Universe conspiring to knock down the seeker. There is logic to the process. My understanding of SK is: what we perceive as the material universe is not a set of disconnected entities, but is one single network of interrelated parts. The world we perceive with the senses is one unified thing. But the senses and the mind and the deeper layers of the mind generate the ego psychic structure that is founded on the illusion of separateness.

        It is the illusion of separateness that is responsible for the dark nights, and for all pain, and for all pleasure for that matter. As you say above, the dissolution of the ego structure is gradually replaced with a sense of one’s place in the whole. As SK puts it, we become “friendly” with all things, and they, in turn, become friendly with our being.

        Here (http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/patanjali/raja_87.html) he says:

        “A time comes when…a final settlement has to be made with this ego. Either we want it, or we do not want it. We cannot have a half-way deal with this ego. When we came to this point of requiring the ego to eliminate itself totally from the very root, we are facing our best friend. What can be a worse thing to conceive than to encounter and to face our own dearest friend? Up to this time we were going hand in hand, walking and speaking very pleasantly with him, and today we say, “My dear friend, I’ll cut your
        throat.”

        I love his writing style! The entire above chapter is very colorful.

        So, yes, there is something that wants to pull you under, and it is your “self”!

        SK spends many pages explaining that this comes about because, via the ego, we attempt to use objects for the gratification of the self. But the objects, nay the entire Universe, resists this, and this is where the pain comes in. When we begin to accept the so-called “other” as like ourselves, as subjects and not objects, that is when all things quit conspiring against our being.

        So, it is nothing personal on your part, but is a generic universal process that everyone must undergo at some point or another.

        Finally, just a side thought about some of your material above. Can you imagine all the people undergoing a dark night who get put on anti-depressant drugs? Talk about bad karma!

        Again, Jessica, thank you for the nice article and the pleasant conversation.

        Best wishes,

        Don

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Don, and thanks again for a fantastic comment. Thanks for the link too. Swami Krishnananda sounds great – it certainly makes a lot of sense. I’m still finding my way through this, so it all helps.

          I found Culture, Crisis & Creativity at mindfire.ca so I’ll be diving in very soon. Perhaps I’ll write a post when I resurface!

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  4. I agree with Christopher that it’s a fabulous piece Jesscia…and so rarely discussed and shared authentically either online, or in person. Have you reflected any on the dark night of the soul as being the subtle, inner process of the purification of our deeply ingrained samskaras (called Prarabdha karma in the Indian spiritual tradition) imprinted from previous incarnations?

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    1. Thanks Rob, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The purification of karma is an interesting topic and it’s something that has crossed my mind many times in the midst of my various dark nights. It does feel like a gradual erosion of old accumulated attachments and wrong views, etc. Seems to me what happens is a slow (or fast, depending on your experience) stripping away of the layers of the false self until there’s nothing left but the Ultimate.

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  5. Jessica, the Dark Night of the Soul isn’t necessarily a mystical experience. It could be the awakening to the true nature of reality – that what we sense is what there is, and that all the lies we’ve been told since we were born are no longer relevant. I’ve tried the mystic route after the dark night, and simply found more lies and deliberately misleading information from the “love” crowd. There’s no evidence whatsoever of a guiding, benevolent force in the universe, and furthermore, your Jean-Pierre deCaussade quote suggests an arrangement of slavery rather than love.

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    1. Hi Roger, thanks for your comment. I think it depends what your definition of mystical is. It can seem like slavery, a kind of submission and loss of free will, but that’s only if you think of it in dualistic terms. There is nothing to surrender to and nobody doing the surrendering. Perhaps the Buddhist approach would be more up your street – it’s more psychological and there’s no concept of a deity requiring surrender. I may need to write another post about that!

      As to the ‘love’ crowd and their misleading information – yes, I know exactly what you mean. There’s a lot of bullshit in New Age circles, a lot of people wandering around thinking they’re enlightened when they’re just on another ego trip. But they’re fairly easy to spot.

      One final thought – a mystic doesn’t necessarily believe in God. Zen is mystical and rational. No slavery required.

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    2. I would have thought that awakening to the true nature of reality and a mystical experience are the same thing.

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      1. I was going to bite my tongue, Roger, but I feel unable to leave your comment unanswered.

        You have not tried the ‘mystic route after the dark night.’ There can be no doubt of this. It is clear from what you say. You are, of course, entitled to your opinions about all these things, but not to fabricate your CV so as to bolster your criticism.

        If you really do believe what you’ve said here, and have been subjected to lies and deception, then you have my sympathies. There’s a lot of it about.

        It would utterly impossible, however, to be deceived by knowledge. It would not be possible for anyone to deceive you as to what you know and what you don’t. We can only do this to ourselves. It is a self-deception, and nobody else can be blamed for it.

        But perhaps I’ve misunderstood you. It’s usually the case on the internet.

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        1. If reality is understood as the origin of a singularity, exploding in infinite directions, with our current state of being and consciousness the end result of eons of evolution, where does the mystical part come into play? Where is the evidence? And, yes, I did dive head-first into the world of mysticism. I was a strong proponent of the law of attraction, karma, re-incarnation, and all the other nonsense which cannot, by any objective measure, be empirically demonstrated as true. My critical thinking faculties eventually led me away from such beliefs. I would entertain them once again if given a modicum of evidence.

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        2. It’s the ego that demands evidence – part of its narrative drive to understand and therefore control reality. But the ego is a fiction, a kind of illusion built from memory and time. Reality is something else entirely, and we’re not well equipped to understand it. If there is an objective reality, we could never know, far less prove it, trapped as we are within our subjective perceptions. The truth is we have no idea what reality actually is or how it started, whether a big bang or otherwise. And since we can’t get outside of either the universe or our own minds in order to verify what’s going on, we’re never likely to know. So bearing all that in mind, it seems a bit much to demand ‘evidence.’

          I haven’t described this very well, I’m afraid, but the only way to get your head around this stuff is to stop thinking you know what you’re talking about, take a humility pill and recognise what Socrates was killed for – nobody knows anything.

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        3. Hi Roger. There is plenty of (intrasubjective) evidence, and I would say it is overwhelming. . But this is too big a topic for here.

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  6. Really good Jessica. Love it. Can’t be sure that what you say is spot on, but it must be close enough for jazz, as the saying goes.

    I think you are speaking at one point about the difference between the Sage and the Saint. I’m just now writing about this, which is a coincidence. Christianity tends to elevate the Saint, with all his or her struggles against the temptations of the flesh and the ego. Even the imagery is all swords and suits of armour, battles with Devil, turmoil and struggle. The Sage calmly and methodically becomes a person who can put all this nonsense behind them. Hence the histrionics of the Saint and the calmness of the Sage. (This would be a particular use of these words, of course), and some of the difference in style between Buddhist and Christian practitioners. Or maybe. .

    The difference seems to that one tries to behave in a saintly way against the wishes of the ego, while the other does not expect to be able to behave in this way until the ego has been recognised for what it is, and in the meantime can adopt a ‘middle way’ approach to asceticism, and give themselves a bit of leeway on behaviour. Maybe it’s this idea of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that seems to make the Saint’s path so confrontational,

    Anyway. Great stuff.

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    1. Close enough for rock n roll, I always say!

      Thank you for your very perceptive thoughts. I hadn’t thought about the differences between the sage and the saint, but it’s obvious now you point it out. There’s definitely something there worth exploring some more – I’ll have to have a dig around and see what I can find.

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  7. What a fabulous piece, Jessica. I was reading intently, wondering when you’d get to John of the Cross and, sure enough, you got to him. Thank you for a truly inclusive, expansive and inspiring reminder of yet another aspect of our shared humanity that transcends particular cultures and religions.

    Like

    1. Thanks Christopher. There’s more coming from St John of the Cross soon – a review of the brilliant translation by Mirabai Starr. I’d like to write more about the Vipassana tradition too…

      Like

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