Dark Night of the Soul (4) – Introductory Musings: Exemplary Lessons?

[6 minute read]
[see also resource index]
[A shorter 1-minute version of below, extricated from any Dark Night contexts, is here.]

Most narrowly, the phrase originates from a Spanish poem (Dark Night) centuries ago. Its author wrote explications of the poem which speak of two metaphorical nights that purge the soul to approach divine union during this lifetime.

Divine union. That’s a very rare state, exemplified by a rare subset of Saints, and perhaps the most exceptional of spiritual gurus.

I say “perhaps” because it’s a very mystical, abstract notion—-any description of which demands artistic expression like poetic language. It may be the deepest of paradoxes in human experience, alchemically blending suffering and pure joy. After all, “divine union” is a pretty big notion!

If exemplars are extremely rare, how is their experience valuable to the rest of us? The term Christianity presents Christ to us as an exemplar. Every institution which lays claim to that name is inarguably flawed, in no small measure because none is The Exemplar Itself.

Why does it seem so hard to emulate Jesus and Saints? The records say he said, “My burden is light.” It sure doesn’t seem that way to most of us, most of the time, does it? What are we getting so wrong? I think one source of consternation is how poorly the institutions of his name carry the simplicity of his example. They’re obsessed with grandiosities, or with an us-centeredness, or in our otherness versus the divine. In short, the withoutness of sin.

Jesus Christ is a human person, and infinitely more. Divine. The moment we conceive “more,” its meaning evaporates. So, should we seek to emulate the saints who have most fully experienced the dark night, and to emulate Christ? Of course, but their lesson is that those paths lead to evaporation of any intention to emulate.

Ultimate paradox. Seek and ye will will find. Find what? Answers? However unexpected? I don’t think so.

Maybe what we find is that being is seeking; it is not receiving, not finding, but some inaccessible or indescribable mode of being, like (weakly) that eternal among son, father, and spirit?

How “in the hell” could we know?

What we “know” most easily as human beings is our mortality. That’s at some logical spectrum’s opposite of eternity. Christ unifies those opposites, mortal and eternal. Bodily, spiritually, one.

On another abstract spectrum are poles of joy and suffering. Christ unifies those too. Yeshua’s example as exemplar was not to seek *escape* from suffering and find joy. It was to *embrace* suffering and find joy. Undertake the suffering, but don’t be trapped there eternally. Instead, undertake it for the sake of love, and joy will unfold. Not separately, but unified.

Jesus was/is a person. The saints were persons. You and I are persons. Escape from what we are is absolutely NOT the example of these exemplars. Living and being what you are, what I am, what each of them are. A “light burden” must involve that. The good news can’t be only for the saints and spiritually elite, excluding the everyday person.

Don’t lump together, or organize, or institutionalize humanity collectively. Don’t seek to serve all of humankind. Institutions promulgate institutional thinking, and institutions are artifices of the human mind, not divine. God could not be looking at humanity collectively. Christ didn’t. His tradition wasn’t to baptize all humanity at once. One precious person at time. By another precious person. If you’re pursuing a rule of living — some mindset or practical guide — that does not plumb that profound mystery to its deepest depths, you’re chasing air.

Each exemplar served an individual at a time—-one child of God at a time. They quashed false grandiosity by responding to the call to love — at each ‘given’ moment — the singular child their eyes were beholding, at that moment ‘given.’ Not all of humanity. In fact never even the whole life of one individual. In fact, NO part of one person’s life except for the very moment.

Whatsoever you do to the least of my people… That’s not about an abstract collection of humanity. The face of Christ is not some abstract group at which we should seek to aim our love. You can’t develop any plan for how to act in a future that never comes. Only successive moments come, the future never.

The Christface is in one child of God at a time, as we meet that child, in this moment.

And sometimes, at a moment, that child is within; you too are God’s child. Follow the exemplars’ examples and love your own self. Hard? Let the purgation begin.

Suffering and joy… They are one. When you wrestle with them to separate them in your mind, you lose every time. They are you. Both. And, you are already divine. All in this moment.

The joy and suffering you carry will NOT resolve in any future. Stop pretending it can, and love the one you’re with now, even — and perhaps especially — if that one is merely you. Merely you? There’s no “mere” about you, or anyone else. And this is one way to conceive a dark night’s purpose.

When the night of the senses strips away your fantasies about your being “merely” your sensations and futile thoughts of resolving suffering with some grandiose plan… You’re left with a naked you. And ridiculously, you run away from you, back to less profound states of feeling and thinking. Unresolved.

Neither you nor anyone else will see you as all you are, in your divine power and glory, unless you are naked, and little by little, begin to act, content with your nakedness. Then, as that proceeds, your true clothing fits you much more naturally, so you need not don an artificial persona to present to your self and the world.

If you want a rule and mindset for your future happiness, stop looking for it, or planning it. Seek divine union one child of God at a time. I think, as you do that, you will deepen union with the divine within you, meeting your own very-loving self over and over and over without even seeking that. Meeting your loving-self in that other Christface. That repeated shock of the unexpected is enough to sustain us for eternity, in the image and likeness of our loving Origin.

Forget “One day at a time.” That sort of rule for living doesn’t quite capture, “Live in the moment”—which itself is not easily accessible in cognitive terms, requiring mastery of mechanical practices like meditation. That’s no “light burden” either, for the everyday human being. What IS naturally human is relationship. Relate to one Christface at a time.

We have everything we need. Not for a lifetime. Or even the full day. For the moment. A string of which constitutes a lifetime. And beyond. One Christface at a time.

A shorter synopsis of this article, extricated from Dark Night contexts, is next.

[see also resource index]

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Neil D. 2020-05-13

Dark Night of the Soul (3) – Michael Mirdad

[3 minute read]

If you’d like shallower but wider presentation than the earlier selected excerpts, before diving into their full sources, here’s a decent soup-to-nuts application, all on one (long) page.

Nicely synthesized and broadened for a comtemporary, if somewhat New-Age commercial consumer market, I’m comfortable endorsing it as orthodox enough to the original:

“…not being able to make it go away is one of the main purposes … to see how we respond when we do not feel in control of everything.”

“Instead of trying to take control, now is the time to be still and allow God to inspire whatever new direction is best for our highest good.”

Its self-help, commercial flavor carries something vague that feels to me slightly unfaithful to the purest tradition from John of The Cross—-doesn’t quite nail the mark, for me, on involuntary purgation:

“…during the Dark Night, it’s important to remain open and prayerful for signs that might direct and guide us through the process and beyond.”

Maybe this is bound to happen when one adopts an unpossessable gem too possessively for commercial gain. Nevertheless, it’s by no means distracting or detracting. And he weaves in not only Joseph Campbell, but Steve Jobs!

What appeals to my own experience most deeply about Mirdad’s style is his subcurrent of agnosticization. I once thought of myself as called to serve my specific religion, but now think of my religion in terms of how it serves me and my soul: I myself am absolutely and an infinitely greater being than a corpus of abstracted dogma and doctrines (deposit of faith). We might say an institution has its own soul, but only because individual human souls compose it. Mirdad’s agnosticism is no turnoff to Christians.

Here are some favored selections from Mirdad’s page:

…everyone (and I mean everyone) goes through the Dark Night of the Soul…at least two or three times …averaging a few years…yet almost nobody talks about it or even knows anything about it.

…a purging process that calls us to release all that is unhealed or unnecessary…not yet divine within us and bring us closer to our true divine expressions.

… not something we would ever wish…nevertheless, the most transformational experience this earthly life has to offer.

…transforms our lives for the better, but only if we move through the process properly—going through each step with the highest level of consciousness and integrity possible.

…mystics throughout history: …a process wherein our spirit is purifying the ego-self.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us…
Joseph Campbell

Usually one to three years—minimum… feel stuck…depressed. Nothing…working.
…failure or a hypocrite. …lost faith in God or in the process of life… state of shock.

… calling towards a greater love and willingness to surrender… our soul has decided that it’s time for us to journey within… to teach us humility

instead of being an excited participant, most end up resisting, fighting, and denying the value of this process—which only tends to increase their level of pain during the experience.
If a person wishes to be sure of the road he’s traveling on,
then he must close his eyes and travel in the dark.

–St. John of the Cross

…some good news and some bad news: the good news is that the Dark Night will not actually kill you. The bad news, at times it might make you wish you were dead.

…instead of demanding that God meet us in the consciousness of our perceptions and problems, we will now move closer to the Consciousness of God.

The heaviness of being successful was replaced
by the lightness of being a beginner again,
less sure about everything. It freed me
to enter one of the most creative
periods of my life
–Steve Jobs

[see also resource index]

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Neil D. 2020-05-13

Dark Night of the Soul (2) – Brian Kolodiejchuk

[2.5 minute read]
For a concise expansion of the specific original meaning
[see more in the resource index]

“…night of the senses” …consolations are no longer felt, there is a notable longing for God, and an increase of love, humility, patience…

Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., in “Mother Teresa: Come be my light”:

Interior darkness is nothing new in the tradition of Catholic mysticism. In fact, it has been a common phenomenon among the numerous saints throughout Church history who have experienced what the Spanish Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross termed the “dark night.”

The spiritual master aptly employed this term to designate the painful purifications one undergoes before reaching union with God. They are accomplished in two phases: the “night of the senses” and the “night of the spirit.”

In the first night [of the senses] one is freed from attachment to sensory satisfactions and drawn into the prayer of contemplation. While God communicates His light and love, the soul, imperfect as it is, is incapable of receiving them, and experiences them as darkness, pain, dryness, and emptiness.

Although the emptiness and absence of God are only apparent, they are a great source of suffering. Yet, if this state is the “night of the senses” and not the result of mediocrity, laziness, or illness, one continues performing one’s duties faithfully and generously, without despondency, self-concern, or emotional disturbance. Though consolations are no longer felt, there is a notable longing for God, and an increase of love, humility, patience, and other virtues.

Having passed through the first night, one may then be led by God into the “night of the spirit,” to be purged from the deepest roots of one’s imperfections. A state of extreme aridity accompanies this purification, and one feels rejected and abandoned by God. The experience can become so intense that one feels as if heading toward eternal perdition. It is even more excruciating because one wants only God and loves Him greatly but is unable to recognize one’s love for Him. The virtues of faith, hope, and charity are severely tried. Prayer is difficult, almost impossible; spiritual counsel practically of no avail; and various exterior trials may add to this pain.

By means of this painful purification, the disciple is led to total detachment from all created things and to a lofty degree of union with Christ, becoming a fit instrument in His hands and serving Him purely and disinterestedly.

Recommended next (Mirdad)

See also resource index

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Neil D. 2020-05-13

Dark Night of the Soul (1) – Mirabai Starr

[2.5 minute read]
For everyone
[see more about Starr in the resource index]

“…the darkness is nothing but unutterable radiance… you are ready… to be annihilated in love.”

Dark night of the soul, excerpts from Mirabai Starr’s Introduction (Starr is also the translator and has no denominational affiliation) to this mystical work by Saint John of the Cross.

Say when you were very young the veil lifted just enough for you to glimpse the underlying Real behind it and then dropped again. Maybe it never recurred, but you could not forget. And this discovery became the prime mover of the rest of your life, in ways you may not have even noticed. (174)

Your attention to liturgy is so pointed that you become sacred language.

Say these practices fill your heart. They make you feel holiness like wind through every fiber of your being and think rivers of holy thoughts.

Say that while each of the world’s great spiritual traditions may hint at that vastness you have longed for, none of them returns you to its threshold. Each of your chosen paths is about something, when all you’ve ever meant to choose is nothing. Simply because this is where you first saw God: in the emptiness.

Say prayer starts to dry up on your tongue. Sacred literature becomes fallen leaves, blows away.

The God you bow down to no longer draws you.

Say you bow down anyway. You repeat your mantra along the line of your prayer beads, continue chanting the divine names, melodious. You reread the scriptures, go to mass. You find satisfaction in none of these, yet you persevere. Why not? The things of the world are no competition. You long ago lost interest in material gain, in social status, in interpersonal drama.

This wretched limbo lasts for years.

Say each of the familiar spiritual rooms you go to seeking refuge are dark now, and empty. You sit down anyway. You take off your clothes at the door and enter naked. All agendas have fallen away. You grow so still in your nondoing that you forget for a moment that you are or that maybe God is not. This quietude deepens in proportion to your surrender.

Say what’s secretly going on is that the Beloved is loving you back. (192)

And that this darkness of the soul you have come upon and cannot seem to come out of is his final and greatest gift to you. Because it is only in this vast emptiness that he can enter, as your Beloved, and fill you. Where the darkness is nothing but unutterable radiance. Say he knows you are ready to receive him and to be annihilated in love. Can you say YES to that?

Recommended next (Kolodiejchuk)

Index of all resources

Dark Night of the Soul (0) – Resources & Recommendations

[This page presents links to excerpts and sources on this topic. More will come. Tap “Notify me of new posts via email.” at the end of this page to receive an email when more material is added.]

If you think this metaphor is about suffering and depression, you are right. If you wish this metaphor were about joy and optimism, you are also right, and won’t be disappointed. If you think this poetic conception is about the unity of suffering and joy, you may be most right.

This metaphor for the divinely human experience is so wonderful and wondrous, there must be as many ways to approach, discover, and encounter it as there are persons. Nay, more, for even each person can encounter it in a wondrous number of ways, even at a single moment of a ‘given’ time.

My own musings about it start elsewhere.

The sequence, content, and annotations of my recommendations below are not random, but are my construction for introducing this metaphor to the curious.

Common use of the phrase has drifted considerably from its original specific meaning. Two authors faithful to the original senses are Mirabai Starr and Brian Kolodiejchuk.

I selected excerpts from Starr to introduce you to one way one might arrive at a true dark night by apparent accident. She expresses it with no religious-denomination affiliation whatever, while also touching on all of them. Starr is an elite artist of the inked quill who exquisitely nails that magical and ever-moving median between popular appeal and unquestionably professional scholarship. She will suck in a reader — ANY type of reader — instantly. If you don’t care for poetic language, she will not trigger your loathing; but she is an insidious trickster with a pen. [Incidentally, Starr’s book is introduced by Thomas Moore, whom I consider today’s authority on the soul.]

I selected Kolodiejchuk because he further differentiates the singular night into its dual notions — night of senses, and night of spirit — faithful to Thomas Keating’s teaching system for the original. Keating is not to be neglected either; he has great online videos, though the only ones I’ve watched so far are academic/instructional; my recommendations don’t currently include his work because I do not know it fully enough.

Even if Kolodiejchuk is not your thing, don’t skip Michael Mirdad. His style and content are much more mainstream for readers browsing the web to explore a topic like this. In a single long page, he touches on its history and spans its symptomology in terms more familiar in popular psychology and psychotherapy than the strictly spiritual—-all with a contemporary facility.

Below Starr, Kolodiejchuk, and Mirdad are a few other sources, useful, but less orthodox or less meaty or less concise or more expansive.

For deeper expansion, I recommend the book from which Starr’s passage is taken (especially if you want the origin of the phrase), followed by the book of this subject’s title by Thomas Moore (he also authored the introduction in Starr’s book) — the best of what a book is.

Richard Rohr, a modern mystic, writes occasionally about the Shadow, the soul, and sometimes its dark night, like here, where he refers to the Yes introduced by Starr.

Lastly, the book from which Kolodiejchuk’s passage is taken: Mother Teresa’s writings are as painful to read as obsolete translations of Saint Teresa of Avila’s Seven Castles/Mansions—but it’s noteworthy that neither of their writings were intended to be read as books, or by general audiences. (It would be wonderful to have their work tackled by Starr or someone of her caliber.)

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Good page on the subject. Because of its sweeping breadth, you might find it a little thin to sink your teeth into and grasp the notion as deeply as you can concisely by some of my other recommended sources. It’s External Links have some useful translation alternatives to Starr.


This interesting couple are self-styled “spiritual mentors who blend a mixture of psychological and spiritual insight…” I stumbled into their (long) web compositions searching for material relating ego and soul. I’ve come to appreciate it, because soul is such an ephemeral notion that it cannot be very fully appreciated by consulting only sources orthodox in philosophy, psychology, or theology.

They take a shot at distinguishing between depression and an orthodox Dark Night, though I wasn’t convinced. But I have invested considerable time in exploring their larger corpus. To me, Mirdad bridges more central orthodoxy to these fringier commercializations.

To my senses of soul and ego, this site is virtually agreeable in all regards, and has great content of all sorts. Give them a read if you’d like to broaden your own horizons, and this excerpt appeals to you:

“…friction within us … causes the mirror of our Souls to be polished enough for us to glimpse our True Nature. I often hear people speak of the Dark Night as some kind problem they have to “fix,” or something they “went through a long time ago, that is now over, thank God.” But what these people thought was a Dark Night may have just been a glimpse of the darkness within them, especially when they speak egotistically about it as if it were a badge of honor.”

A related page: “Complicated grief can serve as an initiation onto your spiritual path through the Dark Night of the Soul.”

To my first recommendation (Mirabai Starr)

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‘Work on’ Self, But ‘Fix’ Others

[1 minute read]

Is the real You a somewhat free-spirited risk-taker who fears the regrets of recklessness, shackled too long by manifold sources of cowardice from within and fear of abandonment and rejection by externals?

Have you failed to feed your appetite for music, sports, books, liturgy, theology, philosophy, psychology, fierce and vulnerable intimacy?

Have you combined your passions with your insecurities to construct a persona of an inflated ego? Or/and a dishonestly deflated ego pretending as humility?


What do You need? Do you need more feedback? Do you need more honest criticism? Do you need more affirmation? Do you need more license to take reckless risk? Do you need to have your ego downsized? Do you need to open yourself more to living—-come what may?


For crying out loud (and inside, loud), how needy can one person be?

When the hell will You stop trying to work on yourself, and care about other people?

Right now. Then, again at 2:47pm. And tomorrow at 10:06am. And tomorrow night… And… Both/and…

Related: Dark Night of the Soul (4) – Introductory Musings: Exemplary Lessons?

Neil D. 2020-05-12