A feeling of sudden illumination is not frequent at all.
A few people can experience illumination gradually, with the help of an awakened teacher, who transfers his or her own connection to high forces to the most advanced student. The hope is that, after the teacher is gone, the student can maintain the connection without help. As in this Zen proverb, the idea is:
To follow the path, look to the master, follow the master, walk with the master, see through the master, become the master.
But a spontaneous transformation can happen, without the involvement of a connected teacher.
It happens suddenly. Usually, it can happen between the ages of 34 and 35.
This spontaneous awakening of consciousness is called satori in Zen teaching. It is a glimpse of truth or a sudden moment of awakening.
William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, describes many such spontaneous happenings. The awakened individual feels powerful energy throughout the body. The soul sends chilling vibrations up the spine and down the legs.
If you are in this state, you are very much like a puppet on a string. You feel as if you are hanging, held, and moved by higher forces. While attached to them, you lose the connection to the regular, lower sources in you, such as the ego. So, if you lose your high connection, you have nothing to fall on. You crash into a void, the “dark night of the soul.” [i]
What is the dark night of the soul? It is a period of utter spiritual desolation, disconnection, and emptiness in which one feels totally separated from the divine. Those who experience the dark night feel completely lost, hopeless, and consumed with melancholy. The dark night of the soul can be likened to severe spiritual depression.
This is a spiritual crisis. But from it you can emerge more united with your soul.
As William James writes, “There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other.”
But what is important to note is that not everyone who enters the dark night can get out of it and reconnect. Only a few can experience this great fall and get out, back to life.
Before you enter the dark night of the soul, consciousness is so powerful, that it might overshadow, to a certain extent, the presence of the soul in your life.
But after such a crisis you have much more humanity. The strict attachment to truth cedes to a middle way. Instead of being radical and uncompromising about truth, now, after the dark night of the soul, you put the art of living, of having a life, before the consciousness quest, the desire to discover truth at any cost.
The same powerful connection and deep dedication to the wakening of consciousness (satori) remains, but now you are humbler. Instead of teaching radical self-change and full effort to wake up, you emphasize accepting yourself, learning to live peacefully with your weaknesses.
Before the dark night of the soul our way resembles the Fourth Way teachings, which put emphasis on extraordinary effort and much hard work.
After the dark night, you are no longer based in the effort of thrusting forward (yang, masculine) but in the ability to receive high forces (yin, feminine). So, you have moved through the dark night of the soul, from a state of transmission to a state of reception.
It is, however, important to understand that only people who have experienced spontaneous consciousness awakening might go through the dark night of the soul experience.
Very few people experience a spontaneous consciousness awakening, only a few of those might experience the dark night of the soul, and fewer still of those who do experience it will be able to get out of it, and very few people who get out of it will manage to reconnect to life forces.
What signifies those transformations is that nothing in them is gradual, step by step, a process, as in the progress of selected students of a spiritual teacher. On the contrary, all these changes happen spontaneously, at once, from now to now.
Only in the quantum dimension can things be one moment here and one moment there. It is called a quantum leap.
The phrase comes from a scientific term — in physics, a quantum leap is the abrupt change of a particle from one state to another. The Latin root, quantum, means “how much.”
(After the dark night of the soul we are more in the spirit of Zen):
“Have good trust in yourself … not in the One that you think you should be, but in the One that you are”.
Let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life — after that you cannot be deceived.
Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong.
The Dark Night of the Soul is not merely “having a bad day” or even week. The Dark Night is a long, pervasive, and very dark experience. If you’re experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul, you will constantly carry around within you a sense of being lost. Your heart will constantly, in some shape or form, be in mourning, and this is because you long deep down to feel the presence of your Soul again.
When we lose touch with our Souls, we lose touch with our inner guidance, wisdom, and strength. Sometimes, it can take us many years to get back in touch with the divine presence within us. This period of feeling lost and disconnected from the divine is called the Dark Night of the Soul.
Perhaps there can be no clear boundary between a nervous breakdown and the religious experience of the dark night of the soul.
The “dark night of the soul” as a distinct phase in spiritual life was first described John of the Cross, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic Carmelite monk. Saint John wrote the “Dark Night of the Soul” when he was imprisoned for eight months by his own community for his unconventional religious beliefs. Through the trials of his imprisonment, he came to respect the majesty of the consuming disorientation of spiritual darkness. To John, the dark night was identical to the Christian concept of purgatory but happening now in this life, a passage that revealed painful truths.
~ Sandra Lee Dennis, “Dark Night of the Soul”
Socrates once said, “I call myself a peaceful warrior because the important battles are inside.” Now I faced my own inner battle — a time of disillusionment, cynicism, and mental paralysis. I felt frozen in place, stuck between two worlds, belonging fully to neither. I wanted to go back, but I had seen too much to do so; yet I couldn’t see a way to go forward.
As my psyche went through this process of reorganization, I experienced a time of profound disorientation and suffering, not unlike that of those suffering from mental illness. This was my dark night of the soul, as various spiritual traditions have called it. The dark night of the soul can be a lonely time. We may find it difficult to communicate with others. Our lives may look relatively normal or even pleasant from the outside but feel very different on the inside.
~ Dan Millman
· [i] May, Gerald G. (2004). The Dark Night of the Soul. A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth. New York City: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-060-55423-1; ISBN 978-00-6055-423-1.
· James, William The Varieties of Religious Experience