Discerning the Dark Nights

Q:  I have been a meditator and spiritual practitioner for 10 years. As of last year around February I went from having many ecstatic blissful experiences of God into a dark night of the soul. I have been studying integral theory and identify mostly with the teachings of Ken Wilber, however I am fixed in Christian, Buddhist and Vaishnava traditions. I am a do-it-yourselfer and have pretty much just guided myself through this spiritual journey with the help of books and a few spiritual teachers along the way. My inquiry is about the dark night of the soul, it is the third one I have been through, having been through the dark night of the senses and dark night of the subtle self. I have been experiencing excruciating pains all through my body, subtle self and causal self and it goes on pretty much continuously except in moments of complete blissful union. I am under the guidance of the Lord and consult Him/Her often about what I am going through. I am just wondering what kind of advice you could give me as to what to do during this very difficult time for me, I am not sure what to do other than keep practicing although I have to spend a lot of time in bed.  I‚Äôm trying to fight off depression as well by keeping my spirits up. Not sure what else to say, I am going to a Christian meditation group tonight to try and get some help there, the integral theory has helped a lot but the darkness and pain I am experiencing is practically unendurable and I don‚Äôt seem to be receiving any help from anyone due to a lack of understanding. I have thought about finding an integral therapist. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should do? Or any advice in terms of meditation?

A:  There are many experiences of the dark nights.  Maybe the same ones repeat or recur over time, always taking us, if we consent, deeper into union with God. 

The night you are in now is like being suspended over an abyss without a bottom and finding no support anywhere or from anyone including God and your usual meditative practice. Let go and let yourself fall into the seemingly endless abyss.  You may certainly feel you will hit bottom and be utterly crushed and annihilated — disappear like a drop in the ocean of nothingness.  But instead of losing everything and disappearing, you will wake up to find that the ocean of nothingness is the ocean of God’s invincible and unconditional love in you, and you have become everything, including God and all creation.

All you have to do now is make a blind act of trust and to surrender completely to God and his divine action.  Sit out the pain and desperation and perhaps anger at God, feel what you feel and wait for as long as it takes.  Surrender, surrender, surrender!  This is your path.  Maybe you will have very brief flashes of divine consolation and insight as you continue your free fall.  But that doesn’t really matter.  Total surrender is all that matters.

With my prayers and humble encouragement, and in Christ’ love,

Thomas Keating
April 2016

Addendum:  Contemplative Outreach also recommends the use of therapists, spiritual directors and participation in Centering Prayer support groups, if available.   The support and assistance of others on the journey is invaluable, especially in difficult times.