"One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
---ah, the sheer grace!---
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled. (First Stanza from "The Dark Night")
I am always rather leery of claims by my inner self that 'the dark night of the senses' and 'the dark night of the spirit' are being experienced. In "The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross - The Dark Night", the writer describes in great detail just what these experiences entail. It seems to me that, like the experience of grace, the experience of the 'Dark Night' is usually realised after the event. Certainly that was how it seemed for me when I went through my own 'dark night of the senses'. I recall that at that time I was so overwhelmingly caught up with the experience that it felt like total abandonment rather than a mere aridity.
I have said previously that what characterises my present state is a profound loss of the sense of Presence. This loss goes hand in hand with a great loss of any desire to continue with any part of my studies and writing that I have enjoyed so much until now. Yet there are also some signs that I welcome. I find that I am able, at least for a large part of the time, to observe myself from the standpoint of 'remembering myself', as Gurdjieff would say. That is I am aware of my sense of "I-ness" concurrent with the experience through which I am passing. Interestingly, this is not a way of being that I have ever actively cultivated. And there is something truly wonderful about that because that way of being appears to have come of its own volition, or perhaps divinely implanted in some way. Alongside that appears to be a state, if not of desired detachment, of something bordering on disinterest, freed from the constraining influences of resentment, bitterness or self-pity and so on. I am going through what appears to be a natural, spiritual period of change.
Most works on psycho-spirituality approach the subject, if not openly then certainly implicitly, from the spiritual-pathology standpoint. That is to say that something needs to be cured, put to rights. And there is undoubtedly good cause for this approach, for it is most often the case that we turn to these studies when our lives feel to be in serious trouble. If it can be supposed that at some stage a 'cure' has been effected, what then? Well, assuredly, a healthy life-style of the spirit needs to be maintained so that the changes of the soul/spirit, appropriate to its right development, can take place. I would suggest that this latter process is above and beyond the stage of spiritual-pathology.
"The Dark Night - Book Two" opens with three introductory chapters in which St. John of the Cross explains when the dark night of the spirit begins, some spiritual imperfections of people who have reached that stage, and the requirement to purge not only the spirit but also the last vestiges of the senses. I would like to quote some passages from the third chapter of this treatise:-
"In this night that follows both parts are jointly purified. This was the purpose of the reformation of the first night and the calm that resulted from it: that the sensory part, united in a certain way with the spirit, might undergo purgation and suffering with greater fortitude."
It seems to me that St. John is saying that the necessary correction of the role of the ego undergoes two stages. The first, the 'dark night of the senses' deals with the major part of the problems arising from a spiritually aberrant ego, whilst the second takes place in tandem with the purification of the spirit. There is a clear sense in these chapters that a great deal of psycho-spiritual energy is expended in this work, which seems to account for the powerful sense of lethargy that is currently being experienced. St. John goes on to say:-
"He [God] leaves the intellect in darkness, the will in aridity, the memory in emptiness..........For this privation is one of the conditions required that the spiritual form, which is the union of love, may be introduced into the spirit and united with it.
God works all of this in the soul by means of a pure and dark contemplation, as is indicated in the stanza quoted at the heading of this essay. Although this stanza was explained in reference to 'the night of the senses' (Book One of the treatise) the soul understands it mainly in relation to 'the night of the spirit', since this night is the principle purification of the soul.
I said above that I am always leery of inner claims of passing through a 'dark night'. Yet with the benefit of experience, and the searching out for an explanation of previous experiences through the works of this great mystic, St. John of the Cross, I am convinced that after all these years I have finally entered that phase of my spiritual life (or at least entered the forecourt) which I have dreaded yet also longed for. Yet still I wonder.