dark night of the soul

The clamor of warfare

Image: The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa of Avila, photo by Tybo

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new here. I have no excuse; I just haven’t really felt like it.

The last few months have been extremely hard and intense for me. As I continue shedding the remnants of this unbelievable and catastrophic darkness, I’ve been slowly (very slowly) returning back into the normal world. The inner clearing and healing work continues (albeit in new aspects and along new dimensions). It is still taking up the majority of the hours each day, demanding priority over all else. I’m told that’s temporary and will lessen over time.

Interacting with others, short conversations, and even running small errands are now becoming more and more manageable. It often feels like I’m a brand new person, with an entirely new personality, learning how to walk all over again – painful, awkward, scary, and with lots of ups and downs. (I figuratively fall on my ass a lot.)

Navigating all of this has been incredibly complicated and difficult. Without any rulebooks or external guidance, I’ve had to move through this, basically feeling my way through it, one terrifying step at a time. In the last few weeks in particular, the process turned outward, and I’ve been pushed into confronting some very real and serious external challenges, which have taken every ounce of strength, and faith, and courage to endure. They are all part of the healing and training process, but still they are extremely scary. It is only by the grace of God, and two exceptionally devoted friends, that I’ve managed to get through all of it. They say that if you have one really good friend you can get through just about anything. I am blessed with two such friends, for whom I am endlessly grateful. You know who you are!

Up until now it’s been too vulnerable for me to really share the details of these recent experiences, for a bunch of different reasons. Aside from fears and doubts, I didn’t quite have the words to convey the gravity or sanctity of what’s been happening to me. I still don’t. There are aspects of this that I can’t articulate, can’t conceptualize, and at times don’t fully understand. At first I found this to be intensely frustrating, but then resigned myself to the idea that not everything needs to be mentally understood or shared with others. (Shocking, I know. I’m kind of a blabber-mouth, so not sharing everything with everyone is weird for me. But I’m getting used to it.)


As fate would have it, just as I’d given up on sharing all of this, I met a very special person last week, who appears to have precisely the right words! Enter my new friend, Henry, the poet, from Cuba. A kindred spirit with a deeply intuitive heart, Henry magically appeared in my life in a rather unexpected way. Our seemingly random (and spiritually significant) encounter left us both a little shocked and reeling, I think. The magic and divine mystery that surrounds our lives is wondrous and truly extraordinary. No matter how many times I see it, no matter how many times I’m completed floored by the significance and intensity of it, my awe and surprise never seem to diminish. 


A few days later, Henry sent me a poem he’d written some time ago. Receiving it first left me speechless, and then completely overwhelmed with emotion. Each time I read it, I cry again and again; just as with some of the other works I’ve written about before. I’m not usually moved by poetry in this way, so it’s especially meaningful for me when that happens.


I think Henry’s poem speaks powerfully on its own; so it doesn’t need any introductory fanfare from me. The concepts are both deeply mystical and spiritually universal. The words carry an unmistakable energy, and can be interpreted as deeply as one wishes to go. To me, this piece rivals some of the best mystical poetry I’ve ever read. But more than that, personally, the words seem to answer a long-forgotten prayer from deep within me. It feels as though the words, arriving in perfect timing, served as a much needed validation of something that couldn’t otherwise be seen or confirmed in any other way. I am filled with immense gratitude for this incredibly meaningful meeting, for the message of this poem, and for Henry’s generous permission to share it with you here.


Before I share the poem itself, just a few short disclaimers of apology. The original is written in Spanish. I’ve taken the liberty of translating it very roughly into English (without any idea of how one is meant to translate poetry). I apologize to translators everywhere. Secondly, the spiritual energy and magic of the poem exist in the original alone. It is in reading it, in Spanish, that the effects can be felt somatically. I translated it for the sake of intellectual participation by non-Spanish speakers, trying to stay as true to the literal words and contextual meaning as I understand them. At the same time, I am trying not to compete with it, nor create a standalone piece of English poetry. I’m sure this is technically wrong, butchers the original, and is probably sacrilegious, so for this I beg the forgiveness of both Henry and poetry scholars everywhere. Thirdly, my Spanish isn’t great, but with the help of google and some other translation websites, I think I got the essence of it right. If I didn’t, apologies to my Spanish speaking friends; your suggestions/corrections are welcome. Finally, because I feel so deeply connected to this poem and so certain of this connection, I will endeavor to share the mystical significance of the words. For this only the saints can forgive me. So without further ado, I give you:


Clamor de guerra a la luz
By: Henry Pacheco


El alma vacío su llanto en la sed de las pupilas idolatradas;
Un montón de vidas maniatadas,
Destruyendo el decoro del universo.
He aquí un híbrido de la luz, la oscuridad, a veces bueno otras perverso.
Locura desenfrenada abre las puertas de los misterios.
Ángeles pecadores entrando al infierno;
desorden mundial, oscuridad, panico, miedo.
Diluvio bendito siente en las entrañas de la tierra,
la lava, el fuego, la luz, el viento.
Regeneración, resurrección al te quiero.
Príncipe de la luz, despoja a tu princesa de su hipócrita velo.
Hagase a la luz nuevamente.
Creador divino,
Muestrame tu camino.
Pájaro de amor,
Canta de alegría tu humilde trino.
Siembra rosas, girasoles en el patio de tu vecino
Luz a la vida, vida a la luz.
Guerrero de mil batallas,
Liberate de la cruz.
Sucio el mendigo, limpia tus harapos de esclavitud
Rompe el llanto, las cadenas, prende las velas, incendia el manto
Clamor de guerra a la luz.
Lloro, canto.




The clamor of warfare
By: Henry Pacheco (translated by me).


The soul emptied its weeping in the thirst of worshiping pupils;
Innumerable lifetimes bound up together,
Destroying the decorum of the universe.
Here a hybrid of light, darkness; at times good, at others evil.
Unbridled madness opening the portals to the mysteries.
Sinful angels entering into hell; world disorder, darkness, panic, fear.
A blessed flood felt in the bowels of the earth, the lava, the fire, the light, the wind.
Regeneration, resurrection at “I love you.”
Prince of light, strip your princess of her hypocritical veil.
Return yourself to the light once again.
Divine creator,
Show me your way.
Bird of love,
Sing of joy your humble trill.
Sow roses, sunflowers in your neighbor’s yard.
Light to life, life to light.
Warrior of a thousand battles,
Liberate yourself from the cross.
Filthy that beggar, clean your rags of serfdom.
Break the weeping, the shackles,
light the candles, torch the mantle.
The clamor of warfare into the light.
I cry, I sing.




Amazing, yes?


This poem tracks the journey through the most arduous mystical darkness encountered on the road to enlightenment. Detailed in these words is a profound account of the divine purification process of a mystic (and ultimately, a saint).  


This particular experience is considered one of the most advanced stages in the spiritual process – the tail end of the purgation of spirit described by St. John of the Cross. Even among mystical writings, these descriptions are very very rare. Not every mystic attains this level of development and those that do often don’t write about it. (It’s a myth that enlightenment is some static uniform thing for everyone – it isn’t. Mystics vary; and mystical development has its own hierarchies and systems, directed and dictated from above.). In all of my research and work in this area, I’ve struggled to actually find accounts like this in the writings. Perhaps in the secret scrolls buried in monasteries around the world more detailed accounts exist to which I am not privy.


Captured only in these rare poetic glimpses, this experience is only really understood by those who themselves have encountered it. (I say that without any sort of pretense. For centuries mystics have complained and complained that no one understands them… it’s not weird that this experience, part of the larger framework, is even less well understood). Talking about these things, writing about them, trying to convey them or describe them leads only to confused silence at best, and attacks at worst. St. Teresa always took a rather careful and defensive tone writing about this subject, anticipating her harsh critics’ skeptical responses. I think most mystics would say that describing it to someone who hasn’t experienced it would reveal nothing to the listener, while only denigrating the experience for the speaker. (As I said before – some things are really not meant for sharing). Despite that, we continue (Because also as I said before – blabbermouth). 🙂 God forgive me. 


During a particular stage in the process, following a clearing of the wounding of this lifetime, the soul begins to empty itself of all the lifetimes of pain it carries. The pain is digested emotionally and psychologically through the human body. What comes pouring out is lifetimes of human trauma – injustice, oppression, bondage, betrayal, grief. Unimaginable grief! Universal themes of suffering. Mind-numbing human pain. It is endless crying; every day, all the time, for months and months, until all of it gets digested out. It is all felt and lived through again and again, as if it were all happening now. Panic, fear, paranoia, persecution. The world turns upside down, and becomes a nightmare of hell that feels like it will never end. The truth is literally blinding and deafening. As the centers of perception open completely, and a raw impossible sensitivity takes hold, every experience is felt with such a magnitude that it feels like a continuous and persistent destruction of the very core of one’s being. Past life death scenes are encountered, one after another, experienced as if you are right there, remembering it, and re-living it again and again. At the same time, all aspects and varieties of fear are being processed out, triggered, digested, and healed. And courage and virtue, our default traits, arise to fill the empty spaces left behind. That too feels torturous, and very difficult to endure.


I’ve used the metaphor of a civil war in writing about this before – it is really experienced that way. This process tears a person apart completely, and the pain and the light (and the experiences of being burned by the elements) seem to come from above and from below. The fire feels as if it’s rising from the bowels of the earth itself. Wind and light and lava… all of it consuming parts of you at the same time. It is torture; psychologically, physically, emotionally. Were it not for the greater spiritual purpose, it would not be possible to bear. Even knowing the greater purpose at times doesn’t help to bear it. The descent into this hell is horrendous. And the ascension is very slow, very complicated, taxing and extremely painful.


The hell is a hybrid of both light and darkness because in this state dualistic morality collapses – and a truth is revealed that good and evil are not distinct things, but that they are intertwined together. Both inside the person, and abstractly so, in the world at large. It is one and the same. Nietzsche tried to explain this, somewhat unsuccessfully. It’s not really something that can be intellectually explained or understood. (You know me – I’m gonna try anyway). Essentially, the understanding of good and evil arises from the same emptiness – it’s all an illusion. There is a divine realization that human morality is ultimately meaningless, spiritually speaking. What we call moral rules are really only the rules of the game here. They are important for soul development at this level, but the spiritual planes operate by a different set of rules all-together. From the correct height of perspective earthly good and evil are equal – two ends of a spectrum, different only in degrees. The metaphor of a chess board seems appropriate here. Light and darkness exist in a kind of balance, each a necessary part of a singular whole. Seeing this and having the realization of it are the actual experiences of mystical oneness. But seeing this and realizing it in the midst of pain and suffering, in the depths of victimhood, is devastatingly painful.


A few words about the unbridled madness: The mysteries of the universe (small tiny fragments of them) come as revelations, often in the middle of the night. I think I’ve written about this before. It feels much like a spontaneous opening of some kind of portal that allows everything to suddenly come in. These openings are so massive that it’s not possible to grasp everything they reveal. It is like standing in a house of infinite mirrors, trying to grab hold of all the reflections at once. The mind is not capable of handling that kind of experience. It is a kind of ungrounded madness when that happens. 


I think the words here, of madness, echo a second and deeper meaning, which is that these experiences cannot be explained nor understood by any of the normal academic disciplines. It’s a philosophical Catch 22 – if you experience these things, then technically you are mad. But the only way to prove you are not mad, but rather completely sane, is for the other person to experience it himself too. It’s very annoying that way. These experiences do not conform to our world, and generally they never have. It is not in their nature to conform. They are unique, personal, and highly idiosyncratic. 


In truth, there is a powerful and divine intelligence at work directing and orchestrating this process. To see this, to experience it, to understand it is to then immediately be defined as mad. The things that mystics see pose such a fundamental challenge to so many philosophical underpinnings of “civilized” organized society, that calling it madness is the easiest and most expedient resolution to an otherwise overwhelming dilemma. (It’s not a modern faith versus science problem – it’s an ancient problem that not that’s ever going to change). 


Those that go through this particular darkness are “sinful angels entering hell,” because they are humans (naturally flawed) who are something like saints-in-training. Despite being good and decent people, and despite all of their spiritual cleansing work, they still remain flawed and imperfect. Heading into this hell, they still carry their sins (of ego), which is the stuff that is going to be purified. They enter this hell in order for the soul to be cleansed fully and completely – which appears to be possible only through the digestion of this pain in a human body. The Catholic tradition calls this the “way of perfection” for this very reason. And I think the basis of the Buddhist belief in reincarnation is grounded in this idea as well – that liberation can only be attained via the human experience. 


And the regeneration and resurrection (the healing, the emerging, the shedding of this hellish darkness) is only at the attainment of “i love you.” This is the love of God within. It is the unconditional forgiveness of God. The unconditional love He gives, despite the sins, and flaws, and human frailties. The resurrection happens only when we attain real self-acceptance and self-forgiveness completely; when we have healed and released all of our pain and shame; when we have truly forgiven ourselves in the depth of the ugly truths, rather than in the avoidance of denial. We are all innocent really, even when we are not. And God loves us that way, and asks us to love ourselves, and one another, humbly and honestly, that way too. These principles are true at the surface, and they are true in the depths of this hell. They are the keys to all the healing imaginable, and the foundations of all the spiritual ascensions as well. 


I could continue on about these subjects for pages and pages, but I’ll conclude with this final idea. It is understood (and believed) in many mystical traditions that the energy directing this purification process is the female aspect of God, Sophia. She appears to always be present in these dark night experiences, pulling all the levers behind the scenes. She lets her presence be known in myriad ways, but generally she stays veiled in the shadows. (This is intentional; part of the wrestling with doubt and the genuine cultivation of faith). It is Sophia’s wisdom, her intelligence, and her ruthless sort of love that guides the soul through this excruciating process.


Once cleansed of ego/sin/impurity, and re-calibrated to virtue, Sophia takes her expression through the human and unites with the Christ energy (that we know of in the Christian tradition as Jesus, the Prince of the light). This is the removal of the veil – the divine marriage – the ultimate unitive state or goal of the entire mystical process. After this spiritual inner war is over, the marriage takes place energetically. Union with God is attained as these two energies merge together. And all that remains on the outside is a humble human, wise and war-torn, full of love and compassion for others, often found crying and singing (perhaps dancing or whirling or writing poetry) in a state of ecstatic and pious bliss, dedicated to service of God.


I’m done with my pseudo-scholarly commentary for now. But back to the purpose of this post – Henry has managed to capture all of this (and much much more) in his few short incredible sentences. I continue to read his poem again and again, with awe and reverence and a great deal of excitement. I hope you love it as much as I do. 


PS. Bernini’s sculpture of St. Teresa of Avila, which is the image above, is derived from her description of an episode of this specific experience of mystical darkness. Here’s what she wrote about it: 


It pleased the Lord that I should see this angel in the following way. He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire. … In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in it — indeed, a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks I am lying I beseech God, in His goodness, to give him the same experience. During the days that this continued, I went about as if in a stupor. I had no wish to see or speak with anyone, but only to hug my pain, which caused me greater bliss than any that can come from the whole of creation.



The Dawning of the Light


Back in the summer of 2015, I suddenly formed an unusual interest in prayer. Unusual because of my near-automatic rejection of all things remotely tied to religion. At first it was an intellectual sort of curiosity, (someone suggested that I take a look at it with my new spiritual eyes), and then shortly thereafter, it became a most incredible daily practice.

When I was in grade school, we had morning prayers every single day. If I remember correctly, it would go on for about half an hour, sometimes even longer. I had no interest in anything religious back then, and so I quickly learned how to go through all the motions, while splitting off the focus of my attention to other more interesting things. Forcing prayer on someone who doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want it is not only pointless, but offensive to the sanctity of prayer itself. (I am, however, still really good at this internal attention multi-tasking, although I’m not sure it’s especially helpful these days.)

In the first year or so after my initial awakening prayer seemed almost like a foreign concept. With my developing spiritual philosophy I didn’t see there being anything to pray for. All the stuff one might consider praying for are desires and attachments. Prayer is often used to request divine help in alleviating suffering. But in my view, to alleviate suffering is not the way of spirit. (I don’t love suffering, but the acceptance and understanding of suffering is a huge pillar of my work).

From that standpoint, it didn’t make any sense to me to use prayer as a request for something. Everything comes to us exactly as it should. Assuming that prayer-as-request would even work (I’m not convinced it would), why would I (with my ego mind) meddle in the beautifully orchestrated plan of my life? To me, that would be sort of like a child trying to instruct the teacher on her lesson plans. If the point is to surrender to the divine will, how is the assertion of my personal will a wise practice?

This is of course a matter of personal belief, and one of those things I keep revisiting and re-evaluating. I’m not entirely solid in this view. (I’m not entirely solid on any view these days…). My reasoning capacities are still a little fuzzy. 

I did have one experience, a long time ago, where I was intuitively lead to pray for someone, who was in a great deal of pain. It wasn’t about words exactly; I don’t think I used words. It was just a feeling of pure intent, sent up, without any rational explanation. After I did it, I received an intuitive confirmation that my prayer was heard, or received, I suppose. I haven’t been able to make much sense of that experience, or to put it into any kind of context. I’m extremely skeptical of the view that some kind of intercession is necessary on anyone’s behalf. And it hasn’t happened to me since that one time, so the jury is still out on prayer-as-request. 

So, if not to ask for something, if not to alter my condition, what then could be the point of prayer?

I turned this question around in my head a lot. Prayer and/or meditation is a core teaching in just about every spiritual and mystical tradition there is. Surely there must be a reason. What wasn’t I getting? I read a bunch of stuff that didn’t really resonate, and then I found a somewhat satisfactory answer – prayer quiets the mind, like meditation does, but it focuses the attention on the love of God; it’s not about asking for anything, but rather about communion with the divine. Hmmmm. This became interesting to me, as I considered setting aside time each day specifically to spend time with God.

After looking up a bunch of different types of prayer, I found an ancient form of devotional mantra chanting, set in a somewhat contemporary way to celestial harps, pianos, and guitars. I really liked it. It wasn’t the boring rote repetition of prayers from my childhood. Instead, it was an opportunity to sing along to something beautiful. I love love love singing! (I’m also tone deaf, so I really try never to inflict my singing on other people. Lots of apologies to my neighbors).

What I’ve learned about prayer is that you have to really find a form that speaks to you. There are so many different ways to pray, so many different traditions, but in order for it to “work,” you really have to find something you like. (Not something you like because it’s fancy or trendy or exotic sounding, but something you actually like. Something that makes you feel something in your gut.)

I really don’t remember what my mantras mean anymore, and that’s good, I think. I focus my attention entirely on God (or the Divine Mother) while making sounds that sort of resemble the mantras. It’s not a particularly serious effort on my part. It’s not supposed to be serious; it’s supposed to be fun. Well, in a sacred sort of way…

Prayer must not be done out of obligation, or duty, or sacrifice. It has to be something you really really enjoy, something that feels really good and makes you want to do it, rather than feeling like you should. It can take a little time to find the right “thing,” but once you do, it really can become something you love.

So, with all that out of the way, I set about praying on a regular basis.

And then things started to get strange…

First I went through a two month phase where every time I prayed it would induce a trance state. I would be taken away into mystical realms, and lose complete awareness of the room, or my surroundings, or time. (Each trance experience would show me different things or take me to different spiritual places).

Then that period ended and new things started to happen with prayer. It wasn’t every single time, I don’t think, but it would happen more often than not. As I’d start praying, at some point, without any specific intent on my part, I’d become instantly and wholly connected to divinity. There is no way for me to describe how this feels, except that it feels like being suddenly plugged into something. It just comes on out of nowhere. I can’t ever make it happen. It’s just a sudden flash, and this state of union would overtake me. What would fill me in those moments is such bliss and ecstatic feelings that tears of joy would start streaming down my face. Almost immediately my body would be moved to dance, and I would feel like I’m swimming in something amazing. Really gentle waves of joy would come washing over me more and more, and this incredible feeling of peace and perfection always accompanied it.

Sometimes it would only last for a few seconds, sometimes for longer. The moment I would divert my attention and focus on something else (like thinking, or forming words, or reflecting on what’s happening) the connection would break. It takes some training of the attention to be able to maintain it.

These mini-ecstasies used to happen almost every day. Sometimes they would happen multiple times a day. The intensity would vary, as would the time actually spent in prayer. I remember more than once walking the dog and listening to my chanting music when these ecstatic feelings would come, and I would cry and dance all the way home (without a single thought of concern about the judgey looks from the four lanes full of traffic).

Anyway, these experiences became sort of a regular thing for me, and I suppose I started to take them for granted. It was just my every day life, for probably over a year. Then I went through a phase where the ecstatic episodes tapered off a little, but were replaced with more significant shifts in consciousness (more intense magical things), and so I didn’t really miss them.

That all came to an abrupt end this past November, when my dark period began.

When the darkness arrived, there was nothing at all that could make me feel better. No matter how much I tried, no matter how long I prayed, nothing would happen. Suddenly prayer didn’t feel good anymore. It didn’t produce any ecstatic states. It felt empty, and I think made me feel even worse. So I stopped trying. Resigned to the fact that nothing was going to pull me out of my pain, I grieved the loss of my divine levels of happiness and focused on the day to day healing work. It’s one thing not to know the feeling of divine love. But to know it, to have it available to you anytime, and then to lose it, for no apparent reason, is devastating. It’s like the worst sort of heartbreak, multiplied by ten. 

It’s been this way for months now. Dark. No God. No joy, save for the very very occasional blissful episode, lasting just long enough to motivate me to keep on going…

And just two days ago a minor miracle happened.

I was intuitively guided to try praying again. With great hesitation, and fear of disappointment, I put on my chanting music and tried. And OH MY GOD, literally. The ecstatic state had returned!

For the first time in what feels like an eternity of sadness and pain, my happiness came back. I felt the connection to God, the joy, the tears, the dancing… all of it. It only lasted for a short time (as my attention is all over the place these days), but it happened. And then yesterday morning, it happened again! And again I cried, first with joy and then with relief, and gratitude, and this feeling I know really well but don’t have a name for. I felt like God had returned to me. And that this awful purgation period is indeed coming to an end. Perhaps not fully, but the worst of it has passed.

And then of course, a few hours later, I open the very next chapter of St John’s book (which is becoming my favorite piece of writing ever), and it says this of the dark purgation phase:

BUT there is another thing here that afflicts and distresses the soul greatly, which is that, as this dark night has hindered its faculties and affections in this way, it is unable to raise its affection or its mind to God, neither can it pray to Him, thinking, as Jeremias thought concerning himself, that God has set a cloud before it through which its prayer cannot pass. For it is this that is meant by that which is said in the passage referred to, namely: ’ He hath shut and enclosed my paths with square stones.’ And if it sometimes prays it does so with such lack of strength and of sweetness that it thinks that God neither hears it nor pays heed to it, as this Prophet likewise declares in the same passage, saying: ‘When I cry and entreat, He hath shut out my prayer.’ In truth this is no time for the soul to speak with God; it should rather put its mouth in the dust, as Jeremias says, so that perchance there may come to it some present hope, and it may endure its purgation with patience. It is God Who is passively working here in the soul; wherefore the soul can do nothing.

Book 2, Ch 8, St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul

I had no idea that this was so. The inability to pray, or to access the divine connection, during the purgation period, is exactly as it’s supposed to be. Another beautiful confirmation. Thank you, St. John! I could have used this information in November, but keeping me in the dark (no pun intended) was part of the plan, I guess.

During this purification process, the soul is taken down into the depths of a living hell on purpose. It is denied anything that might bring comfort or emotional consolation. It is in that place, devoid of God, devoid of love, devoid of anything but pain, and shame, and turmoil, that the soul can be truly cleansed. It sounds really awful, and it is. (I told you this energy was ruthless). But I can see now why it had to be that way. I can see why it strips you entirely of everything to really show you the core of your being. It’s amazing the stuff that comes out at the bottom of a pit of the worst kind of despair. (I hope I got everything squeaky clean in there – I don’t ever want to have to do any of that again!)

Taking a small logical leap from St. John’s apropos explanation, the return of the ability to connect with God, and to pray, signals to me that perhaps this period is finally finally coming to a close! Yay. I had a feeling that this phase was indeed ending. I have been feeling much much better in the last week, nearly back to some form of normal.

I guess we’ll see what comes next.


Dark Night of the Soul: Purgation of Spirit


After months of darkness without any sense of guidance, I have finally come across a most comforting piece of mystical literature: Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. It shouldn’t be comforting; it’s rather horrifying reading. But I’m comforted to find it. (There’s also a tiny bit too much religious emphasis for my taste, but he is a Christian mystic, so naturally that will be his framework).

For all of this time I’ve been operating on faith and intuition alone; trusting the inner knowing that kept telling me it’s all ok. And just now, when I feel most exhausted (the last two days have been really difficult), I am synchronistically lead to this book.

It turns out that everything I’ve been going through is perfectly “normal,” as these things go on the mystic path. It is in fact a blessing, if one cares to see it that way.

Lots of spiritual seekers go through a Dark Night experience (sometimes multiple times). St. John distinguishes this common “purgation of the senses,” in all its permutations, from what I’m going through (which is a much rarer and more advanced stage of development) called “purgation of the spirit.” It can last for a long time, but it’s said to be the precursor to Divine union (the final stage of mystical development).

It is a small, but much needed, feeling of relief to find some ground and context for this process. Every time I find writing like this, which resonate so deeply, tears come flooding out from the depths of my soul.

Below are some of the excerpts from the book describing this Purgation of Spirit.

It’s probably important to note here that these thoughts and feelings arise from deep deep within. And no amount of will power or control has any effect on them. Meaning, you can’t just think happy thoughts and feel better. None of the spiritual or meditative practices work. Even witness or observer consciousness works only in short bursts. The weight of this is deeper and heavier than any form of depression I’ve ever experienced. It turns you inside out, and there’s nowhere to turn, and no way to make it stop.

The only way through it is with ever-deepening surrender, constant awareness/inquiry work, and wisdom (which are the healing techniques I mentioned a few posts ago). With the proper spiritual training, watching this unfold within, you can see its logic and design. There is a definite pattern and progression, and the results can be profoundly felt. There is a truly divinely magnificent intelligence at work.

It took me a while to stop freaking out and trust it. Then the deeper understanding emerged and I got the hang of it. Now it’s just a matter of getting through it.


  • THIS dark night is an inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it from its ignorances and imperfections, habitual natural and spiritual, and which is called by contemplatives infused contemplation, or mystical theology. Herein God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in perfection of love without its doing anything, or understanding of what manner is this infused contemplation. Inasmuch as it is the loving wisdom of God, God produces striking effects in the soul for, by purging and illumining it, He prepares it for the union of love with God. Book 2 Chp. 5


  • [B]ecause the light and wisdom of this contemplation is most bright and pure, and the soul which it assails is dark and impure, it follows that the soul suffers great pain when it receives it in itself,… And when the soul suffers the direct assault of this Divine light, its pain, which results from its impurity, is immense; because, when this pure light assails the soul, in order to expel its impurity, the soul feels itself to be so impure and miserable that it believes God to be against it, and thinks that it has set itself up against God. This causes it sore grief and pain, because it now believes that God has cast it away… For, by means of this pure light, the soul now sees its impurity clearly (although darkly), and knows clearly that it is unworthy of God or of any creature. And what gives it most pain is that it thinks that it will never be worthy and that its good things are all over for it. This is caused by the profound immersion of its spirit in the knowledge and realization of its evils and miseries; for this Divine and dark light now reveals them all to the eye, that it may see clearly how in its own strength it can never have aught else. Book 2 Chp. 5


  • [Another] way in which the soul suffers pain is by reason of its weakness, natural, moral and spiritual; for, when this Divine contemplation assails the soul with a certain force, in order to strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in its weakness that it nearly swoons away. This is especially so at certain times when it is assailed with somewhat greater force; for sense and spirit, as if beneath some immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony that the soul would find advantage and relief in death. Book 2 Chp. 5


  • Beneath the power of this oppression and weight the soul feels itself so far from being favoured that it thinks, and correctly so, that even that wherein it was wont to find some help has vanished with everything else, and that there is none who has pity upon it. Book 2 Chp. 5


  • THE third kind of suffering and pain that the soul endures in this state results from the fact that two other extremes meet here in one, namely, the Divine and the human. The Divine is this purgative contemplation, and the human is the subject—that is, the soul. The Divine assails the soul in order to renew it and thus to make it Divine; and, stripping it of the habitual affections and attachments of the old man, to which it is very closely united, knit together and conformed, destroys and consumes its spiritual substance, and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness. As a result of this, the soul feels itself to be perishing and melting away, in the presence and sight of its miseries, in a cruel spiritual death, even as if it had been swallowed by a beast and felt itself being devoured in the darkness of its belly, suffering such anguish as was endured by Jonas in the belly of that beast of the sea. For in this sepulchre of dark death it must needs abide until the spiritual resurrection which it hopes for. Book 2 Chp. 6


  • A description of this suffering and pain, although in truth it transcends all description, is given by David, when he says: ‘The lamentations of death compassed me about; the pains of hell surrounded me; I cried in my tribulation.’ But what the sorrowful soul feels most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks, that God has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into darkness; it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God has forsaken it… It feels, too, that all creatures have forsaken it, and that it is contemned by them, particularly by its friends. Book 2 Chp. 6


  • For indeed, when this purgative contemplation is most severe, the soul feels very keenly the shadow of death and the lamentations of death and the pains of hell, which consist in its feeling itself to be without God, and chastised and cast out, and unworthy of Him; and it feels that He is wroth with it. All this is felt by the soul in this condition—yea, and more, for it believes that it is so with it for ever. Book 2 Chp. 6


  • The fourth kind of pain is caused in the soul by another excellence of this dark contemplation, which is its majesty and greatness, from which arises in the soul a consciousness of the other extreme which is in itself—namely, that of the deepest poverty and wretchedness: this is one of the chiefest pains that it suffers in this purgation. For it feels within itself a profound emptiness and impoverishment of three kinds of good, which are ordained for the pleasure of the soul which are the temporal, the natural and the spiritual; and finds itself set in the midst of the evils contrary to these, namely, miseries of imperfection, aridity and emptiness of the apprehensions of the faculties and abandonment of the spirit in darkness. Inasmuch as God here purges the soul according to the substance of its sense and spirit, and according to the interior and exterior faculties, the soul must needs be in all its parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty and abandonment and must be left dry and empty and in darkness. For the sensual part is purified in aridity, the faculties are purified in the emptiness of their perceptions and the spirit is purified in thick darkness. All this God brings to pass by means of this dark contemplation; wherein the soul not only suffers this emptiness and the suspension of these natural supports and perceptions, which is a most afflictive suffering (as if a man were suspended or held in the air so that he could not breathe), but likewise He is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it (even as fire consumes the mouldiness and the rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect habits which it has contracted in its whole life. Since these are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, it is wont to suffer great undoings and inward torment, besides the said poverty and emptiness, natural and spiritual… Book 2 Chp. 6


  • Wherefore, because the soul is purified in this furnace like gold in a crucible, as says the Wise Man, it is conscious of this complete undoing of itself in its very substance, together with the direst poverty, wherein it is, as it were, nearing its end, … Here God greatly humbles the soul in order that He may afterwards greatly exalt it; and if He ordained not that, when these feelings arise within the soul, they should speedily be stilled, it would die in a very short space; but there are only occasional periods when it is conscious of their greatest intensity. At times, however, they are so keen that the soul seems to be seeing hell and perdition opened. Of such are they that in truth go down alive into hell, being purged here on earth in the same manner as there, since this purgation is that which would have to be accomplished there. And thus the soul that passes through this either enters not that place at all, or tarries there but for a very short time; for one hour of purgation here is more profitable than are many there. Book 2 Chp. 6


I told you it was horrifying… It goes on like this for many more chapters, in case you’d like to read further. It’s available for free online here.