The Dark Night of the Soul – the Technicalities
We all have experienced a dark night of the soul. Hitting rock bottom and shattering to pieces, sitting there, sifting through the pieces, discard some, dust and reuse the others, reassemble.
We know what it is like – by experience – but we don’t really know how personal doomsday comes about. Too busy dealing with it.
I had a closer look at the technicalities and found a few things that I want to share with you. It all begins with the mystery of traumas.
The Mystery of Traumas
If you google trauma you won’t find an explanation.
You’ll find the cause – a distressing event, and you will find the effects – mostly anxiety.
But that’s it.
Wikipedia: Psychological trauma is damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a distressing event.
One woman’s trauma is another woman’s delight. The death of a person can be traumatic or a cause to celebrate – depending on the circumstances. Experiences that traumatize children may not traumatize adults. Different cultures, different traumas.
Conclusion: The mystery does not lie in the event, it lies in our emotional response.
But here is a little surprise for you: we can neither remember pain, nor emotions. Try it. The moment pain is gone, it’s forgotten and in-recollectible. Same for emotions. But we can remember traumatic events, and every time we do that, we re-experience the sense of loss and the whole string of negative emotions that comes with it.
Our senses turn experiences into a multimedia stream, which they display on our brain’s frontal lobe. If it were not for emotions, experiencing the external world would be like watching TV. Without emotions, we would look at an approaching lion and we would be like “Wow. Awesome. Beautiful.” And we would be dead.
The two most common emotions are fear and aggression. They serve survival – fight or flight. Excitement and satisfaction manage our pursuits, for example, hunting and gathering. Disgust protects us against diseases. Sexual arousal and infatuation serve the survival of the species. Sadness or grief are emotional responses to loss.
Our human spacesuit developed a few social emotions since we have a better chance of surviving in groups. Examples of social emotions are loneliness, pity, and embarrassment.
Emotions can be positive and negative. Negative emotions: fear, aggression, disgust, etc. Positive emotions: infatuation, arousal, excitement, and satisfaction.
Mind that we like to flirt with negative emotions, for example, fear – by going bungee jumping or watching thrillers.
Positive, Negative, and Tiny Traumas
Traumas can be positive and negative as well. Negative traumas: accidents, losses. Positive traumas: running into our soul mate, winning a gold medal, the birth of a child, etc.
The birth of my first child was a whammy. One moment, there was nothing, the other moment there was a complete human being with a life on its own. And I was responsible for it. It was a tiny, positive trauma.
Tiny traumas usually last a couple of hours or keep us up a night. We notice them, get sad or angry, and move on with our lives. Kids are great at that.
Some traumas linger. If not resolved, they turn into PTSD or, to use an old term, cause suffering. PTSD is a step toward the dark night of the soul.
Traumas Save Lives
Traumas have a bad reputation. This is inappropriate because traumas are life savors – they help us to stay away from dangerous situations.
Hot stove is a trauma. Height is a trauma. Dog bite is a trauma. Subconsciousness remembers traumas and alerts us in case we get into similar situations.
So, when do traumas go wrong?
The Fragile Ego
He explained that the first attention in man is animal awareness, which has been developed, through the process of experience, into a complex, intricate, and extremely fragile faculty that takes care of the day-to-day world in all its innumerable aspects. In other words, everything that one can think about is part of the first attention. – Carlos Castaneda, The Fire from Within, page 64
Our ego is not only the experiencer, but also our self-identification. Emotions make sure the ego feels that experiences are happening to him.
The ego identifies himself with many external things, for example, his body, his name, his status, his possessions, his nationality, as well as thoughts, ideas, emotions, and feelings. The ego is a cloud:
Remember Wikipedia’s definition of traumas and that they damage the mind? Not really. Traumas damage the ego cloud. Hence, (persistent) traumas are always accompanied by a sense of loss – the loss of a thing or idea or person which equals the loss of a piece of self-identification.
Losing a piece of self-identification is a little death and that triggers fear. That’s why anxiety is the most common symptom of PTSD.
Here is a list of distressing events that were found to cause traumas:
- Domestic abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Chronic pain
- Being bullied
- Loss of home
- Loss of freedom
Self-identification before domestic abuse: I am a beloved child. Self-identification after domestic abuse: I’m not a beloved child. Result: Identity loss/change.
Self-identification before the death of a loved one: I am a wife. Self-identification after the loss: I’m a widow. Result: Identity loss/change.
Self-identification before losing one’s job: I’m a successful executive. Self-identification after losing one’s job: I’m a loser. Result: Identity loss/change.
Self-identification before giving birth: I’m a spouse. Self-identification after giving birth: I’m a mother. Result: Identity loss/change.
Integration, Rejection, and Re-identification
Traumas can go three ways:
A) The ego integrates traumas.
B) The ego rejects traumas.
C) Traumas enforce a harmful re-identification.
We experience the integration of tiny traumas on a daily basis. We learn, adapt, re-identify, and move on.
In case the ego fails to re-identify, he will try to forget the trauma. Physical traumas can cause immediate amnesia. I had a car accident when I was a kid and I can’t remember a thing. If the traumatic event doesn’t cause amnesia, the ego may resort to dissociation or motivated forgetting. In this case, the memory of the traumatic event sinks into subconsciousness and turns into a psychological complex – a hidden wound.
In the case of harmful re-identification, the trauma becomes part of the ego cloud, which leads to the dark night of the soul.
Traumas and Karma
Continuously, the external world bombards us with challenges that force us to evolve our self-consciousness. Traumas are karmic agents.
Those who don’t do enlightenment yet have a hard time dealing with the traumatizing damages to the ego cloud and the identity crises that come with it. They may even fill holes in the ego cloud with rationalizations, excuses, and shame. This happens often during faith crises – when a religious mind questions the Godness’s ‘seeming tolerance of evil’.
The advantage of enlightenment: In addition to karmic pushes, enlightenment opens our self-consciousness to pulls from above. It also catalyzes receptivity to the guidance of the higher self, which fills holes in the ego cloud with soul consciousness and wisdom. The higher self can also reveal a larger context in which traumas become meaningful.
Before a kid burns its hand on a hot stove, it believes that it’s safe. Afterward, it knows that it is not always safe. In this case, the child’s ego easily accomplishes a re-identification.
But sometimes the damage to the ego cloud is too great and the ego struggles to re-identify. For example, before going to war, a soldier may think of himself as a good man. After having killed and mutilated a few enemies in combat he may be subject to intrusive thoughts suggesting that he is a murderer or worse.
Stubborn traumas turn into psychological complexes. Complexes are made of two types of memories: declarative and procedural memory.
Declarative memory is the conscious memory of a particular event, the sum of all sense impressions involved – sight, audio, smell, touch, and/or taste. Procedural memory links the declarative memory to emotions.
This is how a complex looks like:
Usually, the ego chooses the path of least resistance and attempts to forget complexes. Unfortunately, they sink into subconsciousness and continue their work unmonitored.
Complexes cause PTSD or, to use an old term, suffering. PTSD is a coping mechanism, a sort of subconscious alarm that keeps reminding the ego of a complex in need of attention.
The basic symptoms of PTSD are:
- Rummaging of the mind, flashbacks, and nightmares
- Energy depletion
- Emotional flares, for example, anxiety attacks
- Intrusive thoughts and OCD
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, don’t panic. We all have (tiny) traumas and (tiny) PTSDs. The differences between us are quantitative, not qualitative.
The Rummaging of the Mind, Flashbacks, and Nightmares
Did ever something made you so angry that you couldn’t sleep and your mind kept going around and around the bloody event? You may even have fantasized about a different outcome.
That’s rummaging. The purpose of rummaging is to alert the ego that a complex needs attention.
You can think of rummaging as an unwanted meditation. Ironically, it would be great if we could focus on higher states of mind as well as we can focus on worries and anxieties.
Flashbacks and nightmares are subconscious alerts as well.
Psychological complexes trap emotions and mental energy. The more complexes we collect, the less free-flowing mental energy we retain, the weaker our minds become, and the faster we age.
Energy depletion causes depression.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality. – Andrew Solomon
Energy depletion can escalate further to physical exhaustion and mental numbness.
A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work. – John Lubbock
For those who know Tarot: Worry is one cause of the inverted-wasteful torch in Key 15.
The purpose of procedural memory is to keep us away from harmful situations. Procedural memory triggers fear every time we get into situations that resemble past traumas. For example, if we burnt our hand on a hot stove when we were young, the corresponding trauma will give us a tiny fear boost every time we get close to a stove, barbeque, or campfire.
While we may forget the declarative memory of a traumatic event, the procedural memory remains active. A child that had a claustrophobic-traumatic experience may have, although the event is since long forgotten, anxiety attacks every time it enters an elevator. Soldiers returning from war may get anxiety attacks every time a cracker goes off.
Emotional flares trigger fight/flight responses. In the second case, the flare prompts anxiety, in the second case, sudden aggressive and unprovoked behavior.
Emotional flares can also cause unexpected mood changes, nervousness, stress, confusion, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal (reaction to fear), and chronic emotions like anger (chronic aggression), anxiety (chronic fear), and guilt (chronic embarrassment).
If you experience symptoms like the above, welcome them because they lead you to complexes that need attention.
Intrusive Thoughts and OCD
Naturally, emotions trigger thoughts, for example, fear triggers thoughts on how to escape.
Traumas trigger emotional and intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are unexpected and shocking thoughts, for example, the thought of kicking a puppy, yelling obscenities in church, pushing someone off a train platform, jumping out of a moving car, throwing your child out of the window, or wishing to have a heart attack.
Since complexes are subconscious, emotional flares and intrusive thoughts seem to come out of nowhere. But they always have a source and that source is a trauma. Time to track, hunt, and kill a complex.
Intrusive thoughts cause OCD, Obsessive Compulsory Disorder. Remember, the differences between us are quantitative, not qualitative.
Trauma and PTSD Therapies
Therapies have four purposes:
- Make complexes conscious
- Externalize complexes
- Remove procedural memory, for example, through Exposure Therapy
- Do recapitulation
In the context of enlightenment, psychological disorders are not really disorders. Disorders are coping mechanisms and therapies are (mental) gyms.
One can think of enlightenment as a great therapy that releases the soul from the illusory ego-identification. In the context of enlightenment, every situation is a particular dealing of the universe and higher self with our soul. All enlightenment work is therapeutical if you so will.
How to Solve Rummaging
Instead of trying to escape rummaging, try to turn it into active meditation.
No doubt, this is tough because you have to succumb to the emotion involved. You need to feel the fear, feel the aggression, feel the grief. Luckily, emotions quickly die away.
On a side note, the same is true for pain. If you feel the pain long enough, it will go away.
Becoming Conscious of Complexes
Self-realization is the first step towards change for the better. – German proverb.
Techniques that make psychological complexes conscious:
- Psychotherapeutic techniques
- Analytical psychological techniques
- Stalking emotional flares
- Stalking flashbacks and nightmares
- Stalking intrusive thoughts
Once, we identified the complex, we need to externalize it. Externalization means removing the complex from the ego cloud. Let your ego exclaim, “This is not me!”
Taking complexes with humor helps to externalize them.
Mindful meditation helps taking things not so seriously.
Contexting works wonders too. Enlightened contexting takes traumas out of the ego’s context and puts them in the context of our immortal soul. Which trauma will still matter to our immortal soul in a hundred years from now when this ego is since long dead?
Memory modification is a promising, emerging therapy. In her TED talk, Elizabeth Loftus explains how unreliable memories are and how easily we – and others – can modify them. This is good and bad.
We can recall memories in a read-only or edit mode. While in edit mode, we can delete procedural memory – the memory that re-triggers emotions – while maintaining our conscious-declarative memories.
This is possible because the brain’s faculty that recalls memories is also the one responsible for imagination, meaning that we actually imagine memories. That’s why memories change over time. That’s why traumas can get worse if we feed them with negative emotions every time we remember. And that’s why traumas get better every time we refuse to feed them with negative emotions and/or ponder the purpose of the traumatic experience.
Exposure therapy helps to remove unwanted procedural memory.
Danielle Torley overcame her fear of fire – caused by the traumatic event of losing her mother in a house fire – by dancing with fire.
How to get traumatic memories into edit mode? Through meditation. Recapitulation is a specialized form of meditation and an ancient enlightenment technique that dissolves complexes and wrong self-identifications.
Dissolution is the secret of the great work. – Alchemical proverb.
Enlightenment provides access to other realities and the totality of our self. Much of enlightenment has to do with the transformation of self-consciousness. Little by little, we recapitulate and dissolve ego-consciousness and its traumas and replace them with soul consciousness.
Recapitulation, according to what don Juan taught his disciples, was a technique discovered by the sorcerers of ancient Mexico, and used by every shaman practitioner from then on, to view and relive all the experiences of their lives, in order to achieve two transcendental goals: one, the abstract goal of fulfilling a universal code that demands that awareness must be relinquished at the moment of death; and two, the extremely pragmatic goal of acquiring perceptual fluidity.
– Carlos Castaneda, Magical Passes, page 102
Recapitulation requires the recollection of the declarative memory of a traumatic event with great detail and relive the emotional core. This frees the mental energy trapped in the encasing memory form. You can use this procedure:
- Recollect and meditate on a complex/trauma.
- Recollect all (declarative) details of the event as minute as possible
- Allow emotions to surface and feel them. Emotions can’t hurt you. Emotions are not real, your body makes them up.
- Breathe in esprit and breathe out the emotion related to the trauma. Empty the memory from all emotions – negative and positive.
You can also recapitulate by going to a psychoanalytical session, by recapitulating with a friend, and by journaling. A confession helps too.
The Dark Night of the Soul
Traumas damage the ego cloud and enforce partial re-identifications. If the damage is significant, the ego goes through a phase of PTSD.
If a trauma damages the ego cloud beyond repair, it will implode and the ego loses all sense of self. Lost in the void, the ego will call upon the soul for help, and, together, the two enter the dark night of the soul, a full-blown transformation.
The phoenix is a symbol of the cycle of death and rebirth as well as the dark night of the soul. The phoenix dies two types of deaths: ether it decomposes or burns to ashes. The first type of death symbolizes the natural cycle of birth and death. The second symbolizes the dark night of the soul, an ordeal that disintegrates the ego cloud, purges it from wrong identifications (the fire), and resurrects it.
A Dark Night of the Soul and Ego
When we wake up in the morning, our soul descends and merges with our ego consciousness. What is the ratio? I guess in the case of children it’s something like 20/80 (ego/soul) and in the case of adults 60/40.
Traumas affect both the ego and the soul. The soul comes from a paradisiacal state of mind in which the sense of unity and love prevail. Hence, traumas are particularly terrible for the soul.
Children are prone to traumas because their soul is very much awake and vulnerable. If a child’s soul can’t cope, it may retreat, leaving the ego to deal with life. In this case, the person becomes subconscious, maybe even bitter.
Old souls overcome traumas faster – they already went through ordeals in their previous lives and acquired emotional strength.
Education and traumas can cause false ego identifications. For example, religion may make children believe that they are natural-born sinners, instead of natural-born prophets. Religion may also induce guilt and shame complexes in young souls. Loveless parents may cause a child to think that it is not lovable. Traumas can do the same, for example, take away the sense of safety, which leads to anxiety and neuroticism. We all have some of these negative self-identifications in our ego cloud:
Negative self-identifications cause PTSD/suffering. Worse, the law of attraction assembles experiences that seem to confirm negative self-identifications. A vicious circle establishes that pushes the ego down the Esprit value chain to depression or worse:
Eventually, the ego hits rock bottom and cries out for help. The soul intervenes and, together, they go through an identity crisis or dark night of the soul. They break down negative self-identifications, purify subconsciousness of complexes, and establish a new self-image. The breaking down of negative ego structures is painful, but this pain is short-lived and, if you so will, illusory.
Prior to our birth, our soul agreed to a couple of karmic ordeals. Like our heart’s desire, these ordeals or trials advance our enlightenment career.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Desmond, a Seventh-day Adventist, enlisted in the United States Army to serve as a combat medic. He did well in the basic training but – because of his faith – refused to handle a rifle and train on Saturdays. Although his captain bullied him, put him in a military jail, and took him to the military court, Desmond remained steadfast and prevailed over his ordeal. Desmond’s unit was deployed to the Pacific. During the Battle of Okinawa, Desmond’s unit took part in the securing of the Hacksaw Ridge. They took the ridge, but on the next morning, the Japanese launched a massive counterattack and drove the Americans back, causing heavy losses. Desmond was the last to descend. He hesitated and looked back at the battlefield. He felt helpless and useless. He went through a great ordeal to serve in the war, but seemed to serve no purpose. He looked at the sky and screamed at God, “What do you want from me?” And then he heard the screams of his wounded comrades. He returned to the battlefield and carried the wounded, one by one, to the cliff’s edge and roped them down. That day, Desmond rescued seventy-five soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge. A hero and savior was born. This is a true story immortalized in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.
Have you ever been through an ordeal during which everything just kept going worse and worse and worse, until you arrived at a place of despair? Did you scream too, “What do you want from me?” And didn’t the answer come soon after? And didn’t the pursuit of the answer turned you into a new person and put you on a new path? That was a dark night of the soul.
Suffering is exposure to emotions like fear and aggression and false ego identifications. Enlightenment removes the soul from the ego cloud and emotions and externalizes them:
I’m scared turns into I experience fear.
I’m alone turns into I experience loneliness.
I’m old turns into my body ages.
Did it already happen to you that something frustrated you then, minutes later, you forgot and wondered, “What made me upset just now?” If so, you’re on the right track.
There will come a time when you will not only externalize your body, ego, and emotions, but also your thoughts, desires, and feelings. This progressive externalization leads to the ultimate dark night of the soul.
The Ultimate Dark Night of the Soul
Enlightenment goes through seven stages: common sense, awakening, revelation, the great work, illumination, transfiguration, and cosmic consciousness.
On illumination day, we realize the higher self and externalize our entire personality – body, emotions, mind, thoughts, and feelings. Now amenable to the direct guidance of the higher self, we enter the advanced phase of the great work: the transformation of personality.
As our personality nears the climax of transformation, the soul will realize that personality is but a matrix of impersonal universal energies, an organic sentient robot moved by cosmic forces. In fact, the soul will be struck by a feeling that personality is nothing at all.
Transfiguration is a death and rebirth that takes place while incarnate. Transfiguration happened to Jesus on an unnamed mountain. It happened to Buddha too.
Technically, transfiguration is the disassembly of personality into its components and their subsequent purification. This purification strips all personality component from the sense of separation, common sense, and incinerates all karmic seeds left over from this and past incarnations.
Personality dissolves and a blackness engulfs the soul. Out of this blackness resurrects the new personality. Homo sapiens turns into Homo illuminatus.
The new body-mind-soul vehicle is also known as the new creature, spiritual body, or the fifth kingdom being. In the Tibetan tradition, it’s called rainbow body.
Noteworthy, transfiguration is not an escape, it is the climax of evolution that nature began and enlightenment concludes.
Picture attribution: Layers @ pixabay
Struggling with a faith crisis? Take the free email mini course:
Use this form to subscribe:
After you hit that button, you will receive an email from Mailchimp. After confirming your opt-in, Mailchimp will redirect you to a page where you can choose an email mini course. You will receive the first lesson the next morning.
You can find all enlightenment email mini courses here.