Facing and Overcoming the Dark Night of the Soul in the Yogic Endeavor

One of the greatest dangers for someone practicing Yoga is a sense of discouragement that comes about when the mental ideal turns out not to be easily and totally translated to the outer nature. Experiences may come in the beginning as the intensity of the initial burst of enthusiasm brings about a focus and effort that is unsustainable for the long haul. When the experiences withdraw, the seeker may find himself feeling “abandoned” and “lost”. Spiritual seekers throughout the ages have described what they call the “dark night of the soul”, where the seeker feels like the support and help of the Divine Presence has been totally withdrawn. For the seeker of liberation and renunciation of the world of action, this is a difficult trial. For the seeker of the integral Yoga who must not only acquire the spiritual standpoint, but then work through the issues involved in transforming the outer life in its every detail, the difficulty is magnified and vastly extended.

Sri Aurobindo observes that there is not actually a withdrawal of the Divine support: “In reality, what happens is that a cloud or veil intervenes between the lower nature and the higher consciousness and the Prakriti resumes for a time its old habit of working under the pressure but not always with a knowledge or present memory of that high experience. What works in it then is a ghost of the old ego supporting a mechanical repetition of the old habits upon the remnants of confusion and impurity still left in the system. The cloud intervenes and disappears, the rhythm of ascent and descent renews itself until the impurity has been worked out.”

Eventually, however, the patient and persistent effort has its result: “But if or when our conscious being has become sufficiently pure and clear, then there is a firm station in the higher consciousness. The impersonalized Jiva, one with the universal or possessed by the Transcendent, lives high-seated above (udasina, the word for the spiritual ‘indifference’, that is to say the unattached freedom of the soul touched by the supreme knowledge.) and looks down undisturbed at whatever remnants of the old working of Nature may revisit the system. He cannot be moved by the workings of the three modes of Prakriti in his lower being, nor can he be shaken from his station by the attacks even of grief and suffering. And finally, there being no veil between, the higher peace overpowers the lower disturbance and mobility. There is a settled silence in which the soul can take sovereign possession of itself above and below and altogether.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 349-350