Addressing the Experience of the Dark Night of the Soul

There are periods in the life of virtually every spiritual seeker or religious practitioner when the active experience seems to withdraw and the individual is thrown back into a world and a life that seems empty, meaningless, dark and obscure, and the presence of the Divine is not felt any longer. The experience called the “dark night of the soul” describes such a stage in the spiritual life of the seeker, and the classic book of a dedicated religious seeker, ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, describes the aspirant having to traverse the “slough of despond’ along the way.

The experience has several potential causes. First, there is the necessary time for assimilation of the force that was working and in some cases, it appears to withdraw but in fact continues to work. In other instances there is the rising up of movements of the lower nature as various energy centers are touched and energy is released. These movements can greatly cloud the spiritual flame of aspiration for a time and the seeker sometimes feels like he is drowning in a sea of lower vital movements, emotional disruptions or mental confusion. In other cases, the ego is actively involved in trying to appropriate the force for the fulfillment of the desires and the seeking is somewhat mitigated by this. Finally, there may just be the rajasic impatience of the vital ego that wants constant attention and when it withdraws or subsides for some reason, it feels abandoned.

Sri Aurobindo elsewhere points out that “he who chooses the Divine has been chosen by the Divine.” This assurance should let the seeker feel the confidence, and maintain the faith that ‘this too shall pass” and the darkness will at some point be overcome and the visible progress and experience of the higher Force will resume. If the seeking is sincere, it will eventually have its inevitable result.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is somewhat like that. That is to say, there are always alternations in the intensity of the Force at its work. It comes with great power and effects something that has to be done; then it is either concealed or retires a little or is felt but from behind a screen as you say, while something comes up that has to be prepared for illumination and then it comes in front again and does what has to be done there. But formerly while the support, help, even the deeper consciousness was always there, as you now rightly feel, yet when a veil fell, then it was all forgotten and you felt as if there was nothing but darkness and confusion. This happens to most sadhaks in the earlier stages. It is a great progress, a decisive advance if, at the time the Force is acting behind the screen, you feel that it is there, that the help and support, the more enlightened consciousness is there still. This is the second stage in the sadhana. There is a third when there is no screen and the Force and all else are always felt whether actively working or pausing during a transition.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Spiritual Transformation, pp. 209-229

2 thoughts on “Addressing the Experience of the Dark Night of the Soul

  1. If the Dark night of the soul seen from a mental health perspective, integral yoga could be used as therapy as it can manifest as depression

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