(This post is a reply to Nancy. However as its material relates to St. John of the Cross (who seems to have some fans among participants) and is also connected with a more recent thread on "Black Holes - Physical and Psychological", I have taken the liberty of reposting it here).
Hello again Nancy,
You mention first the Black Hole analogy.
The most creative insights come from seeing a close relationship as between different areas of understanding (that are not customarily connected).
Now Black Holes are a very important – though somewhat baffling – product of modern physics.
Dark Nights hold an equally important place in mystical development.
I gradually came to the view some years ago that there were such close structural similarities as between these two areas that the connections could not be accidental.
Evolutionary levels apply equally to "higher" psychological development and "lower" physical nature. We can therefore outline a Spectrum where each "higher" level of conscious development is matched in vertical terms by a complementary level of "lower" physical evolution.
Spiritual Dark Nights and physical Black Holes are complementary in such vertical terms. By appreciating this intimate connection our understanding of both areas can be greatly enhanced.
I will just give you one example that is very relevant to a reference you make regarding "the night of will".
St. John of the Cross mentions three spiritual nights in his introduction to the Ascent-Night - a night of sense, a night of spirit and a night of will. Using natural imagery he identifies the night of sense with the earlier part of night, the night of spirit with the darkest part and the night of will with the dawn (which is of course brighter). However he only deals with the first two of these nights in this treatise.
So as a full commentary on the spiritual journey the Ascent-Night remains somewhat unbalanced with an unduly transcendent focus of development. Using the metaphor of his treatise St. John leads us to the top of the mountain. However having succeeded in getting his there he abandons the task of showing us how to come down.
Thus using the physical language of Black Holes, St John – in his transcendent approach to development - outlines two key event horizons that must be crossed on the way to spiritual union. There is the external event horizon (the night of sense) and an internal event horizon (the night of spirit). Each of these are Dark Nights leading – as he himself suggests – to the darkest period of night (i.e. midnight).
However to complete this journey, the immanent approach to development must also be included. This involves a return journey where two more event horizons are crossed again a night of spirit and a night of sense. However in contrast to before – as we are now heading towards the light of day these are "bright" rather than dark nights.
Now what is remarkable is that there is a well known astronomical model of a journey through "The Black Hole" by Roy Kerr which is expressed in such terms. This involves an inward journey through both an external event horizon and an internal event horizon. As one by passes the dreaded singularity one enters on a return journey through the internal event horizon and finally the external event horizon. If one survives this journey one sees the World being born again in physical terms.
So likewise in spiritual terms the spiritual journey involves an inward transcendent journey through an external night of sense and internal night of spirit. As one passes by the void the direction changes in an immanent direction. One then travels on the return journey through an internal (bright) night of spirit and an external (bright) night of the senses. If one survives this spiritual journey one sees the world born again in spiritual terms.
Now St. John of the Cross deals very well with the transcendent aspect of spiritual growth in his formal doctrine of the Ascent-Night. He equally deals with much of the immanent aspects of "the Bright Night" in the more informal and poetic Spiritual Canticle. This in fact constitutes his "night of will"). However these two aspects of spirituality are not reconciled in his teaching. I would content that his formal doctrine in important respects is misleading – and if conscientiously followed - potentially very damaging.
What is so appealing to some – and repulsive to others – is St. John’s single-minded insistence on detachment from all consolation (sensory and spiritual). In other words he considers attachment to phenomena of any kind a significant barrier to authentic mystical union. Now such commitment is indeed heroic. However when pushed to extremes it can lead to a significant problem that St. John never addresses.
The constant mortification of natural desire inevitably leads to a build up of unconscious repression. As one’s spiritual awareness increases this repression in the purity of the spiritual light poses a significant barrier to integration. The depressive phase that is so characteristic of the "Dark Night of the Soul" is largely the expression of such unresolved repression.
The transcendent approach – especially as portrayed by St. John - involves an otherworldly (and ultimately body-denying) programme. The problems that this causes (in the continual denial of natural desire) can lead to a severe psychological crisis that can only be resolved by a decisive turn of direction.
This turning point often only occurs when the spiritual disciple on the verge of total despair finally relaxes relinquishing any attempt at conscious control. Through this process nature is mysteriously reborn.
In other words the unconscious is now free to speak for itself (without superego control). And the way that the unconscious speaks is indirectly through the projection of fantasy (where symbols carry an archetypal holistic significance). This free projection represents a radiation of the "imaginary" unconscious that exactly parallels the manner in which Black Holes radiate through the emission of virtual particles.
It appears that this decisive turning point occurred to St. John during his imprisonment in Toledo. (Here he started to compose the Spiritual Canticle). I dearly love this poem (and Commentary) which is indescribably beautiful.
"My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;
The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love."
There is an intense if refined spiritual erotic quality to the Spiritual Canticle. Indeed it contains the finest description I have seen of Spiritual Betrothal (or Espousal) which is the "Bright Night of the Soul".
However this represents an immanent rather than a transcendent approach. No longer is St John intent on resisting the consolation of conscious stimuli. Rather he gives free rein to his imagination that now (through deep spiritualisation) expresses itself in sublime fashion.
However there is an equally important "Bright Night of the Senses" which St. John avoids. Despite the majesty of his immanent vision he does not allow the "lower" body its full status. Rather he believes in controlling it through the "higher" rational function.
Thus though recognising projection of intimate physically erotic desire close to unity he invariably speaks of it in unduly negative terms
O nymphs of Judea!
While amid the flowers and the rose-trees
The amber sends forth its perfume,
Tarry in the suburbs,
And touch not our thresholds.
Thus I believe that in an important way St. John mistranslates the true nature of union. Though he clearly portrays the dynamic interaction of "lower" sense and "higher" reason (i.e. prepersonal and transpersonal), he makes the "lower" subservient to the "higher" part.
I would maintain that "lower" and "higher" are complementary and thereby equal. Thus both are brought into harmony through the spiritual centre of personality which is the pure activity of will.
The night of will which is mentioned in the Ascent-Night is actually dealt with in the Spiritual Canticle (Stanzas 14- 22 approx.)
Its primary focus is deeply spiritual where all (conscious) actions are now subject to the Divine will. However it equally represents abundant projection of the "imaginary" unconscious.
This leads firstly to a "Bright Night of the Spirit" (earlier Spiritual Espousal) where the "feminine" dimension of spirituality is experienced in a refined erotic manner. It then leads to a "Bright Night of the Senses" (later Spiritual Espousal) where physical erotic fantasy surfaces in a profoundly intimate fashion. (St. John reads this development in unduly negative fashion).
When the completion of both the transcendent journey (to darkness) and immanent journey to light mystical union is achieved.
Thus St. John’s formal synthesis of the spiritual journey which is generally accepted as the standard interpretation is in important respects both incomplete and misleading.
Yes, Nancy I agree with you that the Dark Night can occur quite early in development. If at a certain stage a significant psychological barrier threatens to impede the process of integration the unconscious may seek a radical solution through a Dark Night episode. If this resolves the problem sufficiently, then another experience of such intensity may never again be required.
St. John's interpretation of the Dark Night - based on his own intimate experience of the spiritual journey - has perhaps become too much of a standard. He was of course a rare mystical genius with a total commitment to contemplative transcendence. However he was the product of a particular background and cultural experience. Also his mystical approach is very much the expression of a personality style.
In modern Enneagram terms I would describe him as a 4 with a strong 5 wing. In St. John's treatment the true existential nature of experience has rarely - if ever - been so vividly described. (This is characteristic of the 4). Also his capacity for detachment enabling him to precisely structure his experiences is characteristic of the 5.
However equally important personality aspects would be better emphasised by other types. For example the quality of personal warmth (not so obvious in St. John) is found to a greater extent in St. Teresa's account (representing the caring type of the 2 in the Enneagram).
Considerable differences can take place as regards the severity and duration of the Dark Night trials (though in some respects this is relative to a person's circumstances). One can only surmise that the level of integration reached by great saints like St. John required the endurance of trials that could be scarcely imagined by ordinary mortals. In such cases the complete emptying of self would normally imply sinking into the "collective spiritual abyss" towards the end of their journey.
Nancy, I believe that there are three degrees of repression that take place in relation to personality.
The first arises from conscious activity. The very act conscious involves polarisation of experience. Thus one pole is posited to become conscious. The other pole (which is not recognised) is negated and repressed in the unconscious.
Thus again this type of repression (which in holistic mathematical terms is "real") arises from direct conscious activity. Now the Dark Nights (of Sense and Spirit) which by their very nature undo conscious activity can successfully uncover much of this repression.
The second kind of repression is more indirect and unconscious in nature. I believe that a great deal of this repression arises in early childhood (before conscious structures are adequately developed). Precisely because of this lack of conscious development the child is more sensitive to holistic cues.
For example the behaviour of the mother towards the child may unconsciously leave an impression of not being loved unconditionally. This may later cause the child later to consciously rationalise this impression in specific social contexts thus instinctively repressing personal contact with others. This pattern once set is extremely difficult to change. Well into adult life the person may be still acting according to a script that was learnt literally before consciousness.
There is little that one can actively do to deal with this second kind of "imaginary" repression.
In terms of the full mystical life this is only properly uncovered during the "Bright Night" stage where deep-rooted material freely projects itself from the unconscious.
The third kind of repression is the most obscure of all relating to time in the womb. The most primitive fears anxieties and instincts relate to this time and are the most immediate expression of the existential condition.
This type of repression in psychological terms requires returning to the womb and resting there for perhaps some considerable time.
If we relate this again to the spiritual journey the first transcendent phase leads to spiritual death (and entombment). This deals with repression (resulting from conscious activity). The second immanent phase leads to the threshold of spiritual rebirth (and en-womb-ment). This deals with repression (that is only indirectly caused by conscious activity) and is uncovered through spontaneous release of fantasies and projections.
The third phase leads directly into the womb (in psychological terms) and involves reaching a very deep level of the unconscious. Here there is a direct confrontation between spirit and the most primitive existential fears without the mediation of distinct phenomena.
Interestingly enough this third stage is referred to by St. John of the Cross in the Spiritual Canticle. He states that spiritual people just prior to Spiritual Marriage, suffer from great fears. They are caught between the two extremes of their glorious spiritual destiny and primitive physical origins and suffer "waking fears of night".
Now of course St. John deals with this in the value loaded terminology of the Devil (making his last assaults on the spiritual disciple). However it is very easy to translate this into psychological terms as the most primitive and existential anxiety which originates in the womb.
I do not believe that this kind of anxiety can ever be fully resolved. However some people are driven to such extreme levels of integration (in order to function properly) that they have to spend even a considerable time coming to terms with this root source of all separation that originates in the womb. (One might well refer to this as Original Sin).
In conclusion Nancy, I enjoyed responding to your post and hope that this reply is of some benefit.
> Peter and Jack ->
> (Many thanks Peter for e-mail of Revelations/Chakras)
> You lost me on the black holes analogy even if Hawking is right about the creation of energy theory. Why does sinking into that collective spiritual abyss necessarily come at the end...I don't disagree that it CAN happen that way, but doubt that it always does. My own experience with it was way out of sequence and very early in life. I also like Evelyn Underhill's work tremendously - a great service to us and I appreciate your analysis of St. John's Dark Night. Very helpful, ... "two nights i.e. the night of sense and the night of spirit. Now these nights themselves have active and passive sub-components."
> You make me want to read his Spiritual Canticle to find out more of his allusion to "night of will."
> However, you and Jack lost me with your agreement on the second kind of shadow..."repression that may be conscious only in a very indirect sense resulting from the earliest influences of life... that perhaps the most significant psychological influences occur in the womb and are already programmed into the infant at birth... example, fundamental fears and anxieties, an inability to trust, to give or receive love, may largely originate from this earliest phase of development before conscious repression gets underway...so deeply unconscious it requires a highly unattached attitude in the return to the womb in the pure spiritualisation of the unconscious. This requires a degree of development that is rarely if ever fully attained."
> It's like you left me and went down the Rabbit Hole. Couldn't you be dealing with past-life mess (no, I'm not a karma populist) but how much can go on in the womb? And, besides that, what makes you so certain that we as spiritual beings spend any time at all there? Inability to trust and give love? Because the spirit perceives that it is trapped or being confined?? Is this what you are alluding to? Obviously, my contacts with others must be very confined. I've never met anyone who's struggle wasn't clearly set in motion by actual physical "relationship" events, sometimes even to infancy or actual birth trauma, but pre-birth?? I want to hear about this. Please describe more fully! I can't accept that this is not rare.