Mirror Suprarational Development
I escaped illusion
through a terrible abstinence,
And reality slowly disappeared
Beneath the gloom of night
Descending into an underworld of darkness,
I met lonely people who were suffering
Everywhere afflicted, alienated In despair.
Plunging from darkness to darkness,
To be swallowed up
In a black hole of torment
With inexpressible grief and anguish,
all life was extinguished
And was born again
In pure eternal light.Introduction
This stage is probably the most critical of all on the transcendent journey. It is likely to be far more testing and of longer duration than any other period. By its very nature, as it goes to the roots of the unconscious personality, it is somewhat baffling and obscure and almost impossible to adequately communicate. More than any other stage, it can only be properly understood through direct experience.
Entry to it, follows a long and unsuccessful battle to properly integrate positive suprational experience with previous structures. As internal conflict gradually increases one is led to the need for another radical surrender of self.
There is always a considerable price to be paid, by one gifted with exceptional spiritual favours. As reality is interpreted through the marvellous new vision, acquired at each (positive) stage, one can feel especially fulfilled in the belief that one's true vocation in life is at last being realised. However this very identification with developing new structures inevitably leads to secondary ego attachment and the clash with authentic spiritual desire. So joy gradually gives way to disillusionment, and ultimately to a severe crisis, which can only be resolved by abandoning that very gift which one has come to most truly cherish.
At the earlier more personalised supersensory stage one may well find it necessary to surrender a very special friendship, which in normal circumstances, would be considered perfectly appropriate. This symbolises a deep commitment to the pursuit of a pure love free of self centred desire.
Now, at this stage one will have to surrender a very special form of intuitive understanding, mediated through reason, which is so valuable and much needed in the world today. This in turn symbolises in turn an equally deep commitment to the pursuit of a pure form of knowledge free of selfish attachment.
For one who has a natural intellectual bent, this sacrifice is especially difficult. One seems to cut off the very purpose for which one exists. Also one is now psychologically left - following the surrender of both affective and cognitive modes - with nowhere to go - in psychological terms - than in the direction of pure faith.
Supersensory mirror structure development relates to the undoing of more superficial structures. This stage however goes to the very core of the personality. Whereas it involves a renewed purgation of earlier developed structures (linear and circular), it principally involves refining of the deep rooted conceptually based structures of the suprational stage. So there is nothing in conscious understanding that is left untouched.
We have now reached the point where quite literally all positive conscious understanding has to be undone through corresponding negative (i.e. mirror structure) development. If successfully negotiated, this complete fusion of (conscious) psychic matter and anti-matter can generate an enormous amount of spiritual energy internally. This, quite appropriately, is sometimes referred to as infused contemplation.
However, it also is likely to be accompanied by a type of psychological suffering that is unique to this stage with no real parallels in normal life.
In the mystical literature, this prolonged state is often referred to as the "dark night of the soul" or more simply "dark night" though this really is somewhat vague. St. John uses the more precise term "dark night of the spirit" as distinct from the earlier "dark night of the senses". (Spirit in this context would equate well with the suprarational structures). The "cloud of unknowing" and "learned ignorance" which are terms also sometimes used - though again very general - at least convey the important notion that this stage of mirror structure development, essentially involves an undoing of conscious understanding.
In fact, as I will attempt to convey later, there is a remarkable correspondence as between the underlying physical structure of "black holes" and the psychological structure of "dark nights". In other words, we have here another fascinating example of psycho-physical complementarity. Thus the physical understanding of "black holes" can help greatly to rationally clarify the internal dynamics of the psychological "dark nights". Likewise, the psychological understanding of "dark nights" can facilitate intuitive understanding of physical "black holes".
Entry to Stage
Once the decisive surrender by the will of attachment to suprarational understanding takes place, the stage rapidly gets underway. One may for a while maintain lingering hopes of pursuing projects based on the use of supranational structures, but now finally accept their inconsistency with authentic spiritual development.
Generally anyone entering this stage, has already accumulated considerable experience of the genuine difficulties posed by progression along the spiritual journey, and will have prepared a kind of "psychological map" in advance.
So as one find oneself plunged once more in darkness, facing a new period of difficulty, one is not really too surprised. However, nothing could prepare one adequately for the sheer intensity and unrelenting mix of trials and hardships that gradually unfold.
In an attempt to convey something of an impression of what is involved, I will use nature symbols which are particularly appropriate.
This is one of the most widely used symbols. "Night" with its connotations of darkness is used to denote the unconscious, and of course this stage is a period of intense unconscious development, which is experienced in great darkness. The night can also give a time sequence to the transcendent journey through the unconscious. The earlier period of dusk symbolises the start of circular level and differentiation of unconscious structures. The later period of dawn symbolises the ending of this period of differentiation. We are now in this stage approaching the darkest most intensive point (i.e. midnight).
Sometimes the night can be a symbol of peace and serenity and deep intimacy. During this stage, though the mind remains in darkness, there are moments of tranquil contemplation, where one feels deeply at peace and supported by an intimate invisible presence.
However the night can also be a symbol of fear, with all kinds of danger lurking. Likewise, in this stage, without warning one's peace can suddenly be disturbed and turn to a deep sense of unease. This really reflects the tenuous dividing line between nature and spirit which is especially thin during this stage. There is never room for complacency. Exposure to pure spiritual communication is quickly followed by complementary exposure to human imperfection.
This is another symbol powerfully evocative of the unconscious. One has become committed to a secret cause i.e. an intense life of inner contemplation, which remains very much hidden from others.
Also the underground can be a very sinister place, full of strange and shadowy happenings. During this stage, all normal assumptions governing relationships tend to break down. Seemingly innocuous events can become suddenly charged with strong omens of evil. At other times "good" people intending well, cause one deep inner pain. In sharp contrast the chance utterances of those who would normally be counted among the rejects of society, can become filled with significance, conveying a special personal meaning.
In other ways, one feels during this time like a hostage imprisoned underground, with no prospect of imminent release. Because of the extreme level of mirror structure development, there is an extraordinary degree of contraction in one's environment. In psychological terms one thus feels as someone that is bound hand and foot, and scarcely able to breathe. Indeed this intense inner suffocating feeling is one of the most characteristic features of this stage. I will return to this again.
The experience of this stage, is sometimes likened to a desert. I have just mentioned, how in internal terms, experience is so congested. In external terms, the opposite expansive terms of the world as a wasteland is appropriate. A desert tends to be vast and featureless with little signs of life. One seems to be treading a solitary path without end. One's external (conscious) experience now considerably dries up, and feeling internally dry and deprived of natural light regular duties become extremely monotonous. Not surprisingly, one loses the capacity to derive any satisfaction from normal activity.
Symbols of elevation are used with the transcendent journey often likened to a potentially dangerous mountain climb. Indeed St. John of the Cross - who is perhaps the most authoritative Western commentator on this form of spirituality - entitles his most comprehensive book on the subject "The Ascent of Mount Carmel". It is appropriate for a number of reasons.
Firstly, transcendent spirituality involves a strong other-worldly dimension. One tends to view natural desires and understanding as the key barrier to genuine transformation. The experience of God is seen as transcending (i.e. going beyond) any natural considerations. Thus progress is interpreted to the extent that one successfully rises above earthly concerns.
Even in natural terms, the desire to scale the most difficult and treacherous peaks is very symbolic of human courage and endurance. So, likewise in spiritual terms, there will always be some intrepid souls who want to scale the peaks of psycho-spiritual development. However, though the potential rewards are great, there are also grave risks. It is a very lonely and potentially very dangerous journey. One often finds oneself, along the way - in psychological terms - hanging over a precipice - cut off from human support and encouragement. Indeed very few, ever make it to the top. Most others, either turn back or fall off along the way.
However for those who succeed, from the peak, a wonderfully enhanced view of all creation is provided, adequately compensating for the pain and difficulty involved.
Other symbols of elevation like "ladder" and "stairs" are also used in terms of spiritual contemplation. This ladder or staircase ultimately leads to pure transcendent experience. However to mount each step, we must use to some degree phenomenal structures of understanding, which as we ascend, become more intuitive and refined. Only at the top, in pure comprehension of the Absolute, can this ladder or staircase be finally discarded.
Also, it often seems as if one is walking a tightrope which seems to span the divide between Heaven and Hell. As one seems in perpetual danger of falling off to be swallowed up in chaos, there is never any room for complacency, and one develops an amazingly alert and disciplined awareness.
Weather symbols are often appropriate. Because of the considerable death of phenomenal experience, in spiritual terms this is very much the "winter" season.
Likewise, faith which is considerably exercised during this time, - from a natural perspective - is cold, dark and empty.
Also there is a pattern to initially developing contemplative experience, which is very similar to unstable weather patterns. Periods of peace in tranquil communication, are quickly followed suddenly by "spiritual storms", where one is beset by all kinds of disturbances and afflictions. Indeed in some cases, one is struck internally as if by lightning. One is tossed about and buffeted mercilessly. Then when all seems lost, peace once more is mysteriously restored.
Transcendent spiritual development is often likened to a journey. I have already referred to the "journey by night" and "mountain journey". Another interesting symbol is the "global journey". One sets out from the selfish ego as it were in the search for God. Ultimately, when the full global circle is completed, having journeyed round the World, one arrives back at one's starting point i.e. the self (this time in a purified state), to find God present there all the time. However, the global journey, whereby all selfish baggage is discarded, is necessary before making this simple discovery.
At this stage of the journey, one is approaching the polar region of the soul (i.e. the north pole), which signals the attainment of the transcendent extreme. The journey then naturally turns southwards, which symbolises more immanent development.
This of course is a key symbol of the spiritual life. Contemplation itself often feels like an inflow of dark water. Indeed, when the process is particularly intense, there can be a temporary overflow, where one feels as if one was drowning, desperately floundering in an attempt to maintain some remaining conscious support.
At other times, it feels as one is left to swim in a vast ocean, again far from the dry land of psychic supports. One must keep swimming in faith, without any apparent prospect of being rescued.
This is another appropriate symbol for spiritual energy. The extent to which the light disappears from external activity, is the extent to which it shines internally. Indeed, this stage is one of truly intense inner illumination, which occurs in deep darkness of spirit. It often feels as if a hot sun is burning down inside the soul leaving one very parched and spiritually thirsty. Again, when contemplative activity is particularly intense, one can get an inner sensation, especially in the stomach region remarkably like an overdose of sunburn.
Of course, this intense radiation, also symbolises the burning up of the imperfections of the old self. The more deep rooted these imperfections, the stronger must be the corresponding light of this internal sun.
One could go on indefinitely regarding the various ways in which purgation manifests itself during this stage. Overall, it is very oppressive constituting a severe psychological burden. One has to endure a prolonged deep darkness in a highly congested inner environment. Here there is scarcely any room for manoeuvre, and one is subjected to a continual series of trials and tribulations.
There is in fact in the whole psychological structure of "dark nights" such a remarkable complementarity with the physical structure of "black holes", that it is worth developing at greater length.
Black Holes and Dark Nights
Stars of a certain critical size, when their energy has burnt out, can then be transformed into an opposite state, whereby they collapse under the weight of their own gravity. Eventually matter becomes exceedingly compressed, so that no light can escape. Additional matter within the gravitational pull of the black hole body however can be sucked inwards.
The "dark night" represents a very similar psychological process. People who embark on this stage are like spiritual "stars" that have shone very brightly in previous stages of high level illumination. However, there is a very definite tendency - as I have already commented on - for these positive stages of spiritual energy to literally burn themselves out.
Indeed "burn-out" is a term used psychologically to describe a situation of emotional exhaustion, where a person has used up all available psychic energy. However it is only in limited circumstances - as with burnt out stars and black holes - that this state of psychic 'burn-out' is transformed into the state of a spiritual "black hole". This is - as I have identified - is when very rapid spiritual transformation is the direct cause of subsequent difficulties in personality integration, This can lead to temporary mental and emotional exhaustion which are the symptoms of this "burn-out".
What happens then in the "dark night" is that the structures of the personality collapse under a massive internal spiritual gravitational pull. No light can escape and this explains the prolonged darkness and the considerable difficulty with conscious communication. Also additional psychic matter in one's immediate experience, is continually sucked inwards. Anyone, who has gone through this stage will recognise the powerful one-way direction of experience, whereby it seems as if the whole world is being drawn under this intense "great attractor" inside one's psyche. Not surprisingly this creates an enormous feeling of internal psychological congestion.
The most significant emotional feeling one experiences throughout the "dark night" is that of deep grief. This is understandable, as due to the massive erosion of conscious structures and contents involved, there is a continually reinforced sense of loss. Now, the very word "grief" has definite connections with the word "gravity". One who is in grief is literally in a grave emotional state. The ultimate loss, is of life itself, and when this happens, one ends up in the grave. So, we have another of these important psycho-physical connections where fundamental physical and emotional notions are complementary.
Indeed, from this perspective there are two basic forces both physically and psychologically i.e. energy and gravity (each with positive and negative directions). Whereas energy is an expansionary force essentially establishing interdependence with reality, gravity is the opposite contractionary force establishing independence from reality. The gravity force in physical nature, is necessary to give matter a stable separate identity. Energy on the other hand links matter together in a composite manner establishing interdependence. Both gravity and energy in nature are created through dynamic physical interaction. Gravity is posited or created through the negation of energy; energy in turn is posited or created through the negation of gravity.
In fact, these forces are ultimately identical with the dimensions of space and time and fully interchangeable with them.
Similarly, in psychological terms, gravity or grief associated with loss, makes one aware of one's separate isolated identity, whereas the release of energy, naturally draws one into contact with one's environment. Indeed the very formation of concepts in experience (which requires the transcendence and consequent loss of individual perceptions) - as an intellectual binding force - is the expression of psychological gravity. The formation of perceptions - in the release of separate sense data - is the expression of psychological energy. Again, in experience, the creation of gravity and energy can be directly identified with the creation of time, in direct terms (through concepts) and space (through perceptions) respectively. All other "forces" physically and psychologically can be seen as different manifestations of the same fundamental complementary tendencies.
The interesting point for physics - drawing on the "dark night" experience is that what is gravity from one direction is simply energy from the other. Thus the massive gravitational pull (of what is external) is by the same token a pure form of internal energy. Thus because of the solely external direction of the physicist's perspective, only the gravitational aspects of black holes seem apparent. However just as psychologically, there is an internal as well as external direction to matter, so this is true of physical reality also. Therefore, whereas from the external direction, black holes demonstrate enormous gravity, from an internal perspective they demonstrate equally enormous amounts of energy. Indeed this is why black holes from a practical observational viewpoint are so elusive. Normally, physicists observe matter manifested in its external (objective) direction, making it amenable to direct investigation. However, black holes represent the manifestation of matter inherently in its internal direction therefore evading direct observation.
So as the attempted objective rational approach, at best represents only an indirect understanding of the psychological "dark night", likewise the attempted objective rational approach to physical black holes, also at best, represents only an indirect understanding.
Just as the "dark night" can only be directly understood through the intuitive ability developed during the surparational mirror stage, black holes - which in structural terms are complementary - can only be directly understood through the same intuition.
This, in turn can throw light on the notion of "parallel universes". The conventional difficulty in appreciating "parallel universes" is due to the reductionist uni-directional (i.e. positive) and uni-modal (i.e. cognitive) world-view of conventional science, which creates the static illusion of the existence of one homogeneous universe.
However, when one adopts a dynamic two directional approach (i.e. positive and negative), it becomes easy to see these alternative directions as representing interacting parallel universes. Thus, (psychologically) objective experience of reality constitutes one universe and subjective experience an interacting parallel universe. In complementary physical terms, the external direction of matter constitutes one universe, whereas the internal direction (as manifested in black holes) represents a parallel universe.
In like manner when we adopt a dynamic two modal approach (i.e. cognitive and imaginary) the dynamic intersection of modes psychologically again represents parallel universes. The complementary physical expression of this would be in terms of intersecting "real" and "imaginary" parallel universes.
Ultimately, with sufficient interaction, involving both direction and mode, we can create an infinite number of dynamically intersecting parallel universes. What this simply amounts to, in practical terms, is that each person experiences reality in a unique way (i.e. constitutes a single dynamic universe), yet interacts in common experience with others (i.e. these parallel universes intersect).
The dark night is a gateway to an infinite number of parallel universes. The death of all "real" matter (in space and time) - and indeed these very dimensions - simultaneously involves the corresponding birth of "imaginary" matter and "imaginary" dimensions. In physical terms it represents the transition from a relativistic to a quantum mechanical universe. Here each living thing constitutes a unique universe and centre of meaning and yet in dynamic relationship with a common universe. This apparent paradox can be resolved through a (mathematically) complex perspective. Thus if the unique individual unit of life - at whatever level - as for example a sub-atomic particle, represents a single real universe, then the common holistic universe with which it interacts is imaginary.
In reverse complementary fashion, if the holistic universe is real, then the unique specific universes with which it interacts are imaginary.
Thus the universe should be conceived in dynamic terms as involving an infinite number of parallel worlds (both real and imaginary respectively) in relation to a common world of complementary type.
The psychological dynamics of the "dark night" can also be very helpful in terms of clarifying the time reversal effects of black holes which have become so popularised.
I have already described that whereas space and time move in a forward direction with positive structures, that in relative terms, they move backwards with negative or mirror structures. This stage represents the culmination of mirror structure development, whereby positive movements (in space and time) are negated and undone, and also the very dimensions themselves are negated (through suprarational mirror structures).
This again helps to explain why the "dark night" experience feels so tightly congested. It is because one is being psychologically squeezed out of - not only of movement of events in space and time - but literally out of experiencing in these dimensions altogether. In other words, so radical is the transformation involved that one has to abandon a space-time framework entirely, to move into a purely spiritual and eternally present experience of reality.
So, the structure of black holes, in this respect is exactly similar. The dynamics of the black hole collapse, represent an attempt by nature to break out of space and time, which can only be successful, when neither matter (nor the dimensions of space and time) exist. This happens, when matter gets converted into pure gravity, or alternatively in its complementary aspect pure energy, which has only a present existence.
When this happens the physical star, just like its psychic counterpart is "born again".
Even more precise parallels can be drawn as between the "dark night" and the black hole. Surprisingly, the spiritual model of the "dark night" drawn up by St. John of the Cross, lends itself to direct comparison with an astrophysical model of Roy Kerr, which has been recognised as one of this century's major theoretical breakthroughs on black holes. Indeed St. John often refers to the psychological congestion of the state in the extreme narrowness experienced by the soul, and uses the surely appropriate biblical reference of Jonah being swallowed up in the whale to illustrate his point
Physicists sometimes distinguish as between non-rotating black holes and rotating black holes. In Kerr's model there is only one event horizon (i.e. the external) associated with the former, whereas there are two event horizons associated with the latter (external and internal).
St. John speaks in complementary vein of two spiritual nights. The night of sense, involves the external structures and the night of spirit involves both external and internal structures. (I have suggested myself that the main determining effect as to whether one goes on to the latter stage is personality. Those who do - like rotating black holes - are more unstable, inherently possessing highly dynamic personalities).
St John talks of these "nights" very much as psychological "event horizons". According to him, one can approach the nights (or event horizons) through active purgation. However this is not sufficient to enter the nights (i.e. pass through the event horizons). This highly intuitive experience, where psychologically, space and time undergo extreme curvature, requires the special non-linear boost of passive purgation.
There is also much made of the singularity in relation to black holes. The end of the black hole journey is the dreaded singularity. It is quite similar also in psychological terms. The goal of the "dark night" is to be reduced to "nada" or nothing (in phenomenal terms) - referred to in the East as the "void" - so as to arrive at the pure spiritual centre of one's being, a task which is fraught with much danger. So the spiritual "void" viz. nada, is complementary to the physical "singularity".
Physicists are now recognising later stages in the evolution of black holes with speculation on white holes and radiation effects. Similarly there are later complementary stages in the spiritual journey, where the direction turns from transcendent to more immanent experience. We will take this up again at the point level.
Progression of Stage
The earlier phases of this stage of suprarational mirror development, is likely to be characterised by the onset of dramatic bewildering trials which have no parallel in any other stage. One has to get used to an extremely dark oppressive inner environment. and carry on - without support - as bravely as possible.
However, it would not be correct to depict this stage solely in completely stark terms. There is an apparent paradox, that despite all the pain one finds the dark totally absorbing. Thus, because of the level of spiritual fusion involved, the experience conveys a profound degree of authentic meaning. This sometimes, becomes apparent in the aftermath of the most intense trials. Here, despite the obvious relief of survival, one can feel a certain flatness, realising that despite appearances to the contrary, that in the deepest moment of crisis, one is in closest contact with a strong supportive invisible presence.
Also, a facility for ready contemplation is an automatic by product of the process, which in itself conveys a deep underlying peace. However, this can initially play havoc with the carrying out of regular duties. The rapid development in the fusion of opposites, characteristic of the stage, can lead to deep immersion in the spirit and consequent withdrawal from other activities. When one re-enters the world, after an intensive bout of contemplation, because of this rapid inward spiritual growth, one's sensitivity to imperfection in oneself and others is greatly magnified, requiring a very painful adjustment. There is a raw burdensome feeling, resembling flesh being torn off one's bones, or at other times the internal administration of electric shocks.
However, after a while, because of the sheer frequency of these trials, even these become part of normal experience.
In the beginning, there are still some delicate mystical touches received. Despite the darkness, and lack of direct emotional involvement these can be very intimate, resembling a tranquil starry night or a faint candlelit atmosphere. Also, because they are received so passively, there is very little selfish interference involved, so that a high degree of experiential certitude is conveyed. Indeed, at certain moments one is deeply aware of an austere and mysterious beauty permeating all life's struggles.
Usually these experiences are in the form of delicate interior intellectual visions, where concepts unfold to reveal their inner secrets and become mediators of a special divine light, conveying pure and eternal knowledge of the unity of all creation.
Where imaginative visions are involved, emotion tends to be involved in a very rarefied spiritual manner. Pure transparent images, resembling the illumination of ice particles by a Winter sun gently float to the surface of the mind, and briefly become suspended in a timeless reality.
Perhaps the most valuable experiences involve the will directly, powerfully reinforcing it with the desire for continual fidelity. In the midst all the ardent longing, one can suddenly realise that though hidden, love burns brightly in the darkness. One can become especially aware that mystical ecstasy itself involves the direct coincidence of life and death, where the breath of life - as it were - expires each moment (in death) only to simultaneously inspire glorious rebirth (in new life).
"And each moment dies to live for all eternity; And all eternity dies so that each moment may live; with love, mystical love, each moment is spent dying of love."
After a time, when a degree of acceptance of one's new state has been achieved, the gradual unfolding of new internal structures takes place. These are suprarational negative (i.e. subjective) structures. Whereas the previous positive structures were of a global cosmic quality, these are of the opposite variety, relating to detailed localised personal decisions.
So there is a pattern repeated here, which we already have seen with the supersensory structures, where holistic external understanding in a positive direction turns to specific internal understanding in a negative direction.
However, whereas during the existentialist (supersensory) stage, decisions are largely related to emotional feeling, in this case, they are mainly based on a subtle intuitively refined rational approach.
Psychologically, one remains in deep darkness, with only a very faint light given to the internal operation of cognition of a suprarational kind. This represents an extremely intuitive form of reason, where one clearly recognises the moral relativity of all decisions. As with the corresponding mirror supersensory stage what is involved here is a subtle form of translation of the two phenomenal poles of conscious experience (i.e. subjective and objective) involved in all decisions into the unified transcendent intuition of pure faith.
In conventional experience, one operates with a lot of preconceived notions as to what constitutes right and wrong, which greatly reduces the genuine exercise of faith in terms of moral choice. However, by this phase, one is forced to continually walk a psychological tightrope. Not surprisingly, one's conscience, in moral terms, now becomes extraordinarily sensitive.
At this suprarational stage, one is normally so conscientious, that fidelity in terms of moral matters becomes an automatic response. However, this increasingly becomes more difficult, due to the predominance of what might be termed the "marginal" choice. One finds oneself frequently faced with decisions - which from an outside perspective might seem utterly trivial - but which now have become truly agonising. The relativity of circumstances involved so greatly increases, that one finds the evidence for and against taking a particular line of action extremely finely balanced. The ultimate deciding factor, providing some measure of moral relief, only follows after an intense inner struggle and comes from an intuitive signal, received in faith, confirming the correct decision to be taken in the relevant context.
It is quite usual to now to suffer from serious moral scruples, constantly wondering whether one is acting correctly. The reason for this is that all normal reaction has by now been so greatly eroded, that the only area where any consciousness is left, is in this intimate area of moral decision making. Thus, as at each stage, psychic energy moves to the structures typical of that stage, which means in effect now that one's remaining ego strength is identified with an overwhelming need to remain faithful to one's conscience. There is a strong belief now that failure in this regard, would sever that last remaining link with reality, plunging one into oblivion.
However, all of this places an enormous burden on the personality. As one agonises with one's conscience on a daily basis, one resembles a weightlifter that has to make a mighty effort of concentration in order to get the bar over his head. So with considerable faith one exercises the latest demands of conscience. However it proves a Sisyphean task, as one is quickly faced with new decisions requiring an even greater degree of faith.
At this point things become even more difficult, in that mirror structure development in relation to these internal moral structures also begins to take place.
This involves a highly refined form of translation, where the relativity of phenomenal circumstances is increasingly transcended in the pure exercise of faith. However this process inevitably leads to the removal of all psychological supports.
This means in effect, that even the delicate light given to the conscience in making decisions is slowly taken away, so that one is left feeling totally alone and abandoned in the dark, living solely by faith with the growing conviction that one has finally lost one's way.
One of the unfortunate aspects of the Western approach to high level spiritual development is a lack of attention to the physiological aspects of development. Quite clearly psychology and physiology are closely interconnected. However, there is a often a consistent tendency in the approach to transcendent spirituality, to view the body, not as a necessary and valuable partner in development, but rather as an alien intruder, which must be overcome altogether before union can be achieved. (Indeed this unbalanced attitude is very much in evidence in the formal synthesis of St. John of the Cross).
Where this is the case, there is a tendency to ignore valuable psychosomatic signals, to unconsciously repress natural instincts, and generally to misinterpret much of the suffering of the "dark night" stage.
In the Eastern mystical tradition, there is a greater respect for the role of the body. In many forms of yoga for example, physical disciplines are seen as invaluable aids to meditation. There is also often strong attention paid to the importance of breath control. Breathing can be seen as the physiological counterpart of the spirit. Therefore the switching of attention away from conscious phenomena to the process of breathing itself, can greatly facilitate growth in spiritual awareness. It also works in reverse fashion also, so that a growth in contemplative awareness itself tends to alter one's breathing pattern. What happens during transcendent spiritual development - which culminates in this stage - is that breathing tends to operate in a one-way direction. In other words one tends to breathe slowly in, but then one's breath is suspended in terms of outward movement. Thus there is a very definite physiological basis to the extreme psychological congestion that one experiences at this time. Like the black hole, because one is still able to breathe in, conscious phenomena can be absorbed internally. But then because one's breath is suspended outwardly, one is unable to obtain relief in releasing this material externally. This physiological fact also has a strong bearing on subsequent behaviour. One can only continue on a reduced supply of psychic oxygen (as in the rarefied atmosphere at the top of a high mountain) by economising greatly on conscious effort. The passivity thus brought about, in turn facilitates contemplation, further slowing down the breathing process.
Later, at the point level, when unconscious immanent spirituality also develops, breathing becomes almost entirely suspended, both inwardly and outwardly, signifying the death of all phenomenal consciousness. Thus, in psychological terms, the natural death of the ego precedes the birth of the cosmic-based personality. So, likewise in physiological terms the suspension of natural breath precedes the awakening of the cosmic breath. Then finally one becomes a mediator of all creation which - as it were - breathes through one's activities.
There are many other physiological changes associated with contemplative experience. For example, brain wave activity alters. This fits in with the view that one is now operating at different bands of the (psychic) electromagnetic spectrum.
Also blood circulation tends to slow down, as does the metabolic system. One, in fact is able to survive with a smaller food intake during this time.
Indeed many of these factors are important in relation to the control of stress related illnesses.
There are also important electrochemical changes that can take place in the body, which are strongly related to certain psychological disorders.
Just as the corresponding supersensory mirror stage, brings to the surface of personality, neurotic tendencies, this more arduous intensive stage, unearths latent psychotic tendencies. It is easy enough to appreciate why this is the case. The "dark night" is in many ways very unnatural, being the psychological equivalent of incarceration in an underground cell. Though initially a faint spiritual light permits some degree of buoyancy, after perhaps several years of continual purgation, all remaining light is taken away. Also, one would might well have reached a state approaching physical and emotional exhaustion. It is at this time, still desperately trying to cling on to a reality that has all but vanished, that one becomes especially prone to psychotic depressive symptoms.
Manic depression is one such illness. It has often struck me that there is a distinct manic depressive quality to the transcendent spiritual journey. Periods of intense illumination, where one effortlessly embraces all cosmic reality, are inevitably followed by periods of equally intense purgation, where reality seemingly contracts to the confines of one's internal psyche.
I think it is true to say therefore, that this highly vertical approach to integration is typical of people who are prone to manic depressive tendencies, and who need a correspondingly large level of unconscious development to integrate these extremes in the personality. In other words, there is enormous potential in the manic depressive personality, if properly harnessed for creative development. However, it often requires a degree of spiritual evolution that would be considered too demanding in terms of conventional criteria. It is common therefore to treat manic depression, simply as being due to a chemical imbalance. Now, psychological change does bring associated important physiological side effects in the form of electro-chemical changes in the body. So therefore, in illness, what is basically a psychological disorder, can manifest itself in physiological terms, with the treatment consisting in the correction of the corresponding chemical imbalance. Thus in the case of manic depression the administration of lithium can be very helpful from a short term perspective. However, this really only regulates the symptoms of the problem, and does not deal with the root cause.
Endogenous depression is another psychological disorder which is often treated solely as a physiological disorder, resulting once more in the attempted chemical solution. Now, this illness is especially likely to manifest itself at the height of the "dark night". What it really reflects is the severe loss of an overall intuitive sense of meaning to life. (Precisely because the "dark night" involves the purgation of one's deepest intuitive structures, temporary difficulties with this form of depression are to be expected).
This is where important problems occur in the Western treatment of the "dark night" process (as chiefly exemplified by St. John of the Cross). Because of the lack of balance in terms of dealing with the body, in effect an approach is outlined - which if studiously followed - would leave one especially prone to such psychological disorders as endogenous depression. This is due to the unconscious repression that inevitably arises from any one-sided attempt to continually control natural instincts.
Thus much of the trials and distress of the "dark night" as outlined by St. John as an inherent part of that state, are indistinguishable from pathological symptoms of depression. This is an extremely important point, for one with a genuine transcendent gift might be encouraged through identification with St. John's analysis to persist in body denying repressive behaviour, even when it is already causing serious psychological difficulties. (As I will outline later, the whole resolution of the "dark night" crisis involves a decisive shift of attitude, which is entirely missing from St. John's formal analysis).
Needless to say, once again though chemical treatment of endogenous depression may bring temporary benefits, it does not tackle the root psychological cause, which is the loss of an intuitive holistic sense of meaning in life.
Schizophrenia is another important psychotic disorder, which is relevant in this case.
This illness basically involves an inability to properly distinguish conscious and unconscious processes in behaviour, leading to the consequent loss of a meaningful sense of connection with reality, reinforcing a tendency to withdraw further into self. Signals get badly mixed, so that unconscious fantasy is frequently confused with conscious reality. Again on the transcendent journey, where one is rapidly opening up new levels of psychic reality, there can be temporary problems in properly co-ordinating conscious and unconscious reality. This problem is greatly accentuated through the extreme split as between matter and spirit at this time.
Indeed it is often very difficult even with very saintly personalities to be fully sure of the authenticity of unconscious inspirations. For example, when such a person listens to an inner voice suggesting some important mission, there is always the possibility of some element of schizophrenic delusion being involved. In the end it is really the overall sense of integration manifest in behaviour that is the best guide.
Psychological schizophrenic tendencies will of course have important physiological i.e. electro-chemical side effects. Treating the illness as a chemical imbalance is once again putting symptoms before causes.
To sum up therefore, psychotic illnesses are a manifestation of deep unconscious disorder, the true solution to which really demands a radical spiritual answer. Unfortunately, in modern medicine, there is a tendency to treat such illnesses in reduced terms as solely physiological disorders.
Another extremely interesting area, which manifests complementary psychological and physiological interactions is that of memory.
Memory is the means by which we are able to extend our experience in space and time. Experience and skills acquired are all stored in the form of memory contents.
However, there is a considerable downside also. Fears, inhibitions and complexes of all kinds are accumulated in memory contents which can have a subsequent imprisoning effect on behaviour.
There is often an attempt in psychology to reduce the scope of memory. In fact, there are as many different kinds of memory as structures of understanding. Each structure is associated with a distinct form of memory. Thus we have cognitive and affective memory relating to retention of ideas and images respectively. We have external and internal memory. An introvert for example will relate more readily to subjective internalised memory contents. We have also conscious and unconscious memory. Finally we have memory that considerably varies in its subtlety. Therefore the way memory works in the intuitive circular level, is very different from the rational linear level.
It is often debated as to whether memory contents are stored locally or in some global holistic fashion. As in so many cases it is not a case of either/or but rather of both methods being involved. Certainly at the linear level where storage of data and facts are much involved, memory will have a far more localised character. However at the circular level, where high level intuition predominates, a holographic model of memory would be more appropriate.
Meaningful understanding always involves the combination of components which are relatively independent and rationally explicit, yet also relatively interdependent through unifying implicit intuitive recognition. The dominance of explicit contents at the linear level sets severe constraints on the degree of implicit recognition possible. However the position is reversed at the circular level. Through the steady erosion of explicit memory contents, rigidity in understanding is greatly reduced, with an increased ability for implicit recognition of the deep unity of seemingly unconnected events.
Conventionally far too value is placed on explicit memory. The mind is viewed as a large storage area - like a computer hard disk - to be filled with as much (rigid) information as possible. Such a self conscious approach to learning increases anxiety and stress greatly reducing creative freedom.
During the circular level - and particularly at this stage - there is great erosion of the memory contents of all previous stages. Again there is a fascinating interplay as between psychological and physiological behaviour. The storage of memory physically involves electro-chemical reactions in the brain. I have described before how during the mirror stages it often seems as if one is being internally struck by lightning. In the immediate aftermath of such events particularly strong erosion of memory is evident. Physiologically, this could be explained as a large increase in electrical activity within the mind which greatly alters the chemical contents through which memory is stored. This interaction, while reducing the rigidity of local memory (stored chemically) increases holographic memory (stored electrically). Quite simply, therefore, intuitive capacity physiologically, is enhanced through the generation of increasing numbers of interacting circuits (established through electrical activity) within the brain.
This would also help to explain why electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) is often helpful in treating severe depressive illness. Someone in this state, becomes increasingly trapped by memory contents continually reinforcing a deep sense of misery. ECT, through the administration of electrical shocks to the brain, can help to alter the very chemical contents in which these burdensome memories are stored thus facilitating a degree of recovery. Quite literally, this change in brain chemistry - induced by electrical shocks -can facilitate the erosion of these memory contents enabling the patient to forget the depression.
Sometimes during this suprarational mirror stage one becomes almost completely oblivious to one's surroundings. It seems as if one has become totally forgotten, no longer with a past history. Though initially resisted, this process is very liberating. For when one reflects on it, all the problems of the self centred ego are tied up with memory contents continually reinforcing restricted patterns of behaviour. Thus with the wiping out of memory contents, former habits can be undone so that one, can once more be "born again".
With a high level of spiritual development, memory works in a very transparent and flexible manner. One lives essentially in the present holding no selfish possession over former memories good or bad. One's ability to remember is largely dictated by the needs of the present moment. When certain facts or ideas are seen to aid the central spiritual purpose, they readily spring to mind, to be discarded once more when no longer needed. Because of the refinement and holographic capacity of the mind very little storage space is required for memory in any case, so that one's energies are largely employed only in responding to essential needs.
As the dark night unfolds, life steadily becomes more difficult. In the beginning, though one suffers in many ways, some degree of buoyancy is left, stemming in part from an ego that is still untamed. However gradually, all light - regardless of how delicate - is taken away from the mind and any remaining ego strength slowly ebbs away. One has to live without support in pure faith which is a terrifying experience.
We have now reached that phase where radical mirror structure development - even in relation to the internal moral subjective structures - takes place. One no longer enjoys any sense that one is progressing along the right path. Indeed all natural signs would suggest the opposite. One feels alone and frightfully isolated. Physically and emotionally one is nearing exhaustion. Personal and work relations become fraught with difficulty. One has forsaken conventional pursuits which inevitably causes misunderstanding. Worst of all, there seems to be no way that one can adequately communicate one's plight. One is so immersed in a deep unconscious level of experience, that one loses contact with normal social skills.
As one feels more in danger of being swallowed up for ever in this internal black hole, there can be a courageous - if somewhat desperate attempt - to turn the focus off one's growing problems - by trying to immerse oneself in the concerns of the world. One now becomes extraordinarily sensitive to the universal suffering and misery everywhere to be found. The plight of the countless starving, the homeless, the mentally ill, the lonely and bereaved and most of all those drowning in despair, crowd in upon one in an intense form of intimate sharing. However, though giving a cosmic dimension to one's own suffering, this also draws one further than ever away from conventional pursuits. One is now living, socially isolated, at an extreme level of commitment, but in total darkness. The supreme crisis point is fast approaching.
SUMMARY OF MAIN PHASES
The following represents a summary of the main phases of this stage
Entry to this stage involves a long struggle to hold on to the subtle inspirations of intuitively inspired reason. Because of the ego elements involved this causes increasing conflict with pure spiritual desire. Gradually one realises that one must now give up the life of the intellect - as one earlier gave up the light of the senses - and learn to live by pure faith.
Because of the intensification of unconscious activity one quickly descends into an underworld of deep darkness where one is beset by an incredible array of spiritual trials which are impossible to adequately communicate. There is an unique personal quality about these trials which sets them apart from any other stage. Paradoxically, though seeming in great danger, one also feels the strong support of an intimate invisible presence.
Though there is much suffering involved, there is still some delicate light given to the mind. One becomes greatly absorbed in a tranquil form of contemplation. Also delicate mystical touches - especially in the aftermath of severe trials - are interpreted as signposts on the road to a special destiny.
After the initial sharp shocks, some level of adjustment is obtained. One still lives with a greatly restricted role for the ego in a highly compressed inner environment. Indeed there is a remarkable complementarity here psychologically with the physical phenomenon of the black hole. One who has been through this dark night involving as it does extreme curvature in the experience of space and time, would have very little difficulty in intuitively understanding the physical reality of black holes. Just as the black hole represents a bridge to a quantum mechanical world of imaginary parallel universes, the dark night - as we will see - represents a complementary psychological transition to a world of (unconscious) projected fantasies.
Gradually there is the emergence of highly refined internal cognitive structures. The faculty of reason is used in a very delicate intuitively inspired fashion to make moral decisions. Because this is the only area where any ego activity remains, there is a tendency for remaining psychic energy to get unduly involved with conscientious decision making so that one tends to suffer increasingly from agonising scruples.
Mirror structure activity - even in relation to internalised activity - now takes place. Though living from one perspective in a highly advanced spiritual state, one is also living in an increasingly unnatural fashion. Due to the extreme split as between matter and spirit during this stage, it is not unusual for latent psychotic tendencies to emerge in the form of severe depression or schizophrenic tendencies.
Disturbing losses in memory - though ultimately liberating - are also likely to take place.
As the (internal) mirror structure activity progresses, one slides ever more into the darkness, deeply isolated cut off from conventional supports. There may be a selfless attempt to turn the focus off self by immersing oneself in the sufferings off the world. Though giving a universal dimension to ones own experience, it also compounds one's overall sense of misery. In one's present state one can only tune in to the story of anguish and despair appearing everywhere one turns.
Worn out from physical and emotional exhaustion, still desperately believing, one is now heading into the ultimate crisis.