There are not one but two dark nights of the soul. The term ‘dark night of the soul’ was coined by St John of the Cross (widely quoted from; see sidebar; ‘dark night of the soul’), a 16th century Discalced (shoeless) Carmelite Spanish monk. He supervised (director of souls) the spiritual training of dozens or hundreds of monks/nuns, and, therefore, had extensive experience with the problems and pitfalls faced by spiritual travelers. The term “dark night” is used to denote purification process.
Thus, the saint tells us, that there are two purification processes. The first is an active process; the second is a passive process. The first is performed by the seeker; the second is performed by God Himself, without any participation of the seeker. The first process is for purification of the sensual part of one’s soul. The second deals with purification of the spiritual aspect of one’s soul, although further improvements of the sensual side of one’s nature also takes place, because the root cause of some sensual defects resides in the spirit.
Second purification process follows the first. The first night is bitter and terrible; the second is bitterer and more terrible.
As I mentioned previously (35. Stages in spiritual development) not everybody goes through these purification processes. Although, the saint describes it in Christian mystics, similar processes probably occur in seekers of other faiths also.
I think, persons who are pure to begin with do not need any further purification. This is further supported by statement by St John in his book that the duration and the harshness of the nights depend upon the amount of imperfection the soul has.
The purpose of these nights is to remove the defects from the sensual and spiritual aspects of one’s soul and make it ready for Divine union with God. The union with God cannot take place unless the soul is perfect, even one imperfection will hinder the Divine union.
St John compares the purification process to the burning of a log of wood. The log has to burn in fire, its impurities such as mould, dirt, rot and moisture have to be burnt and removed, an extremely painful process for the log, for it to assume the properties of fire and become like fire.
Not every aspirant is selected for the first night. Not every aspirant who has completed the first night is selected to go to the second night. Not everybody who travels the second night climbs to the 10th and final step of the secret ladder (according to St Thomas and St Bernard) of progressive love for God. Such honor is reserved for very few souls. It entails complete assimilation into God. Person leaves the flesh after the nineth step.
Imperfections: Those who travel the first night have several imperfections and three enemies. The enemies, who constantly put obstacles in traveler’s path, are the world, the devil and the flesh. At the end of this purification process the traveler has to achieve control over two main forces, and those are grouped under the heading of passions and desires.
To be continued