Sunday, March 29, 2009

47. Dark night of the soul, ninth installment

We were discussing the detail of the second night

The aridities and the trials are similar to those of the first night. Lack of joy or sweetness with spiritual practices, absence of consolation from God or creatures. Understanding and will become feeble and memory turns fuzzy. There are periods of profound forgetfulness. Soul becomes dispirited and unhappy. Affections turn bitter. Nothing gives comfort. However the love for God remains ever strong. The fervor to serve God is undiminished. He will happily give a thousand lives for God.

Remember, during the first night the greatest source of depression was the thought that God has abandoned him, same is the case this time.

Remember, during the first night the person thought that his miseries will never be over, since he is so unworthy and full of defects, same is the thought this time.

Remember, during the first night one thought that God has shut out his prayers; same is the thought this time.

Remember, during the first night nothing helped, till God Himself decided to end his misery, same is true this time . Let me quote St John here, since it is written so well by him :

“….The soul is so powerless in this case as one who has been imprisoned in a dark dungeon, and is bound hand and foot, and can neither move nor see, nor feel any favor whether from above or from below, until the spirit is humbled, softened and purified, and grows so keen and delicate and pure that it can become one with the spirit of God..”

Remember, during the first night, the dark period was not continuous but there were intervals of great happiness and consolation, so is the case this time.

Remember, during the first night, soul asked itself again and again, if it has caused Him to be offended. So is the case now

Let me furnish some examples of the pain and suffering of Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist mystics. To avoid exaggeration I have selected only from autobiographies or authentic biographies,

David (in Bible) said, “After the manner wherein the wounded are dead in the sepulchres, being now cast off by Thy hand, so that Thou remembers them no more, even so they have set me in the deepest and lowest lake, in the dark places and in the shadow of death and Thy fury is confirmed upon me and all Thy waves Thou hast brought in upon me.” “….the pains of hell surrounded me; I cried in my tribulation.” “I was annihilated and I knew not”.

An example of mortification by a British Buddhist mystic, Tenzin Palmo’s. She remained, alone, at 13200 feet, in a cave in snowy Himalayas, for twelve years. She slept and meditated in a three feet square box and never lay down, because the box was not long enough. She encountered wild beasts and avalanches.
I have included her here, but it should be noted that she remained joyful and peaceful during her isolation in the cave. She never had dark night of the soul.
(See ‘cave in the snow’ by Vicki Mackenzie)

To be continued

Sunday, March 22, 2009

46. Dark night of the soul, eighth installment

We were talking of the near completion of the first night

The soul has, “the yearning to serve God, which is a thing very pleasing to God”

Although purgation of the first night is complete, still three problems often occur at this stage. First, violent temptations for fornication. There may be vile and graphic scenes which are thrust on imagination. Second, the thoughts of blasphemies. And the third, the scruples that perplex the soul. These trials and temptations are sent by God, to those, who are selected to go to the second night. Their purpose is to keep them (the future travelers) ever on the alert.

As mentioned earlier, not everyone who completes the first night goes to the second night. Why? Only God knows.

There is a waiting period after the completion of the first night to entry into the second night. This period varies. In weaker spirits it may last into years.

Second night. Or purgation of the spiritual and sensual parts of soul.

One would think that the purification is complete after the first, miserable, violent and dark night. The traveler is now at peace. He is in love with God. His impurities have been removed. He is now once again getting sweetness and joy with his spiritual practices, even more than he used to have before he entered in the first dark night of purgation. Now he does not need formal meditation because he remembers God all the time.

Is he ready for union with God?

No, he is not. He still has impurities and deficiencies. He needs further purification. And that is performed during the second night.

The method of purification is the same that was used during the first night; aridities and trials.

There are several differences between this night and the previous night

1. Second night is harsher and more bitter than the first night
2. It is performed by God, without any participation of the soul. That is why it is called “infused contemplation” ( God infuses His boons directly in a secret way)
3. There is variable suspension of faculties during contemplation. There is gradual loss of will, imagination, memory, and understanding. In some states, the soul neither sees nor hears or feels. In deepest states, person is motionless like a dead body (but pulse is present)or statue. These states occur near the end of the second night.

Now the details of the second night.

To start, let us mention the defects in these travelers. First is that now they get spiritual sweetness so easily and so abundantly that they tend to see too much of actual or false visions and feelings (the receiving apparatus has become too sensitive). They may have false prophecies. Some are sent by the devil

The abundance of these benefits may fill them with pride which may become a huge concern because it affects their motives, and that may tarnish the purity of the soul.

The other imperfections are their old habits, which, like old stains on a fabric, come back.

To be continued

Sunday, March 15, 2009

45.Dark night of the soul, seventh installment

How should the person behave during this purification of senses?

You saw that nothing is helpful during this period until Divine help comes. Not reasoning, not meditation, not anxiety, not anger at God. Therefore, one should have patience and loving trust in God. Remember, faith carried Brother Lawrence through his ten years ordeal (see 19. Brother Lawrence). Let me quote:

“It seemed to me that creatures, reason, and even God himself were against me, and that faith alone was on my side.”

One should also continue his practice of prayer.

What are the benefits accrued by the traveler during the first night? At least nine major and several minor.

1. The first major benefit is the knowledge of oneself and how lowly he is. Beforehand one was happy and contented. He becomes miserable and helpless now which causes him to realize his own lowliness. He starts to commune with God with more respect and courtesy.
2. He learns the majesty and greatness of God. He realizes that he cannot do anything without God’s help. The period of aridity has shown him the impotence of his efforts.
Thus God gives the soul knowledge, during this dark and dry period, of his own wretchedness and imperfections and God’s splendor and eminence.
3. His senses (sensual desires) are dampened. This increases his understanding because sensual desires (even for spiritual things) impede understanding of the truth.
4. Spiritual humility replaces spiritual pride.
5. He develops love of other human beings. Beforehand he was exalted and felt better than others. Now he remembers his own misery. He is more tolerant of others and sees good in others.
6. Spiritual greed, spiritual gluttony and spiritual luxury are removed or greatly diminished. Remember these were three of the seven imperfections. The soul is freed from them because it does not get any sweetness and inebriation from his spiritual practices. There are several other imperfections which get better.
7. Lust and desire are quenched. Once they are quenched, tranquility sets in.
8. A great benefit results from loss of desires and passions and ever increasing love for God, and that is the constant remembrance of God. These passions and desires were previously clouding the soul
9. There is another great benefit of this purging, and that is the practicing of several virtues by the soul, such as patience, steadfastness, and equanimity during sorrows.

In short, the above mentioned benefits can be summarized into, constant remembrance of God, purity of soul, peace, and practice of several virtues. He also becomes humble. Humble towards himself, others, and God. On top of all these benefits, God gives him knowledge and sweetness in secret ways which he is unaware of.

In St John’s words:

“these time of aridity then cause the soul to journey in all purity in the love of God, since it is no longer influenced in its actions by the pureness and sweetness of the actions themselves, as perchance it was when he experienced sweetness, but now he only journeys by a desire to please God …………..”

To be continued

Sunday, March 8, 2009

44.Dark night of the soul, sixth installment

We were talking of what happens during the first dark night

In St John’s own words:
“When they are going about these spiritual exercises with the greatest delight and pleasure, and when they believe that the sun of Divine favor is shining most brightly upon them, God turns all this light of theirs into darkness, and shuts against them the door and the source of the sweet spiritual water which they were tasting in God whenever and for as long as they desired……”

“…….everything seem to be going wrong with them”

There are two signs of this condition ( ( i.e, sorrow during the first night ):

First, the person does not find any pleasure in anything, whether pertaining to God or any created thing. Second, God is in his thoughts constantly. He worries that he is not doing enough for God or he is backsliding in his quest of God. This second point distinguishes this condition from that of clinical depression. In depression one is not preoccupied about God.

The period of aridity is not continuous, but is interspersed with episodes of joy and sweetness during spiritual exercises, similar to what the traveler used to enjoy before he entered the first dark night of senses. Perhaps this is done to lighten their burden, which may otherwise break their spirit and completely crush them.

The cause of the greatest grief to these travelers is not the aridity itself, but the thought that God has abandoned them. They go over, in their minds, that what sin they might have committed which has displeased God and for which they are being punished.

This period of deprivation, darkness and misery may last for years. In the case of a great 14th century mystic, Suso (1), both nights lasted for about ten years.

God’s help comes during this period. In what form?

The answer is that it comes with enkindling of love for God.

Initially it is not felt, because it is a gradual process. The person starts yearning for God. The yearning increases. The vehemence of this love becomes an obsession.

How does this love arise? St John explains:

“ in the midst of these aridities…….there is an habitual care and solicitude with respect to God……..which is not a little pleasing to God that the soul should go afflicted and solicitous for His love. This solicitude and care leads the soul into that secret contemplation, until the senses (that is, the sensual part) having in course of time been in some degree purged……by means of the aridities…….this Divine love begins to be enkindled in the spirit”

St John, in his own words:

“…….the yearning for God becomes so great …..that the very bones seem to be dried up by this thirst, and the natural powers to be fading away,……….due to the intensity of the thirst of love, for the soul feels this thirst of love is a living thirst.” However its intensity fluctuates.
To be continued
1. The life of blessed Henry Suso by himself by Thomas Francis Fox

Sunday, March 1, 2009

43. Dark night of the soul, fifth installment

We were talking of the other imperfections of the travelers such as lust and gold. Please read posting 42 first

And there are others temptations and attachments; power, greed, family ties, fame, etc. The reason that they are not mentioned in the imperfections which were discussed in the last installments is that these are weakness of the body, and had already been brought under fair (but not full) control by these beginners.
Otherwise, God would not have selected them for the two purification processes. St John was supervising nuns and monks; the people who had taken vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. He was dealing with persons who had already forsaken wealth, marriage, family and many other worldly desires.

Here let me disclose a point, based on my own experience and of one other person, and not mentioned in spiritual literature that I have come across, and that is the observation that as one proceeds on spiritual journey (enters second stage )one becomes a better person without any extra effort of one’s own. It is a free gift that he gets. His defects gradually go away or come under good control.

This worthless mote lost most of his desire for money very early, I think during the first year. Next to leave was the desire to have powerful position in life. I soon started saying (vain silly boasting) that if God Himself offers to make me ruler of the world, I would beg Him to excuse me, because I neither want it nor am worthy of such honor . As I remember, next, fame lost its attraction. Lust was never completely gone but lost its hold. Next to last to go was jealousy and it took a long time for control over jealousy. Last was anger, which is still not under fair control, but it is better than before.

Sometimes during this journey one acquires truthfulness and humility. However, it should be noted that imperfections thought to have been conquered, often come back to humble the soul.

I have discussed it with some other travelers, and they verify this observation that one’s character improves. Love of God, drives other loves out.

Now let me describe the first night

First dark night, or purgation of the sensual part of soul.

I had thought that the first night begins with the second stage (when one starts meditation). But if one reads carefully what St John has written, it appears to start during the 3rd stage, after the first glimpse of Reality has already taken place. Part of the disparity lies in the staging systems. Most of the Western mystic literature consider stage I, or start of spiritual journey, the point at which first glimpse of Reality occurs (see Underhill’s classic book on mysticism )(1). I have called it stage 3a. According to their staging, a person suddenly gets contact with Divine current (like Mayorga did) and realizes what a tremendous event has taken place. He or she now wants it again, and so starts the quest of God.

What happens in the first dark night?

The answer is in two words : aridity and trials.

Aridity or dryness occurs during meditation and other spiritual practices. There is no joy, no consolation, no reward, and no sweetness. Whereas before, with spiritual exercises they used to get pleasure, now they don’t. On the contrary the practices result in blandness or even bitterness. The reason is that these beginners were indulging in self-love and were following their inclinations (gratification of their senses); God wants to lead them away from it.

To be continued
1. Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill