Now mindfulness is becoming mainstream and many more people are passing through a 6 week class or even on retreat, I believe it's even more important to talk about life after you start to live mindfully.
For some people this phenomenon, dark night of the soul, I'm going to talk about may take many years to happen and maybe won't be so uncomfortable but for others this happens quite soon and can turn your life upside down! For some people this becomes so painful they try to go back into their old familiar ways of coping; but of course this doesn't work, you can never really go back once you've had a taste of freedom.
So life becomes unbearable – stuck between 2 worlds, you can't go back but also you haven't got a solid footing in your mindfulness quite yet. So why I hear you ask is this not spoke about by the majority of mindful teachers – simple, it hasn't happened to them so they cannot talk about it or help anyone through this extremely difficult period. Many of these teachers will tell you mindfulness isn't a spiritual practice – absolute rubbish, it is and always has been a spiritual practice; and if you keep mindful and start to quiet your mind this dimension to life will make itself known to you. Then the emotional baggage that you haven't dealt with throughout your life will start to come to the surface, but this is a wonderful opportunity, for suffering is the base metal you can turn into gold!
One of my favourite teachers described it as:
"I couldn't live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the 'I' that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into the void. I didn't know at the time that what really happened was the mind made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed, it dissolved" Eckhart Tolle
Now Eckhart's awakened state was fast and permanent, for the rest of us it's a process of coming and going, and slowly seeing the ego for what it is – fictitious and not the truth at all. Now going through this journey is fine as long as you know what's coming and that's why having a teacher that's been there and knows the terrain is invaluable.
Joseph Campbell described it as: "Suddenly your ripped into being alive, and life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but by god you're alive and it's spectacular."
So this so called dark night of the soul is the most challenging period of your practice, just some of the symptoms that maybe experienced are, in no particular order:
- Regret over starting a spiritual practice, but you know you can't stop
- Your spiritual practice no longer works like it used to
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Want to be alone
- Feel like your going mad
- Fear of the 'shadow' as it comes into your awareness
- Your life seems boring and pointless
- No joy in your meditation practice
- Loss of all meaning in your life
- Can't stop crying, for no reason
- Intense fear
I've missed loads I'm sure, but you get the picture. As you can see this isn't spoke about by the majority of teachers – The Now Project not included, we are very open about what this journey entails and what a challenge it is, and that it also represents a major opportunity for growth.
The first thing to remember is the spiritual path isn't about feeling good, it's about wholeness and the ability to be present with what is .
Here are some helpful hints:
- Keep practicing, don't give up
- Trust the process, you are not in control of what's happening
- Don't resist
- Try not to understand, it won't help
- Say yes to the darkness and fear that's present
- Find a teacher – I can't emphasise this enough, they can guide you through, without taking your pain away – pain is your best teacher!
For me this process has been the most important aspect of my mindfulness, just to see where my work lies and what's holding me back, while all the time leaning into my fears. The world is always trying to drag us back into it's story, it's not until your fully done with that can you move forward a free human being. Once you start to work with your own shadow and just appreciate what it is – a part of you that needs your attention – you can you start to see it in other people, only then can you have real empathy with others; you start to see how others behaviour is run by this part of them – the shadow, painbody, karma – whatever you want to call it, is not them, it's their unresolved pain.
This is nothing to fear, embrace your shadow, make friends with the darkness, it's all part of the mystery of life.
"Not knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realise that you are sick.
Then you can move towards health."
Lao Tzu, TAO TE CHING
Paul is available for personal coaching via one-to-one sessions on Skype or in person (depending on location). For more information and to contact him or any of our other teachers please visit the Mindfulness Coaching page.