By Roberto Assagioli from Il Cammino Spirituale, Assagioli Archive Florence, translated by Jan Kuniholm and Francesco Viglienghi
“Not all spiritual evolution takes place in light. Stages of light alternate with stages of darkness, of gloom, in which the mind no longer sees anything; all feeling is withered, all faith gone, the will paralyzed. These have been called by the mystics “the dark night of the soul”. There are several, which stand between the successive stages of enlightenment.
The first of these stages of inner darkness, which precedes spiritual awakening, is very common at present and is called anxiety or existential anguish. It is not infrequently the cause of neuropsychological disorders, even serious ones. It begins with a state of restlessness, of dissatisfaction, followed by a sense of futility, of the unreality of ordinary life. This can escalate to a feeling of annihilation, of emptiness, of darkness. Not only has the new light not appeared, but the individual either ignores its existence or does not believe in the possibility that it will arise for him.
Another aspect of this state of darkness — by one of those paradoxes or apparent contradictions that are frequent in spiritual life — consists precisely in the action of the first influx of light. In this way, the first things the aspirant learns are the “negative” ones, from which comes the revelation of his limitations and his nullity: the undesirable elements of his aura appear to him in their fullness.
The darkness within him is intensified by the light coming from the center of his being that begins to enter: he often despairs of himself and has phases of depression. “Blindness, it has been written, preludes initiation, whatever its degree …”.
From the moment when a human being glimpses “something else”, however faintly, and sees himself in the right position in relationship to that distant reality just glimpsed, the “blindness” of which I have spoken is imposed by the soul upon the hasty aspirant, so that he may adequately assimilate and express the lessons of conscious experience: in this way he is safeguarded from too rapid and superficial progress.
To withstand the temptations of doubt, discouragement, and depression that assail us in the inner night, frequent reminders of the ever-present light behind or above the darkness, through the use of suitable mantras, are very helpful. It is necessary to hold a strong awareness, a mental and intuitive conviction of the evolutionary plan and its goals, and to recall the experiences of light that one has had in previous times.
In states of crisis or inner darkness, lower psychic elements may arise from the unconscious — actually, this is not a bad thing, because they can be mastered and transmuted. But they are very distressing periods for those who find themselves in them, and they give rise to wrong and unjust impressions in those who observe only their external manifestations.”
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