The dark night, sometimes called the knowledge of suffering (dukkha nana), is a stage of practice characterized by difficult thought formations, desire to stop practicing, doubt, fear, pain, and just generally unpleasant sensations. For some this stage can last for years, others pass through in a week or a day. Everyone who practices meditation well will pass through this phase. It is just how the path unfolds, it is hard-wired into the human operating system. The dark night has a wide range of expressions, but there are some helpful ways to relate to the dark night, which I’ll share now.
Acknowledge that you’re in it. I’ve seen acknowledgement shift people’s practice in profound ways. Just owning the fact that there is such a thing as the dark night and you are in it can make a big difference. Getting through the dark night is all about deeply accepting whatever is happening to you right now. That doesn’t mean you have to like it, just that there must be acceptance. Understand that it’s not ‘your fault’, and it’s definitely nothing you’re doing wrong. In fact, going through the dark night is a sign of progress. The dark night, though unpleasant, is a rather advanced stage on the path towards awakening.
The most common and unfortunate mistake people make during the dark night is to take their stories seriously and to try to work at the level of content, instead of continuing the work of insight. No amount of therapy is going to make much of a difference at this point. The sensations and thoughts that arise in this phase of practice don’t arise to be solved or ‘worked with’ on the level of story, but simply to be understood as they are–as transient, causal and empty phenomena. The only thing that will resolve the situation is more insight into the true nature of things.
This is why these maps are so important. Without a conceptual framework for the dark night folks can spend a whole lifetime trying to ‘fix’ themselves instead of continuing to do the work of insight. This is really unfortunate. Don’t let this happen to you. If you believe you are in the dark night, the best thing you can do is practice more and find the assistance of somebody who has been there before. Remember, you are not alone! Every yogi who has come before you has had to pass through this phase of practice. Take solace and seek support from the many others who have successfully walked this path before you.
Resources on the Dark Night