The dark night of the soul

Rishikesh yogpeeth

The dark night of the soul

Without enthusiasm, one cannot be successful in any field of activity. A student, a businessman, an artist or anyone else who wants to achieve his goal must be enthusiastic.
That special goal on the path of yoga is the attainment of stillness of our thoughts and experiencing the real bliss of atman. Sustained enthusiasm is the key to success on this path. Many practitioners start with a lot of enthusiasm but later find it difficult to pursue the goal of yoga.
In the Christian tradition, a spiritual crisis in one’s journey towards perfection is referred to as ‘The dark night of the soul’. Sometimes serious doubts plague even serious practitioners and the ‘dark night’ could last even decades.
Whenever this kind of dryness or lack of enthusiasm creeps in, one needs to have patience and faith in the process, the goal and in oneself. To begin the journey of yoga, initially enthusiasm is needed but to continue patience is more important. There are many examples that illustrate the virtue of patience for achieving success in an endeavour.
Thomas Edison was seeking to invent the electric light bulb, he didn’t get it right the first time. But, he never gave up. When it didn’t work the first time, Edison made a note of exactly what he’d done and the components he had used. Then he made an adjustment to the experiment and tried again. And when that “failed” he made a note of that, readjusted and tried again. He kept learning from every experiment. He learned all the ways that it wouldn’t work. It took him approximately 10,000 experiments to invent the perfect set-up for the electric light bulb. After many years of his life, his factory was burnt down in a fire. The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Three weeks after the fire, Edison managed to deliver the first phonograph.
A newly married girl naturally expects an offspring from her husband, but she cannot expect to have an offspring immediately after marriage. Of course, as soon as she is married she can attempt to get a child, but she must unite with her husband, confident that her child will develop and be born in due time.
Malcom Gladwell, Canadian journalist and bestselling author, in his 2008 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, lays out a theory that a person would excel in whatever they do if they put in more than 10,000 hours of their lives to it. He gives examples of topnotch musicians, athletes, and businessmen that are much ahead in their games than others and finds a correlation that they all had put in considerable amount of time (more than 10,000 hrs) and energy into whatever they did.
Yoga, like everything else in life, is not an exception and is very much in tune with this rule. And if one wishes to reach the goal of yoga, one should continue one’s efforts on a regular basis, without fail for a long time.
Knowledge of the obstacles on the path of yoga is important for sustained long-term efforts. One should keep the following obstacles at bay while executing one’s practices.
Vyadhi or illness in the body is the first obstacle. When a person is sick her/his ability to perform even nominal task reduces. The body and the mind do not function well and the person is not in a state to put much effort into anything. One has to carefully avoid illness as much as possible and stay healthy to pursue the path of yoga.
The second and one of the most dangerous obstacle is samshaya, doubt. One starts having doubt about oneself, the process or the teacher.
One starts doubting about oneself: “Am I good enough? I don’t think I can do it.” One sees everyone else meditating and everyone else very happy and sitting in a pleasant mood and the person feels that everyone is enjoying and blissful and starts to think, “It is only me who is suffering. I am no good. I do not think that I can ever make it.” Or one starts doubting about the process, “Is this the right process? Will this process do any good to me? I don’t think so. Maybe I should follow some other process. It is not for me.”
Or one starts doubting about the teacher, “Is he really perfect? Is he capable of enlightening me?”
Whenever these demons of doubt attack us, we need to take shelter of right knowledge, our friends who can boost our confidence back and we need to look up to so many others who got success in their goal.
The third obstacle is alasya, laziness or a heaviness in the body. This laziness can creep up in any aspect of life while doing anything. By associating with very enthusiastic people, we can fight with this obstacle of laziness.
Another issue with many of the practitioners is doing something wrong even after knowing that certain things are not good for him/her and knowing this too well, they do it. One knows that doing a certain act will land you in trouble or cause pain later but one still goes ahead and does it. For example, knowing that one has a sugar problem and one should not eat much sugar or chocolate whatever knowingly but eats them anyway. This is Pramada. By being alert and attentive towards our goal, we can take care of this obstacle.
One of the main challenges on the path of yoga is to continue to have hankering for sense objects. There are many deep impressions in our chitta (subconscious mind) from our present and past lives and they don’t allow the mind to remain steady. The momentum of the past is still behind us and it is not so easy to shift out the interest in worldly life suddenly and completely. These hankerings after the objects of the world still continue to trouble a yogi and cause serious distraction in the mind. This is Avirati.
Here Viveka (discrimination) comes into play, if the person’s Viveka is real and well developed and not under influence of external conditioning it is easy for the person to get over the hankering and desires.
A yogi may be living under illusion or wrong understanding. It is bhrantidarshana – hallucination; delusion; erroneous view. This means taking a thing for what it is not. It is generally due to lack of intelligence and discrimination. A practitioner may, for example, begin to see lights and hear sounds and may think he has achieved a higher state of consciousness. This incapacity to assess our supernormal experiences at their proper worth is basically due to the immaturity of the soul. People fail to distinguish between the essential and unessential things due to the immaturity. They tend to get entangled in these spurious experiences of a psychic nature and are soon sidetracked.
Alabdha bhoomikatva is state of non-attainment. Inability to find a footing. In all the different stages of yoga, change from one state to another is involved and this is brought about by a persistent exertion of the will. Sometimes the passage is easy and comes after a reasonable amount of effort. At other times the Yogi seems to make no progress and a dead end appears to be facing her/him. This failure to obtain a footing in the next stage can cause distraction and disturb the perfect equanimity of the mind unless the Yogi has developed inexhaustible patience and capacity for self-surrender.
Another kind of difficulty arises when the Yogi can get a foothold in the next stage but cannot retain it for long. The mind reverts to its previous stage and a considerable amount of effort has to be put forth in order to regain the foothold. Of course, in all such mental processes, reversions of this nature are to a certain extent unavoidable. But it is one thing to lose one’s foothold in the next stage because of lack of practice and another thing to lose it because of the inherent fickleness of the mind. Anavasthitattva is when a yogi is not able to get to the next stage because of the fickleness of the mind.
Everything in the world peaks and dips; rises and falls; and flows and ebbs. The path of yoga is not an exception. In fact, it is riddled with obstacles. One really needs to have the patience to go through all these stages and continue with faith in the goal, in the teachers and in the process.

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