Why Is Spiritual Awakening So Painful? Ending The “Dark Night of The Soul”

Imagine how you would feel if you got to know that you’ve lived lies all your life. If you had this sudden realization that you’re not what you believe yourself to be. There is a marked pain and confusion associated with this realization where one goes through a phase of depression or spiritual crisis known as the “dark night of the soul.”

Spiritual awakening is the birthplace of real purity and unconditional love. It may not be a comfortable experience, but it is a beautiful one. Once fully awakened, our perception of ourselves and that of the world changes drastically. It marks the end of the personal self and what remains is the impersonal pure (unchanging) awareness.

Awakening is an impersonal event that begins to erode layer-by-layer false views, ideologies, and beliefs, including the mask of personality that you hide behind. You feel naked, exposed, threatened, vulnerable, and confused. That’s because you’ve never seen yourself without the mask.

Not only that, but It also affects your interpersonal relationships, work, and other aspects of life. It creates a pain that nobody understands. You can’t share this even with the people closest to you because they’re entirely invested in materialism and other everyday affairs.

They’re still living according to the conditioning of their environment. If you share your predicament with these people, they’ll likely misunderstand, judge, or ridicule you. Even if they don’t, they won’t be of much help. You feel helpless, lonely, and depressed.

Even if you try to make people understand, they will convince you that you’re suffering from a psychological ailment that needs immediate addressing. While it’s okay to take help from therapy, but in this case, that alone will not be of much help.

Generation after generation, humanity has only been producing programmed robots that lack a thinking mind of their own. Though we all have an analytical mind, we use our intellect to conform to our pre-existing beliefs without challenging their authenticity. 

While it’s impossible to change human beliefs and biases completely, one can question them and explore alternative views and ideas. But in some cases, the programming is so strong that it’s not possible to think outside the box. 

There’s a tremendous resistance to let go of the programmed beliefs that keep us stuck either in the past or in the fantasies of the future. The reality is not in the past or future, but in this very moment, called now. 

Spiritual awakening can be a painful process because you wake up to the one reality that you would otherwise have never imagined in your wildest dreams. This reality is unsettling because it is unconventional and complex for the mind to grasp.

In fact, it cannot be conceptualized and expressed in words, but the one experiencing awakening knows. It goes against the logical and rational mind, and initially, it isn’t easy to understand what’s transpiring.

Awakening is threatening for the ego. The ego wants to survive at all cost, but the spiritual awakening is the dissolution of the ego. Therefore, it fights back to survive. It comes up with rationalizations for what you are experiencing.

It scatters the mind and indents it with random thoughts to save the false image that you’ve believed yourself to be. The ego wants to hold on to thoughts, beliefs, and ideas because it can keep you running around chasing objects of your desire.

You see, spiritual awakening wakes up the individual ego from divine hypnosis, where the individuals experiencing awakening realize that they were never the illusory self they believed themselves to be. In this period, the spiritual seeker experience intense emotions and loneliness.

During awakening, identifications with the world of objects comprising names and forms begin to normalize, including subtle forms like feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The spiritual seeker at this time experiences panic because it is difficult to come to terms with the reality that what you call “me” does not exist. 

And when there is no me, it is natural that the individual is not the doer of their actions. So all your achievements, accomplishments, trophies, including the adoration and admiration you gained, were never your actions. These actions just happened through the mind-body complex that the individual ego identifies as me.

The ego tries to avoid pain and achieve pleasure. But what the ego is trying to seek in the name of pleasure is nothing but pain. Till the conditions remain favorable and the ego is getting what it wants, it will stay satisfied, but the moment conditions change to unfavorable, the ego will resent and try to avoid that change, and that, in turn, results in pain.

Breakdown of Religious and Other Social Identities

From a very early age, children receive programming from their immediate environment. All the concerned people like their parents, teachers, friends, relatives, and other people teach them the virtues they learned from their parents. 

As a result, the child identifies with a particular group, sect, religion, or community. The child starts to follow certain ideologies and beliefs that penetrate deep into its psyche. 

The I-thought creates identifications by permeating these thoughts and beliefs. The identifications in and of themselves are not the problem but the grasping of these concepts. 

Your whole life, you have been taught what’s right and wrong, the way you should behave, the moral and ethical standards you should follow, the kind of education and career path you should pursue for final happiness and fulfillment. 

People around force you to conform to certain beliefs and follow rituals that made no logical sense. Your awakened mind questions, challenges, and rebels. You may argue, “but I was never forced and was always allowed to choose, and it is out of that choice that I formed my beliefs.” 

And to that, I ask, “what was the quality of your choice?” The life you have created for yourself today results from years of indoctrination and thinking that you acquired from people who were or are closest to you. 

All of your choices are limited to your conditioning. They were never really your choices. Your mind was restricted to a particular set of beliefs, and these have become so dominant that anything that challenges them will face resistance by your ego.

People who claim authority in religion tell you how to live your life based on their own psychological programming. These are robots emptying their trash and filling your mind with garbage of moral and ethical living. 

The problem is that these things change over time, but we’re not allowed to question them even today. Teachers, parents, and society teach us to become good slaves. An unconscious mind is easy to subjugate than an awakened mind. 

Therefore, people like you asleep because then you’re easy to control. You become needy, and they exploit your neediness. They keep you in the dark so that when the “poor you” bump against a wall, some messiah is there to help and guide you. 

It can be your parent, boss, or even a religious preacher. They teach you that the world is in darkness, humanity is suffering, and you, the child of all-mighty God, are responsible for restoring order and peace in the world.

This kind of thinking produces delusional and self-absorbed people. Look into History, and you’ll see the sort of horrors humans created in the name of God and religion.

Out of the endless possibilities in existence, you’re only given handpicked choices by these scared individuals who pass their irrational fears on to you. The most potent tool they use for control is the concept of sin and guilt.

They tell you that you have sinned and you must pay penance. If you don’t, you burn in the fiery hell for eternity. So, you don’t have a choice but to believe what they tell you.

During spiritual awakening, these old concepts begin to break down, and there is a great contradiction. This contradiction creates extremely painful dissonance.

It pulls the mind in two opposing directions – the intellect wants to arrive at the truth logically and deductively with sound reasoning. Still, the heart says that what you’re seeking is already here at this very moment. You wonder, who do I trust?

Your awakening is painful because the divine light that started shining in you is destroying these conditioned ideas and beliefs, one by one, and it’s opening your mind to one absolute infinite reality that is your being or aliveness.

There Is Nothing You Can Call “Mine”

Let’s talk about the idea of success and failure. Are good people always successful? Are lazy and uneducated people always failures? What I’m trying to say is that is there a link between an individual’s nature and success? Or is there a universal idea of success or failure? 

The ego creates its own definitions of success and failures based on past conditioning. If you were raised in a business family and part of a culture that supports consumerism, monetary success would be all you desire. 

This may not be the case had you been raised in a religious family or certain parts of Southeast Asian countries where mediocrity and occupational stability are more desirable than the idea of business and entrepreneurship.

Success and failure are just concepts of the ego. It keeps us in the chase mode where the accumulation of material possessions measures an individual’s worth. The more you have, the more you want, because the egoic structures like “I want/need this/that” and “I don’t want/need this/that” persist.

The ego attempts to satisfy that which does not exist, so it tries by changing the objects of desire: food, alcohol, sex, drugs, then food again, sex again, and so on. The objects change, but the underlying ego structures remain.

The ego is characterized by haves and wants. It wants to achieve excellence, acquire wealth, have the best relationships, solve the mystery of life, the mystery of the universe, and at the same time live a perfectly contented life according to its own subjective interpretations. 

You see, it is only this way, the ego survives by keeping you running for more. But it can acquire nothing that you can call yours. Everything object of desire is transient and gives false satisfaction. 

Sometimes, we compromise with our ego and settle for these temporary pleasures, but life begins to slip as we age. The body starts to disintegrate, looks start to fade, memory starts malfunctioning, and the intellect that we proudly claim to be ours becomes dull. 

No matter how much wealth we accumulate, no amount of it can compensate for the above losses. These things were never yours in the first place. They were given to you as a part of ego for the facilitation of inter-human relationships.

All your dreams, aspirations, and victories were not yours in the first place; they were merely the result of environmental conditioning. You held on to those concepts because they gave a false sense of pride.

Now that you’re waking up, you realize there’s nothing you can call yours – not even your body and mind. That said, it doesn’t mean that we become careless with mind and body. 

You see, the mind-body complex is the vehicle through which the oneness or source or the universal consciousness manifests actions to express itself. Therefore, keeping your mind and body healthy is essential, without getting over-obsessed with looks.

Everything that is born will die. I see a lot of resistance in people trying to make sense of this concept. We remain so invested in the outside world that we begin to lose ourselves in it throughout our lives. Only when the attention turns inwards, do we realize the impermanence of the material world and open up to the essence of our true being.

How Does The Spiritual Pain End?

The pain of spiritual awakening ends when the understanding or awakening is complete. It happens when the ego dissolves, and the individual consciousness merges with the supreme cosmic consciousness. Therefore, the awakening is impersonal and timeless.

It is an experience of the (nondual) bliss of oneness with the entire existence and all concepts, ideas, theories, and beliefs collapse. Life continues as before but heightened awareness and without deep involvement in duality.

The working mind becomes more productive unleashing creativity from the deep trenches of the subconscious. On the other hand, the thinking mind, identified with the ego structures, collapses and surrenders to the divine will of the supreme consciousness.

It is a myth that spiritually awakened people don’t contribute and remain self-absorbed in their own world. They don’t have a world. They live in the timeless now or the present moment. It’s just that their priorities shift from self-focused activities to the welfare of the collective as they don’t see themselves separate from others.

I’m aware that a lot of quackery goes on in the name of spiritual awakening. The so-called spiritually awakened gurus try and sell expensive courses with the promise to end suffering permanently to vulnerable people.

Spiritual awakening is not the ending of suffering. It is the full unconditional acceptance of whatever life offers. When this acceptance happens, surrender happens, it alleviates the suffering, and peace of mind prevails in the most difficult circumstances.

Please note that awakening is not the destruction of the ego. If the ego is destroyed, the body-mind organism will also be destroyed. 

Ego is required for inter-human interactions and daily functioning. Most people think that ego is identification with mind and body; however, it is not so because even the most realized sage will respond when called by their name. 

Therefore, human beings going through awakening or “the dark night of the soul” experience pain, loneliness, grief, and anger, but not hatred, rage, jealousy, and guilt. It’s not that the latter emotions do not arise in the awakened souls, but their awareness is high enough not to get involved.

A self-realized master will feel a sensation of pleasure when people praise them for teaching, but it will not lead to pride or arrogance. And if it does, the master is yet not fully awakened.

A realized master will never give you methods, prescriptions, yantra, tantra, or mantra. They will simply direct you inwards and ask you to question the reality or self you call “me.” 

The realized master knows that whatever the ego seeks is for self-preservation and enhancement, not the truth. Thought our life we seek self-enhancement without realizing that the self is false. 

We try to make sense of things and phenomenons that have no rational explanations. We hold onto material things, ideas, and beliefs, hoping to make ourselves better than what we are right now.

Therefore, the only way to end the spiritual pain is to accept, in totality, all that is happening, realizing that no action is personal. Every action is the work of the divine consciousness or source that is both the object of experience and also the subject experiencing the object.

Your ego is breathing its last, trying to hold on to bits and pieces of what you’ve accumulated over the years. But its dissolution is inevitable. You’ve not entirely woken up from the dream but are still in the process. That is why there’s conflict, confusion, depression, anxiety, restlessness, pain, or whatever you want to call it. 

Let it all go with total acceptance, as it is the will of the divine oneness. Completely surrender to this moment and let the divine act through your body-mind mechanism. I conclude spiritual awakening with the following quote of Buddha, “Events happen, deeds are done, but there is no individual doer, thereof.”

The above article is a sample from my e-book on non-duality – The End of “Me & My Story.