There is reality even prior to heaven and earth; …

Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way.

Diao Kokushi, On Zen

This is the first in a series of short reflections on the dark nights of the soul. 

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We all have dark nights of the soul, times when we are in pain and deep confusion.  These nights disorient us in their darkness and come on not in instants, but in days – even weeks, months.  But, mind you, the darkness speaks more to what is heretofore hidden, a mystery and not what is perilous but what frees.

How can that be?

We live in a mystery, a reality that is “prior to heaven and earth” and beyond mortal existence.  In the dark night we come to that which is “prior to heaven and earth,” what is “absolutely quiet” – “yet illuminating” in time.

Dark nights confirm the Mystery and The Mysterious One.

These nights emerge in many forms.  They all come to free us from what is far short of “reality … prior to heaven and earth.”

An illustration is in order.

Many of us claim an identity that is of this earth, has a status and a function here that we believe gives us “meaning” – mortal identity.  Often this mundane identity arises from a fundamental event in life event – the loss of a loved one, a parent when we are young, a rejection, or the end to an identity that used our skills and interests and gave us work, and a self-image.

Ah, but to be defined as of this world is always to be defined as less than human. For our claim to this fleeting existence and its realm is a claim to less than we are within that which is “prior to heaven and earth.”

Dark nights are painful and recurring as each episode is designed to wrench us away from what is small and enslaving – an identity far short of who we are within The Mystery, within The Mysterious One.

Oh, when we are so visited – we resist and cling to our practiced role.  We fear not knowing and a lack of control.  This, of course, makes the dark, darker still.

In the dark night, out of despair, we may disappear into death, or intoxication, or anger and resentment, mindless accumulation, hatred, orgies of violence or endless bacchanals.

Yet dark nights are gift, come to liberate us, bring us to what is “prior to heaven and earth.”  These nights free us from a false sense that we are responsible for others, for circumstances, wrongs and calamities generated by the lost and those who consign themselves to this place but not what is “prior” and beyond.

In dark nights we are called to live, to life – life within what is here, prior and beyond – to life in the full, and peace, access to the Kingdom, The Mystery that envelops us – to more than love, to life everlasting.