4 Oct 1999 –13 Nov 2003 Victoria, BC –
from Transcript of Audio Recording of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Commentaries on:
Living Presence by Kabir Edmund Helminski

the dark night of the spirit has to do with the breakdown with what makes you an individualized consciousness:  a dual frame of reference, your abilities to think, your abilities to perceive, to control the parameter of your own individual selfhood.  It’s where you really take the move into this totally non-dual consciousness.  And it brings with it a frightful pain because any stuff which is not yet dealt with in your whole psychic system, in your false self, is just going to be like oil on the fire.  Unfortunately we never get to this passage without some of that stuff left because we never complete any stage before we move into the next.  So virtually everyone who has gone through this passage have talk about a psychic pain which is frightful.  Thomas Keating talks about it as you really get to the roots of the false self system.

At the same time, another thing that is going on is that you’re relinquishing your whole egoic mechanism as something which drives your energy system, so there are times and long passages where you simply are dead – nothing is moving.  Nothing is moving – there’s no action, there’s no spark of life, there’s no spark of love.  And so the landscape is almost like a moonscape, an inner moonscape.  And you can pull out of it instantly if you want, but you begin to realize that it’s an evasion.  And you go through this gray and gray and gray and gray, going through it knowing that in any moment you could flick on a switch and there would be all the lights and colours back, but knowing that you won’t do that, and knowing that you might die before you get to the end of the gray, and knowing that you still won’t do that.


in general, human distortions are all generic.  They all exist… I call them the three C’s. Compulsions.  Conditioning.  And the Concepts – thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking.  And most of what you will find crudding up your mirror will be in those categories.  Identification, egoic stuff, all gets fed into this.  So they’re generic things that get in the way.  But each one of you will have your individual variation on it and it won’t be at all obvious to you.  Thomas Keating has been over and over this – the false self system is generic but our own particular variations on it are intricate and highly individual.  And we don’t spot them right away.  We sail right past them.  So a lot of inner work is learning to see our own blind spots.

Do any of you remember the image that Thomas Keating likes to use that’s directly appropriate to that?  The image when he talks about what we’re doing in meditation, about the boats on the river?  This is a perfect description of what we’re up to.  Remember, Thomas’ image is that there is this stream of consciousness, this moving river, and down it float what he calls the boats.  The boats are the individual thoughts that come to us, that pop into our mind, that come floating down this stream, and we all have them all the time.  And always, he says, our temptation is to climb into the hold of each boat and start to examine its content.  So if a thought comes down the stream of consciousness, you know, if it pops into your mind, the river of awareness of “Oh, when I get home tonight I have to really sort of work, and I’ve blotted out the time because I have to finish the taxes.”  This thought comes by, and so you immediately climb into this little boat called “tax boat”.  And you probably start doing your calculations and wondering if you’ve forgotten anything and dah dah dah dah dah and after a while the tax boat sails on by and another boat comes by, let’s say it’s “What did that person mean with that comment she made to me just as I was leaving church on Sunday?  Am I doing something wrong?”  And so there’s this real temptation to get into the “am I doing something wrong boat” and go down that.  “What did she mean by that look?”

Okay, you get the idea.  These thoughts sort of pop in from out of anywhere and what we will do automatically and, without even noticing the strangeness of this, is that when a thought pops into our head we will immediately start thinking it.  We will immediately get bound up in the agenda it gives us and then we will get emotionally bound up in it.  And if we’re playing the “what did that look mean?” game and it taps into our paranoia programs and our pity programs, we will immediately get paranoid and self-pitying and then a whole bunch of emotional stuff will start to kick in.  And we don’t even realize how strange this is.  Where did this thought come from?  What gave it the right?  Sort of like you’re standing in a shop trying to conduct your business and the telephone rings and the clerk immediately puts you on hold and starts dealing with this phone call and then another phone call comes in on top of that phone call and so she puts that phone call on hold and starts….  Where do we get off?  Why do we have to deal with the latest distraction that comes down our pike?

So what meditation does – and we start first in meditation because it’s too hard to do for most people in daily life, you know you just can’t jump cold into it – but in meditation we have this safe, bracketed space that’s only 20 minutes, Thomas Keating emphasizes.  You can be obsessive and compulsive for the remaining 23 hours and 40 minutes of your day.  Just for this 20 minutes we do this little thing that when a thought comes up we let it go.  We let it go – where have you heard that before?  Not because thinking is bad, but because as long as we are jumping into the hold of one boat after another after another we will never be aware of Being itself.  We will have no meaningful contact with that deeper stream in which we survive and in which everything that is significant in life flows to us.