The Night Journey – the Search for Self

Each of us are constantly gathering information about who we are, what we are capable of and what the meaning of our life is. This is often put into an archetypal form as the great quest, a journey or the great pilgrimage. For many it is expressed as the search for God, Allah, or the many names people of the world give to what they experience as the Great Unknow Mystery, and the often extraordinary efforts people make to grow beyond the pain of childhood or adult trauma. In some it becomes the quest for knowledge when one truly tries to understand rather than simply remember facts. It is seen in artists attempts to go beyond themselves in creative acts; in the spiritual quest for the imperishable; the search for real love or even the way some people manage to transcend the limitations of their body. They are all aspects of this search for self. The journey is endless because it is a journey through infinity.

I am a wave on a shoreless sea.
From no beginning
I travel to no goal,
Making my movements stillness.
Constantly I am arriving
And departing,
Being born and dying.
I am always with you
And yet have never been.

Throughout history we have examples of how such quests were lived out. Mohammed for instance, describes his massive breakthrough into what he felt was a cosmic revelation as The Night Journey, which occurred in a dream. Siddhartha, after years of discipline and privation, finds a new way of experiencing life in what we now called enlightenment, and became the Buddha. Jesus transformed from a carpenter to the Christ at baptism through an opening to a new type of awareness. Thousands of people in today’s world have followed in the footsteps of those early pioneers and experienced for themselves the meeting with what Jung calls The Self – the emergence into an experience of greater wholeness or completeness; the falling away of the defences, resistances and fears that have held us back from our fullest and most profound experience of ourselves; an experience of enlightenment. It is not a case of developing an attribute we didn’t already have, but of bursting through the personal or culturally imposed barriers that have walled off this greater expanse of self from easy access. See Enlightenment

In a sense, every dream is a part of this huge journey which is our life. Each dream is a facet of what is met in experiencing – meeting – our own existence. There are definitely highlights in our many dreams – times of critical and arduous difficulties, such as we find in the great quests such as Jason and The Golden Fleece, and the Odyssey. The journey is one we are all on, and our dreams and archetypal images are but ways of depicting aspects of what we meet, the enormity of the ordinary, the hidden depths of a problem we encounter, the wonder of possibilities awaiting discovery, the way into the trackless realm beyond collective norms. The journey is from dependence toward independence, from being a part of collective humanity to the actualisation of our own unique identity. This journey to oneself is, paradoxically, also the journey to the universal, to merging of self with the One. See: archetype of the hero/ineInner World

Example: I was in the army. We were going to fight the Germans. We collected together in a large flat, the Germans coming also. We came to know each other not as enemies but as people. I was so moved by the feeling of brotherhood I nearly wept.

Then I was on a ship. It was night. Ahead loomed land, some miles away. On the left, high up in the hills, flashes of guns could be seen. The captain explained that the guns were bombarding and terrorising people. It was our mission to stop them. As this was explained I felt, for the first time in my life, a real feeling of being a part of a group, and being willing to risk or give my life for my people. It was almost a religious feeling. T.

This is a typical ‘night sea journey’ dream. The dreamer was starting to delve into himself and the dream shows him ready to give his life to dealing with his internal conflicts. It also shows the love and courage necessary to make this journey.

There are grand stages or points on the journey. Most of the great religions attempt to depict these stages, although there can never be a final definition. In Christian symbols for instance we have the annunciation, the divine birth, the recognition at the temple, the baptism, the teaching, the marriage; the trial and crucifixion, the death and the resurrection, and finally the ascension. All of these depict psychological events in the process of meeting ones own depths, of the growth to ones own maturity and wholeness. Other cultures define these stages in other ways. The Hindu teachings give them as four major stages. Namely the student, the householder, the retired person, and the fourth is the ascetic (also known as a sanyassin or a sadhu). See The Inner Path to Christ Intro

Example: I remember leaving some place and embarking on a journey at night. I’m frightened but I want to make this journey. I approach a stream with a very narrow bridge. It’s dark and I’m afraid I may fall off the bridge. But to continue I must cross the bridge. R.

This extract from R’s dream is typical of the starting of the process of uncovering ones own unconscious darkness and the night of the unknown self we are journeying to. This is the beginning of what is often called the Night Journey and the facing of fears. The Night Journey is itself an archetype involving the search for self. It is called a journey in the night because the person enters into what was previously dark, hidden and unconscious. They enter into awareness of the unconscious. Carl Jung’s frontispiece to his book Man and His Symbols is the entrance to an Egyptian tomb, leading into profound darkness.

Example: My dream is of an endless journey, which takes a road that turns into a circle or maze that is endless. There is cloth covering the sides of the pathway. I have to take sticks of wood to try to lift it out of the way. J. P.

Example: Then imagery came and I was walking in a beautiful forest. The trees were very big and widely spaced, so it was light and giving the impression of quiet space. I felt as if I were beginning a journey and the forest was my starting place. As I walked in the forest I heard a sound coming from somewhere. I had the sense of it beckoning me or attracting me so I go off in search of it. But although it beckons it is difficult to know exactly where it is coming from. There is a sense that it is coming from higher up, from the mountains that stand beyond the forest.

I am experiencing something the imagery is of being in the midst of a tribal group perhaps they are like people from New Guinea or South America. I seem to be lying on the ground and they are in front of me in a long column, all males. They are not threatening, but they seem to be expressing masculinity, perhaps even the source of strength that would go into being warriors. I am apart from the group, an old male. I feel it is something about facing death.

Now they have gone and the women of the tribe are dancing in front of me. They are bare breasted and their dance is about being female. My sense is that they are calling my masculine energy, raising or rousing it in preparation for something like an initiation I am about to pass through. I am the elder and they are readying me for a further initiation. What they are doing is traditional, and it is to set the scene for what I am to face or confront.

Now the preparations have ended and I am to go off alone up the mountains to meet whatever waits for me there. Now it feels as if something is flowing into my body. I am now experiencing a state or condition that has been very marked or strong in my life lately. My breathing became very slow, it seems even at times as if it has stopped, and everything becomes very still. It feels like being dead. My body becomes so still it disappears and all that is left is awareness submerged in enormous emptiness or space. There is a paradox in this experience because it feels as if I, my sense of self, has melted away, and yet there is still a very definite experience of existing. I suppose what has stopped is what I have called movement. The movement of thinking, of feeling, of longing or hoping for things.

There is this huge reality confronting us all the time. We call this reality death. And often that has an awful face for us. But I am feeling it as joy, a most wonderful joy. It is here in the darkness I am experiencing – that joy. The waves of this gentle joy flow through me. It is like floating in a subtle ocean and my consciousness, my being, is gently lifted and moved by the waves of this quiet joy.

Here the waves of that joy were big, lifting me high in a coloured spectrum of rippling, vibrating radiance. My being was the waves. I was myself waves of rippling sparkling radiance. At the same time my awareness could switch back to what was happening with my body, and it was shaking, vibrating with energy flowing through it. As this happened it really seemed as if my body was being absorbed into the energy. This felt to me as if my body was melting and becoming part of the emptiness that was rippling through me, that was me. The great waves of life were absorbing my personality. It was being broken down just as our body breaks down food we eat and digests. It was drawing me back into itself. Living or dying is a joy. I love you life. I love you death. You are both the same beauty. Beautiful mystery. I cried out with the wonder of it, “Oh my Darling.”

Our dreams often insist that the journey is everlasting, not even ending with death, but moving through the great cycles of the universe. Only by making the journey can we find our own wholeness and our own place in life with any awareness. The term probably arose with the description of Muhammad’s experience of enlightenment which he called The Night Journey. Jung called it the Night Sea journey.

Paul Levy writing about this says: “This process can be so extreme, so radical, that the ego experiences it as death …. This experience is related to the shaman’s and Jesus’s descent to the underworld as well as the archetypal journey of the wounded healer. See Vibrate Vibrating

Example: As I walked among them I saw their lined faces, bent backs, and thought/wondered whether this could be healed and released. Now their doctor/priest came to them. A big man who seemed to have a slightly lame right (I think) leg. He had penicillin on his hands – to heal the many sores his people had. He then laid down in the small channel seen in cowsheds to carry of the urine and cow shit. It had been cleaned, but a cow had shit in its slightly. He asked for blankets to lay on. These were brought. He lay down and prayed. This was the inner strength his people needed.

This is an example of the wounded healer.

To quote an ancient alchemical text “…the Tincture, this tender child of life…must needs descend into the darkness of Saturn (which symbolizes the point of lowest descent, of death), wherein no light of life is to be seen; there it must be held captive, and be bound with the chains of darkness.”

Mythologically the night sea journey is described as being swallowed up by a sea monster and thereby carried into the depths of the sea – the story of Jonah. Psychologically it is the experience of ones life energy turning inwards and descending back toward its root or source. In doing so our poor vulnerable self awareness, our tiny spark of consciousness is carried beneath the protective boundary of waking awareness into its own depths. This is akin to travelling into the darkness of sleep with awareness. Sleep, after all, is a strange country in which our waking self seldom if ever travels. Imagine, if you have not already made the journey, delving into the level of yourself where your eyes no longer see, your body sense of form or size and touch have disappeared. There is no hearing of the external world. You are sinking into the country of what we call the mind or consciousness, the world of sleep, death and dreams, in which the usual boundaries of experience are taken away. Here you meet – given form by your fears and cultural symbols, as if with real bodies – your own fears, the pains buried deep in your past, the residues of all past actions so far unredeemed.

But you also meet the wonder of an enormously enlarged awareness, the sparkling immediacy of questions answered, the splendour of bodiless life linking in love and mind with an infinity of others. Here you experience the vision of the spirit’s journeys into time and space, and its life in eternity. Here you are the genderless consciousness of angels.

Example: This is when I entered into the house of God. At first I saw the image of a huge cathedral or church with a magnificent domed roof and I knew that I was in the house of God. I felt the utopia, I felt like I have never felt before, so very good, so excellent. I knew all things. I didn’t have to read the bible or any kind of teachings because the answers are all here in the presence of God. In this state I could ask any question and know the answer. I knew God, yet I was God because there was no separation. Neal C.

Example: Suzanne Segal in her book, Collision with the Infinite, says, There is no one I could instruct to do something to make you the vastness. That’s already and always who you are.

There is no end to all of this, just as there was no beginning. There are constant “bus hits,” as I now call them, in which the infinite expands yet again and again. The substance of the vastness is so directly perceivable to itself in every moment that the circuitry at times requires another adjustment phase to get used to more infinite awareness. When asked who I am, the only answer possible is: I am the infinite, the vastness that is the substance of all things. I am no one and everyone, nothing and everything—just as you are.

And before you say you think that is all preposterous think about this – you can see Less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum and hear less than 1 % of the acoustic spectrum. As you read this, yon are travelling at 220 kilometres per second across the galaxy. 90% of the cells in your body carry their own microbial DNA and are not “you”. The atoms in your body are 99.9999999999999999% empty space and none of them are the ones you were born with, but they all originated in the belly of a star. Human beings have 46 chromosomes, 2 less than the common potato. The existence of the rainbow depends on the conical photo receptors in your eyes; to animals without cones, the rainbow does not exist. So you don’t just look at a rainbow, you create it. This is pretty amazing, especially considering that all the beautiful colors you see represent less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum. See: The Next Step.


Useful Questions and Hints:

Have I consciously made the decision to take the journey of self revelation?

If I am on this journey what stage am I at? See: individuation for stages.

Am I meeting, or have I met the dying of self – if so what changes is it bringing?

Also it is worth reading Levels of Awareness – Jesse Watkins Enlightenment – Methods of Awakening – Meditation with Seed – Life’s Little Secrets – Dimensions of Human Experience 


Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved