The Dark Night of the Soul

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When you start hearing and reading this phrase EVERYWHERE, out of the blue, you sit up like a meerkat and take notice.

(And yes, you aren’t imagining things; I did write another post about the word forgive that showed up on my radar. Now it’s the phrase, dark night of the soul. I’ve been trying to finish writing this post for about three weeks.)

During my own personal Bataan death march of this involuntary tortuous journey of soul discovery, I dipped my toe into the maelstrom of an agonizing Weltschmerz.

Since I’m an introspective and insightful sort of person, a swirling thought began to form in my gray matter: why am I seeing these words? (I don’t have an answer yet.)

From blog posts to Deepak Chopra to random articles on the internet, there seems to be a plethora of attention fixed on the “dark night of the soul”, just exactly like I saw wetiko at every turn for a while.

What does it all mean? Wetiko…forgive…dark night of the soul… Is there a connection?

What IS the dark night of the soul?

It’s a chicken and egg sort of conundrum: Which comes first, depression or darkness?

Have YOU experienced it?

What I’ve learned is that this is so true: “Wherever you go, there you are.” You can’t run from yourself, you can’t distract the pain with anything; you’ve got to face it head on and hopefully make it through to the other side.

Are we experiencing it collectively as humankind? Or should I better refer to it humanUNkind…

“If you aren’t in the moment, 
you are either looking forward to uncertainty, or back to pain and regret.
“—Jim Carrey

So I did a little research.

Eckhardt Tolle describes it this way:

The “dark night of the soul” is a term that goes back a long time.  Yes, I have also experienced it.  It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness.  The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression.  Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything.  Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps, on an external level.  The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death, for example if your child dies.  Or you had built up your life, and given it meaning – and the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.

It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before.  Really what has collapsed then is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it.  So that results in a dark place.  But people have gone into that, and then there is the possibility that you emerge out of that into a transformed state of consciousness.  Life has meaning again, but it’s no longer a conceptual meaning that you can necessarily explain.  Quite often it’s from there that people awaken out of their conceptual sense of reality, which has collapsed.

They awaken into something deeper, which is no longer based on concepts in your mind.  A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life that is not dependent on explanations or anything conceptual any longer.  It’s a kind of re-birth.  The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die.  What dies is the egoic sense of self.  Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died there – only an illusory identity.  Now it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realized that they had to go through that, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening.  Often it is part of the awakening process, the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.

The dark night of the soul occurs when you confront your innermost fears and feel them completely and deeply. These are fears that you’ve had, but which you previously kept from conscious awareness by staying busy, using intoxicants, or willing yourself not to think about them.

In a cycle of irony, when we hide our fears from conscious awareness, it’s because we are afraid of our own fears. Yet, when we face the fears, we can see how illogical and powerless they are. That’s when we are no longer ruled or controlled by unconscious fears. It’s true freedom!

For most people, this process involves confronting issues of life and death, the meaning of your life, and whether life is worth living. The dark night of the soul is similar to the initiations that ancient Egyptian candidates for high priest- and priestesshood would endure.

In that culture, you’d be enclosed in a sarcophagus, which is like a coffin, for several days. In that enclosed environment, with no light and just enough air not to suffocate, your mind would terrify you as your fears came alive as very realistic hallucinations.

At the end of two or three days, when the sarcophagus was opened up, if you were still alive, you passed the initiation. Some people actually died from fear, even though it was just in their minds. This shows how terrifying our thoughts can be if we were to really confront them head-on.

In a dark night of the soul, you feel totally alone in the world, completely misunderstood, as if you don’t fit in anywhere. You feel like your life doesn’t matter, so what’s the use of carrying on? It’s painful!

Like the ancient Egyptian initiation, the dark night of the soul puts you in a position of life or death. Some people don’t survive, because they decide life isn’t worth living, and unfortunately, they tragically take their own lives. For some, this suicide takes a slower pace, with the person using toxic addictions to gradually kill themselves.

But if you can stay with the emotions, including the very painful ones, the dark night of the soul can actually lift your whole life to a higher and clearer level.

Nobody wishes for a dark night of the soul, and it’s not something that you can create artificially. Basically, it just happens when you least expect it, usually because something has triggered a deep and dark emotional place inside of you.

Dark nights of the soul, like every part of life, serve a healing and useful function. The dark night of the soul is a mirror that you hold up to yourself so that you can see the contents of your ego’s fears. A lot of the painful emotions you’re experiencing are connected to situations that happened in your childhood. Present-day situations are triggering painful memories.

Don’t numb your pain or run away from your emotions. They’re your teachers! Just keep asking your painful feelings, “What are you here to teach me?”

Ultimately, it will boil down to this: forgiving yourself and everyone who has ever hurt you is the only way to escape the pain. You don’t need to forgive their actions. You definitely should still stand up for yourself and be truthful about your feelings. And you don’t want to stand for any form of abuse. But forgiveness is essential as the ultimate detox. Let go of the past in all directions of time and finally be free.

From Kosmos Journal for Global Transformation:

Anyone may go through a period of sadness or challenge that is so deep-seated and tenacious that it qualifies as a dark night of the soul. Not long ago I was giving a talk at a university when a man shouted at me from back in the crowd: “I’m terribly depressed. It’s been years. Help me.” I shouted back my email address. In his voice and body language I could see that this man was not caught in some passing depression. His life was broken by some loss, failure, or long-forgotten emotional wound that left him in a desperately dark place.

I reserve the expression ‘dark night of the soul’ for a dark mood that is truly life-shaking and touches the foundations of experience, the soul itself. But sometimes a seemingly insignificant event can give rise to a dark night: You may miss a train and not attend a reunion that meant much to you. Often a dark night has a strong symbolic quality in that it points to a deeper level of emotion and perhaps a deeper memory that gives it extra meaning. With dark nights you always have to be alert for the invisible memories, narratives, and concerns that may not be apparent on the surface.

Faced with a dark night, many people treat it like an illness, like depression. They may take medication or go into counseling looking for a cause. It can be useful to search for the roots of a dark night, but in my experience the best way to deal with it is to find the concrete action or decision that it is asking for.

And from Dr. Deepak Chopra:

 

Have you experienced this? Do you think it’s severe depression, mental illness, or is a dark night of the soul  a rite of passage to happiness, peace, and harmony?

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