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The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul

There is an old saying: “There are two things in life that we cannot avoid, death and taxes.” But the truth is, the only two things we cannot avoid are death and the Dark Night of the Soul.

And although “The Dark Night of the Soul” (life’s greatest transformational experience) is not a term that everyone recognizes,  we all know of it quite well. That’s because every person who has ever lived on this planet (to the age of an adult) has gone through it in some form.

Although not everyone goes to college, or gets married, or has children, or gets divorced; everyone (and I mean everyone) goes through the Dark Night of the Soul—at one time or another, and at one level or another. In fact, we all go through it at least two or three times in our lives—each occurrence averaging a few years in length. However, the Dark Night of the Soul is one of the world’s best kept secrets—in that everyone goes through it, yet almost nobody talks about it or even knows anything about it.

What Is the Dark Night of the Soul?

The “Dark Night of the Soul” is a term that was popularized by St. John of the Cross, and eventually other mystics as well—throughout time. It’s actually referred to in ancient times, but not necessarily by that name. One of the main reasons we call this process the “Dark Night of the Soul” is because Jesus’ dark period of mystical soul-searching took place in just one night—in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Soul’s Transformation Process

The Dark Night of the Soul is a purging process that calls us to release all that is unhealed or unnecessary—releasing all that is in the way of our highest good.The Dark Night of the Soul is a purging process that calls us to release all that is unhealed or unnecessary—releasing all that is in the way of our highest good. The process is trying to help us release all that is not yet divine within us and bring us closer to our true divine expressions.

There is an irony to it all, however, because although the Dark Night of the Soul is not something we would ever wish upon ourselves or anyone else, it is, nevertheless, the most educational and transformational experience this earthly life has to offer. In fact, nearly every mystic, spiritual master, and the heroes and heroines of mythology from around the world, reached their greatest heights and epiphanies after going through the Dark Night of the Soul.

Going through the Dark Night of the Soul is like a major housecleaning or a corporate clean-out—except that it’s our soul that’s doing the cleaning. It’s not because there is something “wrong” with us, or that we’ve done something “wrong.” Instead, the soul is just saying, “You know, I’ve looked through your memories and I found little bits of issues (for example, lessons not yet learned) here and there and wounds not yet healed—all of which are holding you back. So we’re going to do a thorough cleanse of whatever we can so that you can move forward into a better life.” Our soul also says, “By the way, we have some good news and some bad news: the good news is that the Dark Night will not actually kill you. The bad news, however, is that at times it might make you wish you were dead.”

The Crucible

Experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul is like being taken into the old alchemist’s crucible to have all of our dross, or extraneous feelings and beliefs, burned away and transformed into something more pure. It is life’s version of the darkness before the dawn. It’s like the dark side of the moon—cold and lonely. And yet, there is no human experience that can teach us more, nor prepare us more, for the new life that comes to those who remain as centered as possible in faith and courage.

Nothing on Earth Does More for Our Soul’s Growth

The Dark Night of the Soul transforms our lives for the better, but only if we move through the process properly—going through each step with the highest level of consciousness and integrity possible. This process helps us to learn what it is in our lives that is outworn and no longer necessary. The Dark Night can also help us to develop the courage to release such things. And, even though going through it feels quite challenging, nothing on Earth does more for our soul’s growth.

The term “Dark Night of the Soul” . . . refers to the kind of spiritual crisis that leads us
from profound unknowing to radiant transformation.
–Mirabai Starr

Getting In Touch With the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is referred to as such, because it defines a “dark” period in our lives that helps us to get in touch with our soul—at the deepest level. The Dark Night of the Soul occurs when our soul decides to take us on a journey that is not about the usual, day-to-day tasks and challenges related to our outer life, but rather, is about the tests and lessons related to our inner life.

The Dark Night is more than a learning experience;
it’s a profound initiation into a realm that nothing in the culture,
so preoccupied with external concerns and material success, prepares you for.

–Thomas Moore

This is not a period that focuses on the usual mundane things of life such as going to school, getting a job, getting married, having children, and so forth. Instead, the Dark Night of the Soul is a period when we might simultaneously lose our job, have health issues, find out our partner is having an affair, and perhaps lose our loved ones. It’s when it seems like we are being faced with numerous challenges—all at once. And again, it’s not like we’re simply having a bad day, but rather it’s like we’re having a bad life!

Purifying the Ego-Self

Many mystics (such as St. John of the Cross, Saint Theresa and Saint Francis) have left records of their experiences with the Dark Night of the Soul. In fact, one could hardly earn the title of “mystic” without having gone through the Dark Night experience. Those mystics throughout history who have gone through the Dark Night describe it as a process wherein our spirit is purifying the ego-self. For this reason, mystics are often seen in the same light as the alchemists of the Renaissance period, because the symbolism of the alchemical process is the same as that of the Dark Night of the Soul: the lower self is purged until the transformational process is complete. All we find remaining within ourselves is pure gold, the purified self. In this sense, the Dark Night of the Soul gives birth to the Phoenix within us, but only if we die well (to the ego self) and are courageous enough to truly rise from the ashes.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The old skin has to be shed
before the new one can come.

–Joseph Campbell

Signs and Symptoms of Going Through the Dark Night

There are several signs and symptoms that indicate we are going through the Dark Night of the Soul, as opposed to merely having a “bad week.” We all have moments when we feel challenged, stuck, ill, and so forth; or lose a job, relationship, or partnership. And any one of these, by themselves, can send us into a downward spiral of emotional pain and/or physical discomfort.

In normal years of life, we usually face only a couple of these challenges at a time, and they usually (with some exceptions) last only days or weeks. During the Dark Night of the Soul, however, we often experience most areas of our lives as being challenged—often with all of them occurring at the same time.

Seven Primary Signs

Below are the seven primary signs or symptoms (in most cases progressing from one to another) of going through the Dark Night of the Soul:

  1. Several areas of your life have fallen apart (been dismantled), such as health, work, friendships, and so forth.
  2. Usually it lasts for one to three years—minimum.
  3. You feel stuck (like you are in a rut) and possibly depressed.
  4. Nothing you try in order to repair your current condition is working.
  5. You might feel either like a failure or a hypocrite.
  6. You feel like you have lost faith in God or in the process of life.
  7. You feel like you are in a state of shock.

Physical Signs

When we go through the Dark Night of the Soul, our energy levels often drop. We might lose weight in an unhealthy way (or gain weight if our glands swing out of balance from the stress). We often feel a lack of will to live. Men might experience erectile issues, while women might experience a drop in libido. And that’s because, overall, the Dark Night is like a serious bout of depression. And it makes it even more challenging that all of this can last for years.

The Dark Night of the soul is when you have lost the flavor of life
but have not yet gained the fullness of divinity.

So it is that we must weather that dark time,
the period of transformation when
what
is familiar has been taken away
and the new richness is not yet ours.

–Ram Dass

What’s It Like To Go Through the Dark Night?

Experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul is like going through a dark tunnel; our goal is to reach the “Light at the End of that Tunnel.” The dark tunnel represents every form of lesson, test, and unhealed wound (known or unknown) held within our psyche. On a personal, fundamental level, the Light at the End of the Tunnel represents a better life that awaits us, here, in this lifetime. On a grand, universal level, the Light represents God and a calling towards a greater love and willingness to surrender our lives to God’s Divine Plan.

Buffeted by gusts of chance or drenched by rains of misfortune,
I nevertheless direct my mind to look always toward Thee.
–Paramahansa Yogananda

Since the Dark Night is like navigating a seemingly dark and endless tunnel, it is helpful for us to know some of the symbolic characters and characteristics we will likely encounter along the way. For example, we can imagine that a tunnel like this might be similar to a maze, with numerous side-tunnels. These side-tunnels symbolize life’s potential distractions, including the numerous distractions from our ego that would try to keep us from reaching the Light at the End of the Tunnel.

A Time to Journey Within

The “Dark Night” is a period of our lives wherein our soul has decided that it’s time for us to journey within, so we can discover which parts of us need to be healed, transformed, and/or released. It’s an internal process designed to teach us humility, how to surrender to life’s healing processes, and how to become a better (more evolved) person.

Everything that happens is either a blessing which is also a lesson, or a lesson which is also a blessing.
–Polly Berrien Berends

How the Dark Night of the Soul Manifests At Different Stages of Life

The The Dark Night of the Soul can take many forms, manifesting at various times in our lives in similar ways, but also in ways that are unique to our age. For example:

  • Childhood: Adoption, abuse, school taunting, parents divorcing, being the child of parents with addictions
  • Youth and Young Adult: Accidents, divorce, broken bones, broken heart, job loss, moving households
  • Later Adulthood: Glands burning out, loss of partner, betrayal, loss of good health, loss of loved ones, menopause

How Long Does the Dark Night of the Soul Last?

It’s called the “Dark NIGHT,” but it should have been called the “Dark PERIOD (or Dark Years) of the Soul,” because it never lasts for just one night. It’s a challenging period that generally lasts anywhere from one to three years, but sometimes can last even longer—possibly several years.

Scope and Length

The first thing to do when we are wondering whether our challenges are part of the Dark Night of the Soul or are merely a challenging period of our lives, is to ask ourselves if it involves many areas of our lives or just one or two. The next thing to ask ourselves is how long it has been going on. It’s probably best to assume we are in the Dark Night of the Soul only after we are sure it’s already lasted at least several months.

It’s Not Under Our Control

How long it lasts, however, is not under our control and is determined by what lessons we have to learn and how long it takes for us to learn them. And let’s be clear about something: nothing we do will end the Dark Night of the Soul—even one day sooner than it is supposed to end. All we can do is change how we respond to it and ease the struggle by following the suggestions found in this article. In fact, not being able to make it go away is one of the main purposes of the Dark Night—because part of our test is to see how we respond when we do not feel in control of everything.

Resisting, Fighting, and Denying the Value of This Process

Again, the intention behind our soul taking us through the Dark Night is to help us grow. But the average human being doesn’t see it that way, mainly because the process usually involves a significant amount of loss and change—neither of which do humans usually appreciate. So instead of being an excited participant, most human beings end up resisting, fighting, and denying the value of this process—which only tends to increase their level of pain during the experience.

If a person wishes to be sure of the road he’s traveling on,
then he must close his eyes and travel in the dark.

–St. John of the Cross

When We Don’t Feel God’s Presence

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of all, during the Dark Night of the Soul, is when we feel as though God Itself has turned Its back on us. And it might take us a while to come to the peace-based conclusion that there is no way the Real God could, or would, turn Its back on anyone. During the times when we do not feel God’s Presence, it’s usually because our internal pain has distracted us from feeling and experiencing that Loving Presence and from connecting with God. Nevertheless, one of the amazing things we learn during this difficult time of not feeling God’s Presence is that instead of demanding that God meet us in the consciousness of our perceptions and problems, we will now move closer to the Consciousness of God.

How to Deal with Going Through the Dark Night of the Soul

When we’re going through the Dark Night of the Soul, there are definitely things we should and should not do to help ease the process and possibly lessen its need to return. Here are some of the best things to consider doing to assist you when going through the Dark Night of the Soul:

5 things to do when going through the dark night of the soul

  1. “Die well.” This means that instead of fighting the process (crucifixion), we can learn to embrace it. This is not the same as “giving up.” To “die well” means that if this process is calling us to go within, then let’s go within and do a personal inventory of our unhealed wounds while we are there. And if it calls us to surrender things from our lives that are no longer serving us, then we can make a thorough list of what it’s time to bid farewell to (including people, places, and things) and begin letting them go.
  2. Feed your soul. This means watching movies and listening to songs that lift your spirits. It’s also okay to watch and listen to, ones that make us cry—as long as we do not allow them to drag us down beyond our ability to rise again. Also, we can use prayer and affirmations. Pray and affirm: “This too shall pass!” Or try, “There is only one Presence and one Power in my life, and that is God. Therefore, none of these challenges have any power whatsoever over me!”
  3. Do inner work. Going through the Dark Night is a crucial time to look at our deepest issues and patterns. This is a time of the hero’s journey, which means that if nature has drawn us inside, we might as well clean house. Journaling is a great way to bring issues out in the open for inspection, as well as a good way to process feelings—possibly gaining new insights. It’s also a good idea to discuss your experience with a counselor or trusted friends.
  4. Watch for signs. It’s not to say we should become obsessed with every little sign and synchronicity. But during the Dark Night, it’s important to remain open and prayerful for signs that might direct and guide us through the process and beyond.
  5. Come back to life. Although there might be a period of mourning for the loss of a loved one, or even parts of ourselves, we are meant to resurrect from the dead and come back to life. So although a portion of the Dark Night might be to “die well” (to what no longer serves our true self), there’s also a portion (the Light at the End of the Tunnel) when we are meant to come back to life and begin moving forward.

For a complete list of the best things to do and not do when going through the Dark Night of the Soul, see Michael Mirdad’s book: The Dark Night of the Soul.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Emerging from the dark night of the soulWhen it’s time to emerge from the Dark Night of the Soul (i.e. life’s most challenging times), how high we soar into a new life depends on a few things: how well we did with our tests, how much we kept our faith, and how deeply we allowed ourselves to heal during the process. Some of the gifts our new life may feature can include greater happiness, an increase in prosperity, and healthier relationships, to name just a few. Other gifts might include writing a book, being inspired to launch a new career, experiencing an improvement in health, meeting new (better) friends, and the list goes on.

Lingering Questions

But first we have to deal with residual feelings of the Dark Night—a period in our lives when part (or possibly all) of our life is dismantled, leaving us feeling empty and disoriented. It’s time now to begin clearing away the disorientation and moving forward with co-creating a new life. However, this disorientation might still linger for a while, thus further delaying any major changes, which is why, during this time, we tend to ask ourselves specific questions about life, such as:

“Now what?”

“Is my life over?”

“Where have all my friends gone?”

“Who’s left that I can trust?”

“Since who I thought I was is no longer true, then who am I?”

“Now what am I supposed to do with my life?”

And it’s best not to answer such questions right away, as the dust (from our life’s demolition) has not yet completely settled. But when it truly is time to answer, it’s better not to answer with the voice of the little self—the ego—but rather to allow the Voice of God to reveal the answer.

Now that we’ve emptied the old contents of our cup (during the Dark Night of the Soul), God will refill that cup (while we reside in the Light at the End of the Tunnel). But if we want something new in our life, it’s necessary to set aside previous learning and experiences that conflict with the new awareness of who we truly are.

To him who overcomes . . . I will give . . . a white stone,
and a new name written on the stone.
Revelation 2:17

Receiving Guidance

As our new life emerges, it may not look familiar (which can be a little scary), but ultimately, that’s probably a good thing. Now that we’ve been through varying degrees of a personal hell, it’s time to realize that life is not about trying to control our own destinies. Instead, it’s time for us to “get out of the way.” This is a time for rejuvenating and receiving Guidance for our next steps, followed by implementing these new ideas and inspirations.

The heaviness of being successful was replaced
by the lightness of being a beginner again,
less sure about everything. It freed me
to enter one of the most creative
periods of my life.
–Steve Jobs

Taking Our Time and Allowing Spirit to Inspire Our New Direction

Although we have reached the Light at the End of the Tunnel, and seem ready to “turn the corner” and enter a new life—it must be a life built not with human minds or hands. Instead of trying to take control, now is the time to be still and allow God to inspire whatever new direction is best for our highest good. It’s time now for more prayer, meditation, and affirmation of the Truth and Power of God. As A Course in Miracles advises, “Make it a habit to ask for help where and when you can; you can be confident that all wisdom will be given when you need it.”

And although the Dark Night of the Soul may have left us feeling lost and empty, the good news is that we are now more teachable and ready for our lives to be filled up again. At this point, most people will settle for being filled with just about anything. They have been hurting and longing for so many months or years, they will settle for any form of distraction (new or old) that comes along. But for those of us who are more aware (awake)—we know that settling for merely anything that comes along is what took us into some of the most painful layers of the Dark Night in the first place, and we don’t want to repeat that. So instead of jumping off the deep end by following rash ego-compulsions, it’s best if we choose to move slowly at this time and wait for Guidance from Spirit. Now is the time to avoid repeating old patterns of choices and behaviors. Instead, it’s time to open our hearts, our minds, and our arms to God and ask to be Guided as never before. In other words, instead of trying to control our lives, it’s now best to surrender to God and to become a co-creator of a new life.

It is only when everything, even love, fails that. with a flash,
man finds out how vain and dream-like this world is.
Then he catches a glimpse . . . of what’s ahead and beyond.
It is only by giving up this world that the other
[new world]
comes, but never through holding on to this one.
–Vivekananda

Watching for Signs and Synchronicities

But how do we know when it’s finally time to move forward, yet avoid the temptation to create our new life prematurely or on “the rebound?” There is no one, linear answer to this because each person’s circumstances are different. This situation is not too dissimilar from having a terrifying nightmare in the middle of the night and waking up too scared to go back to sleep. So we lay in bed, feeling paralyzed by what has happened to us and wondering if the fear and trauma will ever subside. Then, before we know it, the view outside the bedroom window is no longer quite as dark, and we begin to hear birds chirping. Imagine the sense of peace and reassurance that comes over us. Similarly, the way to know that the Dark Night has passed, and that we are entering the Light at the End of the Tunnel, is by watching for signs of a shift in our feelings, experiences, and outer circumstances.

As we exit the Dark Night of the Soul and enter the Light at the End of the Tunnel, the experience of being in the Dark Night will, like a nightmare, begin to fade away—with its details seeming almost surreal, as though it happened to someone else. But rather than taking it for granted and ignoring the lessons, we, as masters, will forever remember what we learned during the Dark Night, so that such lessons need not return.

The Soul’s Purpose

Once we recognize that we have clearly entered the Light at the End of the Tunnel, we will go through stages of developing such personal attributes as becoming more fully alive, becoming more consciously aware, accessing our inner spiritual warrior, and awakening our inner master (to some new level). Also, we will now begin to bring the Light of God into the lives of all others on Earth—particularly through the form of fulfilling our soul’s purpose.

All human events are rooted in the law of cause and effect . . .
In this life you are the architect of your own destiny.
–Paramahansa Yogananda

Edgar Cayce once said that human beings cannot truly feel complete without knowing their soul’s purpose. The good news is that we don’t have to look very far for our purpose: Everyone has the same soul’s purpose, which is to bring the Light of God into this world. But we all do have a unique manner in which we will express that purpose, and that is what we are here on Earth to discover.

Summary and Conclusion

Again, the Dark Night of the Soul and the Light at the End of the Tunnel are usually portraying the archetypal hero/heroine’s journey. When we go through the Dark Night, however, it is now our journey—we are the hero or heroine. This is the destiny of us all—either sooner or later—and we are the ones who decide when to be the master who emerges victorious from life’s tests. The stories of Sleeping Beauty, Perseus, Beowulf, Thecla, and Odysseus are all stories of characters (historic or not) who are showing us how to transcend life’s tests so that we may return to the Light from which we came—becoming the pure Light that God created us to be.

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