Moving Through A Dark Night of the Soul Into A New Phase of Awakened Light
Many spiritual greats have written about the Dark Night of the Soul, which is a troubling and incredibly difficult phase of spiritual awakening.
Not everyone on the spiritual path experiences this challenging period, but for those who do, it has the potential to be incredibly transformational.
The first writings about the Dark Night of the Soul come from Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic and Carmelite monk in the 16th century. A man who was a spiritual “out of the box” thinker for his time, he was imprisoned for eight years due to his beliefs. During this time he wrote Dark Night of the Soul which recounts his experiences of consuming spiritual darkness. For him, the dark night was a painful period that revealed deep truths to him – not all easy to look at or acknowledge. But he also shares that within the darkness, there is promise and hope. He came to believe that there was no better way to achieve spiritual transformation than through the gifts unseen in the dark.
Other great saints, like Teresa of Avilla, have written about this phase, but it is not a subject that many speak about. Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who was called to minister to the sick and dying of Calcutta, India, wrote to her confessor about decades of spiritual darkness.
Many people feel that they must always work to raise their vibration, feel happy, and move forward on the spiritual path.
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So Wait… What is The Dark Night of the Soul?
The Dark Night of the Soul is a phrase used to describe reaching a low point in life, where you experience a loss of meaning in your life, and face the deep questions around your own mortality, and a previous lack of meaning in your life. There is little joy in this phase, and an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness to everything you perceive.
From the outside, the experience looks similar to a depressive state. You lack motivation, nothing makes sense, and the compass that generally steers you in the right direction seems to be hopelessly malfunctioning leaving you stuck in a “pit of despair”… Energetically drained, not seeing things as they are, and lost about how to get out or even where to go if you could emerge.
Every Dark Night Awaits an Incredible Bright Light
This experience of a “dark night” is something that happens to many, and I too have experienced a dark night of the soul. At the time, I was miserable, but now looking back it's clear to see that moving through this period of pain, darkness, and depression in my life aligned me with an incredible light and a beautiful gift.
Do you think you may be experiencing the phase that is the Dark Night of the Soul?
Trust that you will make it through, because just as is the case in the cycles of the earth, when there is the experience of a dark night, the light of day is always sure to follow.
The key, is to explore and embrace the phase you're in, to be present with the sense of loss you may be feeling, and through this presence you are able to learn lessons of the moment in order to transform and move through them.
How Does the Dark Night of the Soul Start?
Many times a dark night is triggered by an external event. If you experience any of these situations, they often foreshadow the beginning of a deep spiritual transformation:
- The death of someone close to you, especially an “out of order” death, like losing a child or a young spouse, is often a trigger.
- Any crisis or disaster which renders the meaning you’ve given to your life invalid can be a catalyst.
- Some report experiencing a dark night after an intense or sudden period of spiritual growth and realization.
But just as regularly, there is no clear or obvious trigger. You are moving through your life with relative ease, creating meaning in your relationships, career, community, and suddenly, this meaning collapses.
16 Dark Night of the Soul Symptoms
I mentioned before that a Dark Night of the Soul looks, and feels, similar to a state of depression. Initially, the experience can be confusing until you learn to identify the symptoms and gain some understanding. A few things to look out for:
- Feeling negative emotions: anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, hatred, etc., without knowing why or being able to identify a cause.
- You have tried methods and techniques to shake off the negativity, loneliness, and confusion, but nothing works. In fact, it might sometimes be made worse.
- You have memories or an intuition that of childhood pain that you cannot seem to shake.
- When you try to talk to others about what you are experiencing, you have a sense that they do not or cannot fully understand. You feel alone, even isolated from the Divine, a previous source of comfort and inspiration.
- You feel fatigued and listless; your energy is spent trying to resolve these negative feelings.
- You feel abandoned by everyone. This can be from society, your family, your friendships, romantic partner, and community.
- There is an innate feeling of shame and worthlessness that you can’t seem to break out of. You don’t feel worthy or deserving of anything good in your life. You feel ashamed of your existence, feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, and unable to love yourself.
- You feel at loss, like you’re grieving for humanity, or for a place you long to call home.
- You feel sad because your ego and your beliefs have been shattered. While suffering this loss, you also feel lost, purposeless, and don’t know which way to go next.
- You ask yourself philosophical questions like, Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Does any of this even matter? On some levels, there is a call for an ego-death, a rebirth, and an identity change that you are not prepared for, but are learning to accept.
- You try to convince yourself to be happy, when you believe to have the perfect life everyone wants… And yet you experience an incredible void, and sense that “something is off”
- You’re experiencing physical, emotional, and spiritual detox symptoms. This could be a sudden food intolerance, pain from an old injury that resurfaces, buried memories resurfacing, hot and/or cold energies and tingles moving through your body.
- You experience intense dreams, nightmares, and past life memories
- Because of some unresolvable differences in beliefs and values, you lose your support system of family and friends, or by choice you distance yourself from them.
- You experience waves of angst and disillusionment with your understanding of God and your community. Feeling hopeless and disappointed at all that you believed to be true.
- An event triggers you to experience an existential crisis, feeling disconnected from everything and everyone.
When this happens, through external or internal circumstances, the framework of life as you knew it, of life as you were comfortable with, crumbles; meaning is gone and is replaced confusion and spiritual pain. You feel that you’ve been left in a dark place.
The Darkest Hour is Before the Dawn
Some have described dark night of the soul as feeling like being stuck, with no hope of lightness or joy. Many talk about feelings of loneliness, isolation, and being misunderstood. Life feels pointless and painful.
Allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling this during the challenging times of the dark night will help you move through this time gracefully, expanding your consciousness, and anchoring you closer to your true self.
All of the symptoms that you feel are there to teach you love, surrender, trust, connection, and acceptance. In other words, they have come to teach you about your true self. The conflict comes when the ego fights to maintain its control over your life. Do not attempt to struggle with the ego, let it relax and through the lessons you are learning, you will see your true Self emerge.
The time of the dark night of the soul can feel interminable, but if you can learn to welcome these emotions, you can move through to a clearer and higher level. Over time, you awaken to something deeper that is not based on the ego’s perception of reality. Purpose returns and with it a greater sense of connection with the Divine and with your own soul. For some, it is as profound as the complete death of the ego.
Take Your Time and Trust the Process
While trusting your journey, this dark night of the soul process may feel destabilizing, therefore accept what rises within you. From this place of awareness, reflect what is coming up for you, and the purpose it serves for your transformation.
A Passage into The Light of Day
While it’s happening, the Dark Night of the Soul can make you feel miserable; as if you’ve been abandoned. Some people have a tendency to ask “Why me?” as if they’ve done something wrong. One of the most difficult things to do during this period is to embrace the difficult emotions and to find gratitude for them.
How to Make it Through The Dark Night
In essence, the dark night is a rite of passage. Those who move through it can come to a profoundly different and more peaceful life. Sort of light bouncing off of rock bottom, the only place you can go from this low of lows is up!
The pain you feel during this low point is often a lifetimes worth of repressed emotions, finally coming up for release and resolution. It's your soul saying “Enough is enough,” its time to experience all this feeling rather than burying it… Its time to process, experience and finally let the heaviness go.
One of the keys … Is to lean in:
- If you are experiencing a dark night of the soul,recognize and accept that this is a natural phase of life. Don't just yourself for being here… Allow it to be okay.
- Make an effort to face what is arising head on. Keep your heart open and remember that pain is only a visitor, that carries a message from your True Self.
- Seeking advice from a spiritual teacher, counselor, or friend, is also a good and comforting idea. Pursue whatever healing modalities feel right to you.
- Know that there is no punishment or persecution from the universe here. You may have experienced a tragedy, or a life time of stuffing emotions (a tragedy in itself) and the universe has made a move to shake you up, help you release, and help you come into your full spiritual potential.
- Nothing is wrong with you, and know that this is the process of shedding layers of all that is not serving you. You're not being punished, or attacked, and you're definitely not a victim. Get out of your own way, being extra gentle, loving, tuning into the inner voice of compassion and allow this process to unfold!
- The ego will give you lots of advice. Perhaps tell you just to stuff the emotions or blame someone or something else. When you are in the thick of your emotions, try just observing them and not identifying with them.
- Allow them to be. Feel emotions fully no matter how rocky the feelings are. Make space for whatever is asking for some face time.
When you feel like you want to run away, distract yourself, or push the feelings aside, simply allow yourself to notice the resistance.
- Ask questions like, “Where do I feel this in the body? What does it look like? Where has it come from? Can I let this be here now? Can I let this go?”
- Get into motion! Movement is one of the best ways to support yourself in processing heavy emotions and old energies so you can recalibrate your mind, body and spirit. Your body has a natural ability to heal and restore itself back to balance. Support this ability by walking in nature, stretching, doing Qigong, Yoga, or dance.
- Remember that there's no one right thing you need to DO to make it through this. When the pain is paralyzing, when you feel like you must DO something, remember this Buddhist saying, “Nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be.”
- Cultivate the practice of mindfulness and let your thoughts and feelings pass without being attached. Think of the phrase, you are not your thoughts, but you are the engine that thinks these thoughts.
- This experience is a great teacher and if you continually ask your pain, “What are you here to teach? What lessons do I need to learn?” you allow the pain freedom to move, enter your consciousness, and transform.
- While the pain may have affected or hurt you, remember to be gentle, compassionate, and tender…practicing self-acceptance more than judgement for all that you feel.
- Take the space you need to feel and don’t overthink or rush the process. There’s no way of doing “the dark night of the soul” wrong. Know that everything happens for a reason and in divine time. Give yourself permission to be, to feel, and to know yourself, and recognize what is really being shown for you.
- As part of the Universal law, the greater the darkness, the brighter the coming light. See this phase as an incubation as a period of shedding the layers to the unfolding, true you. Be gentle on yourself, while you reflect and process the new levels of consciousness the dark night of the soul brings.
- As counter intuitive as it seems, accepting the pain, loving the part of yourself that is scared, hurt and in pain, and letting it all be okay is exactly how you begin to move through the dark night into the light of day.
- Begin a daily practice of gratitude. Gratitude raises your vibration and helps to taking your wounds, and transforming them into light.
- Focus your attention towards what you appreciate about your day, about your life, about the universe, about your surroundings. It could be something simple, like seeing a bird outside your window, or eating a meal that you enjoyed. There is always something to appreciate in a day. You just have to find it!
- Even during the dark night of the soul, there is a transformation happening within you. Take your time to honor it, these internal changes in your mind, body, and spirit.. feeling gratitude for yourself at the heart level.
- Focus your intention on gratitude is opens your heart light, shifting you out of fear and lack, and preparing you for the miracles life is ready to bring you.
- Clear your mind. So much of the suffering you're feeling and experiencing is not your truth. Clear your mind with golden light to allow the emotional storms of suffering to, with grace and ease, blow through.
Moving Through and Beyond
As humans, we fear the unknown, and moving through a Dark Night of the Soul, when we cannot see ahead, beyond the control of the ego, is a huge unknown. Through the ego, most of us are addicted to suffering, attachment, fulfilling desires. The longer you let the ego rule, the longer and more intense your dark night is likely to be.
Another unknown is what life will be like after you move through this phase of suffering but maintaining the status quo. “Better the devil I know that the devil I don't know.”
In response to this, I want to simply remind you… That incredible blessings await on the other side of fear.
Your True Self is full of so much love and joy and is connected to everything including the Divine. Greater blessings than you can even imagine right now await you… Its just about clearing out the old energy so you can come into vibrational and physical alignment with these blessings that await.
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How Long Will it Take to Get Through This?
There is no timeframe or prescribed set of do’s and don’ts for a Dark Night of the Soul. Each path is unique.
Yes, there will be challenges, and likely pain too, but suffering is not a prerequisite. Suffering only arises when you're attached. Let go. Surrender to the Divine path of Life and Light and allow the path through to appear.
A dark night of the soul cannot and should not be avoided. It’s not necessary to try to rush through it, though that will be the ego’s instinct. It won’t always feel like a gift, you won’t always make the best choices. But when you can, let love shine on your pain; open your heart and feel what you can. Allow your pain to be the catalyst for the greatest transformation in your life.
This is the natural course to what is happening to you, as your breakdowns become your breakthroughs. Learn the ebb and flow, the push and pull that is happening in you and within the collective consciousness. The patterns and challenges that present itself are not happening to you, but for you.
The Time is Now – Use Your Dark Night As Fuel For Transformation
However your transformation takes shape, most begin to experience the ability to observe the world around them without identifying with it. On the other side of pain and confusion is your transformation. Use this time to get a better understanding for how your dark night is there to move you towards a higher truth. People going through the dark night of the soul often describe their process like this:
- You see the perceptions of the ego and the order and control that the ego wants to place on the world, but you also see that none of it is real.
- You realize that you, the Self, are real, are Oneness.
- You can see that while the ego was creating meaning in your life, and allowing you to feel that you had it all figured out and knew where you were going, that in fact, it was creating illusion for you to feel comfortable in, maybe even satisfied.
In this way, concepts become meaningless, which is truly scary while it’s happening. This in turn tends to cause the ego to begin to cling to the past even harder, making the dark night feel even darker. Sticking with the intensity allows you to emerge on the other side with a deep sense of aliveness, which you apply to your interactions and experiences.
There is joy in this Oneness.
You are not separate from your life, but you are no longer attached to the ego and its desires. You feel all emotions, from good to bad, but you remain seated in the Self.
The great Sufi poet Rumi wrote regularly about the Dark Night of the Soul (though he didn’t call it this). Use his words as comfort and guidance as you make your way through this dark night toward your own true Self.
“Don't turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That's where the light enters you.”
“The cure for the pain is the pain.” -Rumi
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Keep going. Let it be okay…. Know that although it doesn't feel like it, this too shall pass, and many days of love, light, and blessings await.
With love and light,