Moving Through and Beyond A Dark Night of The Soul
By Melanie Beckler, 06/11/2016
Moving Through A Dark Night of the Soul And Into the Light
Many of our spiritual greats have written about the Dark Night of the Soul, a troubling and often difficult spiritual phase.
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.
The truth is that this dark night happens to many, I too experienced a dark night of the soul, and 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? Have faith, because just as is the case in the cycles of the earth, when there is the experience of a dark night, there is always a light day that follows.
The key, is to explore and embrace the phase you’re in, learning the lessons of the moment in order to transform and move through them.
So Wait… What is The Dark Night of the Soul?
The Dark Night of the Soul is a phrase used when you experience a loss of meaning in your life. Usually prolonged, you see no joy and there is simply an overwhelming 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 is hopelessly malfunctioning.
Many times a dark night is triggered by an external event. 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.
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. Some have described feelings of being stuck, with no hope of lightness or joy. Many talk about feelings of loneliness, isolation, and being misunderstood. Life feels pointless and painful.
The time of the dark night 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.
However your transformation takes shape, most begin experience the ability to observe the world around them without identifying with it. 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 to 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.
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 express gratitude for them.
In essence, the dark night is a rite of passage. Those lucky enough to experience it can come to a profoundly different and more peaceful life. The pain that you feel is often a lifetimes worth of repressed emotions, finally saying “Enough is enough,” and allowing you the opportunity to experience them and then release them.
You must make efforts not to numb the pain, but to say, “Thank you.” 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.
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.
5 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 identity 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.
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.
Moving Through and Beyond
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 the ego. You might fear that you will be a blissed out Zen shell, where nothing affects you and no emotions are felt. This is the ego trying to scare you. Your true Self is full of love and joy and is connected to everything including the divine. You remain very much a part of your life, and it’s more powerful and beautiful than ever.
Advice For Making It Through The Dark Night
If you are experiencing a dark night, my first piece of advice is to recognize and accept that this is a natural phase of life.
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. You’re not being punished, or attacked, and you’re definitely not a victim. Get out of your own way and allow this process to unfold!
Second, I highly recommend that you do nothing. The ego will give you lots of other 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 them fully. 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?”
Seeking advice from a spiritual teacher, counselor, or friend, is also a good and comforting idea. I encourage you to pursue whatever healing modalities feel right to you. Doing nothing means that you must relax and just BE. 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.”
Observe only and you will find your lack of resistance to be your most powerful tool.
The Time is Now
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 suffering. This 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.
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
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,
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