I am compelled to write about the dark night of the soul because I am currently journeying through a dark night myself. The recent death of my mother was my entrance, this time around. We all take our turn in the dark night journey. Loss is the entrance. This may be a loss of a loved one to death, to the break-up of a relationship, loss of health to illness, loss of a job, loss of a home, loss of youth, loss of a dream….loss.
In astrology the dark night of the soul would be associated with Pluto, the planet of loss that happens out of your control that takes you to your knees in surrender. It is through this surrender that the soul transforms. In tarot, you could associate the dark night of the soul with the Death and The Hanged Man archetypes. The former applies to the actual loss, the latter to the journey that comes with the loss. If you pull these cards, you know it is your turn.
The dark night of the soul is not fun, easy, predictable, or known. Each time a person goes through it, it is their own unique journey. At the same time, the dark night of the soul is archetypal, universal, and collective. There are key elements we all experience when going through it. It’s helpful to know that you are not going insane and that nothing is wrong with you when you feel…
Hopeless, like nothing can lift your heart out of the shadows.
Despair, like you’ve fallen into an abyss and there is no light to be found.
Confused, like one minute you are in your every day life with your usual struggles and pleasures (no matter how intense they may present) and the next minute you’re in a different place emotionally. You feel feelings you cannot name. Your life does not seem to make sense.
Angry because you feel as if life unfairly took something important from you.
Judgmental of yourself because you are not functioning like your usual self and being vulnerable makes you feel embarrassed.
Like hiding or withdrawing because interacting with others makes you feel worse. Maybe you are envious of what they have that you have lost. Maybe you try to explain yourself but it makes you feel worse to do so. Maybe the contrast of your life against their life is too much to bare. Maybe you need silence. You don’t laugh as easy. You don’t feel chatty. You cannot care about their lives the way you normally do. You have very little to give.
Like escaping self-destructively into food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, television, or whatever thing or activity will act like a balm on the harsh feelings. Maybe you have an addiction issue and the dark night takes you to a new level of needing to surrender to not partake in your addiction. Maybe you don’t have an addiction issue but keep over doing it and feeling bad about yourself and struggle to find balance.
Like you can’t sleep or you sleep too much, your dreams are intense, you wake up each morning in a fog, you never feel truly rested.
And these are just a few of the feelings and experiences I am tapping into that we all share when in the dark night. The dark night is not a depression. It is a rite of passage.
Just know you are normal for experiencing all of the above. This journey will take its own course in its own time. There is nothing you can do to stop it and it is enforced upon you.
Surrender is the key.
Surrender is all you can do but at the same time, you have a choice to continually make and grapple with every single day. I stress “grapple” because the dark night of the soul is an internal wrestling match on the regular.
You can surrender and radically accept all of these feelings and experiences that seize you, not identify with the feelings, let them pass through you and allow the dark night to mysteriously transform the myth of your soul.
Or you can resist the dark night by identifying with the feelings and telling yourself a story that creates suffering based upon these feelings.
This story can be that you are bad, guilty, wrong, fucked up, not good enough, or that you need to just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with life, that your feelings can’t compare with those who are going through worse, that you don’t have the right to feel pain and loss as you push all your feelings down into the shadow, slowly making yourself sick either through seeming like a shining star of strength or through self destructing from escape into addiction or fleeing or doing something impulsive that makes your life fall into suffering. You get the idea.
Suffering is the story, not the feelings.
The internal wrestling is hard because the feelings that rise up in the dark night are unnamable and often intense. The key is to let them rise and pass through you like chemical storms.
Agony, loneliness, despair, anger, regret, every form of vulnerability where the ego feels like its fallen off the throne and lost its crown, can present in the dark night. Or maybe you feel a low level blah, a loss of interest in your regular activities, or you need to be alone. Depends on the temperament as we are all different.
The key though, is to allow the feelings and desires to present and be honored without buying the stories the feelings want to sell.
Sometimes the thoughts create the feeling but I think more than often, the feelings create the thoughts. You feel sad and then you tell yourself, “I am not good enough”. You feel confused and you tell yourself, “I am lost.” You feel guilty and you tell yourself, “I am not lovable.”
This is why I am not a big fan of reframing thoughts to change the feelings. I think this winds up invalidating the feelings and then what you resist will persist and the feelings will find a way to express, often through physical illness or projection onto another. Feelings need to be recognized and felt to leave the body. Our culture has a morality around dark feelings being bad and it winds up making the self sick as a result.
I am more of a fan of mindfulness practice. When a big scary or dark feelings rise, instead of trying to change the feeling into something positive, witness the feeling, feel it, and do not identify with it. You are not your feelings. If you do this, the feeling will rise like an internal storm, express, and leave the body like waves that roll through.
When you identify with the feeling that rises inside, you create a story from it. If you identify with despair in your dark night, you may create a story that says, “my life is always painful and I never get a break.” This traps the feeling by perpetuating it over and over inside of the story. This causes suffering.
If you don’t identify with the despair rising in you, the feeling will storm, express and leave the body. This is where the magic happens. Somehow, from letting feels express and leave the body, you slowly begin to transform.
This is the soul journey of the dark night. The essential nectar. It’s in the meaning making. It is spirit playing the role of you and making a myth out of your life. It is you finding forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation for yourself and for those who have hurt you. You let go of the clinging, you release the suffering, you release the karma. Your heart purifies and you remember who you are. Love.
This is how the soul transforms. Through loss.
The dark night of the soul is an archetypal rite of passage that is meant to transform your soul. Grief is the medicine. But you have to allow this to happen.
If you resist the feelings by over-identifying with them and creating stories of suffering that perpetuate the same patterns in your life, you wont transform. You will petrify. You will grow more resentful, guilty, bitter, defensive, untrusting. You may get sick if the stories turn into physical aliments from all the trapped feelings.
If you don’t identify with the feelings that rise within you and you learn how to let them express and pass through, you will mysteriously begin to feel differently about yourself, your past, those who hurt you or who you hurt in your past. You will begin to find forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.
Forgiveness. Redemption. Reconciliation. Big words, big topics. I will save digging in for another blog.
This is the power of of the dark night of the soul. It is soul medicine and to understand the medicine you must remove judgement on light being good and dark being bad. You must remove the perspective that happiness is good and sadness is bad. That gain is good and loss is bad. You must allow the full spectrum of life experiences and feelings expression within you, without identifying with them. You must be willing to heal, grow, and evolve. It’s very hard!
If we collectively (and we are starting to) understand and educate about the medicine of the dark night of the soul it would be easier because no singular human would feel isolated in their experience and they would have a map for how to traverse through the pitch black dark night of their soul journey. Perhaps many of our ancient elders experienced this collective wisdom in their earth based cultures?
I am only giving a brief summary here and I am writing this mid-dark night of my soul. Figure I have another year left. I am internally wrestling my ego’s compulsion to identify with the feelings and tell myself negative stories about self. My witness is strong and although the negative story maker is busy as work, I am not identifying with those tales.
It’s important to understand that not identifying often means saying “no, I wont believe this story about myself,” not necessarily being free of the negative stories blabbing away in the psyche every time a hard feeling rises up. It’s learning to ignore the blah blah blah while allowing the feeling to swell and express without thoughts. Eventually the thoughts and meaning-making return but as a wise soul myth, and not a false negative self story.
I am just now beginning to enter the realm of forgiveness. More to come. I am in the dark night with you and if you are not in the dark night, hello from the darkness.