I was teaching a young woman how to meditate and found myself wondering whether her depression was actually the beginning of a spiritual awakening.
When I asked her why she wanted to learn to meditate, she shared that she’d been experiencing mild anxiety and depression for some time. She wanted to feel more peaceful inside and her counselor recommended she give meditation a try.
What we uncovered as the session progressed, surprised both of us.
This woman was experiencing the inner conflict and turmoil that often accompanies the process of spiritual awakening and a transition that is referred to as a “dark night of the soul.”
As her story unfolded, she told me that she had no idea who she was and felt very disconnected. She felt an inner tug of war between following her own path and meeting the expectations of others and the societal norms that have given her the message that her happiness would be hinged on material success, getting married, and having children.
She put it this way, “My biggest frustration is feeling like I am not connected within – that I am two separate people, what I think, what I feel. I truly believe I am not in touch with myself and believe it is the reason for countless poor choices in friendships and relationships.”
What has this scenario got to do with awakening?
My client was beginning to feel the pull of her soul and the deeper truths about who she was at her core and her authentic self.
She was experiencing the signs arising from her soul that she wasn’t living in the right relationship with herself. That she needed to pause and get back in alignment with herself and create the courage to make some much-needed changes.
The reason people awaken is because they have finally stopped agreeing to things that insult their soul. Anonymous
She was feeling confused about the cause of her inner turmoil and wasn’t aware that we have a dual nature. The ancient wisdom teachings point to the idea that there’s a difference between our conditioned sense of self (personality), and our deeper self, or soul.
Her personality combined with conditioning with messages about what it means to be a “good” woman, had become a prison for her. Her focus on others at the expense of herself and the suppression of her true feelings had diminished her life force energy. She felt depressed and anxious.
After a period of reflection, this young woman had an epiphany- perhaps she wasn’t depressed after all. Perhaps her soul was sending her a message that she wasn’t being true to herself and needed to find the courage to look inward to connect with herself and make some outer changes. She was going through this “dark night of the soul” to ultimately become more fully her true self.
There are some who believe that the soul withdraws energy from things that aren’t meant for us. From a spiritual perspective, this is part of the awakening process. And from a traditional psychological perspective, this may be diagnosed as depression – a form of mental illness rather than a spiritual impulse and something new that needs to emerge.
Dr. Lisa Miller, the founder of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute explains that “This form of depression is very often a knock at the door as part of a spiritual quest.” In her book, The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and our Quest for an Inspired Life, Dr. Miller explains that there appear to be many different types of “so-called depression” and that what she calls developmental depression is a “call from the soul.” It’s a “spiritual invitation to live more fully, love more deeply, and open into dialogue with the sacred universe. Sensed through our inner wisdom, this kind of depression – whether it occurs at a ripe life stage such as adolescence or midlife, or in response to struggle or trauma – beckons us into a lifetime of awakening” (p. 174).
Dr. Miller goes on to explain that amongst middle-aged American women aged forty to fifty-nine, 23 percent take antidepressants. That’s almost one in four women. Why is that number so high? She shares that antidepressants are “being used as a palliative for life, and while they improve the symptoms of low mood, they don’t treat the root cause of the distress” (p. 127).
A mental health professional that I interviewed about her journey through the dark night of the soul, had this to share about the difference between awakening and depression: ” I had a history of depression and knew what it felt like. With this new experience, I could still get up in the morning, but it was a feeling of limbo and feeling stuck. I could get out of bed and function, but there was no sense of purpose to it, no energy behind it. It wasn’t negative energy like depression that sucks you down into a hole.”
Many of the folks I interviewed for The Dark Night Of The Soul Truths: Wayshowers Share Their Wisdom questioned whether they were depressed. Although it was difficult for them to explain why they just knew that it was part of a process. Something new needed to emerge and they were in what one woman called the liminal space. It didn’t feel pointless.
In the book, The Dark Night Of The Soul, psychiatrist Gerald G. May, M.D. puts it this way, “There is often a sense that down deep, people really wouldn’t trade their experience of the dark night for more pleasure – it’s as if at some level they sense the rightness of it.”
Are you listening to your soul?
The truth, however, is that the majority of people who receive this invitation have no idea that it’s an invitation from their soul.
When we ignore, deny or turn our back on the invitation because we don’t see it for what it is, we often experience symptoms such as emotional issues, physical health problems, relationship challenges, and jobs that don’t feel aligned.
More and more people are being called to make this shift.
Awakening is a normal part of the evolution of our consciousness.
Unfortunately, most people do not understand what’s happening. This spiritual awakening process and the accompanying “dark night of the soul” are often misunderstood. People experiencing awakening react as if there’s something wrong when in fact it’s a natural and beautiful, albeit often difficult, process of growth and change.
As we continued to explore what this awakening felt like for this woman, she experienced a sense of relief.
She was curious about spirituality and was feeling drawn to learn more about a creative life force that she intuitively knew played a significant role in her life. She went on to explain that she found herself asking the big questions in life: Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? Why am I here? Why do I feel this way when I have so much to be grateful for?
All of these signs pointed to the realization that this woman was being called to awaken.
What is awakening?
Awakening is a process whereby we become consciously aware of our dual nature and begin to witness ourselves in the context of our lives. In other words, we’re watching the movie rather than being part of the movie. This gives us perspective and the ability to discern where our thoughts, feelings, gut instincts, and stories are arising from. Are they arising from our fearful personality or are they messages arising from our soul?
Part of the awakening process involves shifting our worldviews and beginning to see things differently and more clearly. For example, for this woman it was seeing how focusing too much on others’ needs at the expense of her own wasn’t healthy for her and wasn’t giving others the space to take responsibility for their own lives.
Awakening is challenging because it requires that we shed the beliefs and habits that are no longer serving us in order to step fully into our authentic selves.
It’s a process of unbecoming and becoming all at the same time. We’re letting go of who we are not and ways of being that aren’t serving us any longer, to create space for our true self to emerge.
As our true self begins to slowly emerge we come into the right relationship with both our personality and our soul. We begin to feel more peaceful, energized, courageous, compassionate, and grounded with a lightness of being that arises when we’re living in alignment with our souls.
In the following video, I speak with podcast host Yasmin Elzomor about how the summons from her soul that began in her 20’s marked the beginning of a spiritual awakening.
If you feel called, please comment below. Our community would love to hear from you!
(Original post, July 19, 2018; Updated June 30, 2021).