What Is The Purpose Of The Dark Night Of The Soul?
For many, the dark night of the soul is a confusing time of feeling lost, like the foundation of our life has been pulled out from under us.
It’s a time of darkness as our innermost essence is in the shadow and removed from the light of our awareness.
The phrase “dark night of the soul” goes way back and originally comes from John of the Cross (1541-1597), a Spanish mystic and poet.
The most potent contemporary definition I have found comes from Dr. Zinia Pritchard, a Contemplative Practice Theologian who says, “The Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritual process where the seed of life is buried within the soil of suffering.”
Such a powerful image and realization that the birth of our true self happens when we experience the suffering and discomfort that arises when we’re confused, lost, and in the dark. All the ways we’ve drawn on to make sense of ourselves and our place in the world don’t seem to fit anymore.
A time of transition
The DNOS represents a period of transition and spiritual awakening in our lives where we shed the conditioned self that no longer serves us to step into a new way of being. One that honours our more profound sense of who we are and our soul.
We begin to question everything that we believe to be true. Our minds are desperately attempting to create meaning around our experience so that we can regain control and familiarity.
It often feels like we’re living in a void where who we were doesn’t seem to fit anymore, and we haven’t evolved into who we’re meant to become. We’re in the liminal space—no longer and not yet.
Gerald G. May, a psychiatrist and spiritual counsellor, put it this way in his book The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth:
“For all of us, however, there are moments of dawning awareness, little cracks in our armour that reveal glimpses of our deeper longing and our true nature. We begin to see that the results of our efforts are not quite as perfect as we had hoped for… Things that gave us pleasure in the past may now seem empty”(p.64).
The dark night of the soul is an intervention orchestrated by our soul to signal it’s time to get in touch with our true selves.
It occurs when we have drifted too far away from our true selves and live lives that aren’t true to who we are.
In short, when we are being who we think we should be and not who we’re meant to be.
I will share what happened during my dark night of the soul. In doing so, I hope it will shed some light on what was helpful so that you have hope that light is waiting for you.
It was a tough time when I experienced this emptiness several years ago. I had no idea what this transition was about and didn’t know how to navigate it.
I needed to retreat into a cocoon, although I didn’t understand why. My heart was heavy, and my head was spinning with many questions about my life and what brought meaning to my days.
At the time, I was living a life that most people dreamt about, with a great deal to be grateful for, and yet I felt a deep sense of emptiness and like something was missing.
To put it simply, my whole life was turned upside down. I wrote the book, “Awakening a Woman’s Soul: The Power of Meditation and Mindfulness to Transform Your Life,” to share my journey through this transition and help others understand and navigate their own.
In the cocoon phase, I was stripping away the conditioned layers that were dulling my sparkle. These layers comprised things like the stresses of daily life, outdated conditioned beliefs about what it meant to be a good woman, anger and resentment from stifling my voice and thoughts that were like a bad roommate.
As these layers were slowly alchemized, the energy going into keeping my conditioned self alive was redirected inward to my inner wisdom and the messages from my soul.
The soul requires us to live a life of truth, which is usually uncomfortable.
We must let go of the old self that isn’t serving us anymore to grow into our true selves. It’s been described by many as a kind of death and rebirth.
James Hollis, Ph.D. in his book, Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey put it this way:
“There is no going forward without a death of some kind: a kind death of who we thought we were and were supposed to be; a death of a map of the world we thought worthy of our trust and investment; a death of expectations that by choosing rightly we could avoid suffering, experience the love and approval of those around us, and achieve a sense of peace, satisfaction arrival home. But life has other plans it seems; indeed, our own souls have other plans.” (p. 61).
As we come through the dark night of the soul, our lives take on more depth, awareness, and alignment with our more profound truths. In a follow-up post, I share The Dark Night Of The Soul Truths as shared by way-showers who have gone through the dark night of the soul.
Our life begins to feel deeply meaningful, authentic, and expansive because we’re growing into who we’re meant to become.
This summons to depth is not an easy journey but worthwhile for those willing to embark on it. I write about the journey in The 7 Pillars Of Awakening On Your Spiritual Path article. It is an invitation to return home to ourselves and who we were meant to be before the world told us who we should be.
In the following interview, I speak with a Registered Psychologist and Holistic Healer, Dr. Angela Grace, about integrating spirituality and psychology and her journey through the dark night of the soul.
If you feel called, please comment below. Our community would love to hear from you!
Additional reading about the dark night of the soul:
In The Real Meaning Of The Dark Night Of The Soul, I intend to help people understand that the DNOS is about our personality that eclipses our soul, not our soul.
In Wisdom For Navigating The Dark Night Of The Soul Journey, I share what I learned after interviewing several way-showers who have gone through the DNOS journey.
(Original post, May 25, 2020; Updated post, Sept. 28, 2021)
I am struggling with something I don’t understand. I have loved God my whole life. Why am I in such darkness? My relationships are shaky at best, and falling apart at worst. I seem to come across as cold to others when I’m nothing but. I feel like God has abandoned me and I’ve been betrayed by a great community and friends I loved for years. I’ve had to leave that community and return to a place I was born in but never considered home. I am at the end of my ability to imagine a better life and am continuously at the brink of wanting to leave this planet. I’ve never experienced this much darkness and doubt in my life. Thank you, Kelley
Thank you for sharing with us here! After reading all the comments I hope you realize that you’re not alone in your struggles. It’s SO hard and painful when relationships either shift or fall away. I heard a song by Tish Melton, We Can Do Hard Things that reminds us of our deeper resilience to get through the times of darkness and doubt in our lives. This community of awakening souls and Life itself are wrapping you in a big, warm, loving blanket. Love, Bev.
Thank you, thank you, thank you…
Knew what I was experiencing, Living in the unknown, “The Cloud of Unknowing” Helped to feed my mind (ego). Reading this article, has given my soul a voice. Shellagh
Thanks for sharing with us here. I’m so grateful that this article gave your soul a voice. Beautiful! Love, Bev.
Hi Bev, I can’t thank you enough for giving me all the information and excerpts and the video of this very trying time that now makes sense. I’m definitely going to be looking into your other things but I was wondering is this directly for women or men also?
I’m so grateful to hear that my sharing has helped you to make sense of this really trying time! It truly does help to lessen our suffering when we can create some sort of meaning around it! This is definitely for both men and women. I used to work primarily with women and then had men reach out wanting support and guidance. Love, Bev.
Hi, my name is Marc. Thank you for this writing. I had a huge life change at the end of 2014 and mid 2015. A twenty year relationship abruptly ended and I just up and closed my twenty year business. I lost everything. But what became of it was the beginning of my return to god. And, trying desperately to find who I really am. I have been in this transformation so long I’m afraid my life will end this way. I seem to be addicted to the suffering. If I may ask, what do I do to find my way out?
Thank you and with gratitude
Thank you for sharing with us here! It’s really interesting that I’ve been reflecting lately that I’m inspired to share about the DNOS as part of a transformative journey because perhaps by shedding more light on it, people will be able to navigate through it and not get “stuck.”
It takes courage to see and name that you may be addicted to suffering. Are you familiar with the Enneagram? It’s a psychospiritual map that points to how different personality types have their own flavour of suffering/stress. One of the types, for example, has created an identity out of suffering – while joy and happiness are in their shadow.
In terms of how to find your way out I’d say it’s through self-discovery combined with intentional practices that will enable you first to see and then to shift things inside of you. A guide/mentor is very helpful for this. They can’t do the work for you, but the right guide can light your unique path and accompany you. Love, Bev.
Thank you for this and thank you for your courage. The conversation between you and the Angela is wonderful. I wonder, how can we be sure that our condition is the dark night of the soul and not depression?
Thank you and all the best
Thanks for your comment. What a great question! That’s a difficult question to answer because the worldviews that give rise to the exploration of the dark night of the soul are very different than how we arrive at the diagnosis of depression. One is based on the spiritual understanding of our soul’s evolution and the other based primarily (although not always) on the medical model and the need to diagnose and treat. From the soul’s evolution persepctive, both give rise to the opportunity to learn, grow and evolve. When I was going through the dark night of the soul, I had an inner knowing that my life wasn’t in alignment with my true self. Although I had many of the traditional symptoms of depression, I didn’t get a sense that I was “depressed.” I was lost, confused, in the fog and needing to withdraw for awhile to reconnect with my Self, but also felt that something new needed to emerge. All this to say that your question is an important one and as more people are awakening spiritually, one that over time we’ll be better able to shed a light on. Love, Bev
Dear Bev and All,
I loved this post and the video was so uplifting too, therein; big and cosmic thank you.
The clearing and purging and healing of soul is a most difficult albeit divinely orchestrated act of love.
Be love always and please do keep doing what you’re doing ❤️
Thanks so much! Your thoughtful comments means a lot and inspires me to continue on this path. Love, Bev.
What meditation are you certified to teach?
I’m certified through The McLean Meditation Institute and specialize in teaching techniques taught in various traditions, but I don’t teach the traditions themselves. For example, I teach and integrate into my coaching mindfulness, mantra meditation, body scans, forgiveness, self-compassion, loving-kindness, contemplation etc. My specialty is working one-on-one to personalize the techniques based on a person’s needs for their unique personal and spiritual growth path. Thanks for the question! Bev
Hi Bev. Clearly from reading all the positive feedback and seeing how many people are feeling lost lonely fearful of ‘losing it’ all alone and isolated, it makes you feel you are not alone. You are an angel wuth loads of compassion, insight and empathy. Praying I can find the strength too to feel happy, listen to good music again (can’t live without it), soothes the soul and most importantly get my sense of humour back xx Miss the laughing…… So vital for the soul. I need my family to have the ‘old’ real me back. Gone M.I.A. Thank you Bev xxxx
I’m SO glad that you’ve realized from reading all the comments and soulful sharing that you’re not alone in this journey. I have a feeling that you’re going to get your sense of humour back and that your family is going to get a more authentic and freer version of YOU. That’s what this DNOS journey is about! It’s not easy but when we come through it we feel a deeper sense of peace, meaning and alignment with our true self. Much love, Bev.
Hi Bev. I just discovered dark night of the soul last night because I have been feeling lost, confused, frustrated, losing interest in everything and also a loss of identity for a while. Learning about this has made me realised that I am going through this as I feel like I don’t know myself. I am having trouble navigating through it. Could you please give me an advice on how to find myself? I have no idea what to do as I am kind of living in a daze everyday.
I know how challenging this journey can be! It sounds like you are at a turning point where you’re being called to begin to get to know yourself – your deeper self. I have written a lot of blogs and a book to answer your question about how to begin the inward journey of connecting with yourself. Even with the information, however, it is hard to navigate through it and very helpful to have a guide as each journey is unique. Please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like personalized support. Much love, Bev
I feel like my soul wants to go back where it came from.
I feel the same way. Homesick feeling I have had since childhood.
I randomly went searching for an explanation that I felt that fit to what I have recently gone through. Litterly every piece of life around me and steps I had taken when I moved from my hometown was stripped down. It felt like something was saying you don’t belong here anymore you need to bloom. It started with my last relationship, I felt it needed to end as I was in a dark place In the relationship yet in a light place in my own world. Next, I had covid, met a new guy and we kept randomly having things happen such as getting kicked out of bars, multiple random things happening to where we had to leave bars, things lighting on fire, then I had a breakdown at work- a place I felt most accepted at and highly respected had finally ended. It was as if I knew I could take more yet my soul couldn’t. Next thing was back home some negative things were happening when I wasn’t around. The last call that happened was a feeling I couldn’t shake, an intuition that something serious was headed my way. The call I listened to was when I got into a car accident and my car was totaled. Something was telling me I needed to leave my old life behind and begin again. Everything happened as if something knew I wouldn’t move onto a next chapter unless everything in my current life was stripped away from me. Now, I am back in my hometown and feel aligned almost like I am in position in a waiting process while my path is being put together like a puzzle. I am now dating an amazing guy who I never thought I would find.
I thought I would share a shortened version of my recent days.
Thanks so much for sharing your recent journey with us. Letting go of the old to embrace what wants/needs to emerge takes a lot of courage. I’m so grateful to hear that you have found your way and are living in alignment! Much love, Bev
I feel like I’ve been going through the dark night of the soul myself and seeing that there are so many others out there going through the same thing brings encouragement. It feels I’ve been on this path for almost 2 months now. At first I didn’t know what was happening in my life but then I heard about the Dark night of the soul and it describes exactly what I am going through. So i talked with my pastor and he said it was a time when we feel isolated from God, spiritual dryness and a time of growth.
Thanks so much for sharing with us that you’ve been navigating the dark night of the soul. It warms my heart that hearing from others leaves you knowing that you are not alone! This dark night of the soul truly is a time of initiation to a new way of being that brings deeper meaning, love and connection. I’m so grateful that you have a pastor that has helped you understand what you are experiencing. Much love to you, Bev.
So grateful for sharing this content.
I’m glad you’ve found the content meaningful! Love, Bev
Can’t thank you enough Bev! Everything you say is so inspiring!
I felt like you were describing exactly how I feel and what is happening to me.
Thanks for encouraging all of us! Much love to you
Thank you SO much for the kind feedback. It means a great deal to me to hear from others as it truly gives us a sense that we’re not alone. It’s also super helpful to hear that what’s written describes what you’re experiencing as it validates that there are some common threads in this spiritual process. Much love to you as well!!! Bev
This article was a beacon of hope to me, thank you for writing it so beautifuly. I’m going through a breakup with a person I love dearly because it has been a while since I stopped seeing the light. The pain is excruciating but I hope this was the best choice for both of us so I can heal myself whilst doing soul searching. Much love to you all
I’m SO glad that the article has provided hope at such a difficult time in your life. My heart goes out to you as I know how painful and difficult it is to find the courage to follow your soul when that requires that you break up with someone you love. I and everyone else that reads this will be sending you so much love. Just know that you’re not alone! Bev
Great interview between two lovely, awakened souls. I’m taking away Angela’s comment that the dark night of the soul “happens FOR you.” So obvious when you start to come out the other side.
Thanks for sharing your powerful takeaway that the process happens “for” us, even though it often doesn’t feel like that at the time. I’m so grateful you’re coming out the other side! Love, Bev
How do i continue to stay on this path of awakening my soul it feels good and makes me happy and ive lived a long life of miserable unhappy and unhealty. I dont want this feeling to fade away please help me stay on this track
Todd, thank you for sharing with us here and a great question about how to continue on this path! Once you start on this path of awakening it is really about continuing to be guided as to what your next step might be. In terms of not wanting the feeling to fade, we know that the path ebbs and flows as do our feelings. Staying on track is really about continuing with our daily spiritual practices that enable us to present for whatever is arising in the moment. Building presence really is the key! Much love, Bev
Hi Bev. I may just be beginning to plant my feet on solid ground out the other side of what might have been this journey, rather than a debilitating illness. Time will tell. Thank you for this site, which seems like a breath of fresh air, validating the ‘soul’s journey’ in times that in many ways mitigates against it. And for sharing so much information in bite-sized chunks. A gem discovered. With thanks Gareth
Hi Gareth- thank you so much for your kind feedback about my site. I’m grateful to hear that you feel you’re on the other side of what is a challenging journey for many of us. Thank you for sharing this as it provides a source of inspiration and hope for people at different stages in their journey. My deepest thanks, Bev.
Am really struggling, its been almost 3 years and still can’t figure out how life gonna come back to my soul.
Hi James, I’m sorry to hear that you’re struggling. You are not alone as so many of us are either experiencing this passage or have at some point in our lives. Please send me an email if you’re seeking mentoring during this time. Much love to you!
Thanks for your response. Am glad also that you are concerned. I may be reached through email@example.com
You are welcome.
I love how you share your story here, describing it as a stripping away to leave your brightest self shining. It’s the most important work we will ever do. Thanks for this article Bev.
Hi Donna! Thanks for your comment. It truly is the most important work we will ever do to leave our “brightest self-shining.” I love how you said that!
Thank you for your article.
I am going through one of the most difficult times I have ever done after divorce. I cant see any light ahead and therefore your article is really inspiring.
You’re welcome! I’m sorry to hear you’re going through such a difficult time and that this article has inspired you to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I know it’s not easy and you’re not alone. Much love, Bev