For many, the dark night of the soul is a confusing time of feeling lost and 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 powerful contemporary definition that I have found comes from Dr. Zinia Pritchard, a Contemplative Practice Theologian:
“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. When all the ways that we’ve drawn on to make sense of ourselves and our place in the world just don’t seem to fit anymore.
It represents a period of transition and transformation in our lives where we shed those things that are no longer serving us in order to step into a new way of being. One that honours our deeper sense of who we are and our soul.
We begin to question everything that we believed to be true. Our minds are desperately attempting to create meaning around our experience so that we can get a sense of control and familiarity back.
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. The space between 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. Perhaps the career we worked so hard to achieve is not as rewarding as we’d expected. Maybe the love relationship we thought would make us complete has become timeworn and frayed. 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 back in touch with ourselves.
It occurs when we have drifted too far away from our authentic selves and are living 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’m going to share what happened during my dark night of the soul. In doing so I hope that it will shed some light on what was helpful so that you have hope that there is light waiting for you.
When I experienced this sense of emptiness a number of years ago, it was a very difficult time in my life. I really had no idea what this transition was all about and had no clue how to navigate through it.
I felt the need to “retreat” into a cocoon although I didn’t have an understanding as to why. My heart was heavy and my head was spinning with lots of 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 both understand and navigate their own.
In the “cocoon” I was stripping away the layers that were dulling my sparkle. These layers were made up of 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 my thoughts that were like a bad roommate.
As these layers were slowly alchemized, the energy that had been going into keeping my conditioned self alive was redirected inward to my inner wisdom and the messages arising from my soul.
The soul requires us to live a life of truth, which is usually not comfortable.
It requires that we let go of the old self that isn’t serving us anymore, in order to grow into our more authentic self. 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 deeper truths.
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 it is a worthwhile one for those of us who are willing to embark on it. 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 spoke with a fellow Meditation Teacher and founder of Cloud Nine Meditation, Angela Swanson about her transformative journey through the “dark night of the soul.” Angela shared how ultimately this challenging journey was in the end a “miracle.”
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