My blog – June 2021
Have you ever been feeling unbelievably low, like you’ve lost all hope and there’s simply no way forward for you? Maybe you even feel that way now. Things may feel devastating or scary, but reports from thousands of people suggest that you can expect to find the light at the end of the tunnel. The road through overwhelming darkness and into a new, more rich and meaningful phase of life is an often traveled one, and is sometimes called the “dark night of the soul”.
This term comes from a poem written in the 14th century by St. John of the Cross. He was a Roman Catholic saint who was imprisoned and tortured for eight months, until his eventual escape. His suffering inspired his poem, The Dark Night, in which he describes a soul’s journey through pain to reach enlightenment.
The poem is close to 500 years old, but the idea behind it remains relevant and powerful today; many people who aren’t Christian or wrongly imprisoned still identify with the feelings of hopelessness that St. John describes.
A dark night of the soul is often triggered by an external event, such as the death of a loved one or, for many people, the Covid-19 pandemic. And although this experience feels like the worst time you’ll ever go through, people report coming out the other side feeling awakened and more connected to themselves and the universe than ever before.
What does a dark night of the soul feel like?
Your hobbies, achievements, friends, family, job all help you understand your identity and your path toward the future. So for many people, if you lose the key things you tie yourself to, it feels like your whole life has collapsed. It’s understandable that this could put you in an extremely dark place.
It feels much like depression, but the difference lies in how the experience helps you grow. The spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle describes how you may come out of your dark night of the soul “into a transformed state of consciousness.”
How to find the light in the darkness
Many people share the experience of reaching such an intense state of pain and suffering that they go through some sort of rebirth. There are many reports of feeling unimaginably hopeless, and then having a sudden “epiphany” that changes them forever.
- Your identity doesn’t need to center around external things like your career, wealth, or who you spend time with.
- You may need to do work to quiet down your inner critic and disengage from the conditioning you’ve previously been exposed to.
- Your pain isn’t personal. Everybody is one and connected; your pain is not your pain alone but is shared by the world – and vice versa.
People who have gone through this epiphany gain new awareness and alignment with their deeper truths. They often report the beginning of a process of true personal transformation, in which life feels more meaningful, authentic and expansive than ever before.
After emerging from their dark night, many people feel an urge to let go of past trauma and reshape the narrative of their lives. For this, they can often benefit from tools such as meditation and belief work.
The dark night of the soul experience also helps people understand that their suffering is more universal than they previously thought. They become inspired to give back to the world, this time with true dedication and love.
Famous dark nights of the soul
Throughout history and cultures, many people have gone through dark nights of the soul. Unjust imprisonment is a particular circumstance that may trigger this phenomenon. St John of the Cross went through it, and Nelson Mandela is another famous case. Mandela spent a long time in prison in South Africa, and recounted his spiritual growth in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
Comedian Russell Brand is a modern figure who is very open about his journey. He became addicted to heroin at 19, which cost him girlfriends, friends, and his dream job at MTV. In 2003, he was at rock bottom, and his manager forced him to get help. Brand underwent a difficult journey where he made peace with his past. He “forgave and asked for forgiveness”, and is now happily married and has a successful career as a public speaker, so he can share his journey towards spiritual depth and authenticity with others.
Resources to help you through your dark night
Many individuals who have been through a dark night of the soul or have studied it have created fantastic resources to prepare you for, or guide you through, this experience.
The Dark Night Of The Soul: A Survival Guide
If you think you’re currently going through a dark night of the soul, this article is for you. This detailed guide can help you identify signs of a dark night and work through it healthily.
Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals
Psychotherapist and ex-monk Thomas Moore spent years researching this topic, and his book helps readers understand how to look meaningfully at and grow from their suffering. Learn more here.
And of course, you can contact me to discuss your unique situation. I’m always happy to help you identify how you can make the most of this difficult (but deeply transformative!) journey.