We all have to go through a phase in our lives where we are forced to confront all of our deepest darkest fears and doubts, so we can come out the other end with deeper clarity.
This is what a dark night of the soul entails during a spiritual awakening. It’s an unexpected shake up of everything we consider familiar and comfortable.
On the other side of a dark night, we are able to embody even greater amounts of light. We are able to solidify who we are, and what we are here to do.
In this post I want to cover what the dark night of the soul is, why it happens, and how to get through it in one piece.
What Is a Dark Night of the Soul?
So, what exactly is a dark night of the soul? There are many definitions you can find out there, but one that has rung true for me recently is that a dark night of the soul is essentially a stage where you are engulfed by your own shadow, but don’t have the tools/inner resources to deal with it.
This usually occurs after a major life change/spiritual awakening. In these moments we are confronted with the very depths of our being, which can appear like an unending darkness.
We might be in a phase of our lives where our entire physical reality changes overnight. Whether it be the death of someone close to us, moving to a new home environment, or a sudden spark of existential awareness.
On the spiritual path a dark night of the soul is almost inevitable. It is the phase of our awakening journey where we suddenly feel disconnected from everything, where not even meditation or our usual coping mechanisms can keep us from spiraling.
There can be a fear that this is all meaningless and not worth the effort. This idea then opens the door for all of our deepest darkest fears and doubts to come to the surface, with no tangible way to deal with them.
It’s the phase where we question all that we take to be true, and buckle under the weight of it.
This can be likened to an existential crisis, but more specifically can be seen as a type of spiritual depression.
The term dark night of the soul originates from a poem (La noche obscura del alma) by Spanish poet and mystic St. John of the Cross, which depicts the journey of the soul to union with God.
In more modern contexts this term has been used to describe the intense state of depression that can arise from incomplete spiritual practices, specifically in reference to meditation.
Signs You’re Experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul
- You feel a sense of futility in your life and spiritual practice
- You feel a deep emptiness
- The things that once brought your joy no longer do
- You’re spending more time isolated
- You’re experiencing ego death (loss of identity)
- You’re questioning life and the meaning of it all on a deeper level
This phase is all about asking the questions, and not pinpointing comforting answers. The dark night isn’t just a mental issue, but one that touches on the very core of our being. There’s a visceral longing for something you can’t quite grasp.
The dark night is where we feel the opposite of oneness, but instead feel a sense of detachment from everything. We feel distinctly separated from God, Source or spirit (whatever you wish to call it), as if our connection was severed.
The sudden nature of the dark night is what’s so unsettling about it. One moment you are feeling a sense of progress, joy and connection, the next you are plunged into the depths of darkness.
This is usually linked with the hermit phase of awakening. I see the hermit phase as coming after the dark night of the soul, where we are still isolated but we are beginning to find answers and cultivating deeper inner peace.
The dark night is the part of our awakening where we are shedding our old self but our new self hasn’t formed yet. As we encounter our larger spiritual being, our ego freaks out. In this limbo state we are able to build ourselves back from the ground up.
Why Does the Dark Night of the Soul Happen?
The dark night is different to general depression but we can see there are some similarities. There’s the common sense of loneliness, confusion and lack of energy. The difference the deeper existential aspect, and how a dark night of the soul usually proceeds a period of elevated emotion and hope.
It’s common for this to happen on the spiritual path when we focus solely on the non-physical side of things. In this way our spiritual awareness can flourish, but when we come back to earth it is a shock to the system.
There comes a point where that initial excitement or novelty factor wears off, we get to the real work and realize the consistency and depth that is required. When we reach a plateau in our spiritual development it can feel disheartening.
When I start a spiritual practice as a teenager lucid dreaming, meditation, working with psychic awareness came extremely easy to me. However I didn’t have the right tools to deal with the emotions and wounds that all this work would highlight.
My level of awareness increased in bounds and leaps, but I had little ability to remain calm and balanced. My depression intensified, my emotions were heightened, and I no longer felt comfortable around anyone.
It took taking a step back, and bringing more focus on these physical aspects, for me to start to see the light. Once I was in a more balanced space in that way, I gently brought back my spiritual practices.
Going back to my earlier definition of the dark night of the soul: a time where our shadow side engulfs us. Many have this idea of spirituality that it is all love and light, and so when we experience something like this it’s disconcerting.
Thankfully we are seeing more and more conversations about the darker aspects involved in spirituality, and the inner work required. However when I started this journey it was very much love and light, and nothing else.
When the shadow engulfs us in this way but we have no knowledge of it, facing the dark night of the soul is like a bottomless pit of despair. As much as we want to ignore or evade it, it’s there looming in the background.
How To Survive a Dark Night of the Soul
Now that we’ve going over what the dark night of the soul is and how it might arise, I want to give some practical tips for getting through it.
Bring focus back to the physical
Even though we assume spirituality involves leaving or bypassing the physical, spirituality is more accurately an embracing and meeting of both. When we do not have a good grounding in the physical, it’s easy to go off the deep end with out spiritual practice and start to feel empty.
Often what it takes to pass through a dark night of the soul, is to bring more importance to the physical aspects of life that we’ve neglected. Address the practical day to day problems you have, go back to the basics of self care, appreciate how uplifting simply human interaction can be.
In grounding we are able to see how the physical complements the spiritual and vice versa, it’s not one or the other. Through this we enrich our spiritual practice, and aren’t left feeling a sense of meaninglessness about it all.
Adjust your spiritual practice
The dark night of the soul is generally seen to be the result of an unbalanced spiritual practice. More and more people are getting into spirituality through the internet, and while it can be a great resource there is also a massive amount of misinformation.
One such topic that is shrouded in misinformation is the third eye. Despite it being the sixth chakra out of the seven main ones, it is the most well-known and focused on. There are guides that will have you prod and poke at the third eye until it opens.
However for the third eye to open safely and relatively comfortably, we must have a strong foundation in the lower chakras. This allows energy to flow up to and enter the third eye consistently.
My imbalanced focus on the third eye was a massive part of my dark night of the soul experience. My awareness blew open but I had nothing to stabilize it upon, and so I felt that visceral emptiness and vast unknown we discussed.
Before moving onto any third eye work focus on strengthening your lower chakras. Look to developing your physical sense of safety, sexual & creative energy, personal power, intuition and expression.
Embrace the shadow
The second way you can overcome this phase is through shifting your viewpoint and expectations. Just as we must have balance between the physical and spiritual, there has to be a balance between the positive and negative.
Having a base awareness that negativity can arise on the spiritual path is the best defense you have against falling into a downward spiral. When you are faced with an experience that feels unpleasant you can ease through it, rather than resist it and amplify it, based on the idea that negative equals unspiritual.
Really these experiences aren’t strictly negative or positive, but instead highlight polarity and bring us to further balance. However I do think these terms are useful for the sake of simplicity here.
If you would like to explore shadow work deeper, check out my guidebook.
What Happens After a Dark Night of the Soul?
The beginning of a spiritual awakening is where we are ponder the big questions such as the meaning of life, aswell as who and what we are. We may ask these questions on a purely mental level, but as we deepen our spiritual practice they come up in the more visceral sense.
During this introspection process we shed aspects of our ego, our habitual behaviors and outward ‘personality’. This can leave us feeling a temporary but gaping void, commencing the dark night of the soul.
As I mentioned before, we come out of the dark night of the soul feeling better than when we entered it. The experience is jarring, uncomfortable, and generally unpleasant, but it does give a chance to evaluate ourselves.
When the dark night ends there’s a deeper sense of connection and oneness with everything. We see everything with a new glow. Through working through the darkness we can embody more of our light.