Experiencing a dark night of the soul is a life-altering occurrence that many of us will go through at some point in our lives. While the occurrence may not be visible to others on the outside, beneath the surface there is a transformation of self taking place.
In this article, I'm going to discuss the meaning of the dark night of the soul, what is ultimately gained from the experience, and four coping skills to help navigate your way through it.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
Dark night of the soul meaning
A dark night of the soul is typically described as an intense period of suffering or grief which alters a person's very identity. The experience can feel as if there is no end in sight as it strips away everything we thought we knew or believed.
Writer Joshua Press describes it beautifully, stating, "The dark night of the soul is a stage in personal development when a person undergoes a difficult and significant transition to a deeper perception of life and their place in it."
Wisdom usually comes to us through "hands on" experience. No book or guru can teach us like the experience of living through something can. We become intimate with fear, despair, or hopelessness, and from that place a re-birth of self occurs.
What triggers a dark night of the soul
Typically, a dark night is triggered by a significant event in one's life, such as the death of a loved one, a health diagnosis, or a divorce or breakup. My own dark night was spurred by a health scare.
Dark nights can also being triggered by something seemingly insignificant that causes a person's perception of life to collapse. For example, a person finally achieves something they thought would change their life, such as a relationship or certain income level, only to find that it didn't. This then sparks a challenging period of questioning their beliefs and very purpose in life.
Much of the world experienced a collective dark night of the soul together with the Covid pandemic. Our normal way of life suddenly came to a halt and the collective fear was palpable. Even though that was a very challenging experience, so many people have expressed how it changed their lives for the better.
What is gained from a dark night of the soul
While a dark night of the soul can feel terrifying or hopeless, there is always a purpose for it. Despite the countless days and nights I felt disconnected and lost, I wouldn't take it back. It has brought so much depth and understanding to my awareness and state of consciousness.
There isn't anything that you go through in life that doesn't serve you in some way. There are no wrong decisions, "bad" thoughts, or mistakes. As one of my favorite teachers Abraham Hicks always says, "You can't get it wrong because you never get it done."
Your soul is on this infinite path of unfolding, realization, and learning. What you deem a mistake is gold for your soul. Think of anything that was hard in your life and then think of what you walked away knowing or understanding because of it.
We incarnate here to have these experiences. Our souls often even set them up beforehand. The big stuff in your life is usually always planned by you on a soul level before you get here for the expanded awareness it will bring you.
The dark night of the soul is an intense period of growth that absolutely expands and transforms you.
Dark night of the soul symptoms
Everyone experiences a dark night differently, but the following are some common symptoms when going through a dark night of the soul:
- you suddenly feel disoriented within your life, with no sense of stability or direction
- you experience immense feelings of fear/anxiety/hopelessness/disconnection
- everything you believed before seems questionable, at times even laughable
- you lose trust and faith in reality/God/the Universe
The general feeling of a dark night is one of, well, darkness. You are turned away from the light of truth and facing the dark illusions that the ego believes it is perceiving.
Making your way out of this place is what will teach you, expand you, and bring you to a deeper understanding of life that you didn't have before.
Is it depression or dark night of the soul?
Only you can know that answer for yourself, but in my experience, depression does not usually have the sudden jolt that a dark night of the soul brings. I believe many people who are diagnosed as depressed could instead actually be going through a dark night, especially if it began with a life-altering experience rather than a gradual feeling of malaise.
Whether it is depression or a dark night, the coping skills would still be very similar. A spiritual practice of acceptance and presence are extremely useful for either situation.
Navigating the dark night of the soul
Much like the energy of the dark moon or winter, the dark night of the soul is not the time to force or push things. You can't run through it in order to get out quicker, or thrash and kick your way out–you will need to learn to float.
This is a time of deep inner transformation and a kind of death in the egoic sense. You are going through an awakening process, and while that looks different for every person, there are some timeless coping skills that will serve as life rafts when you feel lost, afraid, or overwhelmed.
A dark night of the soul is unsettling and can cause much unrest within you. You may feel as if there's something you need to fix to make it all go away, but it remains elusive and ever out of reach.
Surrendering to what-is is one of the best ways to float through a dark night. You continually accept whatever it is that is causing you unrest. Try saying to yourself:
- I surrender to not understanding
- I surrender to not knowing
- I surrender to allowing the answers to come to me in their own time
- I surrender to not seeing the path right now
- I surrender to just being
You can't thrash and stay afloat. You can't run in darkness. The solution lies in being still, accepting what-is, and being okay with things not being figured out right now.
There is nowhere you should be. There is nothing you should be doing. You just have to trust that where you are in this moment has to be okay.
This was actually the gift I received from my dark night–how to find joy and peace in the midst of pain or fear. Not waiting for things to feel better or make sense, but to just be vulnerable and present for my life.
2. Practice presence
A dark night can bring about regret from past decisions and fear of what the future holds. This is exactly what a dark night is here to guide you towards: the present moment.
It's like climbing something very high–there is temptation to look down, but if you do you might lose your footing. During a dark night, it's very tempting to look back into the past or forwards into the future, but neither hold the key that will open the door of light.
You will learn to bring yourself into the present moment because it's the only place that holds any peace.
When you are fully present and aware of just being, there is a deep sense of Divine knowing within you, even if you can't really put your finger on it. It's as if you're a tree and the wind is blowing through you–you are aware of the beauty and life in the present moment.
Go outside and just sit. Feel the breeze on your face. Listen to the birds. Watch the shadows move as the sun makes its way across the sky. Whatever has happened or will happen is okay, because you flow, surrender, and accept it.
All is well in the present moment. I highly recommend reading Eckhart Tolle's book to really understand how to come into the present moment.
3. Ask this question
I was listening to another one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Dr. Michael Beckwith, and he was talking about the importance of quality, growth-consciousness questions to ask yourself when going through difficult periods.
This one really stuck out to me:
- What within me needs to be birthed, in order for me to have peace of mind, if this situation were to last forever?
That question elicits that which your soul is wanting to evolve towards. Rather than try to just survive a dark night, or push it away in the hopes that one day it will be gone, asking yourself this question will help to practice and develop a conceptual framework that will serve you for the rest of your life.
For me, the answer to this question is surrender. I have spent so much of my life trying to not let any of the pieces fall and running from things that terrified me, so to surrender to what-is has been life-changing for me. I practice it on a daily basis now.
4. Follow the crumb trail
Your emotions serve a very important purpose, and that is to let you know where you are in relation to where your higher self is. In this way, you can follow a beautiful crumb trail set up by your soul that will always lead you to where you most want to be if you choose to follow it.
This not only helps you to stay in the present moment, but takes you down the most efficient and beneficial paths for you personally.
What you do is ask yourself as often as you can throughout the day: what would feel good to do right now?
What could bring you relief in this moment? Pleasure? Excitement? Ease?
This is one of my absolute favorite techniques to utilize as often as I can remember to do so. When you do this, you will literally move closer to who you really are. Things will begin to flow, and you will be more relaxed and present.
It's essentially like playing Marco Polo with your soul. Call out "Marco" as often as you can remember every day, and listen to where you hear "Polo".
Maybe it's calling you to take a long bath, to go for a walk, to call a loved one, to go to bed early, or to make a good dinner for yourself.
When you practice listening, you'll find that you are led towards everything your soul is wanting you to explore, to that which you are ready to perceive and understand.
What I learned from my dark night
A dark night brings you closer to where you need to be, wherever that might be. It will look different for every person.
One thing I had always pushed away was death. I was also unaware of how future-focused I always was. I had really delved into the excitement of becoming aware of my thoughts and beliefs, and how those manifested into reality, and it was definitely fun. But I was never present. I hadn't learned the art of surrender and just being.
My dark night forced me to acknowledge death in all of its many forms, and to shed former beliefs I held around death and control. It invited me to step into the present moment, and to see that there actually is no death, only transitions.
I learned to surrender to the unknown. To let go of attachments I have to others, places, and things, and to feel the immense beauty and love in the presence of just being.
The terrifying darkness illuminated so brightly the light, so that the darkness didn't feel terrifying anymore. I felt safe in both, and became aware that when I'm present and accepting, everything just flows to me...I don't even need to try.
I really can't put into words how it changed me, because it was so profound on a deeper level of my consciousness. I'm walking away with a different understanding and perspective. I feel more me, more whole, and more free.
A dark night holds so much value and purpose when we can pull ourselves back, be still, and reframe our perceptions. It's normal to thrash, to lose hope, and to be afraid. Transformation couldn't come without it.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this article and found something to take away with you.
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Jessica Dimas is the creator of Manifesting Magic with the Moon, a self-care journal for connecting with yourself through the energetic phases of the moon.
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