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Interpreting Dark Night of the Soul

Interpreting Dark Night of the SoulUpdated on April 1, 2021 | Published on February 6, 2020
Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, Certified Psychiatrist

Dark Night of the Soul Explained

“The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it.”

St. Teresa of Avila

Have you ever gone through a difficult phase in life that felt so suffocating that all meaning and purpose seemed to have lost? The hours seemed to be ever-lasting with its heaviness and you had even questioned the reason for your existence! Has life ever appeared to you like a feverish dream with neither reason nor joy? Most people go through this stage once in their lifetime. This has been philosophically referred to as the Dark Night of the Soul.

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Dark Night Of The Soul Meaning

SUMMARY
A phase comes in life where we are left in despair. There is so much suffering that life becomes unbearable. This situation is often said to be the Dark Night of the Soul. 

We are but energy beings. Our physical body is a part of us but it’s not who we are. For if we were just the body then a living body and a corpse would have no difference! Therefore, we have a life source that keeps us alive and when it leaves the body, death is said to have occurred. Spiritually, Soul is a term for this source of life. It is said that a soul has it’s a journey and on this journey, it learns and grows.

In life each one of us will have to pass through a phase of doom and despair. This phase would be so pathetic that we might feel that we are caught at the dead end of a tunnel for a long time. We would feel stuck, miserable and frustrated. This phase of life is called as the Dark Night of the Soul. 

This phase can arise because of a near one’s death, extreme poverty, an illness, betrayal, mishap, injustice, abuse, assault, or being a victim to any kind of cruelty. Often in this phase, your family and friends might even abandon your side so that you would be left alone. This phase turns into the darkest hours of your life! But this time also will teach you a valuable lesson, if you are open to receive it.

Many would want to numb their feelings by addictions, lowering their values, becoming selfish, dishonest or careless. But in this phase, some men and women would grip the deep sense of life. These people are said to have a spiritual awakening. 

Dark Night of the Soul Psychology

The suicide rates have been increasing in recent times. Stress, alcohol, drugs, disintegrating families, unemployment is some of the reasons indeed. According to modern-day psychologists, depression and despair are two different things altogether. Mental distress and despair could be seen in any person at one point in their life.

The Coronavirus pandemic resulted in mental distress around the globe. But distress could be temporary. Changes in the situation or the environment could get rid of mental despair.

But depression is a serious mental condition that negatively affects your thoughts, feelings, behavior and action. Though it is treatable, major depressive disorder can take a toll on your life. According to The American Psychiatric Association, “Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. Depression can occur at any time, but on average, first appears during the late teens to mid-20s. Women are more likely than men to experience depression.”

Often the terms Dark Night of the Soul, depression and mental distress are misunderstood and used interchangeably. But the Dark Night is not a mental disease. Although some of the symptoms of Dark Night could be similar to depression or distress, it is certainly not the same thing! 

Dark Night of the Soul has more of an esoteric significance than a distinct psychological explanation. Although, in the initial stages of the Dark Night you can go through mental despair and even depression. You might be submerged in hopelessness, unworthiness, loneliness, self-pity, helplessness and depression. 

But if your soul is going through the Dark Night it’s going through a phase of transition and ultimately will enter a spiritual journey. Depression could be just depression. But Dark Night might begin with depression but it’s not a mental condition, it’s about the soul journey. 

It could be said that the Dark Night is a spiritual depression.

Soul Journey – The purpose of the Soul

SUMMARY
This is an age old concept and it signifies a spiritual journey in which the Soul unites with the Source.

Dark Night of the Soul is an old concept. Early in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Spanish mystic and poet, St. John of the cross, thought deeply on this subject. He had wonderfully expressed his views on this matter in his poem named Dark Night of the Soul. The poem narrates the purpose of the Soul. 

The purpose is to start its own journey – a journey to unite with God. This Soul journey is referred to as “The Dark Night” because the journey leads towards an unknown destination. The Dark Night of the Soul is not about the challenges of life; St. John refers to experiencing the dark night with a mystical journey that will lead to the union with God.

In this dark night, the only light is that which burns in the soul. Though the poem had a religious implication it inspired and influenced several philosophers, writers, spiritual leaders and even eminent psychiatrists like Carl Jung, etc. to study on this topic.

Interpreting Dark Night of the Soul
Interpreting Dark Night of the Soul

Dark Night Of The Soul Symptoms

Here are 20 Signs that indicate the Dark Night of the Soul. 

1. You go through a phase of extreme pain.

In the Dark Night the most common sign is experiencing the existential crisis due to intense pain. Some bad incident happens in your life and you are shattered. You are immersed in an ocean of agony. Drastic changes start to happen that you were completely unprepared for.

One or more of such incidents can happen – Loss of job, a break up with your romantic partner, close friends leaving you, sudden health issue, death of a loved one, financial crisis etc. 

2. Life seems to be monotonous and meaningless. 

As you feel despair you also realize life is meaningless. Your soul is in a kind of confusion. You find absolutely no reason for your existence. Every morning you are waking up and doing the same things. What’s the point of repeating the same things every day? 

3. There is no direction or purpose in life.

In the Dark Night you have a feeling of being lost. It seems like you are stuck and unsure where you are headed to. You have no idea of your life purpose and this brings about the darkness in your mind. There is no inner urge to do anything now. 

4. A sense of hopelessness and powerlessness arises.

You are gripped by anxiety and hopelessness. In a rhythm of mood fluctuations a sudden realization strikes your mind. You are a puppet in this universe. What power do you have to face the universal powers? A concept of dark philosophy originates in your mind. As you ponder on this you start feeling weak and helpless.  

5. You start to ponder on the deeper, finer aspects of life.

As you feel powerless you also start observing life. You try grasping the finer details of life. The Dark Night makes you an observer, a thinker. 

6. Your desire to impress others decreases 

It’s human nature to do things to please or impress people. But now you find no interest in doing things that could impress the people around you. Silently, you laugh at those who show off on social media because you have realized there is no point in living life trying to impress others. 

7. You start studying spiritual practices around the world.

One of the crucial signs of the Dark Night is that you become a student of spirituality. You become inclined towards learning the spiritual doctrines of the great saints and philosophers. Particularly, you become interested in understanding the Eastern spiritual ideologies.

8. You resonate with spiritual philosophies.

Not only do you read about the spiritual concepts it feels like these doctrines really have a meaning. The ancient philosophies appear as the ultimate truth in front of you. 

9. You start recalling childhood experiences or glimpses of past lives.

It’s not uncommon if you start recalling certain incidents from your childhood. You suddenly unearth memories from the past that were almost forgotten. Some people also get glimpses from their past lives. They dream about incidents they could not relate to but it feels like so much real.

10. You rethink the concept of “success”.

Society has a definition for success. It is often linked to your accomplishments, bank balance, your acquisitions, etc. But suddenly you start thinking about success in a deep way. 

11. You discover your inner child

It is also in this phase of troubles and turmoil that you start prioritizing yourself. You start pursuing a childhood passion. Maybe you join a dance class again, or start sketching, or singing or anything that mattered to you but you didn’t pursue it for a long time. 

12. You stop judging others and become more empathetic.

In the Dark Night phase you become more mature. You stop judging people and try understanding them. Why do people behave badly, why do some people lie, cheat or steal? They have gone through different experiences and hardships that have molded their characters in a certain way. You become compassionate and behave kindly with others. 

13. You develop sleep paralysis, hunger pangs or at times you completely forget hunger and thirst. 

Sleep paralysis is a common sign for people who experience Dark Night. You might get sudden hunger pangs as well. Other signs could be feeling no hunger or thirst for a long stretch of time. 

14. You want to quiet your mind.

In this phase you feel restless but you also want to be quiet. You want to spend time alone and stop the constant chatter of your mind. This is when you feel interested in practicing meditation or mindfulness

15. A lot of coincidences start occurring.

As you start to quiet your mind and become more mindful, you start to have a lot of good coincidences in life. You stumble across a life-changing book, you bump into a stranger who gives you valuable advice, you get unexpected opportunities, meet awesome people, etc. Simply put you are amazed at the coincidences happening in your life! It seems like incredible things are happening in your favor only to support you. 

16. You see the angel numbers quite often.

Another great sign is you get to see the angel numbers like 111, 222, 555, and 777 everywhere. Whether on the license plate of a random car, as you notice the time on your watch, angel numbers show up all the time. This is a good sign that you are on a spiritual path and you are being protected. 

17. You discover your life purpose.

Most people identify their life purpose in the later stages of the Dark Night. You learn the lessons and have a deep sense of what your true purpose is. Life seems easier and better now. 

18. You discover your inner dormant healing capacity.

Towards the end of the Dark Night phase you have a deeper sense of your inner power. You realize you aren’t helpless at all. If you put focus on healing yourself you can do it. This self-realization alone makes you feel stronger than ever. 

19. You start practicing healthy habits.  

You become a changed person. Dark Night teaches a lot of things to you. Now, that you have identified your purpose you are inclined towards healthy foods and habits. Changes in diet, sleeping habits, exercise, meditation and the like becomes your new normal lifestyle. You start taking care of the soul that is you

20. A belief develops in your mind about a higher power and you start surrendering to it.

The Dark Night although seems unbearable in the beginning, eventually you become stronger emotionally and spiritually. You realize there is a Higher Power and you have to surrender to it. This is the practice of faith and true surrendering to the Source Energy or God whatever name you prefer calling it. Also, you understand your soul is just going through a human experience. You are eternal.

Dark Night of the Soul Stages

According to the spiritual teacher and bestselling author, Eckhart Tolle, external incidents can trigger the Dark Night of the Soul. You can feel overwhelmingly sad and life would become chaotic before spiritual transformation to take place. It is actually experiencing a kind of death because your limiting beliefs, prejudices, and ego face death before you rise up like a phoenix. 

The Dark Night of the Soul goes through 7 stages.

Stage 1: Deep despair

In the first stage, a person has a sense of sadness. He loses any meaning in his life. Terrible agony and depressive thoughts entwine him. This is the phase in which he has to deal with dark situations such as disease, poverty, betrayal, accidents, injustice, or some kind of abuse. A close person may die or a best friend might abandon you forever. 

Life becomes too suffocating for the one who goes through the Dark Night. He realizes life is meaningless or at least his life has no meaning. In this phase life seems to be a constant struggle. Some people consult therapists at this stage. Family and friends could be worried about you because you appear frustrated and unhappy. 

Stage 2: Asking questions

After going through a terrible melancholic phase you start wondering about the true meaning of life. You try to figure out why you are alive. There has to be significance to your existence. You start asking questions. Such as these –

Who am I beyond my body?

Why do we live after all, if death is a reality?

What is there after death?

Do relationships really matter?

Is there re-birth?

Why am I here?

Does my existence really matter?

Stage 3: Seeking answers

Now that you are thinking deeply about life you start observing the finer details. Such questions have never appeared in your mind before. Now you start seeking the answers. You start reading books on spirituality, attend seminars, and look for wisdom like never before. It is this phase when you become a student of life. 

Stage 4: The Path is Shown to You 

After a lot of struggle and painstaking search process, the path is shown to you. A mentor or a spiritual teacher appears in your life who guides to finding the path in the dark. Or it could be that you identify a spiritual practice and start doing that alone.  You learn life’s greatest lessons encountering the Dark Night. 

Stage 5: Finding your Life Purpose

In this phase of the Dark Night life seems to be easier and enjoyable. After the dark phase things start falling in its place. You identify the light and the dark aspect of life. The dark cloud of depression slowly moves away from your life.

In this phase, you will identify your life path. You will start getting the answers to the questions you have asked at the start of Dark Night. It is now that you will realize your life purpose and a new chapter will begin in your life. 

Stage 6: Meeting your Soul Tribe

Now that you have identified your soul purpose and started taking action on it, you will start attracting awesome new friends. Your soul family will start entering your life. In this phase often people do meet their Soulmates or Twin Flames. 

Stage 7: Spiritual Awakening 

The Dark Night of the Soul leads to the spiritual awakening process. After all, all the pain you suffered, tears you shed and battles you fought will bring you the reward you deserve. Your spiritual journey will begin at the end of the Dark Night.

Why Pain Could Be the Best Teacher of Life?

SUMMARY
Pain is a teacher that prepares us for the life journey. It makes us humble and pushes us towards our bigger purpose.

When you are loved, supported and comforted you stay happy in your own world. But when pain pays a visit to you, your entire life shifts! Extreme pain brings enormous changes. At first, you will feel lost but gradually you will reach the stage of life where an awakening process starts to happen.

Vishad Yoga, (Vishad means despair or depression) a chapter in Bhagwad Gita discusses how to deal with crisis. It depicts how the human mind should ignore the mundane things of the world to transcend to the divine. Simply put, oneness with the higher power or God is not possible until you pass through an existential crisis. 

Pain is inevitable but sometimes deep and prolonged pain can become unbearable. But instead of trying to curb it down, we must try to embrace it and pray to the higher power to show us the path. Because our soul’s true purpose is hidden in the painful experience. Pain can modify our conceptual framework and steer the soul towards a higher purpose.

How to Walk in the Path of Soul Purpose?

SUMMARY
Even in that dark phase when you surrender to God, your Soul would be guided to its purpose.

Each Soul has a purpose. Often when we talk about purpose we think it as our vocation or profession. But in reality the purpose of the Soul is much bigger than we can even imagine. Some souls are here to uplift others, some are here to save the world, and some souls will protect or assist others.

Most importantly, your Soul has a higher purpose. It cannot be that you are here to earn some money or do a particular job. You are here to serve in a greater way than you can think. When you don’t give up on your struggle and surrender to God, your path will be shown to you.

What is Happiness, Really?

SUMMARY
Happiness doesn’t lie in external objects. It is found within.

In this age of consumerism we are made to think that happiness comes with a price tag! Most of us believe that things can give us happiness. People acquire stuff to feel pleasure. But does this happiness stay for long? As the new version of smartphone is launched, new designer dresses unveiled or the latest model of a TV set comes to the market –what happens? Your happiness evaporates! Why? Because you were not happy in the first place! Commodities can give you instant gratification but not happiness.

So, where to get happiness? Where should you go? Nowhere! Because happiness lies within. You don’t have to search it anywhere. It is already in your heart. You just have to feel it and stay content. Just stay still and feel it!

The Harsh Truth

SUMMARY
Truth is none of us will live eternally. That is why, we should seek for the divine power instead of bothering about ordinary things.

The harshest truth is that you will die. None of us are here to stay forever. So, instead of acquiring materialistic things, start your spiritual journey. It all starts with seeking the unknown. About 2600 years ago a young Prince left the comfort of his palace and prospect of becoming a King, to seek this unknown.

He realized that the worldly stuff would not provide him everlasting happiness nor could it protect him from his sufferings. After experiencing the dark night he went to a long spiritual journey. This journey led him to the path of enlightenment. Name of the prince? Gautama Buddha

Why Dark Night of the Soul is a Life Savior?

Spiritual teachers of the world think that the Dark Night comes to save the soul. The path to true wisdom will always emerge from difficulties. If you do not accept defeat the darkness in your life will lead you towards the light.

1. The answers to Life

The answers to Life
The answers to Life

Life is unpredictable, complicated and apparently unfair. But its uncertainty and unevenness makes it marvelous! As you allow your soul to progress towards its truest purpose, the real answers to life will be unveiled to you. The answers are different for different souls as each soul has a unique journey.

2. Your Spiritual Journey begins with the Dark Night of the Soul

Your Spiritual Journey begins with the Dark Night of the Soul
Your Spiritual Journey begins with the Dark Night of the Soul

When you realize the significance of experiencing the dark night your spiritual awakening happens. Your soul will gradually find the answers to its questions. Most importantly, your soul will learn and grow in its spiritual journey.

3. Meditation & Mindful living

Meditation & Mindful living
Meditation & Mindful living

Life changes dramatically as you implement the practices of Meditation and mindful living. As you practice these for long you will arise from the state of consciousness and move into the realm of spirituality. Besides that,  meditation calms your mind and channels it toward the higher consciousness and mindful living would heighten your sensory awareness and prevent the mind to wander aimlessly.

Also read -> Transcendental Meditation & its various benefits

What Happens After the Dark Night of the Soul?

The Dark Night of the Soul opens the door to spiritual path. Your spiritual journey will start only after you go through the Dark Night phase in life. Deep despair, pain, frustration, struggles and misery will lead to peace.

Your soul will start to awaken after it has experienced the Dark Night. You will never remain the same after you have gone through the dark phase. Your soul will now yearn for true happiness.

It is always seen that after the Dark Night phase people become inclined towards spirituality and start searching for inner peace. As you dive deeper into the waters of spiritual wisdom you realize your connection to the Higher Power.  Your Soul arises from its slumber and gradually proceeds towards enlightenment.

Dark Night of the Soul Books

Three notable books on this topic are enlisted below, you can give them a read to explore more on the Dark Night. 

  1. Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way through Life’s Ordeals by Thomas Moore.

2) The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald G. May

3) The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross

Dark Night of The Soul Quotes

1. “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald
“In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. “In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.”

– John of the Cross
“In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.” – John of the Cross

3. Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.

– Christine Caine
Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted. – Christine Caine

4. The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.

– Joseph Campbell
"The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed." – Joseph Campbell

5. “having nothing and possessing all things,”

St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
“having nothing and possessing all things,” – St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul

6. “There is a season for everything under the sun—even when we can’t see the sun.”

Jared Brock
“There is a season for everything under the sun—even when we can’t see the sun.” – Jared Brock

7. Only those willing to walk through the dark night will be able to see the beauty of the moon and the brilliance of the stars.

– Archbishop Socrates Vilegas
"Only those willing to walk through the dark night will be able to see the beauty of the moon and the brilliance of the stars." – Archbishop Socrates Vilegas

8. “Being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!”

– Friedrich Nietzsche
“Being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!” – Friedrich Nietzsche

9. “The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation.”

– Joseph Campbell
“The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation.” – Joseph Campbell

10. “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

– Carl Jung
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Jung

11. “Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.”

– Flannery O’Connor
“Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.” – Flannery O’Connor

12. “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”

Friedrich Nietzsche
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

13. “To heal the wound, you have to go into the dark night of the soul.”

– Tori Amos
“To heal the wound, you have to go into the dark night of the soul.” – Tori Amos

14. “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”

– Carl Jung
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.” – Carl Jung

15. “I believe that the dark night of the soul is a common spiritual experience. I believe, too, that the answer is continued seeking and perseverance. It helps to know that others have endured a loss of faith.”

– Julia Cameron
“I believe that the dark night of the soul is a common spiritual experience. I believe, too, that the answer is continued seeking and perseverance. It helps to know that others have endured a loss of faith.” – Julia Cameron

Dark Night of The Soul Poem

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my
heart.

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

— St. John of the Cross

[SOURCE – POETSEERS.ORG]

Final Thoughts

In this lifetime you might have to go through a really tough phase. A phase that would test your character and willpower. If you accept defeat and try to numb yourself in despair you will miss the opportunity to grow and nourish your soul.

But if you seek answers by asking the right questions you would be shown your true path. It will awaken your soul and lead to its journey towards a higher purpose. Surrendering to God or the higher power will pave the way to your destination.