This is the last Blog in the Soul Series, please see 'The Exhorted Soul' 

The Dark Night of the Soul

4th December 2018

 ‘in secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.’ ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’, St John of the Cross

 What is The Dark Night of the Soul

What is the Dark Night of the Soul Symptoms?

Difference between depression and Dark Night Of the Soul

What is the Purpose of the Dark Night of the Soul?

Coming out of the Dark Night of The Soul

Where do you go from here?

What is the Dark Night Of The Soul?

“It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything.” – Eckhart Tolle

The term ‘Dark Night Of The Soul was coined by St John Of the Cross and is one of the Four J’s I will reference in this blog. St John of the Cross (1545 – 1591) was born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez in Spain and entered the Carmelite Order as a young man. He attempted to reform the order and pledged himself to a more stringently monastic and studious life than Carmelites then practiced. Arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for his beliefs by his fellow monks, John underwent a spiritual awakening while captive and wrote 'Ascent of Mount Carmel', 'Dark Night of the Soul', and 'A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom of Christ'.

Eckhart Tolle explains that the Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritual depression, a kind of existential crisis, that requires a deep and painful dip that must be experienced before enlightenment. A Spiritual depression or detox that someone has to go through to “wake up.” But if you’re experiencing it and don’t know what’s happening, it can be really scary. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps. Tolle feels it is a collapse of the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it. [Resulting] in a dark place.

The dark night of the soul, has one becoming alone, very alone. There is a sense of utter helplessness, one concerns themselves with themselves. It is a time when one delves deep deep down into their inner being and view their worth to the world. There is no talk of what or where they should be at this time in their lives. It’s more of why am I here. There is no talk of ‘If only I did this or I had that’. The dark night of the soul is a deep soul searching week, month or as some have described, years. I will alert you to the symptoms and aid you, as some of you will be about to or have travelled this lonely path. The dark night of the soul is likened to depression and as a psychologist, I can tell you it’s similar, but different. I will remind you of some of the people who had gone through the dark night of the soul and why I believe they had to take that journey. Much has been written on this subject and often from a spiritual standpoint, stating that one goes through the dark night of the soul, to emerge purified. I am not sure I agree, what I do know is, after going through the dark night of the soul, one has a very different view of their life. We will look at the purpose for the dark night of the soul and what it is like coming out of such a soul upheaval. Then having been there and done that, where do we go from there? My aim is to shed some light on moving forward. I will reference four ‘J’s in this blog. Before I get started I will give you their names, go check them out so you will be familiar with them. The first is St John of the Cross (1577 -1591) then from the bible there is Job, Jonah and Jesus.

What are the Dark Night of the Soul Symptoms?

Before the dark night of the soul, many tend to be getting on with their lives, some just trudging along, wanting ‘better’ things for themselves, but pushing that thought to the background, however they would find that it just keep surfacing. Throughout the research complied for this blog, I found that, on the ‘eve’ of the dark night of the soul  many people have been looking for 'something more' whether it is spiritual or otherwise. Many begin to realise that ‘there has got to be more to life’ than their life has produced. You begin to ‘purge’. This could be friends, social media intake and a yearning for healthier foods, you may start to de-clutter your home. You may begin to revaluate your life, deciding what should stay and what you will no longer interact with or part take in. (Yes this can be anything or anyone)!  You may experience intense memories and dreams, this may be of issues that you felt were healed, only to keep remerging, they may be childhood experiences, teenage trauma or adult insights that has surfaced to be forgiven, healed or confronted.

This is a time of great confusion as you believe that you have your life together or as some say, they are on their right path, yet you begin to get these unsettling feelings about your life. As you begin to question your idea of ‘success’ and may revisit your passion.

You may find that at this time, you experience many coincidences, they say that there is no such thing as coincidences, as there are so many right now, you begin to wonder if the saying is true, as there has got to be something ‘else’ going on. If this is you right now, it is best to heed the messages that are trying to grab your attention.

 The Pain

The dark night of the soul is alike a child being born. You are in a warm comforting environment….then there is movement, something happens to begin to shake the world you live in…. The dark night of the soul is literately the birth cannel, you are pushed there not knowing what is happening, where you are going or how this is going to end. We try to hold on to what we know, only to find what we knew, has expelled us.

The saying goes, ‘There is always light at the end of the tunnel,’ when you are going through the dark night of the soul, you don’t see the tunnel let alone any light. Because you are deep in the inner cave, which is blocked off from the outside world. No one would hear you scream ‘help’. In fact you are silent, you do not want anything from the outside, as nothing out there can help. Help can only come from within,  your God, your inner self, your core self. You begin to believe that your God, your inner self, that place you would normally go to for peace, has abandoned you.

I remember coming to the realisation or felt that everything I believed to be true about my life was not true....there was a feeling of being completely and utterly stripped of all my beliefs in God, and all that had been promised. I felt that all I had known to be true, all that had been proved to be true, was false. I felt bare and vulnerable. I felt like I was looking around, naked wondering what to do. My achievements, status, family did not matter or were even considered while in my dark night. Then it got painful.

St John Of The Cross (chapter VI) gives ‘A description of this suffering and pain, although in truth it transcends all description, is given by David, when he says: ‘The lamentations of death compassed me about; the pains of hell surrounded me; I cried in my tribulation. But what the sorrowful soul feels most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks, that God has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into darkness; it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God has forsaken it.

Mateo Sol (The lonerwolf) also describes the pain well, when he states

You feel an acute sense of unworthiness

You have the constant feeling of being lost or “condemned” to a life of suffering or emptiness

You [experience] a painful feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness

Your will and self-control is weakened, making it difficult for you to act

You lack interest and find no joy in things that once excited you.

[There is] a longing for a distant place or to “return home” again. I would add, the pain associated with feelings of utter loneliness.

Author Alex Myles,' describes the dark night of the soul as [reaching a] 'point after a period of spiritual growth or a phase where everything we once thought was true and secure shatters. We have no choice but to finally admit we are lost. We are then handed a mirror so that we can take a long, hard, and difficult look at ourselves while we watch our reflection crumble. We are at the extreme end of darkness, and we look at everything that brought us to this place and stand in utter desperation and self-pity'.

For Eckhart Tolle, the dark night of the soul description is voiced in 'The power of now’ when he says “I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. I had woken up with such a feeling many times before, but this time it was more intense than it had ever been.[ ]  everything felt so alien, so hostile, and so utterly meaningless that it created in me a deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all, however, was my own existence. What was the point in continuing to live with this burden of misery? Why carry on with this continuous struggle? I could feel that a deep longing for annihilation, for nonexistence, was now becoming much stronger than the instinctive desire to continue to live. I cannot live with myself any longer."

Luminita, the Founder of PurposeFairy, writes- What I’ve seen there, what I felt… The pain, the excruciating pain that comes from feeling separated from your own Soul, from your own Self, and from God… that is the deepest pain of all. A pain I have never felt in my whole life. I felt abandoned, lost, fearful and all alone. I felt a loneliness so deep that it pierced my heart and it shook my whole world. It was a pain so deep and a darkness so profound… And from that place, I knew no human trick and no human power was capable of saving me from that place. And I knew only God could take me back to the Light.

I believe that some of the pain we feel as we go through the dark night of the soul is the pain of the ego leaving. Don't worry we pick it up on the way out of the darkness . The ego gives us a sense of who we are and how others perceive us. Remember parts of us only exist through the eyes of others. The world sees me as Female, Middle aged, Black, a Mother, an Author, a Psychologist and so on. Stanislav Grof a Czech psychiatrist and one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology wrote, “Ego death means an irreversible end to one’s philosophical identification.

Now take away all those titles…who am I? or what am I ? Do I still exist? These are the questions you quickly ask yourself while in the dark night of the soul and quickly get the reply…You are none of those labels, you stand here as a being to be subjected to a reflection of your untitled self, scary, painful, it is tormenting.  Gary Z McGee explains it as ‘your sense of reality, or worldview, has been shattered. You have come to understand the illusory aspects of the ego. You are experiencing a re-organization, a re-identification, and a reinterpretation of the boundaries between self and cosmos.’

Not being able to hold on to your own identity, something you felt you owned outright. For me explains the naked, vulnerable feeling associated with being in the dark night of the soul. It also explains the utter loneliness one experience as you don’t even have the ‘self’ you knew to aid you. You feel that you are in a space that no one else can enter. Consider this, if anyone else ‘got in’ would they even recognise you? On the dark night of the soul journey you realise that you are going to have to claw yourself clear of this highly emotional charged environment, that in itself is enough to cause severe depression, but as you will find, the dark night of the soul and depression have their differences.

Difference between depression and dark night of the soul

As a psychologist and someone who has entered the dark night of the soul more than once. My take on the difference is, Depression has you voicing (albeit in your head) purely negative self talk, full of ego content. You know what needs to be done, you have the answers or believe you have the answers to end this pain. Whereas during the dark night of the soul, one comes to the realisation that ALL you believed about yourself, about your being, about your life and reason for being here, is false. Throughout the dark night of the soul, you know there is nowhere out, however, deep down you know there has to be a purpose for this pain. As mentioned above, you stand alone with no trappings of the ego self, you stand bare….and then comes the pain, as you try to make sense of your whole being with no reference point, you have nothing to hold on to. You are in an abyss, begging your creator for answers.

Kevin Culligan, OCD, a psychologist and the former chair of the Institute of Carmelite Studies, explains that a clinically depressed person has a loss of energy and pleasure in most things, including hobbies and sex. He will sometimes exhibit a dysphoric mood (think Eeyore) or psychomotor retardation. The person in the midst of a dark night experiences loss, too, but more as a loss of pleasure in the things of God. I would add perhaps, in all that s/he believed to be true about their creator.

Gerald May, MD, a retired psychiatrist and Senior Fellow in Contemplative Theology and Psychology, discusses both in his book, ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’.  While a person in the midst of a dark night of the soul knows, on some level, there is a purpose to the pain, the depressed person is embittered and wants to be relieved immediately.

Therese Borchard is the founder of Project Beyond Blue, an online community for people with chronic depression, anxiety and states “In the dark night of spirit, there is painful awareness of one’s own incompleteness and imperfection in relation to God; however, one seldom utters morbid statements of abnormal guilt, self-loathing, worthlessness, and suicidal ideation that accompany serious depressive episodes. Thoughts of death do indeed occur in the dark night of the spirit, such as ‘death alone will free me from the pain of what I now see in myself,’ or ‘I long to die and be finished with life in this world so that I can be with God,’ but there is not the obsession with suicide or the intention to destroy oneself that is typical of depression. 

There is a fight that occurs during the dark night of the soul, that does not happen during depressive episodes. During the dark night of the soul one wrestles with the notion of what appears to be false in their lives, during depression one fights with what they believe to be true. Rashanth Hirematada, Author of LAMP (Living Awareness Meditation & Practice) -Depression is the indulgence that, YOU ARE, … sad, lonely, loser, downer. Dark Night of the Soul is a great realisation that YOU ARE NOT, you are not all that. Depression is continual identification of yourself with a mind concept… Dark Night of the Soul is withering away of that identification.

Depression - it seems all true. The, ‘I don’t have this, I won’t have that, people are thinking this or that about me’.

Dark Night of the Soul - it all seems false. That ‘self’ that I knew is not true.

Depression – Descending. That sinking feeling of going further and further down that slippery slop of self deprivation.

Dark Night of the Soul- Ascending. A feeling of growing spiritually. You must be growing as you have never had these spiritually in-dept thoughts before.

Emily Stimpson from her article in OSV newsweekly 'Understanding the dark night of the soul’ claims that the feeling of spiritual emptiness, or being abandoned by God, is natural in the process of growing closer to Christ. [ ] clinical depression is triggered by an objectively sad event (losing a loved one, fatal illness, etc.) or by a biochemical problem, the dark night of the soul is purely an act of God; it is God working in our souls to draw us closer to him. Likewise, while depression weighs down both body and soul, eventually rendering those who suffer from it unable to go about the normal business of their life, throughout the dark night, and those suffering through it can perform great works of charity and service. They remain active and don’t experience the same temptations to total self-loathing or suicide that those struggling with depression suffer, nor do they [entirely] lose their faith in the midst of the dark night. Belief remains. I would add that, like a child, although they may be scolded by a parent, they return to the said parent for relief of the pain and upset they feel.

We see that no amount of anti-depressants can free you from the dark night of the soul, there is a realisation that it is something that has to be ‘seen’ through, which is the only way to reach the ‘other-side’. Living through it enables you to look back and answer the question ‘what was all that about’? and ‘why the **** did I have to go though it ’? You may find the answers in ‘What is the purpose of the dark night of the soul’.


This blog has concerned itself with: 

What is The Dark Night of the Soul

What is the Dark Night of the Soul Symptoms?

Difference between depression and Dark Night Of the Soul

What is the Purpose of the Dark Night of the Soul?

Coming out of the dark Night of The Soul

Where do you go from here?

In asking the question what is The Dark Night of the Soul?  we found that the term was coined by St John Of the Cross (1545 – 1591) and a book which was written while in captive by his fellow monks. Eckhart Tolle feels the dark night of the soul is the 'collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness.'

The Dark Night of the Soul Symptoms were discussed during the ‘eve’ of the Dark night of the soul, which does not announce itself and reaches some who feel that they are going in the ‘right’ direction for their lives…Others may find their selves at ‘rock bottom’. Many come to the realisation that something is missing from their life. Many know or feel that there has got to be more to life than the one they have been living. Before the dark night of the Soul comes to visit, you begin to purge, it is as if you are getting ready, you begin to clean up your social media intake, you may decide to look into better eating habits and you clean house, in the form of de-cluttering your house and your life. Then comes the vivid dreams, and long time buried memories. Coincidences pop up in your life, causing you to wonder if ‘something else’ is going on!

As you enter the dark night of soul, wondering what is going on, as a survival mechanism you try to hold on to what you feel will give you comfort…yourself. This is when you begin to feel the pain as Myles, describes you are handed a mirror so that we can take a long, hard, and difficult look at ourselves while we watch our reflection crumble. You feel unworthy, lost or condemned, powerlessness and hopelessness, utter loneliness surrounds you. We realised that there was a difference between depression and Dark Night of the Soul noting that Jonah wanted to be thrown over board as the pain was so severe, Job cursed the very day he was born and Jesus contracted Hematohidrosis. The pain of the dark night of the soul is enough to cause an acute depressive episode, but what you will find, is the dark night of the soul is similar but not the same. As depression has a descending sinking feeling in which your negative self talk tells you things it believes to be true, whereas the Dark Night of the Soul is ascending as you grow spiritually. Everything you believed to be true, appears false, even the ‘self’ you thought you knew appears false as the ego is stripped from you. Why? you may ask, what is the purpose of this emotional turmoil?

This blog contains three other Sub-headings: What is the Purpose of the Dark Night of the Soul? Coming out of the Dark Night of the Soul,  Where do you go from here? Which can be found in my New book 'The Exhorted Soul'. Knowing the reason we go through the Dark Night of the Soul, gives us meaning to our lives and why we are here. To come out the other end and talk about it, is a privilege (believe it or not). You feel like the saying 'I lived to tell the tale'. What you see when you arrive on the other side of the darkness will astound you...After which you ask yourself, 'where do I go from here?' As I mention in the book, my research into ‘After enlightenment and the Dark Night Of The Soul’ has not satisfactory answered this question for me.  However I have noted that you get another shot at life, without tints on your glasses.

 Check out my New Book. The Exhorted Soul

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Love Live holistically .