Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritual phrase that has been used to describe the darkest most desolate phase of a person's life. During this period of your spiritual journey, you will experience immense pain, the feeling of "going crazy," falling apart, depression, anger, terror, helplessness, and complete isolation from others. Everything you once believed yourself to be is found to be no longer true. Everything you once turned to for comfort is either no longer there or has been exposed as a sham. You may feel lost, having nothing stable to lean on, not even God, because your view of Him has been shattered too. There is often also the fear that this will never end, almost like being lost in a deep dark woods, never to be found or make your way out. This is the Dark Night, Honey.

Many spiritual icons have been said to have experienced this. There is Saint John of the Cross who wrote the beautiful poem "The Dark Night of the Soul." Mother Theresa was also said to have experienced a very dark period of years, where she felt disconnected from God. This is an experience that spans across religions and ethnicities, a very human experience. For some it may last for months and for others it may last years. Many people believe that Jesus Christ experienced his own Dark Night on the cross when he cried out, "Oh God, why have You forsaken me?"  Others believe his Dark Night may have been during his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness when he suffered intense temptations.

The process that is occurring during this Dark Night is like a spiritual reconstruction surgery. Every piece and aspect of your Self-- your thoughts, internal constructs, foundational beliefs, feelings, and the basis for why you exist-- all of this is taken and completely shattered. It hurts like hell. This is a gross oversimplification of the spiritual process taking place, but God is essentially re-building you from the ground up. You are being given no blueprint as to how this will turn out nor even do you have the wherewithal to understand that you will survive. All you can really do is continue to put one foot in front of the other and believe that God is doing a holy work in you and you will emerge from this dark forest. You WILL emerge from this dark forest. I love this excerpt from Saint John of the Cross's poem:

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

In looking back, Saint John was able to recognize his darkest period as an awesome journey that took him into true union with God.

I struggle with knowing what to do for someone who is in their Dark Night. Really there is very little I can do. It is their own journey, one that has to be walked out with their own courage and requires their complete reliance on a God they can barely feel. In my experience with people in this period of their lives, and from my own very profound experience, people can be really nasty during this stage. A person in pain often lashes out, can be highly inappropriate, rude, and ineffective as a parent, friend, or employee. When you no longer have even the internal human construct of good manners to hold you back, you may say and do some horrible and shocking things. I understand the inner chaos a person is experiencing and know that these offensive behaviors are not personally intended toward me or anyone else. Nonetheless, they can really cut and I wonder how much I am expected to withstand! I am beginning to understand that along with the deep compassion I feel for a person walking through the Dark Night, I must also hold a firm line with someone who is flailing about during this stage. I don't shame or guilt-trip a person for their behavior but I also am not required to tolerate or turn a blind-eye if I see someone I love engaging in harmful activities during this stage.

I'd like to re-post the first poem I ever published here on my blog. I wrote this after emerging from my own Dark Night of the Soul and offer it as encouragement to anyone who may be walking through this difficult time:

Coming Out

When you are running--
a shadow of yourself running from
and to yourself
frightened by a ghost self
in brambles the ache scratches
your body when you try to escape--
when you are running.
Just stay on your feet.
Know the darkness in its fullest
reach into the deep of the black
pour the anointing of the pain over
your head.
Keep running.
This is not night that comes and
goes in cycles with day, this
is suffering. This is
your very self at
its cellular level expanding and
constricting in its own rhythm.
If you can hear me there,
know that light will come when
darkness inks away
a self will emerge cracked
still running. It
will be blinding just as
the darkness is blinding.
Behind your forest wall
steady follow this scent
thick with heavy evergreen.

Photo above found at:


  1. I often feel when reading your blogs like the ashamed repenting Christian in church thinking to him/herself "he is preaching RIGHT AT ME!". LOL. i love you. From one recovering baptist to another.

  2. Strangely enough, my dark night was when, as a young atheist, I met up with demons. It was shattering enough that my cherished world-view was shown to be a failure, but I was also depressed that I wimped out of taking the power they offered—I Failed Yet Again! Conversely, when God cornered me several years later, I was depressed that I failed to hold him off, but soon found the Joy of who He Is, even as he destroyed my world-view completely. Bright night of the soul?

    My depression has always been much darker than any dark night of the soul as you describe, but I'm not contradicting you—I never fit in with much of anything anyway. I've always been isolated...except in Christ.

  3. I remember reading about Mother Theresa that her dark period lasted around 20 years? I hate to say that because it's not very encouraging to anyone who might be experiencing this! After reading her story, it did sound like a very profound depression. Everyone's experience is so different. I've never talked very much about my own experience but it lasted about 2 years. I remember sometimes thinking I was never going to come out of it, but I had a wonderful mentor who had gone before me. She reminded me over and over-- this will end, and it did.

  4. You may not remember this Melissa. When i went through my DARKEST depression caused by the prednisone "steriod psychosis" we did not know i sufferred, the rapid hypomania, followed by the DARK DEPRESSION, from which i never thought i would recover, i refused to admit i was depressed. I told my psychiatrist i was only "worried". He even told me i wasn't depressed because i took the "beck depression survey" and didn't score whatever i was supposed to. I sat on your bed after you had combed Hannah's hair. You had on overalls and a flowerly shirt. You had just had Caleb and was talking about how tired you were and i was sitting there talking with you and then you just looked at me and grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "DEBY! what is wrong! YOU HAVE GOT TO GET THIS FIXED!". I said, nothing! I have a toothache and it bothers me and we can't afford to get it fixed. lol. After a few more months, i finally emerged with the right medication and i believe time and love from my family. It does end. But, don't let it take too long on your own, seek help.

  5. That's funny... overalls and a flowery shirt. Sounds like I was having a bit of a dark time too. LOL! It was probably all I had that would fit after having a baby!

  6. So how does one pass from this night, especially when all the dark emotions feel so much a part of the soul?

  7. You pass through it by staying engaged in life. You continue to get up, put one foot in front of the other, and daily turn yourself over to God. You completely surrender yourself to God's love, because He is heaing you during this time. There is NOTHING you can do to pass through this except to remain engaged in a surrendered position before God, who knows exactly what He's doing. There are days when you will just feel pain and out of sorts. You lean into it, honor it, and know tomorrow will come. It sounds wrong to many of us to think we're just supposed to accept a certain level of hurt, but I've found that to be exactly what is needed. Although you can't see what's ahead for you, there is a loving Creator who sees from the aerial view and knows exactly where you are and how to move you along. You will survive this and come out whole on the other side!

  8. My fiance is just going through dark night recently and until now, I want to help him. And now it gives me a little light and understand him now. I Love him

  9. I am in this dark night of the soul presently and have been since september 2012. it has been pure hell on earth but i do enjoy studying on the subject as it is a reminder that i am simply in a process.

    yours i believe is one of the few sites that ive seen that reminds the viewer that great leaders of the past have had to go through this same process. thats very uplifting and encouraging. i dont wish it was over though. im passed that stage. i'm just trying to not hurt anyone and isolating in the darkest times when im vulnerable and out of control emotionally.

    you literally do feel like you're in hell, but i guess that is what ego consciousness is until you go into enlightenment. we dont know any different. be blessed my friend! thank you!!!

  10. I have been going through the dark night of the soul for 6 years. It just won't leave me alone. I am so angry and can not enjoy the simple things. I have no love left and just feel it's time for me to die. I have no passion. I just had a daughter and can't wait to feel alive again. I'm tired!

  11. Thank you so much for reliving some dark moments of your inner journey. I am also going through a very difficult spiritual crisis.It's helpful to know others are experiencing similar circumstances. I wish you the best.