Out of suffering have emerged the strongest Souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. – Khalil Gibran
At some point, most of us go through a phenomenon known as the Dark Night of the Soul.
Although we try to run from it, it is still there. Although we try to cover it up and smother it, it is still there. Although we try to put on a happy, smiley face and pretend it away, it’s still there.
While some of us seek reprieve in religious thought, others of us seek respite in spiritual philosophy or psychology, and still, others seek relief through addiction and mind-numbing external pursuits.
The truth is that although we are all born with Souls, not all of us know how to fully embody and integrate them into our human experience. The truth is that in our modern world, we live ego-centrically rather than Soul-centrically.
Mystics, saints, and shamans throughout history have all referred to this ego-centric human struggle in different ways. But the one thing they all had in common was their tendency to point to the need for us to consciously grow into our Divine potential.
One of these people was Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish monk who coined the term “Dark Night of the Soul” (“Noche Oscura” the name of one of his poems) based on his own mystical experience.
These days, the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul has come to be used in a much broader way. What was once a term reserved for people actively going through a Spiritual Journey, has now come to easily label anything ranging from a few bad days and a period of depression to the death of a loved one.
But what really is the Dark Night of the Soul?
First, we’ll start with a basic definition:
What is the Dark Night of the Soul?
The Dark Night of the Soul is a period of utter spiritual desolation, disconnection, and emptiness in which one feels totally separated from the Divine. Those who experience the Dark Night feel completely lost, hopeless, and consumed with melancholy. The Dark Night of the Soul can be likened to severe spiritual depression (it’s a type of spiritual emergency.)
The concept of having a Dark Night of the Soul has existed for a long time, and spans back to the 16th century when poet and Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross wrote a poem entitled, “La noche oscura del alma (The Dark Night of the Soul).”
Wrote Saint John:
If a man wishes to be sure of the road he’s traveling on, then he must close his eyes and travel in the dark.
Traditionally, the Dark Night of the Soul refers to the experience of losing touch with God/Creator and being plunged into the abyss of godless emptiness. The modern understanding of having a Dark Night of the Soul, however, is not exclusively a religious one, but can often mean losing all meaning in life, feeling out-of-touch with the Divine, feeling betrayed or forsaken by Life, and having no solid or stable ground to stand on.
Some of the heaviest questions we ask during this period include for example, “Why am I alive?” “Why do good people suffer?” “What is truth?” “Is there a god or afterlife?” and “What is the point of living?”
Dark Night and Depression – Is it the Same Thing?
The Dark Night of the Soul is not the same as depression.
Although depression shares many of its characteristics with the experience of having a Dark Night of the Soul, it can often be treated and sometimes cured with medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices, lifestyle changes, and so forth.
Furthermore, depression often has its roots in biological chemical imbalances and/or unhealthy thought patterns, and often comes as a result of personal loss, mental illness, physical illness, abuse, genetics, and so on.
On the other hand, having a Dark Night of the Soul is a much different experience because it is primarily a spiritual and existential form of crises that can’t be treated or cured with therapy or psychiatry. Therefore, those of us going through the Dark Night often feel an increasing sense of hopelessness, unease, and despair as we discover that no one can save us but ourselves. Inevitably, this makes us feel even more alone, frustrated and confused about the world and about ourselves.
I am intensely aware of what it is like to experience complete psychological and spiritual desolation and although the feeling seems endless, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you just know where to look.
Finally, walking, in the LIGHT once again. Once the issue was identified, was able to reconcile that with my CREATOR, and literally walk out of the darkness, into the light.
The only challenge now, is allowing God to heal the areas of my heart that caused hurt and pain in others that I LOVE! To walk out of darkness and shame and allow the healing to take place. In the still of the night. Allowing healing to have it’s way.