There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung
The dark night of the soul is a period of focussed and intense spiritual growth and development we face as progress is made on the spiritual path. As the name suggests, it is a period characterised by darkness; the unknown, and is often (though not at all necessary) accompanied with a sense of pain, loss and suffering. The world as we know it, constructed through our conditioning and beliefs undergo a radical transformation, as too does our very sense of self. This transformation may make us feel hopelessly abandoned, disoriented and very much so alone.
It is argued amongst certain spiritual circles whether or not the dark night is at all a necessary part of the spiritual path, though this debate does not void it from the experiences of many, many people. Inevitably, the other side of the dark night brings about a change so profound; we may seem unrecognizable in our emergence – a true shift for the better. There is no one fixed period of time (for me it was years) or roadmap for the process, but there is however, universal ways in which we can traverse the terrain with a little more ease and comfort.
It is my hope that these tools may provide solace and comfort to anyone experiencing a dark night, and for that very person to understand that it need not be as long or painful as my experience.
The dark night of the soul is a journey into light, a journey from your darkness into the strength and hidden resources of your soul. - Caroline Myss
This is perhaps the most important step in moving through the dark night with minimal suffering. Many schools of thought and spiritual teachings often refer to the dark night as a necessary step of purification – an integral facet of development in which all that is no longer needed within us is burned up in the light of consciousness. In this regard, we can understand how the process can be a difficult one as parts of ourselves we once thought were synonymous with who we are dissolve; an experience frequently met with resistance and struggle.
Our strongly held beliefs, desires, fears, preferences – even our very worldview from which we derive our sense of identity, all undergo a tremendous transformation. The strength of our attachment to all these aspects of our being will likely determine the amount of suffering we experience as they go through an immense shift. Our willingness to detach and let go during this process will afford us some comfort through this trying time, leaving us far more grounded into our new reality. Like most things in the realm of self-development: patience, persistence and self-compassion are invaluable tools to utilise.
One of the more poignant aspects to surrender comes in the courageous act of faith. In regards to the dark night, faith instils in us a knowing that all is playing out as it should, and can become the solid foundation from which we practice our acts of surrender. These acts may include:
- Meditation and mindfulness
These methods provide us with the ability to accept and allow our immediate experience to present itself and move on, regardless of what that experience holds. Detachment to what is occurring allows the process to unfold as it should, without prolonging it with unnecessary resistance.
- Self enquiry and research
This can move us to look into works of spirituality and psychology that characterize and detail the process in differing lights. It may help us to understand that this is a normal process – one that provides tremendous growth and insight. Looking at just who it is we think we are will provide some space between what is occurring, and our identification with it.
In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God. – St John of the Cross
2. Professional Help and Community
An inevitable part of the process is the emergence and release of inner material that no longer serves you. This may arise in the form of beliefs, traumas, repressed emotions and memories to name a few. It comes as no surprise that facing this material can prove to be overwhelming at stages. As such, the processing of these phenomena is best facilitated under the guidance of a professional therapist. This is a vital point to note. There is no spiritual rulebook that says you must do this alone or that you must white-knuckle this whole experience. In fact, the intersection of spirituality and psychological therapy has pleasingly been granted an increase in attention over the last decade or so. The two are inseparable.
An integral tenant of spirituality is getting to know your self intimately. The Dark Night of the Soul is a period in which this intimacy can seem overwhelming in that it does not discriminate the parts of yourself it wishes to closely show you. You will likely explore some of the shadow aspects of your self during this period, either willingly or unwillingly. Indeed, it may feel like a certain type of death as these fragments rise to the surface to be released. Know that what you are experiencing is part of the process, and there exists for you help in the form of therapy and community. Just knowing that others (including the author) have been through this experience should provide for you some comfort and relief.
The darkness of this particular aspect of the process is often characterised by sorrow, and grief of loss, and may leave us feeling hopelessly abandoned and alone. Amidst these strong emotions and states, both community and therapy are priceless, and are always available and fervently encouraged.
When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed. - Joseph Campbell
3. Diet and Lifestyle
These two elements of my transition were invaluable, and on my part, greatly underestimated in terms of their worth and potency in effecting the ease of which the dark night was experienced.
The entirety of the process encapsulates all aspects of our being: emotional, mental, spiritual and physical. These parts of our selves are all interconnected and all synergistically inform each other, resulting in our overall lived experience. Physically speaking, the Dark Night is especially taxing on our nervous and endocrine systems. To avoid further nervous overload, and to cool of our adrenal glands (responsible for pumping out a tremendous amount of our stress hormones during this period), the following diet and lifestyle changes are recommended:
- Avoid (or greatly minimise) alcohol and caffeine.
Your body is going through a tremendous shift right now, and is in need of nourishment and targeted rest. The nervous system and adrenals are working overtime, and need all the support they can get to return to normal (and believe me, they will return to normal). Both alcohol and caffeine in this sense, will only add fuel to the fire.
Exercise is essential in regulating hormones and neurotransmitters (not to mention endorphins) to a level conducive to our growth and transformation. It is important during this time that we do not overdo it with exercise, as to not overload the adrenal and nervous systems. Only you will know what this means for you, as you would have full knowledge of the level of fitness you are currently at. I would suggest remaining within that realm, and not pushing it.
- Eat a nutrient dense diet, free from refined sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
There is no one diet that is the ‘best’ during this time, but the closest would resemble the Mediterranean, in that it focuses on fresh whole foods. Protein at every meal is very important during this time, which will aid in repairing and restoring the nervous and adrenal systems.
This is a very important aspect to the overall process, and one that you may find a little difficult during times. I recommend following a helpful night-time routine to aid in sleep, and the use of different herbal and supplemental materials to improve rest and sleep.
- Focus on media conducive to your personal growth and development.
This includes all the spectrum of media: books, articles, TV, movies, music, social media, YouTube etc. The transformation you are undergoing is made that much easier when you are surrounded by supportive material. To add on to this point: reduce or remove all toxic elements from your life; be it people, social media, food etc.
The Dark Night truly is a trying time for many, but it does not have to be a devastating one. The process is one of purification-by-fire, an embodied phoenix rising form the ashes experience. For me, I emerged from the Dark Night travelling lighter, in every sense of the word. My transition marked complete, as I now bless a period I once looked upon as a curse.