I sat across from my client in my cozy office where I was offering Ayurveda consultations and bodywork. I was probably talking to my client about the importance of self-care and offering tips on everything from diet to lifestyle to herbs and mantras to nurture her body and mind back into balance.
Actually, I don’t remember what I was advising. I was distracted by my burning, itching skin, covered temporarily by long sleeves and pants. All I wanted to do was scratch wildly at my skin, instead of smiling and pretending.
I’d had hives at this point for several months, and they weren’t getting any better. Not with cooling baths. Not with over-the-counter medications. Not even with any of the tips I’d learned from my Ayurvedic training for how to reduce the Pitta (fire) of hives—including a week’s stay at an Ayurvedic spa where I followed a dietary regimen and underwent body treatments all designed to put out the fire raging through my body.
Nothing had worked. And suddenly, the hypocrisy of the work I was doing with the actual condition of my body was crystal clear. After that appointment, I made the difficult decision to close down my practice and set aside years of Ayurvedic training to do—what? To do nothing.
I stared into the gaping hole that was my future—no career, no work, no clients, no value, no purpose.
And I knew that, ready or not, I was entering what would be my third Dark Night of the Soul.
A Dark Night of the Soul
The term “Dark Night of the Soul” first originated from the 15th-century poet and mystic St. John of the Cross, but has since made its way into more spiritual mainstream lingo.
The Dark Night of the Soul is a time of immense spiritual confusion. It is a time when reality and illusion switch places. When what we think is real and on this plane of existence becomes less real, and the life of our soul—our inner life—becomes more real.
It’s a time of great transformation.
I have personally undergone three Dark Nights of the Soul, each one bit different.
The first was caused by zealousness and pride and came down with electricity and fire.
The second one was marked by delusion and mis-prioritization and came down like an earthquake.
And the third, marked by stubbornness and desire, washed away in a flood of disaster, leaving me in an abyss of nothingness, eerie, lonely, and deathlike. This is the one I described above.
Each time, I had pushed through the early warning signs. I had ignored the voice of my intuition and the messages of my body as I tried in vain to live in adherence to the credos of this world: make something of yourself that is visible to others in the world. This is the only way you can belong. This is the only way to prove your validity and your right to take up space.
A Dark Night of the Soul insists that we confront questions about the purpose of human life: Who are we? Why are we here? What is the meaning of Life? Do we all have a purpose? What is Karma? Do we have free will? What are good and evil? In what do I believe?
We don’t get around to asking these questions of ourselves because we’re far too busy asking these: Will they like me? Do I belong? Do I look okay? Can I fit in?
As long as we’re distracted by the superficial questions, juggling what identity to wear, or how to get want we think we want, then we won’t ask the deeper questions our soul needs us to ask.
A Dark Night of the Soul is our soul insisting that we look beneath the surface of our lives for one that’s deeper, in order to learn who we really are.
A Crisis of Identity
Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I have ever known.
~ Chuck Palahniuk
To the outside world, a Dark Night of the Soul might look like we’re having a mid-life crisis. Well, it is a crisis, and if it happens at mid-life, then I suppose that description is accurate. But we misunderstand the importance of the mid-life crisis in our culture. We belittle and devalue its purpose. We don’t see it as a transitional time of life — a transition that allows us to be more fully who we are at our core.
We might feel that we’re becoming wild rather than tame.
But maybe our world is filled with too many tame humans and not nearly enough wild ones.
“To be wild is not to be crazy or psychotic. True wildness is a love of nature, a delight in silence, a voice free to say spontaneous things, and an exuberant curiosity in the face of the unknown.”
People might think we’ve fallen off the deep end.
And yet, what is so frightening about the deep end?
To the outside world, when we’re questioning our purpose or talking about our soul’s journey, we might sound like we’ve lost our grip on reality.
The truth is, that’s the whole point. We must lose our grip on what we’ve been told is “reality” so that we can get closer to our own truth.
Perhaps all of us trying to act like clones of each other is the true madness — not questioning such behavior.
Perhaps working our entire lives only to finally relax in our last years is the real insanity, not someone who is questioning this and other cultural norms.
Others might think we’re having a meltdown. And funny, on this point, they are right. We are melting down — we’re melting down the heaviness of our habits and beliefs, things that may have served us at one time but are now nothing but impediments for our future growth. We’re melting down cultural norms and credos that keep us constantly believing we’re never enough. We’re melting down from the inside out and the outside in.
This is a Dark Night of the Soul.
Fight, Avoid, or Accept
When a Dark Night of the Soul opens its arms in an invitation to us, our instinct is to see it as an enemy, even as a cousin to Death. We humans don’t like the unknown; we fear the emptiness, the void.
Even covered in hives while giving self-help tips to another person, even having been through two of these time periods before, the dark visitor at my door was not initially a welcome sight.
Even when we know our worldview is hindering our growth and cutting off our connection to our own souls, we fight the inevitable.
We can fight it off—for a while.
Or, we can try to avoid it—for a while.
For a while, we can cloak ourselves in even heavier, steelier facades. We can create new beliefs that attempt to reinforce the worldview that brought us to this point.
We can use and abuse substances such as alcohol, food, or drugs, or let ourselves be lulled into the addictiveness of conspiracy theories, where others do our thinking and sorting for us.
We can tell ourselves lies about how we don’t really care, or how we don’t believe in anything more. While we’re fighting off the invitation of the Dark Night, we’re spinning a darkness of despondency.
In my case, I kept reminding myself about the money and time I’d spent on my Ayurvedic training, and how my clients needed me, and how my dad was proud of me. On and on, I justified my decision to continue to offer healing services while my body cried out for healing.
There are many options available to us to avoid the Dark Night, and our ego will encourage us to try any of them, all of them. Anything to keep from truly entering the Dark Night of the Soul.
But the pain will get the last word — eventually.
Better to just walk into the heart of our Dark Night of the Soul.
Melting Down in the Fire of our Awareness
The element most associated with a Dark Nights of the Soul is fire — hence, my hives.
When we apply heat to our mind and psyche—through such acts as investigation, inquiry, discernment, greater awareness, and honest, clear seeing—it slowly melts down our sense of self and our identity.
This is a feature, not a bug, of a Dark Night of the Soul.
Into the fire, we offer:
Our patterns of behavior, thoughts, and beliefs
Our innocent trust in the world and authority figures of all kinds
Our habits and routines that help prop up our identity
Our easy willingness to trade our power away for something we deem of greater value in the moment
We burn down our superficial beliefs, our personal beliefs, and our societal beliefs one by one until we get to the core beliefs—the myths that we’ve believed and been surrounded by since childhood.
For each myth we’ve been told about our world—from “hard work begets to success” to “productivity at all costs” to “procrastination is the thief of time”—we get to decide whether to continue to allow them to shape our psyche and drive our actions and thoughts.
Or, we may finally recognize them as falsehoods, told to us by a collective consciousness that keeps us so busy we can’t ask the deeper questions.
The collective consciousness knows that if we started asking the deeper questions, then we would get our collective power back.
We’re not just chipping away some old beliefs, as in the analogy of making a statue out of a slab of concrete. We’re not carving ourselves out of all that we’ve collected.
A Dark Night of the Soul will burn and reduce us to ashes. We have to burn it all down to the ground. And from the ashes that remain, we will remake ourselves.
Let the Smoke Rise and Disperse
At first, when these facades, myths, and lies burn away, we feel a wash of emotions: hurt, anger, regret, suspicion, confusion, and more. Likely these are emotions that have been battened down within us for fear of them overtaking us.
But there is reason to be angry, for the world has misled us.
There is reason to be angry at the injustices, at the lies we’ve been told, at how we’ve been manipulated to give away our own power.
Let your anger rise like smoke; let it speak through you. Let it go.
There is reason to be sorry for the pain we have caused others, as well as the pain we’ve caused ourselves. There is much to wish we had done differently, so many things we wish we’d said differently.
Let the regret rise like smoke; let it speak. Let it go.
Blame, suspicion, confusion—these are all defensive reactions from an ego who does not wish to undergo this process, because the process is one of melting down the false ego in the fire of truth.
Let accusations, deflections, and projections rise; let them speak. Let them go.
As the Ashes Cool
The Dark Night of the Soul is an invitation to reclaiming our power, all that we’ve given away, all the power we’ve traded for something we deemed more important — validity, acceptance, belonging.
Once we reclaim our power by choosing to accept and belong to ourselves, we do not need to shift or change ourselves to draw this out of others.
Once we realize things like love, acceptance, and belonging are self-grown, we will no longer need to buy or barter for them in the marketplace.
Not only is this better for us, but it is better for others, as we no longer come into a relationship with anyone from a place of neediness. We come from a place of wholeness, which serves to remind them of their wholeness.
This process of transformation is not only for us. It is to reconnect us to each other, and the world. The less we need, the more whole we are.
But, while we’re in the ashes, we’ll be like “Cinder-ella” herself: navigating a period of time with no structure, not identity, and nothing else to distinguish us from the ashes.
But also like “Cinder-ella,” one day we will find our voice and will dance in the world again.
It didn’t make sense. A month after I left my practice, I still had hives on my body every day. I knew in my soul that I had addressed their message and that they did not have usefulness anymore. I had done what needed to be done, embraced my Dark Night of the Soul, so why were the hives still plaguing me?
It finally dawned on me: They did not need to continue to plague me. They had merely become accustomed to doing so. It was a habit, like any other.
My body was a hive-producing machine that someone just needed to turn off.
That someone was me.
With the guidance of a self-healing CD (Anna Thompson: Hypnosis for Pain Relief and Mind Body Healing, Chronic and Acute Pain Control), I empowered myself to travel beneath my skin, past my muscles, and slide deep inside my nervous system.
There, I located dozens of hotspots — like tiny volcanos — spitting and hissing out hives. On each hotspot, I saw something like a ship’s wheel. I took each wheel firmly in my hands, turned it off.
The next day, the hives were fewer.
The next day, fewer still.
A week later, I emerged from my Dark Night of the Soul, proudly draped in my shiny, hive-free skin.
Six years later, I published my first book, a book that had always been a dream of mine, a book that never could’ve happened had I still been offering Ayurvedic services. My pain knew what I needed in my life, and pain always gets the last word.
Enter Your Dark Night of the Soul
Go ahead. Walk into your Dark Night of the Soul when it invites you. Embrace the confusion and the unknown. Seek comfort in yourself and guide by your intuition.
Know that these Dark Nights of the Soul have entered the lives of human beings since the mystics first wrote about them. And while their length of stay with us is unknown, they do not last forever.
But, while we are in them, we must do our part to question and challenge our long-held perceptions, ideas, and beliefs.
A Dark Night of the Soul will, over time, melt away all those parts of ourselves that are no longer useful while stoking the parts of us that have yet to be made conscious.
This greater consciousness is what spiritual growth is all about.
Award-Winning Author & Wholeness Advocate
Interview on Illumination
Author: Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness — A Memoir of New Beginnings, winner of the 2020 IPA for Body, Mind and Spirit
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