The Dark Night of the Soul

Sparklers on the Fairy Tree, a fav of neighborhood children.  Photo copyright by Lorna Tedder.

The Dark Night of the Soul is a rather ominous term for something that happens in some lives, but not all.  I  believe that some people actually make it through their entire existence on the planet without encountering anything as dark and devastating as a Dark Night.  Those who do–and survive–are forever changed.

The term is generally regarded in its spiritual or religious aspects–time when a devout person loses faith and meaning.  I can’t say that it’s always about faith but I have seen it mostly among people who are deeply spiritual.  My own Dark Night of the Soul took place several years ago, and though it was the hardest thing in my life, I would never go back to how it was before.

I’ve learned a few things about these Dark Nights, from my own experience and from observing others:

1.  Time must move differently for the soul because the soul’s idea of a night lasts several years.  From what I’ve seen, the darkest part last about 2 years, and then there’s a period of transition where life is still difficult, fully in twilight of that Dark Night, before the sun shines brightly again.

2.  There is a profound sense of loss, if not actual loss.  This is a period of losing dreams, careers, lovers, spouses, family.  It is often a time of scandal or potential scandal, of public judgment, of becoming an outcast.   It’s a time of hanging on to things that are no longer working because you’ve lost so damned much that you can’t imagine losing anything else, even if what’s left is detrimental to you.  Most significantly, it’s a time when all the people you thought were friends disappear, and it’s always a surprise to find out who really wasn’t a friend after all.  In my own Dark Night,  I quickly discovered that of the 50 people I considered my closest friends and had been emotionally supportive of for years suddenly no longer spoke to me on the elevator at work or returned phone calls.  It was a hurtful and angry shock to the system. 

3.  The theme is loss and abandonment, and of deep questioning of your security in your faith and in yourself.  All the things you’ve trusted in and depended on are suddenly gone, perhaps even your faith in Deity or God.  This is the moment when all your self-confidence is stripped away and you feel quite alone in the Universe.

4.  For at least a year or two afterwards, life is  a crab-walk.  The best you can muster is side-ways as you try to find your footing again.  You’re beyond the initial loss of the Dark Night, but it’s still not quite over.  The things you held onto to prevent a complete loss, the remaining things that are not good for your metamorphosis into your true self, begin to fall away.  The few friends who stuck by you slip away or vanish in a burst of attitude when you differ with them.  The family members who stayed with you and have never ceased to remind you that they stuck with you will begin to fade away as well.  I myself lost almost everyone I was close to during my Dark Night, and in the following 18 months, lost the rest.  A few have returned to me but for the most part, I have an entirely new set of people in my life.

5.  The transition stage following the Dark Night is not easy either, but it is a period of planting new seeds and of new hope.  Even several years into the future, when you’ve been living in mostly sunshine again and life it good, remnants of your Dark Night of the Soul  and your journey out of it will resurface when you least expect.  For me, these are often what seems to be a repeat of a pattern.  That pattern may be an old habit I need to address that has not cropped up since the Dark Night  or it may be a new person with the same qualities as one who’s gone before and a second chance at what (not whom) I thought was lost forever.   It’s almost as if, once out in the light of day again, the Universe dips back and repeats something from the past, offers it up to see what you would do with it after all that soul growth that’s taken place.  It’s what I call the Job-Effect, as in the Biblical Job.  You’ve lost it all and now you’re given back not the things or people you lost but experiences of new things and new people that can mean as much or more.  I’m thinking “more” because once you’ve lost something, then you have a better appreciation for it when you get that second chance. 

6.  The Dark Night of the Soul does pass, even though you might be tempted to end your own life.   It takes a while to get back to good place in your life and to replenish your scorched garden with beautiful new blossoming life that you would never have had before, but the sunshine and beauty does come.  It’s not  “nothing but” sunshine and beauty–there are still moments that will startle you or rock you to your core–but the Dark Night and the transformation it demands if you stay in the world are worth the outcome.