Dark Night of the Soul

How to Survive a Dark Night of the Soul

Following my epic article on the Dark Night of the Soul, I wanted to go into a little more detail on the symptoms of the Dark Night and strategies for surviving it. I was going to include this information at the end of the previous article but it was already too long.

To summarise: the Dark Night of the Soul is a transformative process that can occur after awakening. It is designed to purge you of all ego attachments so you can develop a direct relationship with the divine. You must be ready for this process, and there is often a period of ‘ripening’ as you build the strength and maturity necessary to move through the darkness and dissolution of the self.

Read the full article: Love’s Ordeal: The Dark Night of the Soul

Symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul

Hold your LightEverybody will experience the Dark Night in a different way, but there are archetypal patterns which seem to arise in everyone. The process of awakening is basically the same in all people, but how the ego breaks down will vary. Our cultural conditioning is similar because we grow up listening to same illusory narratives, but we each have our own particular quirks and hang-ups.

Where I get stuck will not be the same as where you get stuck.

With that in mind, here are some of the symptoms that may be experienced during a Dark Night of the Soul. You may not encounter them all, or indeed any of them.

So in no particular order:

  • Regret over having started a spiritual practice but you know you can’t stop
  • Your spiritual practice no longer works like it used to
  • Inability to meditate or pray
  • Despair over your lack of spiritual progress
  • Find yourself cursing God
  • Feelings of Purgatory
  • Depression due to increased awareness of impermanence
  • Find things passing away: relationships, jobs, possessions
  • Loss of dreams, hopes and desires
  • Loss of purpose and sense of meaning
  • Inability to let go of the past or what you have lost
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Normal life now seems boring and pointless compared to your vision of Oneness and you see how much of your life is false
  • Feel cut off from others and alienated from ‘normal’ life making it hard to join in
  • Values change making it hard to relate to others at times
  • Priorities are challenged and new goals may need to be found
  • Profound aloneness and the awareness that no-one else is experiencing this
  • Need for silence and find it hard to talk
  • Want to be alone
  • Feel like you’re falling into madness
  • Fear of what is coming into your awareness as you confront the shadow
  • Can’t stop crying or find it hard to cry even if you want to
  • Exhaustion / unable to sleep / can’t stop sleeping
  • Feel helpless and unable to assert your will
  • Difficulty eating or wanting to undertake a fast
  • Physical pain with no obvious cause / hypersensitivity
  • Feel like you’re dying / strong death wish
  • Despair
  • Intense fear
  • Confusion

I’ve probably missed a few. If you’d like to add to this list, please use the comment section to share your experience.

How to survive a Dark Night

The first thing to remember when you find yourself in the Dark Night, is that the spiritual path isn’t really about feeling good. For all the talk of bliss, this process is more about wholeness and the ability to be present with whatever is happening in your life, good or bad.

The fact that you feel confused, frightened and borderline crazy is not a sign that something has gone wrong. Arrival in the Dark Night means your deeper Self wants this to happen. You are ready to let go and open to the ultimate Reality, even if it doesn’t make you feel good. This is a sign of strength, spiritual maturity and courage. The Dark Night may feel like the worse kind of hell, but it really is a blessing.

Go towards the sun
Go towards the sun

The hardest thing to let go of is the idea of spiritual attainment, specifically enlightenment itself. This is, apparently, the goal of the spiritual journey but here we encounter our old foe: the wily ego. At this stage of the process, if you want it, you won’t get it.

The desire to enjoy ecstatic union with God is one of the things which most effectively separate us from God.” – Abu Hasan Al Shadhili

While the statements “seek and you will find” and “knock and the door will be opened” are true, they’re only true up to a point. The ego’s games and desires must be exhausted before any kind of ‘finding’ or ‘door opening’ will happen. In reality, what you must do is knock and knock and knock, seek and seek and seek, and when none of it works and you feel as confused and lost as you did at the start, you finally give up.

As Andrew Harvey says, you are only given the world when you no longer want it.

But this doesn’t mean you can short-circuit the process by giving up now thinking that will bring you want you want. For this is not a genuine surrender, there is still the shadow of a desire lurking in the background.

This from Nagarjuna: “Believers in emptiness are incurable.

Reveal your Light
Reveal your Light

Ten Dark Night Strategies

Keep Practising: whatever you do, don’t give up your spiritual practice, even if it seems pointless or scary. If you stop now, you can get stuck in an endless Dark Night and your life will become unliveable.

Have Faith: remember that you are not in control of this process. Trust in the process, in your True Self, God, or however you want to characterise it. Allow yourself to be guided.

Stay Open: remain open to whatever comes up, good or bad. Say yes to it all. Don’t resist.

Maintain Perspective: don’t go too far with extreme practices in order to free yourself faster. It isn’t a race. Maintaining a sense of humour is vital to surviving the worst of the Dark Night.

Don’t Pathologise: try not to interpret the Dark Night as a sign something is wrong. Just remembering it is a normal part of the process can help you to overcome many of the problems. And stay away from psychiatrists – most of them know nothing about non-duality and won’t be able to help.

Embrace the Darkness: it may seem crazy to say yes to darkness and loss, but it’s a symptom of your old ego illusions. Learn to see in the dark. Dispel the darkness by bringing more consciousness to it. If you fight it or push it away, it will only become stronger.

Beware Expectations: if you expect the Dark Night to be hard or scary, then it will be. Be careful of the stories you tell yourself about what is going on. They are all ego narratives and therefore illusory.

Exercise: keep yourself grounded by exercising regularly. Go for walks, do yoga, weight training – anything that keeps you moving and focused on the body so you don’t get lost in your head.

Practise Self-Inquiry: break down the components of the experience by deconstructing what you’re feeling and thinking during your meditation practice. Remember to ask the right questions: Who is thinking? Who is scared? Who is dying? Who is going stark staring bonkers?!

Find a Teacher: find someone who can guide you through the process, but be sure they have been through it themselves. If you can’t find someone, then read spiritual literature, particularly Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and Nagarjuna.

The most important thing to remember is this: you are losing your illusions – nothing more. Just let them go.

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown

My novel Addled: Adventures of a Reluctant Mystic was inspired by my experience of awakening and the dark night of the soul. Find out more here

More Recommended Books:

Visit the Dark Night Resources page for tons of links:resources-dark-night

Image: Go towards the sun

34 thoughts on “How to Survive a Dark Night of the Soul

  1. Hi Jessica, I feel so grateful for your article. I have been in the DNOS for over 6 months now and I do have a Spiritual Director, A Jungian who is amazing but it is very challenging and lonely! I have been on a spiritual path for 25 years and honestly have never experienced something this challenging. It is also a time to heal all of the shadow aspects of Self. I have a 13 year old and I am a newly single mother so it is much more challenging as i really have not a lot of motivation to “do”things. i was a therapist in my former life and a teacher of the Chakra System! I loved it and it was my Soul work. Trying to get back to it. I was in a group for people experiencing the Dark Night and made a few friends and it was VERY helpful to meet others oddly who had gone through this. The group leader in my view was very controlling and did NOT allow for feelings. I wonder if you know of any Facebook group for Dark Night Support. We used to live in communities and could help each other and though a solitary experience it is good to know we are NOT alone. Thanks, Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Sarah – I’m glad you found this helpful. There are probably lots of groups on Facebook, but the only one I’m aware of that deals with the Dark Night of the Soul is ‘Shades of Awakening’. You can find out more on their website here: Shades of Awakening – there’s a link to the group. I’m a member and it seems very supportive – although, it is on Facebook which might not be the best place in the world to be sharing sensitive information. Check it out and see what you think.

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  2. Jessica,
    Thank you so much for the beautiful article! It’s very helpful. I’ve been through my Dark Night of the Soul for more than two years, and looking back, I can see how far I’ve come. My ego is trying to make me believe things that are ‘just stories’ (as you said), but I’m mindful at this moment and understand that those are just stories. I’ve been feeling troubles with staying grounded because I’m 8 months pregnant and can’t exercise (before exercising helped me a lot), but breathing and meditations help me a lot still. Even my 6 and a half y.o. son loves meditations. He always asks me if he can do it with me, and it actually makes him sleep better! Another thing that is very helpful is understanding that we have to have compassion for others. For example, when my ego is telling me “oh, that person looked at you wrong and it means no one likes you again, just like when you were a child” (or something like that), I talk back, and I say “Oh, no, that person had a bad day, or maybe something happened at home or with the family. I hope it will be ok. By acting like that that person doesn’t want to offend me, it just needs to release the energy, but not everyone knows the right way doing it. So let’s be understanding and send this person love instead of fighting back”. That helps a lot 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Larisa, and thanks for sharing your experience. That’s great advice for dealing with negativity from the ego and a reminder that we’re all connected. Compassion isn’t always easy, especially when the ego is causing problems, but your advice will certainly help 🙂

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  3. It seems like you have a healthy perspective on the process of transformation. My own path didn’t end with the Asian religions. But I did spend several years there. I don’t mean to sound condescending. It’s just the way it worked for me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I donno if to be happy or sad. I donno if it’s happening with me for what reason. But I’m going down and down and down. I think I’m regressing. I’m confused. I’m in traumatic mind. I can’t even explain. It’s like being helpless and crying, getting myself failed. I want to be a doctor but due to all this I can’t concentrate. I’m failed once giving the entrance exam. I’m trying again for it. I just want to do it. But this uncontrollable energy is ripping my head, my brain, my heart apart. I feel helpless. It’s like knowing all my enormous potential and doing nothing. My brain gets hang. I always loved spirituality and tried for kundalini awakening last year. This was for I thought it would increase my energy and concentration. When it didn’t (meditation) give result, I left it and concentrated on only studies. But when I failed, I lost my faith on me and from God. While the starting of next trial, I changed myself as the previous me wasn’t giving me benefits. From the last 3 years, I kept on experimenting on my self. I kept on filtering from good to bad then again good … Again bad. I thought I was evolving. But I donno what was I doing with my self. I think my feeling to be better day by day is killing me. I think I can’t live in satisfaction. I , from my childhood, am very highly ambitious. But I was lazy like everyone else. But my unending will to change myself is decreasing my abilities. Now last August 2016 , I was sleeping in my hostel. My roommate was home. N in midnight, I felt this intense energy blast out of my body . I thought it was dream. And told, cried on me to get up from such nightmare. I thought I would get in pieces. I saw the blast in the shape of eagle which centered on my bed. I got faint. I thought it was ghost. Help me!!!! Please I , can’t be a failure. I alwayz wanted to be a good person. Always wanted to sacrifice my life for the sake of India and world. I wanted to explore my spirituality. But now I just feel guilty of not going towards my dreams, my goals. That night I felt that I was going to burst. The next morning I got faint while doing Yoga. I was afraid . I thought I’m gonna be a psycho. I forgot to tell you that from my last 2 years, I wanted to be A Psychiatrist. But now I feel like. Crazy. I can’t see my ambitions clear. I can’t study, can’t concentrate. From my childhood, I used to think I am the source of energy to this world. I’m the one due to which this world works. I always felt an intense faith on my spirit. I feel so extraordinary that I can’t control the powers. Plzz help me or I’ll ruin myself, I’ll burn myself with my energy. Plzz don’t let me die of my energy. My whole body and eyes Burns. My body aches for no reason. Please show me path. I can’t concentrate. I feel like top the exams, I was an intelligent student. But from my last failure. All these things happening with me. This is not depression. I just … Help me.
      Anyone.. plzz.. it’s where u can help.
      theriseofdarksoul@gmail.com

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      1. Hello Sami – I’m sorry to hear about your troubles. It sounds like you’re caught in a kind of vortex of fear with your mind spinning round and round itself while you look for answers to your problems.

        It’s almost impossible to do anything when you become trapped like that, so the first thing you need to do – and this is hard because of how you’re feeling, but you have to try – the first thing is to calm yourself down. Take some deep breaths, get your awareness back into your body so you can stop spinning around inside your head. You might need to ground yourself – perhaps go for a walk or do something physical, like sports, gardening, etc. Being in nature might help you to feel better, or if you can, visit the sea or a river. Get some fresh air and move around. Really feel your breath moving through your body and imagine it pulling all the crap out of your system and making you clear again.

        You need to stop believing the stories you’re telling yourself – because that’s all they are – stories.

        The future isn’t certain. You don’t know what will happen, so you need to trust that life knows what it’s doing. This is difficult to do when you feel scared, especially when the plans you have made seem to be unravelling. I’ve been going through something similar recently so I understand how hard that can be. I realised that what I needed more than anything else was to have faith.

        The whole world is pretty crazy right now so the best way for you to help others is to overcome your own fears so you don’t react to the craziness by becoming even more crazy! The world needs us all to remember who we really are and to return to the still centre of truth in our hearts. You can find that centre when you stop listening to the voice of fear. Your breath will take you there if you trust it.

        I hope you start to feel better soon. Please don’t despair – you never know what the universe has hidden up its sleeves.

        If you want to talk to others going through similar things, you might like to join the Shades of Awakening facebook group. You can find out more here: http://shadesofawakening.com/

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        1. I tried my level best to keep myself calm. It’s what I’m doing each n every second from last 4 to 5 months. Yes, my studies, concentration has been increased. But you know.. I know my real potential is faaaaar more than this. I take deep breaths. I try to concentrate on my inner voice. But trash. More over , when I try to listen to my inner voice , I long for breath. I think I would suffocate. Is there any way to come outside it. People say (always) that I’m highly energetic. But then in middle my brain stools, becomes dizzy. Then how can I be so energetic.? I’m an attractive person. I mean not girly beautiful. But strong, good personality. From my childhood, people are attracted towards me. I mean not in that sense. But people with every age.. it just increase the hopes of me that are already high.

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        2. I’m sorry, Sami, but I’m having trouble understanding you. I’m not sure how I can help. You need to find somebody you can talk to near where you live. Also, I’m not sure why you feel you’ll suffocate when listening for your inner voice – it sounds like you’re holding your breath and there’s no need. Just breathe. You don’t have to strain for it or try hard.

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  4. I think you hit the nail on the head on so many points on this one. It is perhaps the hardest single part of the awakening experience….because it digs us into ourselves and we wind up wrestling shadows (our own!). But when I read about the challenges that faced some of your readers here, Jessica, I see my own life mirrored in some ways. I lost my life. I held on for dear life, too. For a time. Until it began to fall away. I resisted because I felt that it would mean losing a precious part of my life, which was tied into my identity as husband, father, and business owner. Rather than a flattening of my whole world as I had feared, it turned out that it was merely a way to winnow out the things that did not align with my authentic self. For a while, though, I was living on the edge of everything it seemed and could.not.get.an.even.break. Everything that could go wrong seemed like it did, or could.

    I realized that it wasn’t that the universe was against me or that all of this had to fall like some house of cards, no, I had BUILT this thing I called my life, and some of it was honorable in regards to my essential self, and some of it was chaff. For a time when I “collapsed” I lost all drive to do much of anything. Terrible. But as men, we tend to define ourselves in ways that are less than productive. We all do this. Societal norms, familial pressures, doing things for people in order to gain their favor or to be who they think you should be or yearn for you to be. As men, we should never shrink from our most authentic. Anything less is inviting trouble. And awakening? Well, that just intensifies the contrast and brings on the forces to bring down what needs to be harmonized with our higher selves which seem now to be muscling its way in. To save us. To redeem. So while it is easy to feel like its all gone to sh*t, my experience was that it was me who needed to change. And yes, it took the wind out of my sails for a while. I had to figure out what the new more aligned priorities were. For me. It remains a continual process, layer-like….but it has gotten much better. And I lost a lot. But I have also gained something I didn’t have to the degree that I had before, and this has been a life saver. What was in the wings has begun to enter into my life. It hasn’t been easy. Old habits die hard. I have stumbled, fallen, but gotten back up and continued on, trying hard to learn from my past mistakes in a way that I might have just shrugged off as just the world giving me hard knocks.

    But surrendering the need to rationalize, to always know the answers was one of the keys for me in success. The more I let go of all that I thought I knew, the more this authentic self streamed in. It was not by way of a rational process. It was not a “doing” but an allowing. One is very Yang, the other was more Yin. There is a part of me that does so much better when I open up to the immensity that is what we are inside….that interfaces with the universe. Less a left brained process that is object-oriented and physically based, I have shifted more to the right brain which has the big picture capabilities…..and more intuition (and along with it, the more fluid receptive channels within consciousness). When we call kundalini “Shakti” I think what we are talking about is the force in our bodies and consciousness that resides as the yin channel in Chinese medicine and as the Goddess of the Hindu. It travels as a force of energy and consciousness on the left side of our bodies and then does a flip as it enters into our brain, the right brain. This is the part of us that can imagine anything, birth anything….just like Shakti, like Yin. And it is the part of us as Westerners that we are woefully absent of. Being an artist, I thought I was naturally right brained, but awakening itself helped to show me that when we say we only use 10% of our brains, I learned that the remainder of our capacities remains in large part with our right brains and what it mirrors in the cosmic, which is the more receptive intuitive parts of ourselves. There is a lot developing right now that helps support this, and I think that out of this we will be developing the means to make the most use of what is our own birthright cognitively, physically, and in consciousness.

    Sorry for the yammer…this can be so challenging for all of us….but I think that there are ways to navigate it that can help us through….which your writing has naturally done, and for that I say hurray!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Parker, thanks for sharing your experiences – no need to apologise for the yammer! – it all helps. Awakening is quite a process – easy and hard at the same time. It’s natural and yet feels totally alien while you’re struggling through it. I recognise a lot from your experiences – lots of letting go and losing things I no longer need. Of course, I don’t always agree that I no longer need them and that’s where the problems begin. So the biggest challenge for me has been learning faith and trust, and hearing from fellow travellers like you really helps. So thank you, and I’m glad you found my ramblings useful! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Jessica 🙂

    Great tips you shared. I definitely have experienced the dark night and it wasn’t until I met my teacher (who is in Ramana’s lineage) that I was willing to make peace with this.

    Letting go of the stories was really key for me and feeling all the feelings that came up.

    Allowing whatever can crumble to crumble was key in discovering what is eternal. Always Here.

    Letting go of the idea that this was wrong and simply allowing this to unfold. This is challenging, but it’s like a spiritual detox is happening.

    Life loves us enough to help us (sometimes rather ruthlessly lol) make peace with all aspects of ourselves. Through the pain, one can come back Home to themselves.

    I have a chapter in my new book on this ‘spiritual detox.’

    If anyone wants more information on this contact me at tathina.com. I have videos and resources on my twitter for anyone ready to make peace with this experience.

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s great to realize you didn’t do anything wrong when the spiritual journey is not all rainbows and sunshine. We are vast enough to experience everything…everything we have been running away from…to truly heal these deep wounds.

    Namaste’
    Tathina

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Tathina

      Thanks for the link to your website – it looks great and your book sounds very interesting. I’m sure it will help a lot of people – there seems to be many more people waking up now and it can be a bumpy ride! Thanks for sharing your work – I’ll be exploring your site for sure 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Had a nightmare few years,thinking i am going crazy,2 and abit years ago was very happy with life,engaged to be married,successful business and home.then the slide started to happen,me and my partner split up,then my business started to collapse,but all my fight and energy to save both.unfortunately end of 2014,my business went bust.now i am saddled with debt and am close to loosing my home.i am a shadow of my former self.life can be so cruel.ive read quite a few of these sites some say fight others say let go,what will be will be.
    Am i supposed to hope something good will turn up and stop me from loosing my home or just given in and lose the lot ???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Andrew. So sorry to hear about your troubles. Life can be very cruel and sometimes you just have to suck it up. Working out whether to fight or whether to let go of a situation is very difficult and there are no easy answers.

      It’s possible that something good could turn up. It’s also possible that you could lose the lot. There are never any guarantees in life. But just because things seem dire now, doesn’t mean the obvious outcome (losing everything) is going to happen.

      It’s important to remember that these things aren’t happening to you because you’re a bad person. Although it feels like this at times, you’re not being punished. As terrible as this situation is, it’s offering you an opportunity to completely transform your life.

      I know this is hard, but try to imagine a positive future for yourself. Instead of focusing on all the things you’ve lost, try to be grateful for what you have and look for ways to turn your life around. You may have to dig deep inside yourself to find a long lost dream, something you’ve always wanted to do, something life affirming and positive – and go for that. Don’t let your grief and anger at your loss drag you under. Easy for me to say, I know…

      I wish you well, and hope you find a way through your troubles back to happiness.
      Jessica.

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      1. Thanks for your response Jessica

        I remember when i had good times ,i was the first person to put my hand in my pocket and help people out.i always believed good karma,will come back to help me in the future.

        I have always been a fighter,it just seems like everything i do there are obstacle after obstacle in front of me

        Its just like all my energy has been take away

        Onward and upwards

        What i keep saying to myself,Laws of Average,No pain no gain !!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve just found this site. I guess this is what is happening to me. My whole life fell apart. I’ve never been so scared in my entire time on Earth. It’s been a year and I I’m still in darkness and agony. But I’ve been put on mild anti depressants. Other wise the terror is to much. I have a lot of stuff to work out and I guess I need to know I’m not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Steve. There is a way through the darkness so don’t give up, and you’re definitely not alone. It’s always scary when everything falls apart, but it does get better – eventually! Hang in there…

      I just popped across to your website and had a look at some of your videos! 🙂

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      1. Hey, good to hear from you. So what part of the world are you in ? I hope you liked the videos. I never wanted my year to be like this. Ihad a massive burnout from exhaustion and it has turned my while world upside down. I still don’t know whether it’s anything spiritual or just medical but it’s changing my perspective none the less.

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        1. Hi Steve. I’m in the UK. Obviously I don’t know what’s going on with you but it could be a mixture – medical, spiritual, psychological. It all gets mixed up and you get stuck in the middle of it wondering what the hell is going on. Sometimes the only way through is to follow your instincts and intuition where they lead, even if you end up down the rabbit hole.

          When I first started on this journey I wasn’t remotely spiritual and wasn’t interested, but then life has its own ideas…

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        2. I’ve lived in the UK for the past 15 years and am hoping to come back sooner than later. Im in Australia at the moment but have been living in Manchester. Yes life has it’s own ideas indeed. Allthough I could have avoided a lot of this with healthy eating and better thinking. So it does has it’s advantages whenit comes to altering your perspective and knowledge on many different levels.

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    1. Thanks John (and Doug!). It’s a very tough time and the way our culture works doesn’t help much. I hope you find your way through the darkness soon. I popped over to your blog and read your great post too. Hang in there…

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      1. Hey Jessica- I believe you’re correct that our culture isn’t designed to support those who question “what else is there?”

        we’re supposed to fill the emptiness with unneeded stuff I guess.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, and it even works for a bit – until you get bored of it… So easy to distract yourself rather than look at reality square in the eye, as it were.

          I love your blog, by the way. I’ve just followed you – should’ve done it long ago. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

          Like

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