What the Dark Night of the Soul is, the signs that lead up to it, and how to navigate its sometimes treacherous waters to find the light in the darkness.
When I was experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul, I wasn’t sure that’s what was happening. I didn’t know anything about it, and although I felt entirely upside down, I still had flashes of absolute clarity, and I had trust that the light would shine on my life again. It wasn’t until I became completely exhausted by the constant illness, mental and emotional processing, nightmares, and ego battles that I began to research it.
I spent much of my awakening experience avoiding research. I made this choice deliberately as a means to understand from a spiritual perspective what was taking place, and to define the experience for myself, by my own senses, intuition, and inner-guidance; to verify the experiences were all coming from my higher self and not from my unconscious mind. My inner guidance told me that this was a phase of my personal development, an awakening that would lead me to walk through the world differently.
I understood it to be a deep healing.
I chose to journal my experiences and to share them with a trusted person as a means to understand from a deeply personal perspective what was happening rather than read a lot of books, and do a lot of research. This is not the path for everyone. We are all different and we have different needs. What is happening to you is happening for you, and it is your experience to define and manage.
What is the Dark Night of the Soul?
The Dark Night of the Soul is a series of events that strip away the meaning we have given to our lives, and reveals to us our truest selves. Something greater than a midlife crisis, and deeper than depression, which takes us down a rocky and revealing path that often feels devastating while we are navigating it; the experience shines light through the haze in which we have been living. Though it can take time to see this with absolute clarity, and the process of stripping these ideals away can feel dark and depressing.
During this experience we shed parts of our lives and parts of ourselves that are holding us back, though we may not realize in the moment what is happening; at least, I didn’t. Not with any real clarity.
What are the Catalysts of the Dark Night of the Soul?
The Dark Night of the Soul experience can be brought on by a number of catalysts. For me these were many and varied, including the loss of loved ones who passed away, ending friendships, and walking away from a career I’d spent years building, among other things. I was taking action in my own life to make changes, but I didn’t know where I was headed.
The actions I was taking seemed to be an invitation to the Universe to step in and reveal just what needed to shift for me to move forward to build my best possible life. Any and all of these things can be considered catalysts for the Dark Night of the Soul.
Really, anything that shakes our lives up and invites us to see where we can heal to live a bigger and better version of ourselves can introduce the Dark Night of the Soul.
If you’ve experienced one of these, some of these, or some other life-altering circumstance, you may then also experience the Dark Night of the Soul, and eventually a shift in consciousness. I experienced several of them. By the time I fully submerged into the depths of the Dark Night of the Soul, I had been wading through its shallows for a few years as the people and things I relied on for security slipped away from me.
Catalysts of the Dark Night of the Soul:
- The end of important relationships, separation, or divorce.
The end of an important romantic relationship in my own life sent me deep and consistently into my previously on-again, off-again meditation practice, which gave me the inner stillness I needed to transform my life; though it was a long process, and many other significant experiences followed that initial step.
I also set boundaries with people that then fell away, and walked away from longtime friendships. I didn’t connect the dots at the time, but I was preparing for a big shift, and was being led into the Dark Night.
- The death of a loved one, or loved ones.
Very important people in my life passed away within a short time of one another.
- A change of job or career.
After months and months of worry over a variety of issues that eventually began to interrupt my sleep, I finally left a much sought-after position in my field with a large media company. When I left that job for a new job, I unknowingly walked right into the same situation but magnified. I quit immediately, even though doing so was a hardship. Something in me knew that my life needed to change and my career path was part of that change. I chose, through nervous knots and anxiety, to bet on myself.
- A move to a new home, state, or town.
Once I’d given up so much of my solid ground, it didn’t seem like I had anything to lose to relocate and completely start over. I moved to a different state and started my life over, and plummeted into the depths of the Dark Night of the Soul.
- A shift in your current reality so dramatic it cannot be ignored.
When I was making career changes, I was in an uncertain space and had given up my financial security. Just as I was grappling with what I had experienced, the choices I had made; the world was shut down by COVID. This increased existing societal tensions, and brought to a head many issues such as racial injustice, classism, and sexism. So many of us accepted the invitation to change during this time; leaving unfulfilling jobs and relationships. I’m not the only person who could sense this was going to be a dramatic, life-altering situation. For many, it has been.
- Near Death Experience, injury, sobriety, traumatic experience or other life altering circumstances.
Any circumstance that forces us to see the uncomfortableness within which we have chosen to live can be a catalyst for change and an invitation into the Dark Night of the Soul.
When we are spinning through swift and drastic change, whether of our own choosing or not, there isn’t often a depth of clarity to understand that the destruction is bringing us to a better version of ourselves. Even if we deeply know that adversity fosters change, we can still find ourselves reeling, lost in the uncertainty and chaos of change.
I knew something big was coming for months leading up to the changes that brought me to my own Dark Night of the Soul. If you’re one who pays attention to signs, you’ll see them too, they’re there for you. We always have guidance during these times, but we often tend to turn away from it. I shut down several times during my own experience, pulled back, and cocooned. I always came back, and I never lost my faith in something bigger than myself, whatever it may be.
This may or may not be how it is for you, and know this: whatever your experience is, it isn’t wrong. Though it may feel like everything has gone wrong, things are actually going very right for you.
In my own experience I can determine several harbingers of change that came as a sort of siren song. And by that I mean the beautiful call into the darkness that seems dangerous and scary, but is, in hindsight, a beautiful journey of transformation.
The Harbingers of Change:
- Feeling that there is a greater purpose for you.
I spent years commuting to and from my corporate job. Often on my way home I would cry because I knew there was something that was off, but I didn’t know what it was. This, I thought, was all that I had worked for. I was climbing to the next rung of the ladder, but something was missing. I just didn’t know what it was. I knew I was worth more, somehow, but I had no idea how to find the missing piece.
- Seeing messages and signs.
Most of my life I’ve practiced divination in some form or other; tarot, oracle, pendulum, regarding synchronicities and signs as gifts, even asking my own body and seeking answers through kinesthetics. As I felt signs throughout my day and in my dreams revealing something was coming, I relied more and more on oracle cards and received a constant and disconcerting message: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Ugh. Well, that didn’t sound fun.
The most jarring message was a song that continually repeated. A song from an artist I was familiar with but not a song I’d heard, which is odd because it contains my first name; Jessica. I would be driving, in a store, at home; no matter where I was I would frequently, and disconcertingly, hear this song.
“Jessica… wake up,” Regina Spektor would sing.
I was far from comfortable and I knew something was coming.
- Unexplained mystical experiences.
Throughout the year that preceded my Dark Night experience, I realized many mystical signs during meditation and upon waking; mandalas, animals, symbols of all sorts, swirling colors, and often faces that would float in and out of my inner vision. I felt crazy, but I knew on a spiritual level something spectacular was happening for me. I did not realize at the time that it would catapult me into a complete and, though transformative, difficult couple of years of my life.
When I did finally look up the Dark Night of the Soul, I could clearly see what I was dealing with, and the one piece of information that brought me the most comfort was that it would end.
This part will end, know that, and hang in there.
And it will end, but you may think it’s over, and then think it’s over, and think it’s over as you slowly progress into your new life, only to find that you regress back into it. The experience cannot be rushed, but if we embrace it, and accept that it is the very set of aligned circumstances we need to transform our lives, it will be a much smoother process.
There were many signs preceding my own Dark Night of the Soul, but at the time I had no idea what a Dark Night of the Soul was, and I had absolutely no idea what was about to occur in my life.
Understanding the signs can help to embrace the process.
Signs You May be Walking Through the Dark Night of the Soul:
- A sense of being far away from or questioning long-time spiritual beliefs. This is a spiritual experience.
- A marked sense of aloneness and desolation.
- A deep sense of being stuck and not being able to find meaning and purpose.
- The things that were important seem not to be of interest anymore.
- A new interest in something completely unfamiliar or a renewed interest in something that has been buried.
- Deepened self-inquiry.
- An inability to decide what is wanted out of life.
- A sense that there is something more, but a confounding inability to grasp what that something is.
- Physical discomfort or unexplained illnesses.
- A seeming disappearance of signs and messages. Spiritual radio silence.
- An increased and often intense ego battle is introduced in which there is confusion as to whether something good is happening or something bad is happening.
- An intense lack of security, or solid ground. The discomfort of NOT knowing.
- The feeling that your whole life has shifted or been destroyed.
If you feel physically or mentally unwell to the point that you feel you or someone else could be harmed, please seek medical attention. During my experience I saw both a therapist and a medical doctor to make certain I was healthy.
The Dark Night of the Soul experience is different for each person, but contains a series of similar structures and lessons. Because we are each so amazingly and incredibly different, what we learn and how we change is completely our own, but we can help each other out with the similarities that shine through our individual yet collective experiences.
The Dark Night of the Soul, to me, was the death of an old version of myself, and a preparation for renewal.
The most important lesson the Dark Night has taught me is that there is a deep need to find rest and reflection in our daily lives; without it we struggle to find our inner truth and purpose. Embracing the Dark Night of the Soul is the key to transformation and actualizing our truest selves.
For more about how to cope and recover from the Dark Night of the Soul: