“Everything You Need to Know About a Dark Night of the Soul” was co-written by Dr. Danielle Clark, psychic medium and intuitive coach (see below for full bio) and Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT.
This article was inspired by our own spiritual awakenings and transformations which resulted from going through the Dark Night of the Soul first-hand.
We hope our personal experiences and insights will help you on your journey!
What exactly is a Dark Night of the Soul?!
A Dark Night is essentially describing the spiritual or existential depression someone must go through in order to “wake up” and strip themselves of ego.
Eckhart Tolle really hits the nail on the head in his description of a Dark Night:
“… It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life… an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything…”
Where does the term ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ originate?
The term ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ has been around for centuries, if not millennia. It’s commonly associated with a poem written by St. John of the Cross in the 1500s.
Although the term has Christian roots, it doesn’t discriminate, regardless of one’s religious/spiritual beliefs.
Who can experience a Dark Night?
A Dark Night of the Soul can “happen” to just about anyone, but people who can be described as “old souls” are the most likely to encounter a Dark Night.
The Dark Night of the Soul occurs typically around the time you’re on the verge of a spiritual awakening. It can precede a relative feeling of enlightenment, or an up-leveling on your spiritual path.
For some it seems that externally, everything in their life is what society deems “perfect” or ideal when they are consumed by the Dark Night. These people find themselves with a loving family, a great job, stable income, a beautiful home, etc.
- In those types of cases, the Dark Night is not triggered by a specific trauma; it’s simply part of one’s spiritual evolution and the shedding of old skin. People going through this type of Dark Night or existential depression may feel intense guilt or shame because “nothing is wrong”, so how can they possibly feel this way? They may even tell themselves they “don’t have the right to be unhappy”.
On the flipside, a Dark Night of the Soul can also be triggered/amplified by an impactful event, such as losing a loved one or experiencing something traumatic.
Or it may present itself when the “meaning” you had given your life (or perhaps your sense of identity) collapses externally: an activity, achievement or something you had built your life around falls apart. (Think: the sense of purpose you’ve constructed in your mind.)
Dark Night of the Soul Signs and Symptoms
The Dark Night is distinguished from depression primarily by a deep pain of the soul, beyond just thoughts and emotions. While everyone’s experiences are individual and unique to them, here are a few things (of many) people can relate to when going through a Dark Night…
It’s also important to note that some people going through a Dark Night will continue to function and maintain a relatively “normal” life despite the inner pain and suffering. But this is not the case for everyone.
(Disclaimer: many of these can still overlap with signs and symptoms of clinical depression, a medical condition which requires help from a treatment team and possibly herbal medicine/energy healing/pharmaceuticals as needed.)
- Feeling very lost – you’re in the “weeds” and have lost sight of the “forest”
- Feeling stuck, trapped or enclosed in a matrix of society that you don’t belong in
- Feeling misunderstood, even by those you love most
- A deep sense of grief, guilt or shame (with or without an external environmental trigger)
- Feelings of emptiness like you’ve lost your personality/sense of self
- A desire and a need to isolate
- Struggling to get through simple tasks like getting out of bed, eating, or talking to someone
- Struggling to complete work assignments, and perhaps questioning your entire career path
- A strong need for introspection and reflection
- A feeling of internal change happening
- Stripping of the ego (a loss of your sense of identity)
- Hopelessness about getting out of this state
- Apathy, dullness, and lack of motivation
- A deep evaluation of your sense of self and the meaning you have given life
- Loss of interest in hobbies/activities you used to love
- A thirst for spiritual development and connection to greater purpose
- A craving to understand why you’re here
- Receiving signs and synchronicities from the universe, internally or externally
- Changes in appetite: extreme loss or increase in appetite, and changes in food preferences
- Changes in sleep patterns: needing excessive amounts of sleep, difficulty falling asleep, or difficulty staying asleep
- Waking around 2-4am, the “witching hour”, feeling wired
- Feeling exhausted for what seems like “no reason”
- Becoming more sensitive to loud noises, energies of people, etc.
- Development of spiritual gifts – clairvoyance, clairaudience, claircognizance, clairsentience, etc.
Just like most things in this life, we all have our own unique experience during our Dark Night. Tap into your intuition and consult help as needed to understand if you’re in a Dark Night and how it’s showing up for you!
Dark Night of the Soul Stages
It’s important to keep in mind a Dark Night of the Soul (or ‘Dark Night’) sticks around for a period of time – it’s not just a single “night” as the name implies! A Dark Night could last a few weeks or upwards of a few years, as we peel back layers of the “false self” (ego).
We all have our own unique experience during our Dark Night, but some of the most common stages or phases people may move through include:
- Existential depression
- Surrender/letting go
- Loss of ego
- Being and presence
- Spiritual awakening
Below we have outlined each stage, but remember not everyone is going to go through each of these in a particular order or sequence. Some people don’t even experience all of the stages.
Stage 1: Existential depression
If you don’t know what’s going on, experiencing this can feel quite scary and debilitating. Speaking from personal experience, this stage can probably compare to what it would feel like being kissed by a Dementor… (Shout out to fellow Harry Potter fans!)
Unfortunately stage 1 is where many people can get the most “stuck” because our mainstream medical system is not equipped to handle the Dark Night of the Soul. (It needs to be said: psych hospitals and the psychiatric healthcare system in general are in major need of reform.)
While a Dark Night and depression may have a significant amount of overlap, the phenomena are still different.
This stage of the Dark Night can often be misinterpreted as clinical depression, and unfortunately the first thing most people do is mask it with medications. (After all, these feelings are very intense and uncomfortable to sit with to say the least!)
Of course pharmaceuticals and psychiatric treatment are sometimes needed for extra support when a Dark Night becomes debilitating; however, what we’re trying to say here is that when you’re going through a Dark Night, no amount of anti-depressants will be enough to get you out of this state.
As we mentioned, either way it’s important to get the right help sooner rather than later so you can identify and address whatever is going on from all angles. Adding a spiritual coach to your treatment team is a great way to gain more clarity/perspective, and will allow you to see more of the full picture (aka the “forest” versus the trees!).
Of course if things are feeling more serious and you find yourself losing the will to live, that is a time to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911.
Stage 2: Surrender/”let it go!”
We can’t rush into this or force this stage to happen; the more we try to control, resist and change what is, the more “stuck” we feel. We must let go of our attachment to outcomes. We must stop trying to change what is outside of our control.
This is usually what feels like “rock bottom” for people. We’re tired. This is when we stop fighting and resisting whatever inner turmoil we’re experiencing. We conclude there’s nothing we can do to change how we feel, and it’s time to just let things be what they are.
The irony of this stage, surrender and letting go, is that’s what allows us to actually progress and move forward on our journey.
Stage 3: Consciousness (awareness of & separation from the ego)
“The ego isn’t wrong; it’s just unconscious. When you observe the ego in yourself, you are beginning to go beyond it. Don’t take the ego too seriously. When you detect egoic behavior in yourself, smile. At times you may even laugh. How could humanity have been taken in by this for so long? After all, know that the ego isn’t personal. It isn’t who you are.”–Eckhardt Tolle
Again, remember there is no predictable timeframe in which people reach this stage. Everyone’s path and timeline are unique to them.
In this stage, we realize the ego and our sense of self/identity are merely a construct of the mind, designed to keep us feeling safe. (There is a time and a place for this – the ego’s job is to protect us, after all!)
We awaken to the fundamental truth that who we are and our worth can’t be defined or measured by how we look, a number on the scale, the color of our hair/skin, our race, our age, our gender, our career, our bank account, the number of Likes on a social media post, the possessions we own or the home in which we reside.
We are not our ego. We are not the things that we identify with.
Who we are can’t be labeled or put into a box or categorized; we just ARE. Just like everyone else around us.
We are eternal spiritual beings having a human experience.
Stage 4: Collapse of the ego
To be that which you are is the bath of rebirth.
— Carl Jung, The Red Book
Next comes the collapse or deconstruction of the ego, or a loss of our sense of identity in the physical, societal matrix.
In Carl Jung’s Jungian psychology, this concept is described as a “pscyhic death” in which we go through a death and rebirth process (much like a phoenix, which is known to undergo these “death and rebirth” cycles).
This stage is essential to the next stage which is where we start to see the “light at the end of the tunnel”.
The “ego death” is also greatly explained and outlined in Eckhardt Tolle’s books “A New Earth” and “The Power of Now”.
Stage 5: Being and presence
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.” –Eckhardt Tolle
In some ways, being and presence are things that we can’t force; they’re a natural part of our unfolding process.
Remember, you don’t have to DO anything! This is all about just being. It’s the opposite of over-thinking; its’ the act of creating more empty space, free of mental chatter. The magic of being in and fully feeling the present moment is where transformation and alchemy occur.
According to the Pattern on the Trestle board, “All the power that ever was or will be is here now.”
Depression lives in the past; anxiety and fear reside in the future.
We spend so much time being distracted and trying to AVOID the present moment that life passes us by!
A few top-of-mind suggestions on how you can get some extra support learning to become more present are to work with a mindfulness coach/spiritual coach, practice yoga, try out meditation, get some energy healing (such as Reiki or Integrated Energy Therapy), body work (such as massage or Myofascial Release), enroll in martial arts (such as Tai Chi/Chi Gong), or start practicing grounding/earthing.
Bottom line: there is no “right” or “wrong” way to BE!
Stage 6: Dark Night of the Soul Spiritual Awakening
Names can be deceiving! “Dark” isn’t always bad. Remember, things can often happen FOR us versus TO us. Especially when on a spiritual journey. The Dark Night can serve as a major catalyst on our journey of spiritual awakening, which is the final phase where we get to finally reach (not just see) the “light at the end of the tunnel”.
Yes, there are dark aspects of this journey: confusion, the need for isolation, depression, hopelessness, not knowing where the journey is taking you… but it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom.
The darkest moments we encounter and experience during our Dark Night are often what give the opportunity to grow, heal, show ourselves needed attention, compassion and love which then lead to lighter moments.
Contrast is what gives us meaning. We can’t have light without dark; we can’t appreciate the stars and the moon without contrast against the ink-like nights.
By shifting our perspectives, the “darkness” we experience during a Dark Night can help us see clearly and experience the world in a more meaningful way. It creates opportunity for the light to illuminate what used to hide, moving us to confront our fears so we can overcome them.
As a result of this process we may find ourselves feeling more connected to our true self, to the divine, and to our greater purpose than ever before.
To be clear: don’t get us wrong… reaching this stage of a spiritual awakening doesn’t mean you get to live “happily ever after” as a monk on a mountain top or anything like that. 😉
Experiencing a spiritual awakening is not for the feint of heart… by no means would we consider a spiritual awakening to be any kind of picnic or cake walk! And it doesn’t mean you’re “enlightened” or that the work is over… in fact, if anything, going through a spiritual awakening illuminates the path our soul is meant to walk.
There are infinite ways to experience a spiritual awakening – to get into that is beyond the scope of this article.
How to get through the Dark Night of the Soul: Tips
Much like finally finding out you have a specific medical diagnosis after going to a dozen different providers who couldn’t figure it out, becoming educated and informed around the Dark Night of the Soul as much as possible can help you to move through this journey with exponentially more ease and clarity.
It’s incredibly validating to know that you are not alone, what you’re experiencing is a “real thing”, and perhaps there’s light at the end of the tunnel…
That said, once you’re aware of what is going on (you’re not just going through the motions, and you’re clear this is a Dark Night of the Soul versus depression), you may find yourself feeling hope for the first time!
To receive the most healing, understanding and awakening from your Dark Night, here are a few things we encourage you to consider along your journey:
- Honor what your mind, body and soul are asking for (assuming this is for your higher good, such as making more nourishing food choices, wanting to explore something new spiritually, personal reflection, reading, or changing things in your life that no longer feel in alignment with who you’re becoming).
- Stay away from escapism, be it over drinking, binging TV to an unhealthy excess or whatever else. Keep yourself comfortable, but remember you want to feel the pain, hurt and whatever else comes up to the surface so it can be fully processed and released. If you run from the discomfort, it will come back more intensely, and you risk not learning the lessons the Dark Night intends for you.
- Don’t try and rush the process! This is a scared journey.
To navigate your Dark Night, you may also want to:
- Read books and articles, and listen to podcasts that center around a Dark Night of the Soul or other spiritual concepts
- Check out a Dark Night of the Soul pdf
- Share your experiences with others. It can be therapeutic to release your feelings and you may be surprised to learn how many people can relate!
- Work with a spiritual coach to help you make sense of and support your journey
- Get a Life Activation! This will help you to release old negative patterns, align with your true purpose, and this sacred healing session even infuses your being with 10x more light.
When coming out of your Dark Night: next steps
Expect to experience a sense of clarity and pride. When you’re on the other side of a Dark Night, it’s common to feel reborn and freer from every day stressors and limiting beliefs that once weighed you down.
This is an opportune time to map out what’s next for you and your higher self.
Reflect. Journal. Create a vision board. Enjoy and honor your newfound YOU!