A dark night of the soul is not an identity crisis; it a frightening state of liminality that results in an absolute loss of our identity.
In the midst of a dark night, our struggle is to survive.
Inside a Dark Night of the Soul
It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before. Really what has collapsed then is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it. So that results in a dark place.
(Eckhart on the Dark Night of the Soul)
The writing that follows in this two-part series is a reflection of my own direct felt experience with the Dark Night of the Soul. To experience a dark night of the soul is to experience the challenge of survival.
The idea of a dark night fo the soul originates with St. John of the Cross. In the Catholic religion, the dark night of the soul is the feeling of being abandoned by God. My orientation to the dark night is spiritual but not religious. My intention is not to cause offence in taking this approach.
In a spiritual sense, it is the feeling of relentless inner suffering coupled with an absolute loss of identity, purpose, meaning, motivation, and direction in life. The threat of a dark night of the soul is overwhelming and the suffering we are required to endure is ineffable.
I hope that in some way help to inspire more creative approaches in finding relief from this crucible of abandonment, loneliness, grief, isolation, and suffering. To fully inhabit our suffering is to pursue the essence of our presence in life.
My work with the dark night of the soul presumes that creativity is our most valuable resource in finding a way through the terror of a dark night. I also believe that each person’s experience is unique. All we can lay claim to is our own experience.
there is an artistry of suffering that can inspire us to move forward. Our struggles in living demand artistic insight to overcome them.
This article is a creative exploration of the terror we must endure inside a dark night. It explores an artistry of suffering, or the use of our own creative capacities to grapple with the night and find a way back home.
In the end, we are all artists of the dark night.
On a Dark Night of the Soul…
Darkness means an absence or deficiency of light. From a spiritual perspective, darkness refers to an intuitive geography in which the fragility of our beliefs about the meaning and purpose of our lives becomes uncomfortably apparent. To enter into a spiritual darkness is to begin an excruciating and intensely distressing journey into of the essence of our own impermanence.
A dark night night of the soul is not an absence of spirit; it is a pervasive and unavoidable calling deep into the realm of the soul. A dark night is a spiritual endeavour that places us firmly in the landscape of our own inadequacies and frailties. The dark night of the soul is a profound threshold in life and a spiritual point of no return.
Spiritual darkness is a vast interior landscape of loneliness and abandonment. Solitude is our only companion in a dark night. Even in the midst of our loved ones and friends we persist in feeling desperately alone. Darkness invokes extreme contrasts between our immense feelings of solitude and deep desire to belong to something greater than ourselves. The suffering that results overwhelmingly defines our presence in the world.
It is this pervasive sense of abandonment and loneliness in the midst of a crowd that is, for me, the essence of the dark night of the soul.
The Spiritual Desolation of Modern Society
We live in a time in which the quality and capacity our minds seem to be steadily deteriorating. Anxiety, stress, dysfunction,and depression are core features of modern society. New age thought parades nonsense masquerading as insight.
In our world, knowledge building does not serve to clarify; it fosters increasingly deeper levels of confusion, complexity, and contradiction. The bland and arid surface of information overwhelms the higher ground of comprehension and understanding. Expertism desires an incestuous relationship with business by manufacturing victims for its deception and profit-seeking.
We are plagued by distraction; our minds are losing their ability to focus. We invent problems that don’t exist so that we can market and sell solutions to our own lies and deceptions. The acceleration and pervasiveness of human interaction erode our powers of discernment and concentration; we obsessively communicate in greater quantity and with greater speed, yet words have increasingly little to offer.
We have seduced ourselves into believing that this vast frenzied state of destructive inertia we call progress actually matters. We are destroying ourselves and the planet that is our only source of life.
Spirituality in the modern world has become a commodity. One of the most reprehensible aspects of human existence is our obsessive need to commodify everything we come into contact with. Spirituality has fallen victim to a plethora of new age buffs selling their wares under the deceptive guise of guru-ship. We are surrounded by false prophets whose main motive is material profit.
Our education, which imposes the design of the prerequisite, has conditioned us to behave as if we were intellectual lemmings void of any capacity to imagine our own lives for ourselves. We never really learn about death, until it happens.
Spirituality is a unique artistic endeavor in which we seek to discover how we can connect, interact, and preserve the essence of life and existence within our own being. The way to reclaim ourselves is only found only through the way of the artist; to reclaim our birthright to the artistry of life is the very essence of spirituality.
In the absence of artistry, spirituality would not exist.
Seeking Artistry Within a Dark Night
The dark night of the soul is an experience that permeates many religious, spiritual and artistic traditions throughout the world. It is commonly associated with mystics or those people that dedicate their lives to the pursuit of higher levels of insight into the human condition.
On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing–
O exquisite risk!–
Undetected I slipped away.
My house, at last, grown still.
The experience of the dark night is a natural, normal, and universal phenomenon that touches every person on the planet in some manner. In other words, the energy and animating forces of the soul overwhelm our sensibilities so completely that regardless of our everyday pursuits, we are thrown into an abyss of psycho-emotional torment.
In a dark night of the soul we lose our own sense of purpose, identity, and meaning.
Each of us journeys through the dark night in a unique way, but the underlying current is relentlessly concentrated on the solitary quest for meaning and purpose in the midst of the destruction of our present beliefs. It is here, in the ruins of our own beliefs that we attempt to take a breath even though we feel as though even the air has abandoned us.
The Artist of the Night
An authentic artist is a person who imagines their own life as a continual force for creativity.
Artists do not merely create aesthetically pleasing objects; they create, destroy, and recreate their own lives. All creativity embraces destruction. Destruction is not the opposite of creativity; destruction is an aspect of and companion to creativity. The soul is the single most potent creative and therefore destructive force in humanity, one that can, with only a mere whisper, bring us to our knees begging for relief.
In the midst of a dark night of the soul, destructive forces hack away at our most cherished beliefs. That is to say, darkness destroys what we once held to be real and true and replaces it with a complete absence of belief. The destruction of belief is both vital and necessary, and although our suffering may take us to our most extreme limits of resilience, the soul is creating space for the artistry gestation and bringing forth.
A dark night of the soul teaches us that we cannot proceed to attain inner peace unless we are willing to give ourselves to the absolute destruction of the beliefs that bind us.
A dark night of the soul is fundamentally a creative process. There is no meaningful creativity without destroying the things that serve to confine us. Our soul already knows this and will transport us into the midst of painful and harsh habitats in order to help us to re-create ourselves.
A dark night of the soul causes the absolute destruction of that which is familiar and brings us comfort, of that which gave us a reason to do the things that we once did. We come to know the real meaning of feeling lost and alone in this landscape. We cannot see where to go, and we can no longer return to where we once had been. Darkness mires us in confusion, abandonment, and feelings of hopelessness.
We still move through our everyday existence but with an overwhelming feeling of paralysis. We feel ourselves moving through time, but each step we take has become painfully uncertain. Nor can we resort to an external system of faith, for our soul demands that we learn to create our own beliefs and feel the rhythms of the earth. There is no human thought “out there” that comes to our aid “in here.”
We are surrounded by the darkness that has been born out of what is no longer there.
When Our Interior World Fails
When our interior world begins to fail and a sense of desolation begins to overwhelm our experience, society is quick to provide the label of depression. Of course, depression as a disease is virulent and does infect our thought patterns, emotional states, and biological functioning. To relieve ourselves from depression we often seek to change our thought processes and/or use chemical intervention to relieve the symptoms.
Perhaps in our attempts to avoid suffering, we have done ourselves a great harm. Suffering is an unavoidable reality of everyday living. Even though it is uncomfortable, undesirable, and threatening, our real task is to move through it and learn from it as we go. Sometimes we just need to find a way to get to the other side of it.
A dark night of the soul invites feelings of depression, but it is a phenomenon that is far more expansive, carnal, and primal. There is no pharmaceutical relief from the sense of desolation brought on by the dark night. The calling of the soul cannot be medicated. Nor can we merely “think” our way out of the dark night as if it were some kind of exercise in cognitive therapy.
The dark night is far more powerful than the whimpers and burps of the human intellect and easily decimates any notion that we can “think” ourselves free of its grasp. The dark night of the soul recreates the mind.
He [God] leads them into the dark night. Here is where he weans them from the breasts of personal pleasure, through pure aridity and inner darkness. He removes all the gratuities and childish attachments and helps them acquire the virtues by very different means.
Contemplating the Dark Night of the Soul
Contemplation of the dark night of soul reminds us that all life is extremely fragile.
All suffering requires us to turn and face it directly so that a conversation can begin. Our task is not to wage war on an opponent, but to begin the process of learning from a mercurial mentor. The courageous step is to build our powers of contemplation, or the long and careful observation of our experience. Contemplation, concentration, discernment, mindfulness, and focus are our most trusted guides inside a dark night.
Of course, suffering is a phenomenon we all wish to avoid. The reality of life is that it is not always avoidable. All human life across the vast expanses of time and place have experienced suffering in varying degrees. To turn away from it is to lose our humanity.
In a dark night of the soul, contemplation creates a space for working with our fears. Sometimes that which has the power to destroy is precisely the thing that has the most to offer us. Our own unique suffering in the midst of the dark night of the soul is our most trusted adviser.
We have anesthetized ourselves to spirituality. The parroting of beliefs has become commonplace. Religion has become more of a question mark, perhaps even more of a roadblock, than a sanctuary for the contemplation of authentic belief. Merely adopting a particular set of beliefs that have been defined by other people, whether they are religious or spiritual in origin, will not prevent a dark night of the soul from visiting.
A dark night of the soul demands that we recreate our beliefs.
In essence, a dark night kidnaps us from the false security of our beliefs, traditions, and faith and carries us into a mercurial space in which we cannot find our identity, purpose, or meaning. A dark night is a physical, mental and spiritual abyss in which questions such as, “Why am I here?” are sources of pain, suffering, and internal torture.
A dark night is the place of utter abandonment, solitude, and loneliness – there is no relief to be found other than to journey through it even though our footing has become uncertain.
Demons of Our Own Conjuring
Is there not enough meaning and value in our ordinary lives to pursue? Is it not enough to educate ourselves, raise families, contribute to society, and retire well without adding in the angst generated by the soul? Isn’t religion enough – just choose one to believe in, follow its assumptions blindly, and all will work out in the end? Is there really an internal world, a spiritual terrain that we must traverse in order to relieve our burden and reach a calmer place?
Is the angst of the soul really a delusion in itself, a source of suffering that we have in fact manufactured for ourselves in the pursuit of false assumptions and beliefs? Have we fallen victim to the vagaries of our own imagination?
Moreover, why willingly fall into what is described as an abyss of suffering, dislocation, and desolation?
Sometimes we see what’s not there. We see demons of our own conjuring.
– The Devil’s Mistress
Our imagination creates a reality that is just as real as something that is “out there.” If we are seeing something internally, then it is there and it is real. The experience of a dream is just as real as the experience of looking at a tree. Perhaps demons have always been of our own conjuring, and our interior world of the spirit is their natural habitat. There is nothing “out there” that isn’t also “in here;” and in this sense, demons can only be of our own conjuring.
To ignore the messages that seem to originate in that untraceable location we call our intuition is to ignore our higher and more artistic sensibilities. It is a courageous endeavor to inhabit those places of our being that lie beyond immediate sensory perception and spaces that do not conform to our collective compendium of knowledge and assumed belief. Have we become so confined by externality that we deny the possibility of other modes of perception and being?
A dark night of the soul is an artistic journey into that which literally may destroy us, but it also may renew us.
We are forced into spiritual exile that serves as a medium of transformation, in which we are utterly lost, alone and riddled with thrusts of anxiety. Once inside a dark night, there is no way or means to reverse our way out of it, no way to return to that which was. In this sense, a dark night of the soul is a threshold into a primal form of suffering in which our mentors and companions are loneliness, solitude, despair, confinement, disillusionment, isolation, uncertainty, angst, fear, panic, and desolation.
There is no promise or guarantee within a dark night, that is to say, there is no certainty that we will ever emerge from it in this life. To assume that everything will be alright in time only places us at risk. The things we fear the most are the very things that can help us to find our way out to a new life.
A Dark Night of the Soul
A dark night of the soul is one of the most significant experiences we can have in life.
A dark night literally destroys what we had become, and demands we discover what to become in the midst of abandonment, loneliness and deep despair. Lying deep within the essence of the dark night is creativity, a creativity that originates in the carnal and primal rhythms of life.
A dark night embraces the essence of art, artistry, and creativity – and therefore absolute destruction. In this realm, we learn that suffering and learning are inexorably interconnected. The coldness of externally created knowledge is of no assistance to us here in this world; we are left to create our thoughts, beliefs, and faith in ourselves.
In the midst of a dark night, each day becomes an improvisation on the theme survival.
We are perfectly healthy, yet find that each breath we take feels ponderous and heavy. We may be completely financially independent, perhaps even wealthy, but have absolutely no clue as to what we should do with our lives. We suffer from a deep longing for an experience we cannot grasp or define.
The daily routines of waking, working, relaxing, and resting fail to resolve our angst, and in a curious way exacerbate a desire we cannot understand. Everything we once thought of as providing stability in life has fallen into ruin and decay.
Read: Dark Night of the Soul: 2 Creativity is Survival