The Dark Night of The Soul is a period of time when all our illusions are shattered and we are asked to live stripped away of all our attachments. It’s a grueling process that often feels cruel but it always opens us up at the end to greater light, a deeper faith, and a stronger confidence in ourselves.
For eight years we’ve discussed The Dark Night–mine, yours and the collectives–and today I’d like to talk about what we’ve learned over the years about this mysterious but universal experience that I lovingly refer to as The Courage Moment.
The Dark Night of My Soul
Courage 2 Create was a blog born out of my own Dark Night (an experience I detail in my eBook, The Courage To Live.)
A series of unfortunate events stripped me of everything I had: a job, a boyfriend, a possible graduate degree, my sanity.
Until I was rendered to mere bones.
I had nothing but my own spirit and the support of my family and friends.
And that, I found, was all I needed.
In that space, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.
And before I knew it, what I wrote was shared and was shared and was shared.
Opportunity after opportunity after opportunity came.
What’s the lesson?
The lesson is that The Dark Night of The Soul is one of the most underrated and vital experiences in life.
The Courage Moment, as I like to call it, comes for all of us eventually. It is our spiritual “winter time.”
All is snow, bitter, cold, and black.
We think we can gain nothing in our hour of darkness but it is in that hour that we are gaining everything.
Our soul is being forged anew, strengthened, beautified.
We are never the same after a Dark Night, we are forever changed.
What Is The Dark Night?
Our Dark Night of The Soul is a tearing away of our illusions, our attachments, the things we cling to that are false. They are being taken away from us precisely because they are the root cause of our suffering, though we do not know it yet.
It’s a loving exercise, though it not appear so at first.
The Dark Night is quiet, mysterious, painful, unpleasant, scary, plain and internal.
It’s impossible to explain in words.
But you will know it when you go through it: because nothing but a deeper faith in god will get you through it–no person, no place, no thing, no philosophical concept, no drug, no pledge, no cry for help will assist you save the grace of god.
And even that grace you will not be free to control… but only surrender to it.
We are now in the middle of a collective Dark Night, our illusions are being stripped away, we are being rendered mere bones, we are being tasked to surrender and trust our spirit.
Rely only on grace to save us.
Sounds harsh I know, but it is the only way to crush our ego which has caused us far too much suffering and whose day is at an end.
Your Soul Is Made Of Stronger Stuff
The lesson your The Dark Night is trying to teach you is that you are stronger than this–whatever is happening–your soul is made of stronger stuff.
You are to learn that your spirit is who you truly are, not your mind, not your body, not your heart, and not your community.
You are transcendent.
You are a being who is greater than you thought you were but the only way to get you to believe that is to put you through this grueling test.
When the test is over, you will be stronger for it.
Anchor yourself in spirit, it will lead the way.
Decades of overreliance on the mind has made The Dark Night of The Soul a necessary spiritual curriculum for every human. We must swing away from a dense ego state to a greater reliance on spirit for a period of time only to gradually return to the balance of the mind and spirit as equal partners and co-creators.
Once that equilibrium has been reached we can be enlightened individuals, but until we do, The Dark Night of The Soul is the process by which we eventually arrive there.
No one escapes this process, we all must journey through the Dark Night eventually– be kind and gentle with yourself, always, and recall that the answer is always inside you; and that grace is something you can only surrender to, not force into being.
Your are being humbled, and this humility will serve you greatly one day soon, when others need you to show up for them in a way that only another soul, who knows what’s like to be beaten down, can.
With compassion and sincerity.
The Dark Night of The Soul is also about facing our human ignorance.
Understanding that their is a vast universe out there makes me wonder how I ever thought I could ever grasp it at all.
Part of living is recognizing that we do not, nor ever will, know everything. We will fall victim to our own ignorance time and time again. We will reach the limits of our known universe constantly.
We are all painfully ignorant, so very uninformed, so acutely lacking in understanding of the universe.
How could we even begin to accept that truth?
Where does our profound ignorance leave us?
When every conclusion we make is likely only temporary until the next week, until more information and more knowledge we didn’t have before is revealed, and then our mind is changed, our outlook different, our resolutions adapted and revised–indefinitely.
Who is pulling the strings? Whose the director behind the curtain? What’s He up to?
What’s the point of this grand mystery theater?
To what end are we tumbling and rumbling toward?
Ignorance is a fact of life, it’s what we must face day-in and day-out. Our failures, our losses, our mistakes, most often are largely due to our ignorance: we didn’t know that would happen, if we knew, we would have done things differently.
And look how we judge, condemn, criticize people for acting purely on what they know, and not on the 99.99% of information kept hidden from all of us.
We’re not perfect, none of us, and a huge part of the reason why is because none of us truly knows everything.
We’re blind most of the time.
Often, we walk this universe utterly blind.
What I Know Now Is What I Know
Despite all that I don’t know, I know a lot.
I know things.
But it’s also what I know now. I don’t know what will be revealed tomorrow. Perhaps I shall be informed of a truth that is so earth shattering that my “knowing” today will look like egotistical pride and arrogance in retrospect.
I don’t know.
That’s the stickler.
I have no idea about anything that will happen, but I know what has happened and what is happening and it is from that vector of truth from which I speak.
Everything else remains a mystery to me, and perhaps the little window I can see out of from my life now only shows me the dot on the corner of a grand landscape that if I were to see it whole, would render my perception of that dot totally erroneous.
So be it: I’m only human.
I don’t know how I’m being perceived by you, and you don’t know who I really am, and whether it reflects your actual perception of me.
There’s a great cloud of mystery between us.
Inticing to you? Maybe. Me, I think it’s rather aggravitating.
There’s this movie, called The Grey, with Liam Neeson, that follows the story of a group of men, stranded in the artic after their plane unexpectedly crashes. They have to learn how to survive in that frozen desert while ferocious wolves, hidden in the shadows, lurk about throughout their journey.
At nearly every interval, the wolves cunningly devour one man at a time, whittling down their numbers, methodically and patiently until… well, I won’t give away the ending.
But I think the image of these men, freezing, huddled together by a fire, fearing the unknown lurking in the shadows, is as about as apt a depiction of what it means to be journeying through The Dark Night of The Soul as one can find.
We are often in the dark, almost always in the dark. The worst could be awaiting us in those shadows… or the best. A safe passage home, or a nice warm cabin with a bed, or perhaps something better: a glorious mountain range to admire.
Our lives can be miracles, and they can be tragedies, or they can be boring.
But we don’t know, we don’t know if a wolf hidden in the dark woods will jump out and bite us; but we also don’t know if the most glorious of waterfalls is waiting just around the bend.
This world is filled with wolves but the worst enemy of all, it seems, is our constant companion: mystery.
We are all much more anxious about what could happen then what is actually happening.
That’s the scariest thing.
The things we don’t know.
During our Dark Night, which is itself only temporary, we must hold on to our spirit then, let it guide the way.
Let the experience teach us we are truly stronger than we think we are.
We will survive. We will make it through.
This is just a test, the hardest of tests, but a test nonetheless.
Exercises For Getting Through The Courage Moment (AKA The Dark Night of The Soul)
1. Don’t Panic. Your body’s flight or fight response has likely been activated by your current circumstances, that’s normal. You can bypass this by relaxing, focusing on your breath, and meditating. I highly recommend John Kabat Zinns book Full Carastrophe Living and Mending The Mind, Minding The Body by Joan Borysenko who give great practices on how to relax, destress and stay balanced through highly stressful situations.
2. Embrace mystery. You cannot possibly know everything, there is so much you don’t know, can’t explain, and can’t solve: TheDark Night of The Soul is notorious for forcing us to deal with the mystery, ambiguity, and paradoxes of life. You must surrender to your inevitable ignorance and limitations. Let go of needing to have the answers to everything: be in a state of accepting no answer. Also if what you strongly believed before is now fundamentally being challenged, questioned, or revealed to be the illusion it truly is, don’t be stubborn, embrace the mystery… it is leading you to deeper truths that will heal and liberate you soon.
3. Facing your greatest fears. The Courage Moment often challenges us to face our deepest fears and darkest shadows: so, instead of running the other way, simply accept the journey–deal with your shadows, heal them, integrate them during this time. It is very important that you do so and that you don’t give your inner demons power over you.
4. Humble yourself. Reach out to others for help, ask god for to help, but also surrender to the power of grace which arrives at the right time and place but which is out of your own control. You must learn that you do not move god, god moves you. Your ego must crumble. Be patient, all will work out in the end.
5. Be resourceful. Being stripped of all your attachments can be very jarring at first, until you recognize just how unnecessary those very attachments were for you. Use what you have and make the most of it. Have a creative and innovative spirit, and you may find that you can actually make it work with very little. The Courage Moment often helps us master the power of simplicity. Instead of helping, our attachments may have been hurting us. Shed complexity during this time and embrace the challenge of plainness.
6. Be solitary. Most of the journey of The Dark Night happens inside and this is why it’s impossible to explain or understand and why you have to experience it first before you understand why it needed to happen to you. Try reading St. Teresa of Avilas prayer that can be found in Gerald D Mays book, The Dark Night of The Soul.
7. Be quiet. The Dark Night of The Soul is very quiet. In fact: re-read this blog post in the quietest place you can find and you may uncover wisdom you didn’t notice when you first read it. This is the magic of quiet: so many answers can be found there, and the only way out of our Courage Moment is to reconnect with that quiet voice inside us. This will lead us out and through The Courage Moment.
8. Prepare for the light. Toward the end of your Dark Night, you may notice the light begin to shine, when that happens you must prepare to learn the lesson of impermanence: just as you were mastering this dark spiritual lesson, the spiritual lesson of light—abundance and joy—is coming for you when you least expected it. For a master of the Dark Night, this sudden transition may first appear tacky and distasteful, like switching from black and white to color, but you must let go and move on, everything is temporary, even the darkness.
9. Dance With The Dark. Next time around, don’t resist harsh truths or ignore the gentle nudges of spirit, keep shining a light on your shadows—no spiritual student or teacher ever is without a blind spot: always practice making sure you self examine and try your best to nip problems in the bud before they escalate and another Courage Moment is needed for you to release everything you’ve been ignoring.
10. Teach us. When I was done with my own Courage Moment, I wrote an ebook about it, and shared what I learned with others. This helped me recognize that all I went through, no matter how hard it was, was not a waste: my journey now has helped many people across the earth, find guidance and healing and a way through their own Dark Night. The world needs more spiritual teachers with practical tools we can all relate to so I encourage you to share your journey with us when it’s all over.
Ending your Dark Night by telling your story will be the way to make sense of it, and complete the healing cycle.
That’s the power of conclusions.