I had hit rock bottom…or so I thought.
I never thought my life would look like this. Just the year before, I had all the trappings of a glorious life. I was a doctor, director of an academic program, and was writing a book. I was a mother and wife in what I thought was a solid marriage. Then it all fell apart.
First came the surprise separation from my then-husband. Next the college I worked for, which hadn’t paid me for months due to administrative chaos, closed its doors leaving me broke, without a job, and landed me in bankruptcy. To add icing on the cake I ended up living in an RV, with my daughter, because that’s all I could afford. I thought I had hit rock bottom. But, little did I know it was about to get worse. Right around the corner, multiple levels of repressed trauma began erupting in my life tearing it apart even deeply. I felt as if the universe had stripped me of my identity and I was thrown in the middle of an ocean without a life vest.
I had squarely landed in the middle of a dark night of the soul experience and was spiraling in a soup of despair, anxiety, grief, and fear.
When Life Falls Apart
For many, the process of the dark night of the soul begins when ones’ life is turned upside down. Perhaps a job is lost, your heart is broken, you receive a life-threatening diagnosis, someone your love dies unexpectedly, or another traumatic experience rips your life apart. Or perhaps there is an internal traumatic experience where life loses all meaning and you are thrown into the terrifying deep waters of your shadow. Or maybe like me, multiple things occur all at once and, you are left wondering where your life went.
Whatever happens, the dark night of the soul shakes you to your very core. It can leave you questioning who you are, the existence of the divine, and the deeper meaning of your life. It can be a confusing and harrowing journey because the rules by which you have lived your life no longer work.
Spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle says of this process, “Really what has collapsed…is the whole conceptual framework for your life (and) the meaning that your mind had given it”. In this process, our illusory identities that no longer serve are literally stripped from us.
Common Initiatory Experience
This dark night of the soul process is actually a common initiatory experience for spiritual practitioners and mystics alike. It’s so common that Dr. Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, who works at the Brown University Medical School has started ”The Dark Night Project.” This study is an effort to document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the dark night of the soul experiences in relation to spiritual practices.
The words, “dark night of the soul” go back to the 16th century and were first used by Roman Catholic Priest and mystic Saint John of the Cross. While imprisoned for his unconventional religious beliefs he wrote a poem, in which he describes this process. In this poem, he describes the dark night of the soul as a purification where we face hardships that purify us so we may gain the “attainment of the perfect union of love with God”. A purification that can be individual and collective.
Our Collective Dark Night of the Soul
As a society, we reached a climax in 2020 of collectively walking through a dark night of the soul with the pandemic and ensuing lockdown, social uprising, violence in the streets, political division, climate change, and more. Collectively we have been thrown into the waters of despair, depression, and anxiety. We are being stretched because what we thought was solid, no longer seems solid. The conceptual frameworks that we have viewed our reality from seem to be dissolving from underneath us. But, if we look deeper we will see that much more is happening than what appears on the surface.
The truth is that the limited, small, and boxed in ways that we have been living with individually and collectively no longer serve us. The parts that suppress our life, freedom, and limit our true potential are being stripped from us.
I’m not going to sugar coat this process it is painful and can feel like a hardship. But, this hardship breaks us open so we may find that which remains when all else falls away… our core soul identity, our divine source connection, and the deeper love that arises from this place, as Saint John of the Cross so knowingly spoke of. Collectively it’s breaking us open to align with the peace, wisdom, and harmony that’s underneath the chaos of our ailing world.
Death and Rebirth
This death process is a wake-up call!
It is the death of who we are not. And, a rebirth of the more authentic, free, and truer version of who we are.
This is what happened to me, as I surrendered to the death of my old self and stepped into an awakening of who I truly am. Life began anew on all levels, one where I discovered the deeper essence of love, healing, and oneness with divinity. This process re-birthed my life, as well as, a healing modality through me that helps others in a way that I could have only dreamed of. And, this experience still informs my life on a daily level.
So, wherever you are in this journey know that in its deepest form the dark night of the soul experience is an evolutionary process that guides us into a higher version of ourselves and our society.
As the great Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan said “There can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were.”
So, here is to our courage as we individually and collectively walk through the annihilation of who we are not, and step into the celebration and re-birth of who we truly are.
Ways to support you through the Dark Night of the Soul
- First, be honest with yourself and about what is happening. The more you try to resist the process the more difficult it can become.
- See a therapist or counselor preferably someone who has already gone through their own dark night of the soul experience so they can guide you through it.
- Exercise…yes, really. Pick a favorite exercise and go for it. My favorite is dance, the wilder I danced the better I felt.
- Get spiritual. If you’re not spiritual now is the time to dive in. Pray, meditate, connect to spiritual teachers (those who are alive, as well as, masters and saints, such as Jesus or Buddha, who are not).
- If your dark night of the soul arose from a meditative or spiritual practice talk to the teachers of this practice for support. Know, however, that the best medicine may be pulling back from that practice for a while or permanently while you find balance.
- Listen to the intuitive guidance of your soul and heart. If you get quiet enough you will be lead to magical and healing places.
- Receive somatic therapy, such as Somatic Awakening®, or other somatic counseling or bodywork, especially if you are feeling emotional or energetic contractions in your body.
- Get energy work. Receive Reiki, hands-on healing, or other forms of energy medicine to bring healing and ease.
- Practice Inquiry. This is the process of asking questions in meditation and allow the “answer” to arise organically without a lot of thought. Great questions to ask are, “What is this pain, grief, or suffering truly about?” “What needs deep healing inside of me?” “What changes are being called for in my life?”
- And, when all else fails practice patience. Know that this will shift. The sun will rise again and your being will be re-born.
Melissa Sophia Joy, ND is a practicing naturopathic doctor specializing in mind-body-spirit medicine. She is the founder of Somatic Awakening® a healing modality and spiritual practice that arose from her dark night of the soul experience. For more information on Somatic Awakening click here.