One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Through victimization by a psychopathic person, we enter the dark night of the soul—a period of spiritual desolation in which all sense of consolation is removed. You may be in a state of despair, feeling lost and alone, powerless, and without any purpose or direction in your life. Your sense of reality and your worldview are shattered. Eckhart Tolle describes it as the collapse of the meaning of life, of the belief that you understand what it’s all about. You doubt everything you have known to be true. You ask the big questions: What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to be human? What is my purpose?
You may feel that everything that defined who you think you are is gone… but don’t forget, YOU are the one who is experiencing that.
What is the soul?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘soul’ as “the immaterial… the moral and emotional part of man.” It has also been described as the spiritual part of humans regarded in the moral aspect, and the seat of the feelings or sentiments. The soul has been called ‘the very essence of life’, life’s breath, the life-force, the spirit, and the animating or essential part of us.
Carl Jung described our shared, instinctive self or soul as our ‘collective unconscious,’ which we are born with. It includes psychic contents that belong not to one person, but to the entire human race. It contains a set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society. Archetypes—simple representations of universal figures and relationships, such as the mother-child and father-child relationship—are a large part of it. Our collective unconscious, which Jung considered the soul, tells us how things are supposed to be in relationships and societies made up of people who have a conscience and who are loving, altruistic, nurturing, and have a genuinely moral instinctive self.
What happens when we become entangled with someone who does not have our inherited, collective-unconscious soul? Someone who has no conscience, no altruism, no love, no morality, and no compassion?
We suffer a soul injury, and get a ticket for admission to the dark night of the soul.
souls in anguish, not a psychological disorder
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung said that wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow because he recognized that only finding understanding of our dark side could end our underlying insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’ again. Not only do we experience our own shadow self in a dark night of the soul, but the shadow self of the whole of humanity—the psychopath.
When Adam and Eve were demonized and banished from the Garden of Eden, they were separated from our original cooperative, innocent, loving, moral, instinctive soulful state. The same thing happened to us, courtesy of a psychopath. You, as a loving and compassionate human, came into contact with a being who lacked all compassion and who was incapable of love, much like the biblical serpent. The price you paid for it was separation and banishment to the dark night of the soul. Your innocence was lost. You felt shame and betrayal. You felt naked, vulnerable.
Your soul was injured. Soul injury is also known as moral injury, which is the damage done when a person witnesses, or is the victim of, acts that transgress their moral and ethical values or codes of conduct. It also occurs when a person perpetrates, or fails to prevent, such acts (such as a soldier might when involved in war).
“Moral injury is damage to the soul of the individual. War is one of, but not the only thing that can cause this damage. Abuse, rape, and violence cause the same type of damage. ‘Soul repair’ and ‘soul wound’ are terms already in use by researchers and institutions in the United States who are exploring moral injury and paths to recovery,” says The Moral Injury Project of Syracuse University.
The spiritual perspective on moral injury can be credited to Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini. They emphasize moral injury as “… souls in anguish, not a psychological disorder.”
Moral or soul injury is different than PTSD, although often confused with it. The concept of moral injury is still in its infancy (and discussed mostly in the context of veterans) so therapists will have a hard time recognizing it, let alone know what to do about it. It requires a different approach than PTSD, though. Current treatments for PTSD do well when trauma is fear-based, but not all moral injury fits under that umbrella, according to Brett Litz, the director of the Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiological Research and Information Center.
“Perhaps there can be no clear boundary between a nervous breakdown and the experience of the dark night of the soul.”
A Spiritual and Existential Crisis
Although it resembles depression—nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything—a dark night of the soul is a much different experience. It is a spiritual and existential crisis. An existential crisis “is that point in our lives when we encounter the absurd as a formidable opponent. It has crept into our lives, uninvited, challenging the very meaning of our existence,” writes Juan Pablo Hern on the website, Fractal Enlightenment. It is a spiritual depression.
How can you tell the difference?
It is these seven “omens” that together signify you might be going through a Dark Night of the Soul, according to Lonerwolf:
- You feel a deep sense of sadness, which often verges on despair (this sadness is often triggered by the state of your life, humanity, and/or the world as a whole)
- You feel an acute sense of unworthiness
- You have the constant feeling of being lost or “condemned” to a life of suffering or emptiness
- You possess a painful feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness
- Your will and self-control is weakened, making it difficult for you to act
- You lack interest and find no joy in things that once excited you
- You crave for the loss of something intangible; a longing for a distant place or to “return home” again
- The ultimate difference between depression and the Dark Night of the Soul is that depression is usually self-centric, whereas the Dark Night is philosophical in nature and is accompanied by existential reflections such as “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?”
When depression ends, not much has changed in your life in terms of your beliefs, values, and habits. However, when the Dark Night of the Soul ends, everything in your life is transformed.
“It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away, 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. But people have gone into that, and then there is the possibility that you emerge out of that into a transformed state of consciousness.”
“Life now insists that we encounter groundlessness. Systems and ideas that seemed reliable and solid dissolve at an increasing rate. People who asked for our trust betray or abandon us. Strategies that worked suddenly don’t. Groundlessness is a frightening place, at least at first, but as the old culture turns to mush, we would feel stronger if we stopped searching for ground, if we sought only to locate ourselves in the present and do our work from here.”
~ Margaret Wheatley, The Place Beyond Fear and Hope
What is going on as we go through the dark night of the soul? Is it all bad, or does it hold the potential for something else?
“As in the processes of dying and birthing, a paradigm shift is occurring, from that which was, to that which must be. It begins in your own garden of Gethsemane. Here is where great darkness falls upon the soul and spirit and the travailing begins.”
~ Sis. Bonita Petroff
“Socrates once said, ‘I call myself a peaceful warrior because the important battles are inside.’ Now I faced my own inner battle — a time of disillusionment, cynicism, and mental paralysis. I felt frozen in place, stuck between two worlds, belonging fully to neither. I wanted to go back, but I had seen too much to do so; yet I couldn’t see a way to go forward.
“As my psyche went through this process of reorganization, I experienced a time of profound disorientation and suffering, not unlike that of those suffering from mental illness. This was my dark night of the soul, as various spiritual traditions have called it…” ~Dan Millman
You are not alone.
“I reserve the expression ‘dark night of the soul’ for a dark mood that is truly life-shaking and touches the foundations of experience, the soul itself.”
~ Thomas Moore, A Dark Night of the Soul and the Discovery of Meaning
“The dark night of the soul is described by seekers of all mystical traditions as an important stage of the quest for deeper knowledge — as unavoidable as confronting the dragon who guards the treasure in every mythic hero’s story. Only one who has risked the fight with the dragon,’ notes the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, ‘and is not overcome by it wins the hoard, the ‘treasure hard to attain’. . . . he has faced the dark ground of his self and thereby gained himself. The night sea journey takes you back to your primordial self; not the heroic self that burns out and falls to judgment, but to your original self, yourself as a sea of possibility, your greater and deeper being,” writes Thomas Moore, former monk, psychotherapist, and author of Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals.
“If processed, all who have undergone the dark night of the soul agree that it is ultimately a doorway to deeper awareness and understanding. On the other side awaits a more authentic self and a broader concept of the world.”
The Only Way Out is Through
“The only way out is through. Once we begin to see the value in our shadow aspects and dark night periods — whether it’s a dark night day, month or year — we can learn to stop resisting the discomfort and surrender to the process, to view it as an initiation, a transition. If we view every aspect of the journey as sacred, we are better able to glean its gifts, for behind the dark night awaits a silver dawn.” ~ Tai Carmen, Navigating a Dark Night of the Soul
“A dark night of the soul is a kind of initiation, taking you from one phase of life into another.” ~ Thomas Moore
How is it possible to discover gifts in such a difficult experience?
“This is the mystical experience of the ‘dark night of the soul,’ when old convictions and conformities dissolve into nothingness and we are called to stand naked to the terror of the unknown. We must let the process move through us—one which is much greater than we can comprehend. We can never force our way back to the light. It is only in this place of absolute surrender that the new possibility can emerge.” ~ Christine Valters Paintner
“In the process of discovering our true nature, the journey goes down, not up, as if the mountain pointed toward the earth instead of the sky. We move down and down and down, and with us move millions of others, our companions in awakening. Right there we discover a love that will not die.” ~ Pema Chodron
“The term ‘dark night of the soul,’ coined by sixteenth century poet-mystic St. John of the Cross, refers to the kind of spiritual crisis that leads us from profound unknowing to radiant transformation.” ~ Mirabai Starr
“The Abyss was the place of transformation for the mystics. In its depths shone the illumination of the ‘divine dark,’ where divinity revealed itself.” ~ Linda Schierse Leonard
“You become the wounded healer, someone who has made the descent and knows the territory. You take on depth of color and range of feeling. Your intelligence is now more deeply rooted and not dependent only on facts and reason. Your darkness has given you character and color and capacity. Now you are free to make a real contribution. It is a gift of your dark night of the soul!” ~ Thomas Moore
You may feel defeated, damaged and destroyed, but you are not.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:7-10).
“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.” ~ Hazrat Inayat Khan
“Be assured, if you should experience “the dark night of the soul” in any of its many forms, you are a person of significant potential, that God is challenging to enter a new level of being, which is beyond the domination of the lesser values of the material world. It is a humble beginning, but the humble do, indeed, inherit the earth!” ~ Dr. Meredith J. Sprunger
Beneath all the trauma, you are whole.
“And this word, yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” ~ Hebrews 12:27
“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” ~ Leo Tolstoy
All great truths begin as blasphemies. ~ George Bernard Shaw
Sometimes you have to go crazy because, hell, it’s a crazy world out there… Going crazy takes time, getting sane takes time… What you need is to read books, read poetry, you need nature and good friends.
~ Jeanette Winterspoon
A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness, and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. ~ David Whyte, Sweet Darkness
“You’ve been fire-tested. You’ve been verified by vicissitude. Your strength comes from your ability to adapt and overcome to falling apart and coming back together again, from wholeness to brokenness and back to a stronger form.” 7 Signs You May Be Experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul
“The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.” ~Joseph Campbell
“Our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts.”
~ psychologist Ken Page
Laughing Buddha at Chinese Restaurant, Photo by Petteri Sulonen on Flickr
And one last thought, if you entertain any ideas that you are to blame…
A Zen master’s life is one continuous mistake.
♥ Thank you for reading.
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