The dark night of the soul


The afflictions of this dark night of the spirit are many.  One feels helpless as though imprisoned in a dark dungeon, bound hands and feet, and able to neither move, nor see, nor feel any favour from heaven or earth … When one feels safest, and least expects it, the darkness returns in a degree more severe than before …  St John of the Cross


Life can be challenging in often unexpected ways, and at times the individual can experience an overwhelming sense of despair and anguish which can darken the days and nights.  We can also feel a profound sense of loss but in truth, it is life which is showing us the reality of a particular situation.  We mourn the loss of what we thought was real, of what we thought was the truth.  We mourn the loss of the fact that we were unaware of that reality, of those circumstances, of that person, as we do perhaps the reality of the loss of our innocence, our good, our naivety; this is the price we pay for the truth.  Truth is merciless and will cut like a sword, but it has a purpose and we need it if we are to grow.

But there is another way to look at this period of emotional, psychological and spiritual disorientation and destabilisation.

St John of the Cross, a 16th Century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic monk describes such periods as ‘the dark night of the soul’.  This ‘dark night’ represents a time when the individual undergoes a  profound and powerful transformation, during which previous attitudes, understandings, belief systems and ways of being are literally cast off and replaced by a deeper understanding of life, of certain aspects of reality and of themselves.  It is an intensely painful process from which emerges a changed, more aware and more civilised human being.

The dark night of the soul represents a period of inner purification and spiritual growth of the individual.  During this time, external life is barely tolerable because of the profound internal crisis of meaning which is evoked.  Such an existential crisis has its use; it enables us to live more meaningfully and more fully in the world, and it helps us find our purpose in life.  Most importantly, it makes way for the ingression into us of something of a higher nature, and that is a blessing.  That is the gift we receive when we are shown a truthful reality.

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

Comments are closed.