Dark Night of the Soul

Dear Yogis,
Earlier this year I plunged into one of the darkest moments of my life thus far. At the time it happened, I chose to deal with it head on, and then afterwards I shared what I experienced because I knew there were many amongst you who could relate to a similar tale.Something I have known very directly since my very first spiritual retreat 15 years ago, is that the journey of looking within is not all love and light. it’s not always pretty, it’s not always unicorns and rainbows. In fact, sometimes it’s downright gritty, disturbing, challenging and very tempting to look away.There is a very real phenomenon called the Dark Night of the Soul or the Night Sea Journey. It is a phase of what feels like darkness and a death on the spiritual path. It is not depression, it is a spiritual crisis. The term was first coined by St John of the Cross, a 16th Century Spanish Catholic priest and later brought to life more with Carl Jung.

I’m a massive fan of facing darkness and naming what is occurring in my life. And I’m hoping by doing this, it can be demystified if you’re ever feeling this way at all too.

There is a certain level of housekeeping in our psyche. The ego keeps us safe in the world, knows what is familiar and what is not, and uses this program to maintain routine, friendships, family structures etc.

Sometimes, all of this turns to shit. It could be the death of a loved one, an exultant experience of Oneness, a diagnosis of illness, or the regular steady practice of meditation and yoga. Whatever ‘it’ is, there is often a precipitating factor that changes the steady trajectory that you have been on, and suddenly the familiar becomes strange, the known becomes foreign, and the usual comforts are nails scratching at your soul.

The Dark Night of the Soul is a period where it feels like everything gets stripped away. Many things lose their meaning – health, spiritual practice, aspiration. It is not depression, it is sitting in the dark shadows searching for light again. But the light can’t be the familiar anymore, it has to be something new. And the pain comes when your ego is grasping for the old and the soul is yearning for the renewed, and so there is discord.

All of the great saints and yogis have experienced this and many have written about it. It is a spiritual crisis that requires a time of purging, letting go and sitting in the discomfort so that you can know these parts of yourself. It is like the being given an opportunity to clean the slate of your life and rewrite it…. But first you have to deal with the stench, the creatures of the dark and the isolation cell.

I have been through this a few times in my life. In this recent episode, I decided I would take myself away to another country for a month, on my own, to sit with what was happening. I used the practices that we use every time we practice in The Awaken Series. I witnessed what was moving in my body, I focused on my breath, I didn’t abandon myself at all, even when everything in me wanted to just be distracted and on the run.

Meditation was one of the major tools that allowed me to patiently sit with the dark places. I also had the loving support of a spiritual teacher and many close friends to help me find the light switches. In my opinion, it is hard to do this completely alone.

There is so much more to say about this topic. But I just want you to know that this can happen. It can feel scary, but it is a beautiful thing. After some time peeling away the layers, when I was sitting in meditation, my energy spontaneously went into Anahata in a BIG way. In that moment, everything vanished, and I felt held in the arms of the Universal Mother. That glimpse of the light created a melting, a merging, a letting go. I felt like all the darkness in the world was worth it for that moment of Great Love.

Please know that as you dive into any spiritual practice, especially something as potent as The Awaken Series, that this stuff can come up. And I must say, what gets you into this pickle will get you out of it! You need to keep on keeping on with your practice and lovingly be present to yourself.

Dr Carl Jung says that in these unknown parts of our psyche – the shadow – there is 90% gold. It is simply waiting for us to shine the light of consciousness on it.

So there you have it… It’s not all love and light…. And there’s nothing wrong with that!!
Much love xx
Nilanthi