A dark night of soul reminds us that life is fragile. All suffering requires us to turn and face it directly so that a conversation can begin. Our task is not to wage war on an opponent, but to begin the process of learning with liminality as our mentor.
Contemplating the Night
The courageous step is to build our powers of contemplation, or the long and careful observation of our experience. Contemplation, concentration, discernment, mindfulness, and focus are our most trusted guides inside a dark night.
Of course, suffering is a phenomenon we all wish to avoid. However, suffering is a natural consequence of being alive. All human life across the vast expanses of time and place have experienced suffering in varying degrees. To deny it is to lose our humanity.
In a dark night of the soul, contemplation creates a space for working with our fears. Sometimes that which has the power to destroy is precisely the thing that has the most to offer us. Our own unique suffering in the midst of the dark night of the soul is our most trusted adviser.
We have anesthetized ourselves to spirituality. The parroting of beliefs has become commonplace. Religion has become more of a question mark, perhaps even more of a roadblock, than a sanctuary for the contemplation of authentic belief. Merely adopting a particular set of beliefs that have been defined by other people, whether they are religious or spiritual in origin, will not prevent a dark night of the soul from visiting.
A dark night of the soul demands that we recreate our beliefs. It tears us away from the false security of our beliefs, traditions, and faith and carries us into a mercurial space in which we cannot find our identity, purpose, or meaning. A dark night is a physical, mental, and spiritual abyss in which questions such as, “Why am I here?” are sources of pain, suffering, and internal torture. A dark night is the place of utter abandonment, solitude, and loneliness – there is no relief to be found other than to journey through it even though our footing has become uncertain.
Demons of Our Own Conjuring
Is there not enough meaning and value in our ordinary lives to pursue? Is it not enough to educate ourselves, raise families, contribute to society, and retire well without adding in the angst generated by the soul? Isn’t religion enough – just choose one to believe in, follow its assumptions blindly, and all will work out in the end? Is there really an internal world, a spiritual terrain that we must traverse to relieve our burden and reach a calmer place? Is the angst of the soul really a delusion, a source of suffering that we have in fact manufactured for ourselves in the pursuit of false assumptions and beliefs? Have we fallen victim to the vagaries of our own imagination? Moreover, why willingly fall into what is described as an abyss of suffering, dislocation, and desolation?
Sometimes we see what’s not there. We see demons of our own conjuring.
– The Devil’s Mistress
Imagination creates reality. If we imagine something to be true, then it is real. The experience of a dream is just as real as the experience of looking at a tree. Perhaps demons have always been of our own conjuring, and our interior world of the spirit is their natural habitat.
There are demons of our own conjuring. To ignore the messages that seem to originate in the mercurial realm of intuition is to ignore our higher and more artistic sensibilities. It is a courageous endeavor to inhabit those places of our being that lie beyond immediate sensory perception and spaces that do not conform to our collective compendium of knowledge and assumed belief.
Have we become so confined by externality that we deny the possibility of other modes of perception and being? A dark night of the soul is an artistic journey into that which may destroy us, but it also may renew us. We are forced into spiritual exile that serves as a medium of transformation, in which we are utterly lost, alone and riddled with thrusts of anxiety.
Once inside a dark night, there is no way or means to reverse our way out of it, no way to return to that which was. In this sense, a dark night of the soul is a threshold into a primal form of suffering in which our mentors and companions are loneliness, solitude, despair, confinement, disillusionment, isolation, uncertainty, angst, fear, panic, and desolation.
There is no promise or guarantee within a dark night; that is to say, there is no certainty that we will ever emerge from it in this life. To assume that everything will be all right in time only places us at risk. The things we fear the most are the very things that can help us to find our way out to a new life.
A dark night of the soul is one of the most significant experiences we can have in life.
A dark night destroys what we had become, and demands we discover what to become in the midst of abandonment, loneliness, and deep despair. Lying deep within the essence of the dark night is creativity, a creativity that originates in the carnal and primal rhythms of life.
A dark night embraces the essence of art, artistry, and creativity – and therefore absolute destruction. In this realm, we learn that suffering and learning are inexorably interconnected. The coldness of externally created knowledge is of no assistance to us here in this world; we are left to create our thoughts, beliefs, and faith in ourselves.
In the midst of a dark night, each day becomes an improvisation on the theme survival. Each breath we take feels ponderous and heavy. We may be completely financially independent, perhaps wealthy, and feel poor. We suffer from a deep longing for an experience we cannot grasp or define. The daily routines of waking, working, relaxing, and resting fail to resolve our angst, and in a curious way exacerbate a desire we cannot understand. Everything we once thought of as providing stability in life has fallen into ruin and decay.
- This article belongs to a three-part series that can be accessed on the Liminal Encounters page.
- Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. Thomas Morre brings a dark night of the soul into a modern context. Moore authored an interesting article about a dark night of the soul as the discovery of meaning.