How to Survive the Dark Night of the Soul

It’s happened to all of us at some point in our lives. The storm hits. The light goes out and we can no longer see the forest for the trees. Friends try to cheer us up, and tell us to look at the bright side, but we can’t see it. It’s gone. We feel locked in darkness and that’s when it happens: we lose hope.

Or, do we?

If we take an objective, honest look back at those moments in our lives, we see that we got through them. And, while we may not have known at the time how we could possibly overcome the great obstacle, we did. If you’re reading this right now, it’s proof that somehow, you’ve survived the darkest nights of your own existence and lived to tell the tale.

There was something that pulled you through. Some part of you that stepped up and took over and allowed you to navigate the darkness and realize the power of your own character. In every case, when we’ve conquered a true dark night of the soul, it was a turning point for us to round the corner of bleakness and slay our inner dragon to walk a little more fearlessly into the future.

If we’ve triumphed over a sickness or disability, we now know what we’re capable of. If we’ve survived death or loss, we now know the value of life. If we’ve pulled through a financial or domestic disaster, we know that we can carry our home on our backs. If we’ve lived through abuse or neglect, we know the power of kindness. No matter what kind of darkness our lowest point was steeped in, each one of us, in some way, has gotten through it.

But, how?

In that moment when all hope is lost and the walls come crashing down, we suddenly step up to the plate to slay the proverbial demon and ignite some deep inner fire that may not have been given any spark before. We may do this unconsciously. Life may force us into this corner, but our own soul steps up to fight our way out.

Basically, we choose life.

When we choose life, the vibrancy that may have been locked behind fear, mistrust, doubt and hopelessness is released into a force that can overcome anything. To choose life means to choose all that life deals us: the good, the bad and the ugly. Choosing life means that we embrace the bright spots and the challenges and we push nothing away. Life is gritty, sometimes painful and can even be unbearable. The darkest of moments have the potential to reveal our greatest sources of strength. It’s as Goethe said, “Mine the darkness and see by the path you leave behind.”

And, do you know what’s great? All of us already know how to do this.

Again, if you’re looking back on the hardest times of your life, there is evidence of this. You’ve already proven to yourself the power of your character, the potency of your human spirit and the fortitude of your soul’s fierce desire to express itself in the world. Boom.

Here’s the clincher.

We have to go through it. The famous line by Harvey Dent from the recent Dark Knight trilogy is, “The night is always darkest before the dawn.” As a practical metaphor, one cannot experience dawn without first experiencing the night.

This darkness unknots your soul. It releases its bondage so you can be free to move into the next phase. Without this release, we stay locked inside the labyrinth of smallness and suffering. It sounds dramatic (it often is) but this is how humans have struggled and triumphed through their dark nights of the soul since the beginning. Similar to the butterfly who must push and squeeze her way out of her cocoon to find her ultimate release, these times of despair and darkness are the moments that we can blossom more fully and better express the life force that exists within us.

And like Ariadne and her magical thread, you will always be lead back from the depths of the labyrinth. The thread that is left behind as we wander into the darkness is the thread of hope, love, and faith. We rediscover this as we slowly wind our way back out. But first, we must go in.

No, it’s not pleasant. But it’s the necessary transition for our humanness to struggle through this phase in order to realize a new level of understanding and evolution. This isn’t fancy frou frou lingo. This is practical, time tested, and just plain true. Every story in our human history shows that our mythical heroes fight and kill their dragons before actually realizing their true heroism. As Joseph Campbell states:

“…the point is not that such-and-such was done on earth; the point is that, before such-and-such could be done on earth, this other, more important primary thing had to be brought to pass within the labyrinth that we all know and visit in our dreams. The passage of the mythological hero may be over-ground, incidentally; but fundamentally it is inward–into depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified, to be made available for the transfiguration of the world.”

The next time the dark night is upon you, get ready. Brace yourself. Keep your eyes open. Nocturnal vision is not the strong point of our eyes or mind, but our heart and spirit can navigate just fine. Recognize that this is the inevitable transition before greatness arrives with the dawn. You can do this. And in all likelihood, you have. Believe in the power you already possess and get ready for what the dawn will reveal to you: You are the hero of your own journey.

photo by: phatman