Self development: The dark night of the soul


Sarbani Sen takes a spiritual journey of self development to a mythical union.

This concept is taken from a poem written by the mystic Saint John of the Cross in the 16th century. In 1577, he was imprisoned for nine months during which he wrote about his “dark night of the soul.” The original poem narrates the journey of the soul to mystical union with God. The journey is called ‘Dark Night’ in part because darkness represents the fact that the destination (God) is unknowable, as is the path.

“In an obscured night
Fever’d with love’s anxiety
I went, none seeing me
Forth from my house where all things quiet be.”

This poem does not refer to the difficulties of life in general but rather in the purgation that is the road to the divine. How far can we relate this to our contemporary world and everyday life? For me it couldn’t explain better the feelings we can go through during the long months of winter, when energies are low, and we spend a lot of time in our houses, waiting for the Spring to emerge and bring back it’s (de)lightful odours, flowers and smiles.

In shamanic culture, according to Jamie Sams, a Native American shamanic healer and author of the book Dance your dreams, the black night of the soul is a period in the life of a person where there is chaos and confusion without respite.  Often, life will present tests and more tests, one source of grief after another, where devastating experiences seem to be never ending. These terrible periods, according to Native Americans, force us to reevaluate what we think, what we feel, what is really important, what values give us strength and how to let go from what no longer serves us. They create a major adjustment to reality, which leads us to reconsider our priorities. As Jamie puts it: “In most life lessons, the Coyote administrated me the worst scenarios for me to be able to learn to surf the REALLY HIGH waves. I can be swept away many times in a row but always continue surfing. And in the end, I can laugh. I needed to discover humor. And eventually I understand that I don’t need to apologize for anything happening in my life, that there’s no need to explain to anyone the old jokes of my chaotic and paradoxical dance.”

A dark night of the soul can happen to anyone after going through rapid spiritual progress. Once you activate the mirror, meaning once you start to become aware your outer reality is reflecting your inner reality, the lessons come swiftly whether you want them or not. If you’re surrounded by angry people, you are being called to explore feelings of unresolved anger in yourself. If people start to annoy you, you’re being called to learn patience and compassion for the trials and tribulations of others. You may be encouraged to start forming feelings of compassion for yourself, which may be an odd feeling if you’ve been beating yourself up for a long time over things.

If we’re feeling a lot of stress and anxiety about our daily life, that’s a big clue we are coming from a place of falseness and ego. And the negative emotions we feel are messengers. So we need to pay attention to what the world is trying to tell us. In modern spirituality and in ‘access consciousness’, the default of life is happiness and peace. Everything else is false, and it’s easy for us to get locked into situations that serve our ego instead of serving our true self. When we are aligned with our soul and connected to our higher self, life becomes easier and lighter. We stop chasing after dragons. We give up on having to be right all the time. But this can have an effect of shining a light on all the dark places in our life. We are being shown the places where our soul has been shattered. The dark night of the oul is all about healing those broken parts of ourselves, by showing us our dark sides.