Dark Night of the Soul; a Spiritual Crisis Mary Maynard RN, BSN

Crisis: a turning point for better or worse; an attack of pain, distress, or an emotional radical change in life; an unstable or crucial time in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.

The “dark night of the soul” has come to mean the pain and difficulties people experience when the Soul is in crisis. Awareness of a spiritual crisis is so important. Our culture holds very few common understandings or ideas on how to recognize and manage these critical painful points in life. People often end up medicated, or self-medicating. When this happens, the very consciouness the Soul is pushing to birth gets disconnected.


Are you experiencing a dark night of the Soul? Modern day signs that you are in a dark night:

  • for no apparent reason, you are or feel alienated, isolated, alone and abandoned
  • The people you would usually reach out to aren’t there
  • The people who would often reach out to you- don’t or feel distant
  • Those you can normally rely on for help won’t be around or available, and come the time you are desperate…
  • your communication systems and devices will just suddenly stop working: emails won’t send, wifi will die, cell signal will be lost
  • You will push and push, and doors will close to you.
  • The things you normally do to solve problems won’t work
  • Everything you plan falls apart at some level
  • Nothing satisfies your heart, your body, your mind
  • Your body mind and spirit begin to work against your efforts: memory, attitude, digestion and simple things you take for granted are slowly or abruptly lost to you.

The phrase dark night of the Soul is drawn from the 6th-century poem by Saint John of the Cross. He wrote the poem after his long periods of spiritual darkness. His intention was to celebrate a return to a state of oneness with God. The phrase has instead come to mean the state of feeling separated from the Light of our life energy. A dark night of the Soul is recognized as a lesson in enlightenment or Soul advancement with the purpose of releasing all attachments to illusion.

Many at some point, cry, “ Why does it have to hurt?” The simple answer? It hurts because you wouldn’t / couldn’t / didn’t know, to let go of the attachment. You had “it” buried under tons of ideas you valued. Values that controlled you and dominated your energy.


The point of a dark night is to break us down completely to allow

New Life to enter at a higher level of consciousness.


The simplest way to do that is by attacking the human parts of us where we are most vulnerable, the places that are most important. Our secret ego mis-creations.

When everything gets broken down, that includes the good we and others believe about us. Relinquishing unpleasant parts of ourselves is easy compared to releasing the good. Often the attachments are strongest to our good opinions of our current self. Doubt is a hallmark of a dark night. This lesson attacks your self-worth. You will question whether people like you, whether they want to be around you, whether you have anything of any worth to offer the world. What you depended on in the outer world or your inner heart will be attacked. Any ego attachment will be challenged repeatedly until the ideas, habits, and beliefs are dust.

Everyone has different areas of vulnerability. For some, body image is everything, for others family connection is at the top of their list. Others see promotions or wealth as the goal. A happy romantic relationship? Desperate to have a family? Wherever you have stored emotional energy will point to where you will be attacked – that is the location of where the attachment lives.

Any area where you have a compelling ego need to control will be the target of destruction. Proud of always being on time? Never have a relationship on the rocks? Can’t miss a day of working out at the gym? Must have everyone love you? These sacred areas of your beliefs-those statements you have held dear start with an assertion of “I could never live without…(fill in the blank)”. These beliefs will burn away in a firestorm of assault to be permanently released or, in time, return to you strengthened and sharp.

Whether it is fiery and shocking or a longer sanding down process of chronic disappointment resulting in a weary despair, your hopes and dreams that were based in ego, evaporate. Some will die more easily than others. You may find different flavors of pain in this experience or a general shifting shroud of shadow that blocks joy and color.


There is a point when traveling through a tunnel where it is so dark you cannot see the exit or the entrance.This mid-point is where it is easy to get turned around and retrace your steps out of fear of moving forward. Some people give up and just sit down in the tunnel waiting for help that never comes. Others get so turned around in the dark; they no longer know which way is “out” of the tunnel. You didn’t recognize you were even in a tunnel? Denial is a friend of a dark night that you cannot afford. It keeps you blind, allowing attachment to go underground often creating disease. Defeat denial by looking at what you react to, what you despise. Ask what you are truly spending your time and energy with. Meditate. Listen to the worst thoughts you have and hand them over to whatever you see as greater than yourself. The solution is in you. Nobody can go through this for you – and nobody can go through this with you. You will be isolated and removed from help even when people have their arms wrapped around you! The very point of this lesson is to allow you to see yourself without consolation or assistance and make or strengthen the relationship within you to your Soul.

You may lose Faith. Faith is the Soul’s version of the human experience of hope. You will have access to hope. Hope is an amazing human ability. It enables us to forgive, release, ove on, be tenacious, be resilient, try and believe again. An old cliché is that “Hope walks through flames, where Faith leaps over it.”

Imagine your Faith being held hostage. You try and try to bargain with the terrorists until you finally lose even the thought that your peaceful Faith will be returned to you safely. You may become even fearful of trying to hope. A trough of regrets, rejection and bitterness can keep you swamped in the emotions of reactivity. Don’t get stuck here in the trough! The Truth is that breakdown must occur to make way for build up.


The more loss created ( more breakdown ), means a greater opportunity for revelation and insight ( more buildup). The seasons, everything in the natural world, including our tissue reminds us that we absolutely must clear away the old to make space for the new. As the bones of the body have osteoclastic activity in building up new structures, so must the bones have osteoblastic movement to breakdown and clear away to make way for the flow of healthy tissue to form strong bones.


How long does it last, this dark night? Time is interesting from a human perspective. The neat boxes we use to record appointments, the clocks, the massive amount of social control based on time make it very hard to predict time for a dark night of the Soul. There is no time in the Soul.


A dark night is usually temporary, but it may last for extended periods. Modern times rarely record or even recognize a dark night. In ancient records, the “dark night” of Saint Paul of the Cross in the 18th century lasted 45 years, from which he ultimately recovered. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, according to letters released in 2007, “may be the most extensive such case on record,” lasting from 1948 almost up until her death in 1997, with only brief interludes of relief in between. Franciscan Friar Father Benedict Groeschel, a friend of Mother Teresa for a large part of her life, claims that “the darkness left” towards the end of her life. These are worst case scenarios which I include to help you frame your personal experience.

How do you manage?


Number one: recognize what is happening. Too many people get caught up in the symptoms and run ragged trying to “fix” a falling apart life. Expect the breakdowns. Welcome the closed doors. Make friends with the seemingly impossible abyss of emptiness. The despairing sense of the unattainable. The repeated experiences of being beaten down by the world. The rejections, losses, and longings are all a step in your Soul’s path, plan, and journey. See the point of surrender.


Number two: Attune your mind. Most importantly regarding time in a dark night you forget that things can and do change, that the wheel will always turn, this too shall pass – and when it does, it will feel like the happiness has been there forever too. Decades ago, I read a wonderful book published by author Willie Jolley, A Setback Is A Setup For A Comeback. This book is a perfect example of the type of reading to surround yourself with as you transform. Use your tools-journal, music, nature, prayer, meditation, movement, gratitude. Do for others when you cannot do for yourself. Rest in the promise that “…this too shall pass.”


Number three: Seek peace. Create a cocoon, an insulation of the mind where you are kept aware of the wonderful outside world as you bring yourself into alignment with your Soul’s clearing.


Number four: “What if this lasts the rest of my life?” is a good question to ponder. Looking at the possibility and reckoning with the potential is good for the Soul in clearing out the debris of our desire to set the clock on this and “time it out”. I often advise people to do a yogic practice of dying to the ego need to control by literally dropping to the ground / floor / couch and saying inside your mind, “I am dead to this.” The conversation that continues to chatter in your mind will give you a window into the solutions you might consider. Notice what your brain is obsessing about. Keep repeating in your deep mind, “I am dead to this.” Allow yourself to have the emotions that bubble up. You may want to journal long running scripts that are playing or stories that keep you attached to people, events or history.


Surrender. Submit. You will be joyfully welcomed on return. Stronger, wiser, closer to your God.


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