The term dark night, or dark night of the soul, can be used in a psychological or spiritual context.
In a psychological context, it’s often used about anything psychologically shattering – trauma, loss, burnout or similar.
In a spiritual context, a dark night of the soul it’s what typically comes after an initial opening or awakening, and a period of “illumination” (as Evelyn Underhill calls it). It can take the form of a loss of conscious connection with the divine, a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing, loss of health and other losses in life, and more. It’s a humbling and very human process, and the “darkness” comes largely from our reaction to it. Our minds don’t like it and perceive it as dark, even if it is the next natural step in our maturation and development.
They are quite similar. In both cases, we may have a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing with an invitation to find kindness, understanding, and healing for it. We come up against our beliefs and identifications with certain identities and are invited to examine them and allow the hold on them to soften. In both cases, it’s an opportunity for great healing, maturing, humanizing, and reorientation.
In the bigger picture, both can be seen as a spiritual process. An invitation for healing, maturing, and even awakening out of our old beliefs and identifications.
There is also a difference, and that’s the conscious context of the one going through it. In a spiritual dark night of the soul, there is already a knowing of all as Spirit – even what’s happening in this part of the process. And that makes a great deal of difference. That helps us go through it, even if it’s just a background knowing.
What helps us move through a dark night, whether the context is psychological or spiritual?
Here are some possibilities: Taking care of ourselves. Understanding people around us. Therapy – body-oriented, mind-oriented, or both. Nature. Food that’s nourishing. Time. A willingness to face what’s coming up and move through it. Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries etc.). Heart-centered practices (Tonglen, Ho’oponopono, loving kindness etc.) Body-inclusive practices (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema etc.)
For me, support of someone who understands the process, finding helpful tools and approaches, and the willingness to face what’s here and move through it, have been especially helpful.
What tools and approaches have worked for me? The ones mentioned above, and more recently Vortex Healing.
Note: In a spiritual context, there are several dark nights of the soul. I simplified it here and just mentioned the dark night of the soul. The essence of having to face beliefs and identifications is the same for all of them, at least the ones I am aware of so far.
Note: In any dark night, and any life experience, our distress is created by how we relate to and perceive what’s happening. That’s why inquiry can be very helpful. There is an invitation there to find more clarity and consciously align more closely with reality.
The photo is one I took at the edge of Princetown on Dartmoor some years back.
- dark night in psychological vs spiritual context
- psychological – more conventional sense, trauma, loss, burnout etc.
- spiritual – after initial opening/awakening/illumination
- (apparent) loss of connection w the Divine, psychological material surfacing etc.
- may have unprocessed material surfacing, “taking the lid off”
- face beliefs / identities, invited to examine / release
- an opportunity for great healing, maturing, reorientation
- both can be seen as a spiritual process, invitation for healing, maturing, even awakening in some ways
- slightly different context
- spiritual dn – following opening/awakening/illumination
- happens – for the person – in the context of all as Spirit, the Divine
- slightly different context
- can be very similar in many cases, but a slightly different context (which makes all the difference when it’s in a spiritual context)
- also – how to approach it, what helps