Finding purpose and meaning in your life entails surrendering to who you truly are and letting go of what no longer serves you. This process of transformation and self-discovery is not easy. It can be scary as all hell. It can be disorienting. It can cause you to question everything you thought to be true. It can cause you to unravel, piece by piece until you find yourself feeling broken down and defeated. Welcome to the Dark Night of the Soul my friends!
My own dark night of the soul started at the age of 28. The catalyst for this extremely uncomfortable period in my life was a mysterious illness that called “halt” on my life. I went from a high energy long-distance runner who had a zest for life to someone who was so suffocated with exhaustion I could barely get out of bed. Since running was the first love of my life, the fact I couldn’t run (or do much else for that matter) made me spiral into a deep depression. Whenever I would see a runner my heart felt heavy with sadness and longing. Who was I without being “a runner?” It was an identity crisis that led to a period of mourning.
What I realized however is that all my frenetic physical activity served as a mask for not dealing with unprocessed emotional pain. By being in a hyper state of doing it prevented me from just being. Only when we sit with ourselves, by ourselves, in a state of quiet reflection, can we start to listen to the whispers of our soul. Our soul says to us, “Finally. Finally you have acknowledged my existence.”
For me, the mysterious illness that overtook me served as the greatest spiritual teacher ever. I embraced the power of silence and reflection. I learned about the importance of rest and renewal. I honored my strong intuitive nature. I acknowledged that my life path is not an easy one, but it’s a deeply rich and fulfilling one because I’ve made the journey into the depths of darkness in order to find the light.
So, how do you survive a Dark Night of the Soul? Here are 3 tips that may help based on my own experience:
1. Embrace It. Don’t Fight It. – As mentioned, the dark night is not a comfortable experience. In this state of unrest, it can be easy to run, numb, or do whatever possible not to feel uncomfortable. There is a spiritual saying however that states, “You must go in it and through it.” This means you can’t bypass emotional turmoil but instead must dive in and fully immerse yourself in it. If you never deal with the dark night and answer the call of your soul, you may experience an ongoing sense of unrest, depression, loneliness, and live in a state of discontent. The dark night is a process of working through past trauma, realizing your purpose in life, and uncovering the truth of who you really are.
2. Seek Support – During my own dark night, I read the works of Parker Palmer (Let Your Life Speak) and Thomas Moore (Dark Nights: Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals) and also worked with a number of healers and coaches. The journey into the depths of your soul can be quite lonely. Why? In our society, there isn’t exactly a lot of emphasis on doing inner work and leading a rich spiritual life. You can feel like you have literally lost your mind during a dark night and also feel like an outcast in society. When others want to lead what may seem like rather superficial lives, you spend time alone asking yourself existential questions such as, “What is the meaning of my life? Why am I here? Why do I feel such confusion or uncertainty?” You need people who have gone through similar experiences to provide objective perspectives and help you realize you aren’t alone on this journey into the unknown.
3. Accept Your Truth – A dark night is a form of truth serum. Whatever is not working in your life or whatever you haven’t dealt with in the past, will come front and center during a dark night. It’s your decision as to what you do with this newfound clarity. Often radical changes are made as a result of a dark night. You may quit a draining job. You may end relationships that no longer serve you. You may move to a new place that nurtures and supports your soul. You may start integrating parts of your personality you have disowned. You may start to slowly unwind a body that has held unprocessed emotions and trauma from your past. You reach a point where you say, “This is it. This is me.” You create a soul-centered life that is no longer based on falsehoods and misconceptions of the person