-Excerpt from “Dream Coding: The Ultimate Guide To Hyper-Reality”.
Recently, a friend explained to me their feelings of chaos and helplessness. As I know this person rather well, I understood what it was that was happening- also as I’d been through it myself: The Dark Night Of The Soul.
The Dark Night of the Soul sounds better than it feels… it’s a complete loss of everything you thought you were. You have awoken to the simple fact that you are not real at all, but always have been living in an illusory state. You are existing, but not like you’ve previously existed- you’ve realised every tag you gave yourself was a shadow of the truth. You feel like you are falling helplessly through an illusory world that has lost any meaning it previously had, and you cannot see any ground to fall upon.
The term was first inspired by St Bernard of Clairvaux’s ten steps to the “divine mystical union”, of which St John of the Cross is said to have created the poem Dark Night in response to. Carl Jung further used the term to explain a chapter of the process he was going through in his Red Book. Other speakers have used the term to explain similar places in their own path of seeking. The poem from St John reads:
DARK NIGHT (Poem by St. John of the Cross)
On a darkened night,
Anxious, by love inflamed,
— O happy chance! —
Unnoticed, I took flight,
My house at last at peace and quiet.
Safe, disguised by the night,
By the secret ladder I took flight,
— O happy chance! —
Cloaked by darkness, I scaled the height,
My house at last at peace and quiet.
On that blessed night,
In secret, and seen by none,
None in sight,
I saw with no other guide or light,
But the one burning in my heart bright.
This guide, this light,
Brighter than the midday sun,
Led me to the waiting One
I knew so well — my delight!
To a place with none in sight.
O night! O guide!
O night more loving than the dawn!
O night that joined
The lover with the Beloved;
Transformed, the lover into the Beloved drawn!
Upon my flowered breast,
For him alone kept fair,
There he slept
There I caressed,
There the cedars gave us air.
I drank the turret’s cool air
Spreading playfully his hair.
And his hand, so serene,
Cut my throat. Drained
Of senses, I dropped unaware.
Lost to myself and yet remaining,
Inclined so only the Beloved I spy.
All has ceased, all rests,
Even my cares, even I;
Lost among the lilies, there I die.
The Dark Night has many connotations and the symbolism is vivid. Naturally there are as many ways to read the poem as there are journeys related to the archetypal journey we see outlined in it; but the feeling remains the same.
The Dark Night of the Soul often follows ones initial awakening. It can feel like reality is slipping away and your place in the world becomes meaningless. The outward signs are a lack of interest in what is going on around you, no desire to be in the world, and a feeling of inherent loss (but at what?). The inward signs are intense emotional feelings of voidness and emptiness- and are often accompanied by dreams of shadowy archetypal figures (monsters of the night). The mythical journey likened to this part of the process is that of the descent into the underworld- the dipping into the dark abyss where it seems like the hero may be forever imprisoned in the mysterious depths. Words cannot explain the intensity of the darkness that overcomes the psyche at this point- the most severe depression is minor in comparison. It is the crumbling of your existence, the complete dissolution of self. The intensity of this period is often of proportion to the trauma in ones life- those that have seen much pain and suffering in their lives will ultimately have to submerge themselves in their entire unconscious collection of pain and suffering- your own unique embodiment of living hell.
It is to be noted here the distinct difference between the dark night of the soul that is bound up in a spiritual awakening to the occurrence of “clinical depression”. Each case will have to be dealt with individually but the difference will be obviously felt and identified by the individual.
The major problem that comes with the inner suffering of the individual can often result in an outer world crisis. The individual may loose all interest in jobs, relationships, health and social life. Unfortunately- there is nothing that can be done to alleviate these pains. The only way out is in, in the case of this process. The Dark Night Of The Soul must be wholly experienced and felt, acknowledged and lived. This is the point where there is no rescuer- not even God. The individual must use their inner strength and power to acknowledge they are the only saviour of their own soul in this story.
I think I was lucky in the fact that for me, this process seemed to last about four months- however, I understand that the period of time from an outside perspective varies; the time one spends in this phase is completely subjective and dependant on ones own individual struggle.
The only advice I can give to anybody going through this is twofold. One- allow yourself the opportunity and space to feel and acknowledge this pain. Two- Know, this too shall pass.
Of course- any kind of self-expression is greatly encouraged and can be extremely fruitful and productive (Carl Jungs Red Book is a phenomenal mapping of the process that he went through). It is especially noted however, that this part of the process is not wholly recognised under the branch of “psychology”, but is to be found unanimously in spiritual and/or religious philosophy so don’t always expect people in your life to know what is happening to you- as I said before, this really is on you. The strength you need to get through is only available from yourself (and this is the whole point of the process).
There will come a point, where the dark night seems to lift (it can happen in one moment or gradually ease), and you will begin to feel the power of your new spirit emerging. Here is the archetypal imagery of the phoenix rising from the ashes, the exiting of the underworld, the point of revelation. The imagery of fire is often employed here as it is the symbol of “man”. In our collective biological evolution, it is the moment that man first used fire, the torch-bearer and the power over the roaming “wild” unconscious manifest. To bring back fire, one must be plunged into the fiery realm.
This is a time of immense strength, courage and transformation. It is the butterfly emerging from the cocoon and the re-birth phase. It’s imperative to pause for a moment in this place to learn to gather and harness your new found strength, and understand not to run before you can walk. It is often here where people decide to dramatically alter their lifestyle and search for more clarity. This is a chance to rebuild. Often, people in your outer world will experience a shift in your personality, and this may bring some conflict into your life. However, it is now a change that has been fossilised, and the carbon has been cooked with heat and pressure to transform into a diamond in the rough. You will not be able to go back now, and the hardest part is done.
What triggers this process?
Again, this process will more than likely “happen” to you without a conscious effort to obtain it. Those likely to experience this are often those on a path of healing (from physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual trauma), or those people that are typically known as “seekers” (of truth). Obviously, one could say karma plays a role in the timing of this but I certainly know for myself, nothing I consciously did at the time triggered the process. Looking back now from a non-linear perspective, the timing was perfect, and had been triggered long before birth- but of course as ego-centric human beings we still function in a linear, time based dimension.
For me, this process came about a year after my initial awakening. I was triggered in physical life by a process that rolled out in a number of dreams culminating in the dream in Part II of this book. Three days after this dream, I experienced a very real experience of death in fully conscious waking life. I felt an immediate feeling that I was going to die. At the time I was at a close friends house and my partner was also in the room. I felt pains in my back and felt the need to lie on the floor with my legs against the wall. (I can honestly say this sounds so bizarre and am thankful it happened where it did as it only could, otherwise I have no doubt I would be posted to a psychological examination centre promptly!). This feeling got progressively worse and worse for about half an hour until the point where I felt like I was completely dying in that moment. I was asking my friend and partner “what’s wrong with me? I feel like I’m dying”, and all I remember thinking was why wasn’t anyone helping me? I truly believed I was about to die and it was absolutely terrifying. I felt pain running through my whole body and felt intense buzzing. My heart felt like it was about to burst. As quickly as it had started, it began to quieten. A feeling of complete emptiness came over me and I felt completely numb like I had lost all feeling of anything. I proceeded to walk outside and sit under a tree. I just sat there feeling empty. My partner (who by now was aware that I was on some sort of “spiritual journey!”), came out to see that I was OK and stayed with me saying nothing. From there on in, the Dark Night of the Soul descended, plunging me into an abyss.
A couple of years later, I now understand that this is probably what is explained as a “Kundalini Awakening” in Eastern philosophies. I came across this term and instantly understood it to be have been what had happened to me (which wasn’t of particular use after the event had all rolled out!).
This is an amazing website to explain the term:
Always throughout the process, I have questioned my own sanity whenever these events have occurred and I have always been blessed to be around knowledgeable older, spiritually aware people that have helped to ground me at each point. If you are going through this process, know that it can only unfold at the right time in your own journey and you will always have people available that will help to ground you. For this we must be grateful and respectful to our spiritual elders who are here to pass on their wisdom. Age is transcended in the world of spirit and so it’s important to realise that a spiritual Elder doesn’t necessarily mean an elder in human years. Some of the wisdom passed to me has come from my early twenties peers, and some has come from late sixties academics! You’ll know true wisdom when you hear it as it resonates on the deepest level of your being.
The following is what came out of a conversation I had with the friend that prompted this piece of writing and they kindly agreed to share their experience. I have not edited this in any way as I feel it is not my place to alter somebody else’s truth and so I hope you can see the differences and similarities in this beautiful piece of writing.
“Dark Night of the Soul – This is what I am naming this period of my life. One of utter reverence, vividness and Technicolor and one of hollowed out, gutted, cool numbness – jagged and raw. I couldn’t say right now when this feeling began, maybe it wasn’t one particular event- it almost crept up on me gradually over a period of time to reach a peak when I thought I needed to do something or I may no longer exist. I had begun a journey of inward looking around two years previously when I was 23. It started with a hallucinogenic experience that accidentally (purposefully ?) ripped me open – to allow me to feel calm and peaceful for the first time in my life. I think to have this experience it means that you cannot revert to your old way of being, as you know how it is possible to feel. Since that moment I had begun to stumble upon more people to speak to, more experiences to take part in and more wisdom to glean from books and articles. These things began to come like a tidal wave, over a year and a half period I had met with many like minded people – all seeking a place of calm, a connection to the divine and a desire for deep ancestral and present day healing. My dream life became a waking place of journeying vividly, to symbolically heal trauma. The more I healed the more trauma I realised was trapped inside me. I came to understand I had identified with the trauma as myself. One day a lot of this trauma was released in a glut, allowing a plethora of buried memories to surface in a very vivid way. I had 25 years of emotion spill out from under depersonalisation, denial and disassociation, through my self healing I had opened these long forgotten places and they were coming out now because I was ready to feel them. The process of self healing so far had taught me that I must un-identify with trauma in order to find a true self, so to clear away this deluge of traumatic memory and feeling I felt as though I could identify with nothing. In the depths of this experience I felt like a thin shell, yet too heavy to move like crude oil in cold water. I was scared to leave my house, sometimes I was scared to leave my bed, feeling perpetually dizzy with fuzzy vision, as well as experiencing frequent short term memory loss. I would wake up crying and be tearful at the end of the days. I would have sudden attacks of shuddering and my legs would give way. I would frequently feel strangled, like something was tightening around my stomach also. My only release was to make myself sick at times, to purge and release something. I remember clinging to my partner and just whimpering ‘help me’, I really felt no one could help me. I asked to be put out on the moors near my house, I wanted to be battered in a desolate landscape. I had fantasies of allowing the sea to just take me. When I stood by the sea near my home my spirit would be sucked out into the middle of the dark ocean to then be jolted back into my body causing a lot of pain and disorientation. In this period I did not dream much, but when I did there were malevolent presences that would come to me in my sleep dreaming state. One in particular would bind me in rope and suspend me above the dark waters that I needed to plunge myself into, I longed for the pressure of the deep ocean on my body – to split me in half and clean me in these dreams. I had also many waking dream journeys of ritually burning my physical body in arid desert landscapes as well as black voids, these came close to release but they were not quite powerful enough. The worst day, at a peak of many peaks and troughs on this journey I had a sudden realisation of how I could change how I was feeling. I knew I had to go back into the traumatic memories and walk slow motion through them. Observe them and even disable them in ways. I prepared myself for the journeying, I had nothing to loose at this point and I had always trusted my gut before now. So I stepped back into these spaces of trauma, I observed them and walked purposely through them, seeing the truth in the situations. My energy body grew until I was giant and pacing through these spaces. I was forgiving, I was cleaning these traumatic memories. I came out of the journey very tired, I slept and awoke feeling a new but subtle sense of calm and grounded-ness. I could identify with the light, with the source, I wasn’t empty any more. The realisation and perspective that work gave me about the memories felt very empowering and it felt like it rewired the memory networks towards something empowering and good. It wasn’t a sudden feeling of everything being better after the journey, I was raw . This event only occurred a few days ago so I am still in the midst of change, what I have realised is that I have become acutely aware of the physical world. Everything is vivid, everything has energy, everything is amazing ! I am finding things easier to understand and I am giving myself the space now to feel, to have the downtime to really do the work I need to. I am still very tired, I am still very raw and that is okay. I am experiencing a connectedness to the whole earth in a way I have never experienced before. In my body I have a general feeling of warmth and ease that I didn’t previously have. I know this is a period of calm and I am fully expecting to go back to the dark space as I walk this line of healing but I have some tools now and I know it is worth it. In my artistic life, the things I produce have become ways to observe and digest the complexity of the experience in ways beyond words. The pieces have also become a visual aid for protection and grounding, the images coming instinctively from my deep unconscious.”
-by Anonymous, April 2017
Many thanks to this person for their courage in sharing their truth, and also the beautiful and raw description of their process. Please feel free to add your comments and experiences below, and anything you feel may be helpful to anybody going through this process.