Kelly Brogan MD – Holistic Women’s Health Psychiatry
The Dark Night of the Soul has been referenced by spiritual teachers for ages. It is an inner journey that one is called to undertake at various stages in life, one where the mind’s limited perceptions of reality are utterly transformed. This experience can be considered a form of death: the dissolution of an ideal, a rupture in a comfort zone, and the recalibration of a belief system that is no longer valid for the destiny you are here to realize as a conscious, awakened soul.
The Dark Night can be sparked by any major life change or challenge: the ending of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of home or income or any perceived traumatic event. It may also arise as a natural progression of one’s spiritual evolution, a call to surrender all attachments to an identity limiting one's soul potential. Grief, anger, depression, guilt, heartache, despondency, and physical and mental exhaustion are a few of the states that may accompany this profound journey.
Embracing the darkness
We as a culture are going through a collective Dark Night of the Soul. All of the changes and uprisings we are witnessing in the world – environmental, political, racial, financial, medical, and gender inequality – are indicators of a (r)evolutionary shift in consciousness. These external stirrings are activating our personal shadows, reflecting the changes that must occur internally if we are to birth a new era and usher in a new paradigm. This isn’t something that may happen. This IS happening.
Everything that we perceive outside of us is actually a part of us, a projection from within; hence, all we see is but a shadow of our internal reality. In order to become empowered, we must face and embrace the external symbols that reflect our internal darkness. When we choose to take full responsibility for being the creators of life ̶ pulling back our negative projections, accepting our darkness and coming face to face with our inner demons ̶ we open the doorway to a spiritual transformation that leads to a profound shift in consciousness.
This alchemical process looks very much like a healing crisis as the limited personality transfigures through the Dark Night and is reborn as its true Self. However, as long as we hold the belief that we are victims of some external reality, we cannot traverse the spiritual birth canal and actualize that great being within: the soul.
Why me?During one of my many sojourns into the Dark Night, I found myself protesting, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Why must I endure such pain and suffering?” I was deep in my despair, pleading with God, the universe and anyone who would listen, searching for a clue, some morsel of wisdom as to why anyone should have to go through such an experience. At my lowest point, I came across the movie Joseph, a portrayal of the biblical story of the favorite son of Jacob who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. I watched in awe as Joseph’s ordeal spoke to my distress and responded to my questions, consoling my weary mind and helping me accept my intense experiences. After watching this epic saga, I was humbled by this portrayal of one man’s struggle through a series of adversities, unjustified incarceration and the enduring of extreme psychological pain and suffering. Joseph’s life was the embodiment of The Dark Night of the Soul, and yet, despite his many trials and tribulations, he arose victorious. Each descent into the Dark Night was an initiatory experience preparing him for a future time that required unwavering presence. Ultimately, due to his faith and inner resolve, he rose from the lowest position to the second highest saving all of Egypt from famine.
Staying the courseThere is no way Joseph could have known where his future was going; all he knew was to stay the course, to trust the process and keep the faith. This is the most important guidance when sitting in the Dark Night, for a metamorphosis is unfolding that cannot be understood, one that will test the limits of endurance and challenge your cast-iron convictions. You will be asked to accept the unacceptable, to forgive the unforgivable, to surrender all past transgressions no matter how unjust, unfair or injurious. You will be asked to befriend the shadow, that you may transform that shadow, burning through the darkness in the transfiguration. Staying fully present with what is arising is essential, for as you surrender into the depths of the experience, an alchemical process is activated, transmuting darkness into light: a spiritual current that opens the heart, purifies the mind, expands one’s consciousness and, ultimately, leads to enlightenment - the capacity to perceive beyond the veil of separation and embody unity consciousness. The story of Nelson Mandela’s life exemplifies this experience: of being with what is, of allowing the darkness to purify one’s consciousness until it is time to arise transformed. His contribution to South Africa after his liberation was monumental, a testament to what can occur when we fully surrender into the darkness and accept the challenges imposed upon us as a catalyst to realizing some greater truth.
Identity is a constructWho you think you are is simply a mental construct, a conditioned persona that wears a societal mask. However, to connect with your soul and fulfill its purpose, that mask must come off. In order to go through this profound transformation, it is important to accept that who you are today is but a shadow of your true Self, and that all of your afflictions are fodder for the transformation you are destined to go through and not something to “get rid of.” The muck of your existence is the fertile soil from which you grow into a great being. Avoiding issues, distracting yourself with inane pursuits and suppressing symptoms is to bypass the purpose of life: to heal and become whole. However, we as a culture are conditioned to strive for happiness, to eradicate “negative” feelings and experiences at all cost. This incessant need to “feel good” and regard all negative states as problematic can lead to behaviors that are numbing in order to evade the darkness. Looking towards the external world to “cut the edge” of internal pain and suffering by engaging in addictive behaviors (recreational drugs, alcohol, sex, work, shopping, etc.) or taking anti-feeling meds all serve to numb the deeper, more painful aspects of our psyche, leaving us but a shell of a human, walking around in a semiconscious daze we call life. But despite all the distractions, the feelings never go away; they simply go underground until they emerge once again, this time louder and more persistent in the form of disease. Hence, the commitment to be with all that arises is the cornerstone for success. And even though there may be profound personal suffering, the evolution that occurs during the Dark Night is beyond personal gain. Rather, it is for the collective, for each time one of us goes through this experience, we become a beacon for others who are struggling, for those who are trying to make sense of a world that is unraveling in a reality that is shifting faster than the mind can comprehend. Therefore, our individual healing alleviates the collective wound and our transformed presence serves as a catalyst arousing others to embark on the path of awakening.
How do you know you're in it?When the Dark Night appears, things begin to go haywire as the once stable existence of your life is turned upon its head. The mind has a hard time making sense of its shifting reality as the inner world erupts with intense feelings not previously present. Fear, confusion, anxiety, depression, and a host of other emotions may emerge as Pandora’s Box is flung open revealing the contents of the subconscious, a domain that runs 95% of our lives. When confronted by the complex realities and inexplicable paradoxes operating within this unexplored terrain, chaos ensues as the foundation that was once considered “normal life” comes apart. In this place, existential questions arise from the void of dissolution: Who am I? What is my purpose? What’s the point of life? What is going on?
Indeed, what is going on?Change. Profound change is going on, and anytime you try to answer any one of these questions, 10 more arise for there is no self to respond from when in the throes of the Dark Night. The feeling is like being in between worlds, within a paradox of existence: in the body but void of substance; possessed of a mind but lacking coherence; and completely present but with a center that is both everywhere and nowhere. There is no anchor, for there is no identity, for there is no self. Then, slowly, things begin to reassemble. With clear vision and a shift in perspective a new paradigm erupts. Those things that formerly captivated you may no longer hold any interest. There may emerge the desire to change careers, end relationships, move the location of your home, minimize social interactions, modify the diet or alter any number of life experiences. Change becomes the name of the game as you simplify your life to reflect the greater truth within.
Guidance and supportHaving a spiritual teacher/mentor during the Dark Night is paramount. If I didn’t have someone “holding space” for me, translating the energetic nuances during these difficult times, I don’t know how I would’ve navigated the difficult and complex terrain alone. It is wise to choose an adept, a skilled veteran who has been through the alchemical process, that you may be guided by someone with direct experience. Also, a holistic practitioner who works with natural approaches to health and healing will prove to be an invaluable ally during these times. I have found energy medicine, specifically flower essences, to be a godsend during these challenging times. In my holistic healing practice, flower essences have proven to be the most expeditious medicine for my clients as they effectively support the clearing of old patterns and the integration of new paradigms. When intense acute states arise, they are able to alleviate symptoms quickly and efficiently, thereby restoring balance to the body and mind. However, these remedies do not suppress what is arising; instead, they generate a quickening in comprehension of the underlying cause of dis-ease, allowing for the full assimilation of the experience while minimizing pain and suffering. During the Dark Night I have found these specific flower essences to be of greatest assistance: Aspen is beneficial when anxiety and fears of the unknown arise, for when there are vague feelings that something terrible is going to happen. Cherry Plum supports those times when there is a fear of letting go, of losing control and having a mental/emotional breakdown. These are times of high stress and anxiety due to unconscious patterns/conflicts/shadows rising to the surface. Elm is helpful when there is a feeling of overwhelm due to all the stressors of the inner transformation, where daily tasks and responsibilities are simply impossible to attend to. Gorse helps when feelings of depression and hopelessness are present, where there is great suffering and the sense that things will not get better. Mimilus quells everyday known fears such as the fear of death, failure, pain, poverty or the future. Mustard clears temporary feelings of depression/melancholy, as if a dark cloud has descended out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. Pine is useful when there is guilt, self-blame, self-criticism and a negative self-image. Feelings of despondency, unworthiness and inferiority can be allayed with Pine. Rescue Remedy is helpful for the initial stages of any traumatic experience to quickly reestablish equilibrium. Star of Bethlehem is a healing balm that neutralizes past shock and trauma, thereby restoring the self-healing mechanism of the body/mind. Sweet Chestnut is the foremost remedy for the Dark Night of the Soul as it addresses the feelings of extreme despair, dejection and loneliness. It is to be taken when one has reached “rock bottom” where there is helplessness, isolation and the feeling of being utterly lost inside. Walnut is the “breaker of spells” and assists in cutting the cords with the past. It helps with making healthy transitions and important changes when stuck in old paradigms or caught in relationships that no longer serve. Walnut encourages taking the necessary steps to fulfill the soul’s destiny. Remedies can be taken singularly or in combination with others. A skilled flower essence therapist is able to pinpoint which remedies are most needed to facilitate a graceful transition through the Dark Night of the Soul.
A boon for the soulWhen the Dark Night descends, it should be considered a blessing as it a sign of great things to come. It is the doorway to an evolution in consciousness that the soul has been anticipating since birth. The thought of welcoming the Dark Night as if you were inviting a friend over may sound absurd, but it is anything but, as it initiates a shift in consciousness that ultimately births the true Self. Imagine the caterpillar that one day awakens to realize that the life it has been living is now complete. It has gone as far as it could in its inching reality and it is now time to expand beyond its known identity. Without any resistance, it embraces the inner call to evolve and instinctually creates a space where it can go through the transformation. During this time, it morphs into another, seemingly unrecognizable being, dying to its former limited self as it realizes the transcendent Self. You are the caterpillar. And you are the butterfly. When the Dark Night descends, embrace it, that you may grow wings to reach the heights that reveal the sights your soul has longed to see. Blessings on your journey… Joseph Aldo Joseph Aldo, PhD is an intuitive holistic healer, spiritual mentor and holds a PhD in Natural Health. For over 20 years he has provided guidance and support for healers and lay people who are on a conscious path of healing. He is an author, poet, inspirational speaker and facilitator of transformational workshops. Joseph holds a private practice in NYC and Asheville, NC.
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