Navigating dark nights of the soul

Have you ever been — or are you now — in a time of your life where you felt you were in a dark night of the soul?  Emotions so intense, crazy-making, and dark that you just don’t know what to do with them?  And that your disorienting, lonely experience is made even worse because the dominant culture doesn’t have a place for darkness?

Today I want to open the pages of my diary, as it were, and share a personal story about my own journey into the dark and the surprising, wildly-helpful things I took from it.  I trust it will support you along your own journey, and reintroduce you to the wisdom and power inside even the darkest of nights.

So, here goes …

A few years ago as I was working on my book, I was writing a section called Cultivating Your Light, a series of practices and mindset shifts that help to make life brighter and more full of joy and pleasure each day.  It’s a beloved and highly effective body of work that I have refined through about 14 years of work in my own life and in private practice with clients.

And then…

I got very sick.

I was plunged into a darkness that was unfamiliar, painful, and disorienting.  I felt abandoned by life and separated from the sacred — a dark night of my soul.

For nearly two years, in the throes of an unknown illness, I would cry uncontrollably, turn ice-cold, and shake so badly I wouldn’t be able to fit my door key into the lock.  About every other night, I would wake up at 4am, dreaming of dying, and would be unable to get back to sleep.  I felt the self-doubt and self-loathing of my 20s come back to haunt my heart.  I had strange bouts of fatigue so that all I could manage was to lie down on the bed and breathe, fuzzy-headed, and overwhelmed.

All the Cultivating Your Light skills I was writing about and that used to do it for me — including food, supplements, meditations, and self-care — stopped working.  In between visits to this doctor and that healer, I felt alone and terrified, wondering if I was going crazy or if I was heading toward death.

And then.

And then I then learned that a dark night of the soul is a term coined by a rebellious Spanish monk, Saint John of the Cross.

It refers to a stripping away, a time of such spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional agony that it renders you naked — and is, according to this radical saint, a blessing of the highest order.

I found a way to approach my dark time and each of my dark parts as a blessing rather than a curse, as something wise to learn from rather than crazy.

I am not saying this was easy.  Nor was it quick.  But it was profound.

I developed a depth of understanding of the root of human suffering and what can actually help — and translated it humbly into the section of my book titled Navigating Your Dark.

It is where the book starts, more or less, since I now know that all great journeys — especially the journeys we take through our shadow in order to come closer to our dear selves — begin in the dark.

Three life-altering bits of wisdom available through Navigating Your Dark:

1.  The dark is an essential part of the death-rebirth cycle.

Right now, out my window, it is a riot of springtime.  Carpets of green grass, stretches of neon red poppies, and impossibly tender tree leaves joyfully proclaim this season of rebirth.

And in six months or so, it will all be stripped away, rendered naked, and the natural world will experience a kind of a death.

This isn’t a mistake.  Nature doesn’t miscalculate.  After every winter comes spring, always and without fail.  And while you might have a preference for one season over the other, you probably don’t make nature wrong for her cycle of death and rebirth, her seasons of dark and light.

What you can respect in nature, you would do good to revere in yourself.

You will feel up and you will fill feel down.  You will be in the light and then you will be in the dark.  You will feel you are in a rebirth and then you will feel you are in a kind of a death.

It is a blessing to know that the dark — the unlit, unknown, falling, failing, struggling — doesn’t mark the end of your journey; it is the fertile void in which a nascent part of you first germinates and is then (always and without fail) reborn.

2.  The dark always lasts longer and hurts more than we think it should.

“What’s wrong with me?  I can’t.  I can’t bear it.  This has gone on too long.  I can’t stand it.  I thought I dealt with this already.  I can’t do it.  It’s impossible.  It’s too hard.  This again?  What’s wrong with me?”

These are the sounds of the season of the dark.

When those specters howl at you, you might assume you have fallen off your path.  But really, the dark is a PART of your path, and those terrifying voices are markers to let you know where you are on the map.

You are in the dark part of the death-rebirth cycle — a holy place, even though it hurts like hell.

3.  Your true power is buried in the parts of you that you have disowned.

Look, you and I, we live in a world that prizes the rational, linear, thinking, reasoning, goal-oriented, ON-all-the-time, competitive strengths in all of us.  Prostrates to these strengths, in fact, as though they are golden idols.

And so what do we do with the intuitive, emotional, wildly-feeling, cyclical, sensual, receptive, desirous parts of ourselves?

We hide them away and stuff them down.  We trade in who we know ourselves to be for who we think we are supposed to be. We go to war with ourselves.

Whatever you have stuffed and hidden goes into your dark parts — your shadow, if you will.

But, your shadow is not the opposite of the light, good parts of you.

Your shadow holds the parts of you that you have disavowed, discredited, or simply have yet to meet.  And once you are able to actually look at the un-seeable in yourself, boom!  You have sudden access to your once-buried power, confidence, and joy.

Your dark parts are wise.  As my friend Annie likes to say, they are messengers from the beyond, from our collective soul, each with a nugget of truth for you about what you hold dear and what’s your next move.

The dark is where an aspect of your inner authority is born.

So, it turns out that going through a bad time can be a good thing.

While I never wish pain upon anyone, I do know that all dark times, even the ones that obscure the light of your soul, can indeed be a blessing of the highest order.

I do know that all of your dark parts love the stuffing out of you, and can’t wait to reacquaint you with your true power.

And I do know that when you are not trying to avoid the dark, ironically it becomes easier to live in the light and live AS the light.

This is the genius of Feminine Genius.

A few days ago, I was on the phone with a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in a few years.  We met in the fifth grade, became best buddies, and have stayed in touch over the last 30+ years (!) as we’ve both moved multiple times, gotten married, created careers, and birthed babies.

She asked me a forthright question about my forthcoming book (Feminine Genius: The Provocative Path to Waking Up and Turning On the Wisdom of Being a Woman is now available for pre-order!):

“So, I really want to know, friend to friend.  Do you really USE the practices and information in the book?  Or do you secretly feel like a hypocrite, and think, ‘oh, if only the people reading my book actually KNEW how it really is for me…?’”

The truth is no, Lexie (hiya, friend), I DON’T feel like a hypocrite for letting my book loose in the world, for sharing this radical set of mindsets, practices, and skills for us all to flourish in this “man’s world.”

I probably WOULD had I not visited the dark for such a prolonged stay.

I probably WOULD if I was preaching about yet another magic pill or practice that will insure you never have to go into the dark and will therefore be happy and painless forever more — which is the charlatan promise of so much spiritual and self-help rhetoric.

So, no, Lexie, I DON’T worry, “oh, if only the people reading my book actually KNEW how it really is for me…”

I think, “if only we all actually KNEW Feminine Genius, we would each feel more able to live with courage and swagger.  We would feel at home in our skin, trusting our own desires and impulses, respecting the up and down of it all, and truly loving the self we wake up with every morning.

And in this world that tells us a thousand times a day all the ways we are crazy, deficient, and wrong, we would instead feel JUST RIGHT.

Now your turn.  Come share with us what a dark night of the soul looks like and feels like for you.  I’ll meet you there.

To your dark, your light, and especially the everything-in-between,

 

PS: My book, Feminine Genius: The Provocative Path to Waking Up and Turning On the Wisdom of Being a Woman is now available for pre-order!

And one of your two “thank you for pre-ordering” bonuses is an interview series with 16 luminaries, one of which is Mirabai Starr, in whose extraordinary book Caravan of No Despair, I first learned of the dark night of the soul.  Come hear my deep dive with this modern mystic who truly brings the Sacred Feminine down to earth, as well as a 2-Hour MasterClass with moi, when you pre-order Feminine Genius.