Recently a friend asked me if while you’re in a dark night of the soul, good things can still happen in your life. Now, this might sound like a strange question, but it’s not surprising to hear. People who know a bit about dark nights might know that dark nights are often accompanied by outwardly challenging experiences in our life, and so they might wonder, shouldn’t good experiences in my life mean I’m not in a dark night? In other words, why am I unhappy if good things are happening?
She also shared with me her disillusionment with certain labels and identities that have been a part of her life, those she’s embraced herself and some that society puts onto us. In all of this she feels lost and not sure what to make of it, even though she can feel that there is an opening for her within all of this.
My response to this is below, as is some general thoughts and advice on dark nights, for what they’re worth:
In my experience, I/you/anyone can be in a dark night no matter what is going on in life. And I would say that the more dark nights a person experiences, the less likely they are to manifest externally, mainly because ideally we’re getting more and more capable of recognizing the dark night that is happening internally for us and we’re not projecting it outward, causing problems where there were none to begin with.
In a person’s first dark night and if they don’t have teachers/mentors/peers, it’s likely that they will project their dark night outward onto the world, which itself causes problems in life. If however, we have help and we’re really aware that we’re in a dark night, not only will fewer negative things happen in our life due to it, it’s even possible that good things can be happening because of it, even if we’re not in a place to fully appreciate it. I remember reading in Dark Night of the Soul something about God (Life) working on us, giving to us, even in our darkest moments when we feel nothing is going right and we feel we have no blessings from the universe.
I think your struggle of feeling like you want to ruin your life and that you want to escape is most likely tied into your dark night. That’s to say, it feels really normal. And inside of what you’re feeling is the answer, the opening, the koan, the mystery. I would guess you’re wanting to open up spiritually to an even deeper experience of yourself and life, which means you have to die to and let go of labels of any kind. And it’s more than “labels”. It’s identity. And you’ve pushed the boundaries of your current identity, and have likely opened beyond it, but are stuck a bit. You’ll need to find a way to let go deeply within, beyond those identities, to the point of not even caring one way or another about those identities, to not care about identity itself. I don’t mean to say identity isn’t important. It is. Our egos and sense of self matter deeply. It just seems that you are letting go of an old one and a new one will emerge.
Also, this isn’t apathy. It’s like taking a big pile of clothes off of you so you can feel the breeze and the sun. There’s freedom and opening beyond it, and you’re aware of it, which also is why you are in a dark night. And you know this already. And you know your idea of going on a vacation is really you dark nighting and avoiding the process, which is ok and common. We all do these things in dark nights.
What might be helpful is to find spiritual practices to help you in your process, to let it unfold on it’s own. This will likely mean you practicing in new ways then you have before. Even if the practices are ones you’ve done in the past, your understanding and application of it will be very different. It has to be. This is sometimes a challenging aspect of the dark night. In a sense we’re trying to use a tool that just isn’t going to do the job, but we keep banging away with it anyways. Again, I’m not saying you need a new tool, but you will either use it in a new way, or see it in a new way, and you’ll need to be open to that from the beginning. After you move through this, deeper insight about it that is more specific will become clear to you in due time.
And really, so much of this is simply tender opening and surrendering. So much so that I find it hard to say “do this”. But it’s impossible for you or I to say nothing or do nothing, and so what I’ve said is just my humble attempt to offer some love from my own experience. Your process will emerge on its own accord and be your own uniquely. Have patience and compassion for yourself, like a mother to a newborn child.
And then you have freedom, and then another dark night. And then freedom. And then dark night. It’s not that simple really, it all spirals and cycles and that’s the rub of being human, I think. It’s never over. It’s awesome and frustrating at the same time. But we definitely get better at it with practice. And I feel that you are very strong and very self-aware and you are already on track with what you need for yourself spiritually. Stay encouraged and see the strength that has brought you to this point and know that it will see you through this.
Don’t know if any of this is helpful, but it was nice for me to reflect on and share.
*I wrote a post about the dark night of the soul experienced in the Buddhist path. If you’re interested, you can read it here.
Very deep and insightful. I believe anyone may take this lesson and advice and be able to apply it to themselves in their own unique way. Myself included. Thanks , Ryan. Namaste! 🙂
I’m struggling to accept the simple idea that there can be no light without darkness. I thought of it before as metaphor; now it couldn’t be more real to me. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have bootstraps.
I’ve always been a coward. The irrationality of the way people treat each other terrifies me even though I keep being shown that in the big picture it is process by which reality builds itself, hierarchical mind organising bottom up & top down, meeting in subjective experience.
Irrationality seems to be necessary to drive the blooming such that rationality can harvest truths from the stories to generate the organisation. How can I remain so fearful despite seeing order unfold at both ends? I wanted irrationality to be a transient, not fundamental & instead I find this cyclic hierarchy, mind, non-locality, the multiplicity, karmic structure. Modal realism. Mind fragmenting, assuming roles & telling stories; the dreamers & the dream.
And I’m still frightened, frustrated, disappointed. Did I mention terror? I’ve given up asking if I should laugh or cry; quicker just to do both at once.
Thank you for your words.