Finding your way through the scariest, and most precious moment of your life.
Sooner or later, we will all be broken by life. The lost job. The career failing. Relationships end. Heartbreak. Divorce with all of its warts. The loss of the loved: Mom, Dad, a sibling, or a son or daughter. The death of your best friend, who may have been a cat, or a dog. Loss can come out of nowhere. A rug pulled out from under you in such a way that you no longer know which way is up. The energy from a triggering event can be too much, overwhelming the system. Suddenly, there exists a massive doubt about who you thought you were. Perhaps realizing that life has been lived inauthentically. The identity that you once knew has been lifted, exposing you in a way that feels naked. There may be hopelessness. Despair. Seeing reality for what it really is. Or losing who you thought you were. Groundlessness, meaning all that you knew about yourself, or the world, has been yanked from beneath you. The sense of self flipped on its head. Where do you stand? How do you stand? What, or Who do you hold onto? So disorienting. Everything seems backwards. Terrifying. The sense of confusion and helplessness are palpable. You feel shook to your core. You wonder if you can go on. This is the dark night of the soul.
"Sometimes, when you're in a dark place, you think you've been buried, but you've actually been planted." - Christine Cane.
Whatever it was that brought you here, did so because you needed to visit. Finding yourself in what feels like the lowest of the low, is a sign of the necessity for change. Change in the direction of growth. The Dark Night of the Soul is an invitation to look deeper into your habits, your conditioning, your values, your perspectives, and ultimately, your relationship with yourself. A time to restructure how you view yourself and how you relate to others. Despite how shitty it feels, this is an inflection point toward health and healing. Shinzen Young said it's like falling into the pit of the void - having deep, authentic insights, but not being able to handle them.
The Dark Night of the Soul opens us to illumination. To get through it, one must go slow, very slow. Marisa Handler talks about being in the middle of it, and all that's needed is to survive it. Read that again. One day at a time. One hour. One minute. This is a time for surrender. This means being with things as they are, not how you think they should be. Doing nothing can be healing. Your past, your conditioning needs to be metabolized. This is especially true for those of us who've suffered from attachment wounds, and those of use who are chronically living in a state of threat, anxiety, constantly doing, trying to become someone, or achieve something, and never feeling safe in one's body.
Getting through this is taking a plunge into the unknown. It's making friends with the fear, the uncertainty and the doubt. Doing nothing, being with the darkness and the raw, new insights may go against all that you've known. You'd rather do ANYTHING to avoid sitting with these new uncomfortable truths. The discomfort will feel absurd. This is why surviving this requires a heavy dose of self-compassion. As the Buddha said, "You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." This means talking to yourself as you would talk to a friend, who's going through the same thing. You'd hit them with some truth bombs: 'This too shall pass. This is not a reflection of you being a bad person. You're a human, and life is fucking difficult. You're going through it right now, but you'll emerge from this prouder than you've ever been of yourself. You don't need to be perfect. You don't need to have a perfect life. I love you, keep going.'
In summary, what is the dark night of the soul? The dark night is a period of intense grief, and then an opening to new insights that shake up the system. It is recognizing the lack of solidity. The truth of impermanence. The reality that I lack control. The death of an old identity. A burying of the old me, and the ways I used to relate to others. A funeral for the ways I used to think about myself. These insights are new openings. Initially, they cause quite the disturbance, a feeling of being completely destabilized. However, with time, easing slowly into it the depths of it all, with an attitude of healthy surrender, and a lot of self-compassion, you will emerge from it, not unscathed, but battle wounded and tender, and more wise and more skillful. A different version of who you were. A healthier version. An uplifted, tender, imperfect, raw and compassionate new you. Well done. If you're going though it right now, please keep going. Please reach out to someone. Please find safety in your body, or in nature. Please be kind to yourself. Please remember impermanence applies to this too. Please. Just. Survive.
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I'm a licensed psychotherapist (similar to a psychologist) in Vietnam. To learn more about your the dark night of the soul, and how to heal, please contact me for a therapy session.
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