7 Omens That Herald the Dark Night of the Soul
I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses. – Friedrich Nietzsche
“What’s the difference between the dark night and depression?” you may still wonder.
Even back in the 16th century, Saint John of the Cross himself was at great pains to distinguish the Dark Night from mere melancholia (depression).
After all, the symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul are not that different from depression. But while depression is psychological/neurological/biological, the Dark Night heralds a deeply occurring change within known as spiritual transformation.
Here are 7 “omens” that you might be going through a Dark Night of the Soul:
- You feel a deep sense of sadness, which often verges on despair (this sadness is often triggered by the state of your life, humanity, and/or the world as a whole)
- You feel an acute sense of unworthiness
- You have the constant feeling of being lost or “condemned” to a life of suffering or emptiness
- You possess a painful feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness
- Your will and self-control is weakened, making it difficult for you to act
- You lack interest and find no joy in things that once excited you
- You crave for the loss of something intangible; a longing for a distant place or to “return home” again
The ultimate difference between depression and the Dark Night of the Soul is that depression is usually self-centric, whereas the Dark Night is philosophical in nature and is accompanied by existential reflections such as “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?”
Also, when depression ends, not much changes in your life in terms of your beliefs, values, and habits. However, when the Dark Night of the Soul ends, everything in your life is transformed, and life becomes wondrous again.
Why Suffering is Necessary
My desire to live is as intense as ever, and though my heart is broken, hearts are made to be broken: that is why God sends sorrow into the world … To me, suffering seems now a sacramental thing, that makes those whom it touches holy … any materialism in life coarsens the soul. – Oscar Wilde “Letters“
Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dąbrowski once coined a term Positive disintegration which views tension and anxiety as necessary in the process of spiritual and psychological maturing. In other words, it is the friction within us that causes the mirror of our Souls to be polished enough for us to glimpse our True Nature.
I often hear people speak of the Dark Night as some kind problem they have to “fix,” or something they “went through a long time ago, that is now over, thank God.” But what these people thought was a Dark Night may have just been a glimpse of the darkness within them, especially when they speak egotistically about it as if it were a badge of honor.
A true Dark Night of the Soul leaves a long-lasting impact on you – it changes you completely. When you exit a Dark Night, you will discover that something is always taken away from you (for the better), such as your beliefs, your perceptions, your former meaning in life, or even in rare cases, your ego.
The metaphysician Ananda Coomaraswamy put it this way:
No creature can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist.
Have you ever seen a butterfly begin to emerge from its cocoon? It must struggle in order to strengthen its wings. If someone frees the butterfly from its cocoon prematurely, it won’t be able to fly because its crucial tempering stage will not have occurred.
The same is true for trees. Trees need wind in order to build their structural strength to stay upright.
Your Dark Night of the Soul is your wind, your cocoon; it is an ego death whereby you shed the ego that prevents you from embodying your Soul.
If you try to avoid the hard work of, as Ananda put it, “ceasing to exist,” or breaking down your old confining structures, you won’t have what it takes to truly embody your essential nature.
What is the Point of Living?
Here’s another central question and concern that emerges over and over again during our Dark Night of the Soul.
What is the point of living?
Such a question weighs down on us like led, oppressing us constantly.
Each day we might obsessively search for an answer, but find to our greatest dismay that the answers to such a question are as expansive as the waves on the ocean.
Some people tell us, “the point is to serve God,” others tell us, “the point is to make a difference,” and others tell us, “there is no point: you make your own meaning.” These are only three of hundreds, even thousands of possible answers.