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It can be difficult to find the light at the end of the tunnel when going through a Dark Night of the Soul.
But with patience and understanding, it is possible to get through this challenging period in life much faster and more peacefully.
In this blog post, we will explore the 5 stages of the Dark Night of the Soul, and what to do during and after this period of spiritual transformation.
5 Stages of the Dark Night of the Soul
At times, discerning the beginning and end of a Dark Night of the Soul can be challenging. While stages 3 and 4 are commonly associated with this experience, it is important to acknowledge the other stages as well. By recognizing the gradual transition into the Dark Night, we can better understand and embrace this transformative process. Below, are the 5 stages of the Dark Night of the Soul and their significance on our personal growth and well-being.
Stage 1: The Realization
The first stage of the Dark Night of the Soul occurs when you become aware that a belief you once held is no longer valid. It is a realization of making a mistake and heading down the wrong path. The reality you face may be different from what you expected. The goals you have been pursuing might align with your ego’s desires, but they may not resonate with your authentic and spiritual self.
This realization can come as an insightful moment or through significant life events that force you to acknowledge that something isn’t working.
Stage 2: The Denial
When you have a moment of realization, it is not an immediate transition into a dark phase. Your ego will likely resist and deny this truth, doing whatever it can to defend its position and conceal its flawed premise. The ego desperately tries to fill the void in its belief system with similar substitutes to maintain its constructed identity and narrative.
This is a form of self-deception. We often convince ourselves that if we just do this one thing, everything will be better. If we find that one person or treat them better, we will feel loved. If we attain a specific job or a certain level of success, we will finally be happy. We believe that by trying harder or finding a replacement, things will change significantly.
However, the genuine spiritual essence within you is not defined by any of these conditions that the ego clings to. You are inherently joyful and loving, regardless of the conditions you think you need to achieve.
Stage 3: The Ego Death
At a certain point, your ego can no longer conceal its flawed premise. New circumstances unfold, forcing you to let go of the narrative your ego has constructed over the years. You begin to question your choices and life decisions, wondering if you have chosen the right path. You finally start to acknowledge your mistakes but this can be an uncomfortable process as we must face our own shortcomings.
This is also the breaking point for your ego identity. The strategies that once served you no longer do. The truths you held dear are no longer valid. For instance, if you believe that success means climbing the corporate ladder, securing a high-paying job, owning a house, and finding someone to love, these convictions are shattered.
While you may feel miserable, this juncture is an opportunity for growth. Letting go of your ego identity allows you to uncover your authentic, spiritual self that is hidden within you.
Stage 4: The Hiding
This stage can be described as a period of transformation and self-discovery. It is like a caterpillar entering a cocoon to undergo profound changes. During this time, you may feel lost, confused, and alone as you struggle to communicate what you are going through to others. You are in a state of transition, neither fully the caterpillar nor the butterfly. It is a process of digesting and disintegrating parts of yourself while forming a new identity.
When you go through this process of purging, you may feel like you have nothing left. This phase can sometimes bring feelings of hopelessness and despair, as the end may not be clear to you yet. You know what you don’t want, but you are unsure of what you are becoming or what you truly desire. This can lead to fear, anxiety, and even depression. It often triggers an existential crisis, causing you to question your purpose in life, and your connection with the world and those around you.
But when you are vibrating at a low frequency, it is difficult to recognize the guidance from the Universe and listen to your intuition. You may also struggle to accept help and advice from others.
Stage 5: The Rebirth
The final stage is when you undergo self-reorganization, embracing a new identity and preparing to face the world once again.
At this stage, you start to experience the emergence of your true self. Your new identity can be shaped by your intuition or by following the guidance of the Universe. Seeking support from spiritual mentors, teachers, mediums, friends, and family can provide valuable insights into your purpose too.
However, it’s important to discern if their advice resonates with your soul. Remember, no one should dictate what you should do. Teachers can offer different perspectives that may open your eyes to new possibilities. Ultimately, you have the freedom to choose your path. Blindly accepting everything a teacher says is akin to the ego mindlessly conforming to societal norms.
When you are finally ready to face the world, you emerge out of your cocoon as a butterfly and continue the spiritual awakening process.
What to Do During the Dark Night of the Soul?
1. Embrace it instead of resisting it.
The Dark Night of the Soul is not something that needs fixing. It is a stage we go through during spiritual awakening. Surrendering and following the guidance of your soul is the best way to navigate this transformative journey. Resistance only slows down your progress. So trust the path your soul is leading you on.
When you go against the flow, you suffer.
When you go with the flow, you enjoy the ride.
Resisting emotional pain only intensifies its impact, making it more unbearable. The more you hold onto the past identity and stories that your ego has created for you, the more you are going to suffer. On the other hand, if you embrace the Dark Night as an opportunity for growth, it will ease the journey and accelerate transformation.
During my initial Dark Night experience, I endured two months of depression characterized by tears, panic attacks, and resistance. Years later, I faced it again, shedding attachments and identities tied to people and relationships. But having gone through it before, I recognize its value for spiritual development and expansion. Embracing and surrendering to the process, my second experience feels more like a transformative “growth period” rather than a Dark Night.
The duration of your Dark Night depends on your willingness to release your old identity. Letting go happens instantly, but the ego often resists, urging for one more attempt to keep the old narrative. However, to embrace the goodness that awaits, it requires you to release the caterpillar identity to become a butterfly. You can’t be a butterfly while continuing to be a caterpillar.
2. Allow the intense emotions to surface even if they seem scary.
During the Dark Night of the Soul, one may undergo intense emotions that were previously suppressed or ignored. These may include feelings of loneliness, sadness, shame, powerlessness, worthlessness, anger, abandonment, and grief. It can be a scary and overwhelming experience as everything seems to be falling apart, and emotions spiral out of control.
However, understanding that this fear stems from the dying ego can provide clarity and relief. The ego is losing control and its ability to dictate direction, causing the collapse of the conceptual structure it relies on to survive. Naturally, the ego will panic and grasp onto anything it can.
In this phase, it is common to feel the urge to blame and resent others for the circumstances, especially when the Dark Night is triggered by external events like the loss of a loved one, physical accidents, sudden illness, job loss, or relationship breakdown. The ego seeks to avoid pain and seeks relief through blame.
But when you blame, you are deflecting your emotional pain to others.
You are not processing the stuck energy in your body.
Focusing on others and their actions doesn’t facilitate emotional processing. It simply hinders personal growth by avoiding necessary pain and transformation. Instead, direct your attention to your physical sensations and embrace the discomfort as it passes through you. Avoid judgment towards your emotions and yourself for experiencing them. When dealing with the loss of something meaningful, it’s natural to feel emotions such as grief and anger. Remember, the pain is ready to be released and is being brought to your attention for growth. Embrace this growth, even if it feels challenging from the perspective of the ego.
3. Practice solitude to minimize the influence of others.
During the Dark Night of the Soul, individuals often seek solitude and lose interest in social interactions. While support from loved ones and mentors can be beneficial, solitude is usually more conducive during this period.
Our previous identity, constructed by our ego, is often a result of societal conditioning. Society places value on materialistic achievements such as wealth, career success, ideal relationships, family, and physical appearance.
However, when experiencing a Dark Night, these external factors become meaningless and lose significance. Despite good intentions from others, the influence and noise from society can be overwhelming, dictating who we should be and what we should do. It is essential to embrace solitude when redefining our identity, allowing us to gain clarity on our desires and aspirations.
Practicing solitude helps you to turn inwards and to connect with the soul.
Social conditioning has played a significant role in shaping our lives. However, moving forward, it is crucial to follow your true passions and desires, guided by your soul. Discovering your purpose and embracing personal growth can be best achieved when you are alone and free from the influence of others’ opinions.
It’s important to understand that not everyone may comprehend your spiritual journey, especially if they haven’t experienced a Dark Night themselves. Trying to communicate with them might lead to feelings of disconnection, hopelessness, and frustration. Allocating time for meditation, journaling, contemplation, and inner work can provide a more fulfilling alternative.
If you find yourself struggling, seek support from individuals who have encountered the Dark Night of the Soul or explore spiritual books by authors like Eckhart Tolle, who have gone through similar experiences. But always remember, your journey is unique. Don’t copy or compare your progress to the journey of others.
4. Be patient and trust the process.
Many people wonder, “How long does the Dark Night of the Soul last?” The duration varies for each individual, ranging from weeks to months or even years. Some individuals progress through it more swiftly due to their deep connection with their soul, while others may take longer due to the amount they need to release and let go.
Each dark night has its unique theme, and its duration is dependent on your readiness to let go of that specific theme. For instance, my first dark night, related to my career, was shorter as my attachment to my career wasn’t that strong. On the other hand, when it comes to relationships, shedding deeply ingrained beliefs from childhood takes longer due to the multiple layers involved.
As previously mentioned, the length of the Dark Night of the Soul also relies on the level of allowance. It involves surrendering, letting the soul take control, and building trust. By cultivating trust, you accelerate the process and bring about a transformation faster.
Your spirit knows exactly when the process will be completed.
There is nothing much to do other than to be patient and trust that the end will come at the perfect time.
It is important to note that one doesn’t get gradually better during the Dark Night of the Soul as it’s not an incremental process. When you come out of the Dark Night, it feels like a sudden transformation. It’s like going through a dark tunnel. Most of your journey will be dark. But when you reach the end of the tunnel suddenly you see the light shining in and illuminating your view.
Another good analogy for this is boiling water. When you reach the boiling point, you transform from water to steam at that instant. But all this while when you are heating up and increasing in temperature, you are still water. That last increase in degree makes all the difference and enables the transformation from water to steam to take place. So trust the process and don’t interfere with it. Allow your soul to bring you insights and a new purpose to your life.
Signs that the Dark Night of the Soul Is Ending
The signs that the Dark Night of the Soul is coming to an end include:
- You feel more peaceful and joyful.
- You feel more connected with your true self and the world.
- There is a renewed sense of purpose and direction.
- You feel more energized and restored.
- You may feel inspired to take action again or driven to pursue goals that seemed unimportant before.
- There is increased clarity, understanding, and guidance.
- You become acutely aware of the spiritual aspects of your life – not just the material ones.
The best way to tell that the process is coming to an end is when you feel more like your authentic self. Connecting with your true essence grants you the wisdom to discern what truly aligns with your being. At this stage, your inner wisdom gains strength, banishing all lingering doubts that once obscured your judgment. As a result, your Dark Night of the Soul dissipates into obscurity, as if it never existed.
What Happens After You Go Through the Dark Night of the Soul?
After experiencing a transformative journey, you may need to make adjustments in various aspects of your life. Just like a butterfly with a newfound purpose, you might have to consider changes in your career, relationships, and lifestyle. You can’t live like a caterpillar anymore.
For me, emerging from my Dark Night of the Soul led me to embrace my identity as a writer. While I had been writing before, it was during this period that I gained clarity and commitment to my craft. Additionally, I prioritized peace and self-compassion, which led me to let go of relationships that no longer supported my growth.
The aftermath of the Dark Night of the Soul flips your world upside down, offering a fresh start on a clean slate. Everything feels different as you see things through new eyes. People around you may not understand this transformation, and that’s alright. There is no need to explain or argue with them. They will either adjust to the new “you” or naturally drift away.
Be open to having more Dark Nights in the future.
For most of us, the ego has not died completely.
At the end of my book, The Emotional Gift, I wrote, “Perhaps we need to die multiple times in order to realize the true meaning of life. I’m grateful I died today.” What I’m referring to is ego death. What dies, in essence, is the ego identity, but only part of it dies in the process.
In my case, I no longer attach too much importance to my career identity or even my identity as a writer. I understand that these roles do not define me entirely. However, I still find myself deriving some sense of self from my relationships, even after going through my first Dark Night.
It is important to note that most of us, unless deeply connected to our spirit or dedicated to spirituality, will continue to act from our ego at times, even after experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul. And that’s perfectly okay. We don’t have to completely eliminate our ego. In fact, maintaining a healthy ego can help us navigate the physical world effectively. A complete spiritual path may not be suitable for everyone.
After experiencing a Dark Night, we reach a stable point where both the spirit and ego can coexist harmoniously, at least for the time being. The ego acknowledges its diminished power over our consciousness, while the spirit takes charge. As long as the ego still has something to hold onto and some degree of control, this state can be sustained.
However, if your soul seeks further growth and expansion, yet the ego resists, another Dark Night may be on the horizon.
The Dark Night of the Soul can be one of the most difficult experiences we ever face, but it is also one of our greatest gifts. It can teach us valuable lessons about our true selves and prepare us to take the next step in our spiritual journey.
To learn more about what’s next, I recommend reading my article on the 8 stages of spiritual awakening.
Featured Photo Credit: Lukas Rychvalsky