SPIRITUAL CRISIS - DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
"You cannot find the Light unless you enter the darkness"
~ an ancient mystical insight
Dark night of the soul, holy madness, spiritual emergency spiritual crisis, spiritual madness, and spiritual emergence are various phrases that have been used to describe a unique experience - a profound test of faith, endurance, inner purification and surrender - that is a necessary part of walking the path back home to God.
Because of these experiences, one rises to a higher state of divine beingness and becomes much closer to All That Is. Sooner or later, this lifetime or next, everyone will journey through the dark night.
Today, many people on this planet are searching for a deeper meaning and purpose to life. Struggling for survival and happiness in the material world just doesn't seem to satisfy the human potential anymore.
More and more we're becoming bored and frustrated with the routines of everyday life, whether it's with our careers, our personal lives or our relationships with other people.Â It seems that the average human consciousness is so bogged down with the pressures of daily living, it takes an intense, emotional upheaval to jar it awake even a slight degree.
Deep inside we're beginning to realize that our hunger for the material comforts and pleasures of life eventually leaves us feeling empty and incomplete. We then begin to suspect that lasting peace and happiness is an inner thing. As a result, many individuals are looking into the spiritual or mystical realms for a greater sense of purpose, direction and meaning to life. In the process, we find ourselves asking "who am I really, what am I doing here, or what is the real purpose of life on this planet?"
If we're ready, these kinds of questions will awaken a yearning deep within that inspires us to look for answers. Other times a serious life crisis or a profound mystical event can have the same effect. Its purpose is to open our eyes to the physical-world dream we've been trapped in for a very long time. In the end, we find that we're really searching for God.
If we don't find answers to these questions, we'll continue going round and round on the wheel of karma and reincarnation with many births, lives, deaths and rebirths until we do. One of the purposes of the dark night is to help us break that cycle so that we no longer attach to or anchor ourselves in the physical world of planet Earth.
Our search for the truth helps us to awaken spiritually. More importantly, it helps us remember who we really are. This is part of the divine calling that some have heard, but many have yet to respond to. This new awareness can be the most profound experience of one's lifetime; an ecstatic rush of joy and enlightenment that is difficult to describe to those who have yet to reach this point.
After an awakening or shift in one's awareness occurs, we begin to look at the old ways and false beliefs of our lives with less interest, while that which becomes clearer and feels more natural is our re-connection with the divine. The old way simply doesn't interest us anymore while the new way is all that matters.
Somewhere along the journey of remembering who we really are we may find ourselves in a very uncomfortable space or no-man's-land. In that place, we realize that we haven't totally let go of our old belief systems, which are breaking down, while on the other hand, we have yet to fully plug into the new spiritual truths we have discovered.
This awkward place of mind, between the death of our "previous life" and the birth of our new one, can bring on an internal crisis of uncertainty, instability, confusion, frustration and a most unspeakable despair, as the dark night of the soul sets in and makes its presence felt.
The length of time it takes to "die" and the time required for rebirth varies with each individual. The entire experience might last days, weeks or years. In the process, you experience ego death, and it's control over you begins to dissolve and lessen, as it returns to its rightful level of influence in your mind.
There are also other ways to bring on a spiritual crisis. Sometimes it can begin with a profound mystical vision, near-death event, serious illness, reading a spiritual book, childbirth, a serious loss or even the use of a mind-altering drug. Either way the net result is an abrupt and radical change in one's belief systems and one's way of being. All of it creates the opportunity for profound and lasting inner transformation and a shift in awareness.
The dark night is part of the spiritual journey. It will take us into the hidden areas of our nature and bring to the surface many of our ego-based imprints and imperfections. Then their presence can be acknowledged and cleansed from our personality and makeup. All of this can be quite demanding and may leave the individual in a state of emotional drain and helplessness. Functioning normally in everyday reality can become very difficult and challenging.
It is ironic that along with the rapture of remembering our divine connection there can be intense feelings of depression, madness, detachment, hopelessness and an extraordinary loneliness that is not only relentless, butÂ may last for months or years on end. That's what happens when we go through this purification experience and our ego begins to lose its influence over us.
Then comes the required period of waiting and humble perseverance, as our old self dies and we constantly wonder when the dark night will end. Ultimately, it feels as though we have lost control over our lives and, most importantly, that God has truly abandoned us.
St. John of the Cross described the dark night of the soul as "an inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it from its ignorances and imperfections."
Because of its profound challenges, the dark night has also become a reference point for an experience of intense, spiritual struggle, and a passage into the wilderness that is filled with utter hopelessness and isolation.
In Dr. Jack Kornfield's book, First the Ecstasy, Then the Laundry, he cites the following description of someone who had been on the spiritual path for more than 20 years and became a guru because of it. Then, just when things in life seemed to be going perfectly, a dark night of the soul appeared unexpectedly:
"I had always worried about my students, how unstable their wisdom seemed. After the first profound realizations of emptiness and freedom, the painful tendency of many people was to become caught again in separation. But then it happened to me!
I received a crash course in confusion, panic and depression. It started when I became very sick with leftover parasites from India. Then all the money I had saved for years and invested in two thriving businesses was lost through bankruptcy and betrayal.
All of the sudden the 'guru' was sick and poor. I became terribly frightened. My family life became a place of conflict. We had to leave our home, to struggle with money, to worry about ordinary things. I had difficulty with my mother. And all the while I thought I shouldn't feel these things - I'd been to the peaks, after all. I thought I knew the whole game.
Finally I had to stop teaching. I lost all control. I reached a childlike stage were I wasn't trying to understand things; I was just broken down completely, living moment to moment, and in some way that's when my spiritual life really became genuine for the first time."