The Dark Night of the Soul


There are people that I know in my life who deserve far better than they get.

“The Dark Night of the Soul” as a term finds its origins in a 16th Century religious poem, but its applicability to times in life has far outgrown its original Christian roots.  Whether you believe in one religion, no religion, or even in spirituality at all, the term now applies to that phase or phases in one’s life when there is nothing but suffering, no relief, no explanation for why this is all happening, and no signs of hope for a dramatic turnaround (what J.R.R. Tolkien called “eucatastrophe”, the idea of last minute victory when all hope is lost).

Eucatastrophe, however, is exactly what is on the other side of all of this.  The Dark Night of the Soul is as much about confronting the conditioning that you use to deal with challenges as it is about the undeniable reality of the challenges themselves.  And you don’t have to believe in God, religion, or any kind of spirituality to experience it, even though the stream of unfortunate events may appear to move into your life with supernatural consistency.

When I say “deep seated” beliefs, I’m talking about the things that have been around since infancy, as deep as our language.  Bob Proctor once said, take a baby from Los Angeles to Beijing and raise her there, and she will grow up thinking and speaking in Mandarin without a second thought.  Immerse a child in any belief system, or any environment in which certain values and beliefs are elevated above others, then those values and beliefs will form the subconscious blueprint of what is “good” and “bad” behavior in that child’s mind.

Whenever that child does something that strays from that blueprint, he or she will feel that they’re “bad”, and then judge or punish themselves accordingly.  Depending on their temperament, those “punishments” can run the gamut of being little slaps against the wrist to brutal forms of self-flagellation.

In ultimate reality, the world has no morals or opinions.  It doesn’t agree or disagree, doesn’t judge or praise. The world doesn’t love or hate you: it “nothings” you.  The world operates under its own laws, and we live in the world, thus we are subject to those laws.  Michael Beckwith says in “The Secret”: “if you fall off a building, the law of gravity doesn’t care if you’re a good person or a bad person: you’re going to hit the ground.”

The Only Question Worth Answering

So what to make of these never-ending streams of unfortunate events?  The question contains its own answer: it’s all about what we make of them. That’s the question to answer.  The thing is, we tend to focus on another question: why is this happening?

That question is a distraction, but we’re conditioned – either by years of religious upbringing (whether we accepted the religion or not) or simply living in a society whose current secular patterns of thinking about problems were historically shaped by religion – to focus on it because we’re told that’s the question to solve, the root cause of the matter.

There are some laws, like gravity and thermodynamics, that science already understands and has mastered, and there are other laws, like attraction and intention, that are on the leading edge of understanding, and we’re still sorting out how it all works.  My secular-spiritual belief system tempts me to apply this second set of laws to answer certain questions, but because I myself am not a master, the best I can do at any given time is guess.

In the ultimate reality, “why” is a human construct, and there is never any way to answer it except by storytelling.  We make the world mean what we want it to, and meanings are utterly subjective.  That’s why you’ll very seldom find a completely satisfactory answer in the words, ideas, and ideologies of others.  Other people’s stories about why things are the way they are can only take you so far: the rest of it is your own story about why things are happening to you.


Those stories, more often than not, will find their roots in your own subconscious blueprint about right and wrong, whether or not you consciously agree with them.  If you find yourself outside of that blueprint, you’ll know it by the way you feel: guilt, anger, frustration, fear, sadness, anxiety.

The temptation, then, is to think that the blueprint is right and you’re wrong, but that’s not always true.  Your original blueprint was not created by you, but from everyone involved in your upbringing. If your original blueprint included, for example, a religious interpretation that you were born into sin because of a origin story in that religion’s tradition, you may feel “wrong” when you try to see yourself as an inherently good person, whole and complete as you are.

The degree to which your blueprint empowers you or not is entirely dependent on the contents of that blueprint. Change the contents to meet your reality, and your blueprint suddenly serves you.  That’s the principle behind most of the personal coaching and personal development work I’ve done for myself.

That’s why the first question – what to make of these unfortunate events? – is the one to answer, the only one of the two that can be answered with any effectiveness.  And though there’s no single answer for all of the challenges you face, how you find the answers is very simple: create a story about what’s happening to you that empowers you to survive and endure.  That’s right: I’m suggesting that you make it all up.

Actually, that’s what we’re all doing anyway, only much of the time, the reasons we invent either aren’t our own, or don’t help us.  We say that God or karma or the Universe is punishing us for past things we’ve done, or that we’re cursed.  Yet arguing for your own limitations when dealing with crises does not empower you to deal with crises.  It just keeps your mindset stuck in the shit….and naturally, you continue to feel like shit, as if things are happening “to” you, rather than just “happening”.

So since you’re making up the meaning anyway, you can equally invent a story about the events that gives you the strength, the resilience, the peace, and the power to get you through them.

Events are going to happen.  We will fall out of love.  We will lose those we love. Civilizations will rise and fall.  And they will happen in their own time, not yours, no matter what else is happening in your life. Our ability to grieve and release our losses and heartbreaks fully, to endure permanent absence, to adapt and survive in a changing environment: all of them depend largely on the stories we tell ourselves about what is happening to us.

august sunset 2012 windows

One possible story could be that the Dark Night of the Soul is preparation, a process of destroying your old ego, burning your old blueprint, and giving you the space to create a new version of yourself independent of the past.  One day, life is shit.  The next, everything is brilliant.

And that’s where eucatastrophe, that sudden turn of positive events that Tolkien wrote about, takes place.  It’s not about the end of the events, but in the equally miraculous transformation of the way in which the events show up in your perception of them.

That’s one story.  You might tell a completely different one for yourself, you may see something here for you, you may see nothing here for you.  Take from it what you want, if at all.

I believe I create my own reality, but I can’t say for sure about others, about you. What I can say for sure about you is that you can re-create the way that you see your reality.  Just know that you are stronger than you believe yourself to be, always.

Hang in there, you’re going to be all right.


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