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7 Signs You May Be Experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul by Gary Z. McGee, May 10, 2014
“There is scarcely any passion without struggle.” ―Albert Camus
When we are on the verge of uniting with the infinite wavelength of eternal vibration, our old frequency can sometimes go through a crisis of stasis. It buckles and bends trying to adjust itself and tune into the cosmic orchestra. We tend to doubt everything we’ve known to be true. In worst (best) case scenarios we tend to fall into an existential crisis, or Dark Night of the Soul.
But, if we are able to make it through this dark time, and shed that which has weighed us down, then we will open up once again, and even wider than before. This can happen many times on our spiritual journey, and each time we tend to gain new levels of wisdom. Here are seven signs you may be experiencing a dark night of the soul.
1) You’re experiencing, or have experienced, Ego Death
“I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void. I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved.” –Eckhart Tolle
Your sense of reality, or worldview, has been shattered. You have come to understand the illusory aspects of the ego and are in the process of letting attachment go. You are experiencing a re-organization, a reidentification, and a reinterpretation of the boundaries between self and cosmos. Like Stanislav Grof wrote, “Ego death means an irreversible end to one’s philosophical identification with what Alan Watts called skin-encapsulated ego.”
Also referred to as the Night of Pan: the mystical state where one’s ego goes to die a small death in order to be reborn as a Soul. In mythological terms it’s a journey into the Underworld, where difficult trials must be completed before the hero can return back to the “real” world.
2) It is only when you’re alone, that you realize you’re never alone
“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person–without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.” –Osho
You feel alone and isolated in the world at times, but you find that it is actually in your alone time that things become clearer and more connected. You realize the utmost importance of solitude and meditation. You’re coming to find that being alone and silent is a very important part of individuating the ego and actualizing the soul. We are each a microcosm within a macrocosm, tiny stars within a greater universe, drops of water in a mighty cosmic ocean.
This is the great lesson of loneliness: we can no more separate the micro from the macro than we can the human from the natural. Both are needed to put the whole into holistic. It’s the astonishing ache of loneliness that causes us to feel, as Kafka wrote, “This tremendous world I have inside of me. How to free myself, and this world, without tearing myself to pieces. And rather tear myself to a thousand pieces than be buried with this world within me.”
3) You have a new-found appreciation of your mortality
“Thanks to impermanence everything is possible.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
You have become exceedingly introspective. The weight of time is like a giant sitting on your shoulders. But you are beginning to learn how to reverse that dynamic, becoming someone who has the ability to stand on the shoulders of the giants instead. You appreciate more the passing of time: the reminiscence of times past, the contemplative present, and the forbearance of things future. It’s all a giant telescopic projection of your third eye focused on the intrinsic value of mortality, and how it brings meaning in ways immortality simply cannot.
4) The purpose of your life has taken on new meaning
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what this world needs are people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman
You realize that the meaning of life is whatever you want your life to mean. But this is a huge responsibility, tantamount to an existential crisis. Your breath catches in your throat, and is then dragged out of you. You are now suddenly duty-bound to bring meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe. It’s up to you, and you alone, to be the hero of your own story.
It’s up to you, and you alone, to get beyond the artificial division you’ve created between yourself and the world. The mountain of meaningless you’ve been standing on hitherto, awaits the flag of your own unique meaning to be stabbed into it. The path to your own meaning is daunting, but it is a path that only you can walk.
5) You’re more aware of the importance of your freedom
“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” –Deepak Chopra
You understand that freedom is paramount. But willing yourself free is not easy. Freedom is something you do, not something you are. It is not a given. It takes effort, courage, and determination, usually in the face of those who would force you to live their way. You see how the inert, civilized human has escaped the anguish of freedom only to fall into a state of preoccupation and paranoia.
You see how the inert lifestyle can lead to nihilism and tyranny (extremism). You see how acting courageous in the face of that inertia is a powerful way to thwart the would-be tyrant within. You’re slowly becoming a freedom unto yourself, and though it hurts like hell, you realize that it’s better to be an unsatisfied free man than a satisfied slave.
6) You’re experiencing anomie and cognitive dissonance
“It is a happy faculty of the mind to slough that which conscience refuses to assimilate.”
Anomie is a term popularized by French sociologist Émile Durkheim. It is a nurtured condition that arises from the lack of morality and social ethics in one’s culture. You’ve experienced the pain of this condition and you are in the process of embracing it and letting it go in order to discover your own sense of values.
Similarly, your old worldview has been trumped by the new worldview brought about by the individuation of your ego and the actualization of your soul. This is known as cognitive dissonance. It’s an unsettling feeling to have two worldviews clashing inside you, but you are working through it and will be better for the struggle in the end.
7) You realize that the ability to fall apart and coming back together again is real strength
“Suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but my god you’re alive and it’s spectacular.” –Joseph Campbell
You realize that healthy annihilation is possible, and necessary. Like the Hindu Goddess of Never Not Broken, you’re learning to embody the ability to come together and fall apart, over and over again. Indeed, you’re discovering that your strength comes precisely from your ability to experience a dark night of the soul and come out of it with scars blazing like badges of honor.
You are constantly in the throes of metanoia. You’ve been fire-tested. You’ve been verified by vicissitude. Your strength comes from your ability to adapt and overcome to falling apart and coming back together again, from wholeness to brokenness and back to a stronger form.