“The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.” ~ Joseph Campbell
I first heard of “the dark night of the soul” after seeing Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, speak at a weekend Oprah conference.
I attended the conference—which featured multiple, well-known speakers like Rob Bell, Iyanla Vanzant, and Mark Nepo—with my closest girlfriends. We were each hoping to find answers to the questions that kept us up at night.
I was most excited to hear Gilbert speak. I had devoured her book and waited anxiously for what I hoped were words of advice. This is what I remember: She spoke about the hero’s journey, a tale in which the hero or heroine is called to an adventure, experiences a crisis, and ends up transformed.
Specifically, I remember her describing her call to take a hero’s journey the night when she crumbled to the bathroom floor and spoke to God for the first time—the night that led her to transform her life. At the time, I had no idea that her words were an omen.
The second time I heard that phrase was a month or so later. I was reading Paulo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, and one passage in particular stood out to me:
“What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon’…Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested. The boy remembered an old proverb from his country. It said that the darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn.”
That was my second omen.
The third time, I experienced my own dark night of the soul.
It was the middle of February. We’d had record snowfall and the beauty outside was nowhere to be found inside my kitchen that day. School had been cancelled, and I was home alone with nothing to distract me from my panicked thoughts. I was in the middle of mediating a divorce, and my husband and I were still living in the same house.
I slept in a back basement bedroom where I felt I belonged—hidden away from the rest of my family members, undeserving of existing in their space. I had requested the divorce, and felt the enormity of my decision on that cold, still morning. Standing at the garden window, I gazed at the pristine white snow and wished I felt as clean inside.
A wave of anxiety rushed over me. I waited for it to pass through me, but it bedded down like a sleeping deer—crushing the grass beneath it. It was so heavy that it forced me to my knees. I gulped in large swallows of air and begged God to make the pain stop. I heard nothing, only myself straining for breath. I felt like I was dying a slow death, and my soul was vanishing. I no longer knew who I was. I only knew I would never be the same.
A dark night of the soul occurs when change is necessary.
The beauty of the dark night is the sliver of light that gently wakes us at dawn. But beware: Once we have awakened, there is no going back to sleep.
That’s when the adventure begins.
Feelings that have been suppressed for years must be peeled back, layer by layer, then microscopically examined. In doing so, one reaches the core. The core is not a happy place. The core is the details—the when, where, why, how, what, and who we become as a result of the experiences we’ve had throughout our lives.
To fully awaken means we must change our script, our unconscious behavior. My script included: avoiding conflict; a lack of boundaries; suppressing emotions, desires, and needs; disassociating from negative feelings; unworthiness; and choosing unhealthy relationships. Changing a script requires awareness, discipline, a support system, and forgiveness. It is a redefinition of ourselves—it is also the beginning of an incredible adventure.
While processing through the necessary work of healing, transformation happens quietly, like the change of seasons. Suddenly, you notice the leaves change color and wonder, “When did that happen? Where did summer go?” Yes, leaves change color; they fall off and die, but a remarkable miracle occurs.
When it seems like all hope is lost, a tiny bud emerges. It is delicate and fragile and unsure. Before long, the tree is bursting with beautiful blossoms. The tree stands tall and proud and majestic.
Now, the fun begins!
Once we have acknowledged our biggest fears, opened our hearts, and found peace with our past, a new life awaits us. Since my dark night, I have experienced many adventures that have reshaped who I am. I’ve explored new interests, found my tribe, redefined my belief system, and discovered and honed hidden talents. In fact, I no longer recognize the person I left behind.
I am proud to say she has become a goddess amongst the trees. Her roots are firmly planted, protecting her from the storms that try to shake and bend her. She will not break—not even the thinnest of her branches—because she has weathered the most ferocious of storms. She has weathered the dark night of the soul.
Author: Jill Carbone
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell