The Dark Night of the Soul

The dark night of the soul is a spiritual crisis. Image by Erekle Sologashvili/Moment Open/Getty Images

A reader asks, “I don’t know what to do. I was really active and excited about my spiritual practice, but lately I’m just feeling lost. I feel like nothing I do is working, I don’t have any motivation, nothing matters to me, I’m doubting my gods, and it’s hard for me to even care anymore. I don’t want to just give up, because my beliefs are important to me, but I feel like I’ve hit a wall. What do I do?

The first thing you do is relax a little bit, because I’m going to let you in on a secret. Ready?

This happens a lot.

Honest, it does. While I wouldn’t say it happens to everyone, it happens often enough that it’s not unusual. It’s a phenomenon that can sometimes be referred to as a “dark night of the soul.” This is, as new age author Eckhart Tolle has described, “a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness.” In other words, all those things that used to matter to you are useless, because – for reasons often unexplained – they no longer matter, at least not right now.

In some spiritual traditions, this is seen as a test. It is considered a way of the universe, the gods, or whatever to determine just how committed and serious you are about your faith. What are you willing to do to find it again?

The Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross wrote an epic poem about this experience in the sixteenth century.

He describes hardship and turmoil on his journey to his union with God – and along the way, he struggles through purification of both the senses and the spirit. This spiritual crisis can be found in the writings of many faiths – it’s certainly not limited to Catholic saints. It’s usually a temporary thing, although temporary can mean a couple of days, a week, a month, but usually people find their way out of it as a matter of choice.

So, the question for you is, what can you choose to do about it? What are you willing to do?

For many people in Pagan faiths, this “dark night” culminates in a lot of soul searching. You’ve done the hard part – you’ve realized you’re in a spiritual downward spiral. Now that you’ve recognized it, it’s time to make a move away from it. You have many options.

Meditation: A long meditation often helps bring people out of this. Allow your mind to wander, let it seek out what you really need and want, and see if that brings you to some sort of spiritual epiphany and rebirth.

Prayer: You mention that you feel doubt in your gods. Is that problem on their end, or yours? If you’ve ever wanted to contact them via prayer, now is the time. And here’s the thing to keep in mind – you don’t need to call them up and say “Prove to me you exist.” Instead, call them up and say, “Even though I’m not getting any signals from you at all, I know you’re there, and I honor you.”

Look at the past: Is there something you’ve done or failed to do that’s holding you back? Often, if we’ve wronged someone but not taken ownership of our mistake, that’s the catalyst for letting us move forward. Figure out where you messed up, accept responsibility, and then allow yourself the privilege of growing and moving on.

Look to the future: Where do you see yourself going? How can you get there? Take some time to re-evaluate your priorities and goals. Sometimes, have a planned destination can make the journey look a lot more clear.

Talk it out: Do you have someone else in your Pagan community that you can talk to? If you do, sometimes verbalizing your feelings can help. Find a respected elder or local Pagan clergy to discuss this with - they may have suggestions you haven't considered.

Consider other possibilities: Even if you see this as a spiritual crisis – and often that’s what it is – there is another possibility. If your lack of interest and general apathy has spilled over into other parts of your life, you may need to consider that you could be clinically depressed. Symptoms of a “dark night” often mirror those of depression, so if your crisis doesn’t pass eventually, and you feel like things are hopeless no matter how much you pray and meditate, go see a health care professional for evaluation.

The good news is that eventually the dark night of the soul will pass. Most people say that once they’ve gone through this, they feel a revived and renewed sense of purpose, a spiritual awakening that leaves them even more fulfilled than they were before. Once you’ve endured this – and again, not every Seeker does – you’ll feel even stronger in your faith than ever, and you’ll feel a sense of higher consciousness.