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Surviving & Learning From Dark Nights Of The Soul

Lissa Rankin's picture

dark nights of the soul

At three o’clock in the afternoon, it’s pretty easy for me to be kind and compassionate with myself. I can feed my body green juice, sit in meditation and treat myself with loving kindness, bless my body with yoga or a hike, and receive a nurturing massage.

But sometimes, at three o’clock in the morning, I find it practically impossible. On those dark nights of the soul, the voices of my Gremlins become deafening. The voices usually start in dreams, when I’m vulnerable and my defenses are down. And then the voices get so loud they wake me up, and the battle ensues in real life.

You're not enough...

On these dark nights of the soul, the voices spew not only all of my fears, insecurities, and doubts -- they also echo the voices of other people who are either criticizing me or trying to improve me. The bottom line message is “You’re not enough. You’ll never be enough.”

This is just the beginning of the self-torture. As the night rolls on, it gets worse. In the half trance fatigue, the Gremlin morphs, shape-shifting into other people I love, projecting onto them voices that scoff and sniff, ridicule and judge. I become disoriented. I lose touch. I can’t quite tell what’s real anymore. I sink into a hell of my own creation. I lose my faith.

Then morning rolls around, and the sun peaks its little head over the mountain, and I’m surrounded by the grandeur of nature where I live. And 5-year-old Siena wakes me from my restless night and snuggles in next to me and tells me how much she loves me -- and it should snap me out of it, but it doesn’t. The dark night lingers through the morning sometimes, the voices still reverberating in my head, taunting, jeering.

But it doesn’t last. By three o’clock in the afternoon, I can usually find a way to give myself a hug, nurture my body, forgive myself for my shortcomings, and pat myself on the back with an, “Atta girl!”

Waking up

Back before my Perfect Storm, when I was still sleep-walking through my life, I didn’t use to have dark nights of the soul of this intensity. Sure, I had the occasional sleepless night wherein I wrestled with stress and uncertainty. But now these nights are alive with demons in a way they didn’t use to be. It makes me question: am I doing something wrong? Have I gotten off course? Are these dark nights Signs from the Universe that I should be switching directions? At three o’clock in the morning, I tend to think so.

But at three o’clock in the afternoon, I think not. I think that when you start to wake up, you feel everything more intensely. Along with the deepening joy and vitality comes a darker, more visible shadow. I think it’s about learning to embrace the shadow, about learning to know that you ARE enough, even in the midst of a dark night of the soul.

Until we can stand face to face with our shadow and be with what truly is, the dark nights of the soul will force us to go there. Our subconscious minds will create dreams. Our Gremlins will spew evil nothings. The more we run from the shadow of ourselves, the more our shadow will chase us. Until we learn the lessons we are meant to live in this life, we will be pursued by our darkness.

Embracing the shadow

So now it’s 7:00am, and I’ve just awoken from one of those dark nights of the soul with new resolution. What if, instead of wallowing on these mornings, I can honor myself with radical self-care? What if I can sip my green juice, do some yoga poses, take a hot bath, rub myself with aromatherapy-scented coconut oil, and remind myself that I am enough, just as I am? What if I can sit in meditation next to my shadow and hold her hand, welcome her in, and integrate with her, rather than fragmenting myself?

So that is what I will try to do this morning. I will go to the darkness, rather than running from it in frantic search of light. I will be my shadow. I will live in that. I will see how that feels.

When we make it wrong to have a dark night of the soul, we give it power. If we can remove the judgment and allow it to be just another learning experience, we can neutralize it so that darkness and light can coexist more peacefully.

So I will try, and I’ll let you know how it goes. It’s always a journey.

What about you? Do you have these dark nights of the soul? How do you handle them? Do they get you down? Do you learn from them? Can you learn to love your shadow?

Do tell, my love.

Embracing darkness,

Lissa

Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

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Comments

Shannon's picture

Thank you for posting this

Thank you for posting this Lissa, and thank you to the folks who have shared their experiences. It's like a light bulb went on in my head as I read this. I could never put my finger on what was going on with me, but this post explains my experiences perfectly.
The impacts my dark-souled nights have are far reaching, sometimes taking up to a few days to regain the balance. I have to push myself to remember that it is okay to take time to take care of myself properly when my shadow-self is present - that my soul needs space to stretch in, some divine leg room, if you will, and that my body needs to be treated with love and honour (instead of eating that bag of chips because my darkened spirit has clouded my mind and reason, give my body an extra dose of goodness by eating an apple or doing some yoga - regain the balance).
Again, many thanks. Please keep sharing!

Monica's picture

Dark Nights of the Soul

This has happened to me for a while. I took the job stress with me in bed and I transformed it into weird obsessive dreams I couldn't seem to stop. Then I got sick .... I had an anxiety attach and the doctors didn't give me a clear answer. I have started reading about it, going to workshops, talking to myself, but I realized one thing - that I have to accept my own fears, to look at them and say: yes, I know you, I want to deal with you. I don't want to run away from you. I don't want to be afraid anymore. I know I am all I need to be. I have been over-working, pushing myself to the limit, thriving for the impossible, but that didn't take me anywhere I actually wanted to be. I am taking time to be with myself and with my amazing husband, and not think about tomorrow, yesterday, what happens if...

Every time the dark nights of the soul cripples in, I am taking a deep breath and I say: I AM COURAGEOUS, I AM POWERFUL AND I AM HAPPY. I AM EVERYTHING I NEED TO BE.

Thank you Lissa for your amazing blog and thanks everybody for sharing your thoughts.

Monica's picture

Dark Nights of the Soul

This has happened to me for a while. I took the job stress with me in bed and I transformed it into weird obsessive dreams I couldn't seem to stop. Then I got sick .... I had an anxiety attach and the doctors didn't give me a clear answer. I have started reading about it, going to workshops, talking to myself, but I realized one thing - that I have to accept my own fears, to look at them and say: yes, I know you, I want to deal with you. I don't want to run away from you. I don't want to be afraid anymore. I know I am all I need to be. I have been over-working, pushing myself to the limit, thriving for the impossible, but that didn't take me anywhere I actually wanted to be. I am taking time to be with myself and with my amazing husband, and not think about tomorrow, yesterday, what happens if...

Every time the dark nights of the soul cripples in, I am taking a deep breath and I say: I AM COURAGEOUS, I AM POWERFUL AND I AM HAPPY. I AM EVERYTHING I NEED TO BE.

Thank you Lissa for your amazing blog and thanks everybody for sharing your thoughts.

littlephoenix's picture

Thank you

Thank you for this post, Lissa. For the past 16 years I have struggled with chronic clinical depression. Therapy helps, but I still wake up many days with a chorus of 'you're a bad person' playing in my head. What has sometimes worked to quiet that chorus, at least a bit, is to think to myself "My therapist doesn't think I'm a bad person". It's too big a leap for me to go from "I'm bad" to "I'm good", but finding the middle ground of "A person that I trust doesn't think I'm a bad person" sort of helps, because if my therapist doesn't think I'm bad, maybe I can learn to believe it too. Thanks again.

Arpita's picture

Whoa, huh. I've just been

Whoa, huh. I've just been writing about this in my own blog (in a different, more abstract way). I think the collective unconscious in onto something here.

I recently had an incredibly dark night. It wasn't about my insecurities but rather a sudden and complete disenchantment with being alive. I tossed and turned in bone-crushing depression. Nothing I thought about sounded fun or fulfilling. I thought about how lovely it would be to die. I finally fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, the feelings didn't shift. But I wrote an email to my soul sister telling her what had happened and I told her what I was planning on doing about it: yoga practice, a walk to the mountain, making soup, going to community vegan potluck. I told her that although I still felt like I was in a meat-crusher, I planned to feel fulfilled and sparkly by the end of the day.

During my yoga practice I kept collapsing under the weight of my thoughts. During my walk I had to shout to myself loudly in my head, "I LOVE THE COLOUR OF THOSE FLOWERS. I LOVE HOW THAT COUPLE LOOKS AS THEY KISS. I LOVE THE HANDPRINT IN THE SIDEWALK. I LOVE THE BREEZE ON MY BODY. I LOVE THE SMELLS OF THIS CITY. I LOVE THE LOOK THAT GUY JUST GAVE ME. I LOVE THE FEELING OF THE BREATH IN MY CHEST." And finally it started to shift, little by little. At the mountain I talked to a homeless man for a while and I watched some tight-rope walkers practice on the lines between the trees. While I cooked the soup I was comforted by the grounding routine. I dressed myself all pretty and went to the potluck and by that time I was completely sparkly, satisfied with the way I was representing myself and high off the accomplishment of accepting myself for where I am instead of where others would like me to be (some people in my life would rather not deal with the powerful mood swings I have. But I LOVE THEM. It means I'm alive and it means I'm brave for taking myself on.)

I enjoy the ideas of Abraham Hicks on this topic. Their/her (channeled teaching) idea is that we each have a stream. Based on how we feel we can tell whether we're going upstream, struggling against the current, or if we're riding the glorious rapids or relaxing current our individual stream enjoys. If we have a fast-moving stream, it feels BLISSFUL BEYOND WORDS when we're going downstream. But when we're pushing against the stream it is UNCOMFORTABLE BEING COMPREHENSION.

catherine's picture

dark nites of the soul

Hi Lissa,
I found I experienced these nights when I was going through menopause. My dreams were incredible. Lots of adventures in the wild and encounters with bears, typically grizzly. I did hear that calls in the night were summons to meditate and do the spiritual work. Thanks again for sharing your journey with us. xoxo

mohrle's picture

sitting with my demons

same here, lisa. i have plenty nights when i sit with my demons. demons of my creation. they are part of me just like my nose and my hands and my feet. they belong to me. they are my children of the night. when they come to visit and sit with me, at first i am always afraid of them. i am afraid they eat and swallow me alive, hair and all. i watch them crawling up into my bed, touching me, breathing down on me. i am terrified, i would like to just die. then, slowly i realize that they did not come to do me any harm, they came for me to love them, to accept them as part of myself, no matter how terrible they are. so we sit together on my bed, crying and embracing each other, my demons and i. i love them for who they are, for these demons are my creations, they are part of my haunted soul. by giving them this kindness, they loose their power of me and we melt together into one being again. until next time, when i have to sit with my demons again. be terrified and than moved to tears of compassion and understanding and rock them back to sleep just like a child, for they are my children of the night.
namaste

Sarah Cairncross's picture

Gremlins are my Demons

Hi LIssa, how funny you should write about this as I had a corker of a nightmare and realised that what I was calling a demon (you call a gremlin) was in fact me and wrote my own post about it yesterday (http://www.rawrrr.com/2011/05/24/waking-early-to-banish-demons/)

The realisation that it was my OWN fears triggered a lot of deeper understandings about myself and I've gotten really clear on a lot of things.

It was transformational and, similar to you, I came to the understanding that the best way to neutralise the 'demon' was to let it have a voice, hear it and try and figure out where it stems from. For it is a belief made by a younger me to protect me.. which may or may not have helped me then but sure doesn't help me now.

So I silently say - thank you for caring but I will do this anyway and everything will be ok... just you wait and see ;o)

Katie's picture

Oddly, I used to go through

Oddly, I used to go through the same thing almost nightly - for a long time, it was the driving force behind my depression. After I started acknowledging this and started seeking help, however, they moved to the daytime. Wonder what that means?

Anyways, just wanted you to know that you're more than enough for a LOT of people :)

LindyLou's picture

Same, Same, Only Different

I read along with your description of the tumbling, churning negative voices as your night wore on as if it were my own experience. They only real difference is, that my dark nights of the soul have come about not because of radical personal changes I have chosen for myself, but because I got laid off three months ago and have thus far been blocked by the Universe in re-starting my career.

When I made radical choices to leave a life behind and begin tabula rasa several years ago, I didn't have dark nights of the soul at all. I had the best sleep of my entire life...because at the cellular level, both myself and my body understood what we were doing.

This joblessness has created a palpable sense of helplessness and "not good enough" ideas that course through my veins every time I get a "we have chosen another candidate for this position" email.

What do I do? I play with my dog, my man and my food. I swim because it tasks and strengthens every single muscle in my body, while forcing me to breathe. It is water-borne meditation.

I do play with my dog, my man and my food. I let myself do those things because at the very basis of it all, my dog can teach me how to be in the moment and love exactly what is happening, right NOW. A belly rub is a beautiful thing. I play with my man because he's my best friend and because I'm a human animal. I thrive on loving touch and playful, connectedness. I play with my food because I've only got one body. What my body says it wants, it gets. It has mysterious powers to keep me alive even during my darkest days, months and years. The least I can do is give it cheezies or broccoli when it asks for them.

I also let myself cry. The waterworks make me vulnerable, yes. They make me acknowledge that there are things I can't say but can feel. Tears cleanse me of the burden of guilt over not being good enough or smart enough or experienced enough or not being the "chosen one" for the job. Once the tears are done, I'm exhausted and I can sleep.

I let it all happen. Because ultimately, my dark nights of the soul take me back to being a child, lost in the dark and that's ok too. Because I grew up to be a really great person, in spite of my fears in the dark. I can get through this too...in time.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you

I appreciate the support Charley- and I wish you many peaceful nights!

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Anonymous's picture

3 a.m.

Here is a link that might help the Christian amongst the group in facing this kind of spiritual warfare.

http://www.spiritdaily.com/stonebook2.htm

One might also read about the 'Hour of Divine Mercy'

Watching...

mom.

Charley's picture

Dark Nights of The Soul

Yes! I do have them! Thank you for writing about them...sometimes it's all I can do to get to sleep, OR to get out of bed the next morning, but by the afternoon, everything is peachy! I don't know why that is, but I do like your idea of radical self-care. The people I know and trust tell me that at these times it's best to bring it back to basics and really concentrate on self-care. I think SG Jena would call it "taking care of your animal." Meditation, a magnesium supplement, and a spiritual practice all help. Sometimes, though, I just have to conk myself out with Benadryl if the Gremlins are keeping me up too late.

You're making a lot of amazing changes, and really standing for yourself with your book, and that can be scary. Self-doubt is natural -- even Abraham Lincoln with through some dark periods. But you've got a good support system and a loving family, and you have a lot of transparency about your feelings. Thank you for sharing -- it helps me feel like less of a weirdo for my own late night ruminations...

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