The Dark Night of the Soul – Personal Crisis and the Process of Personal Transformation

Personal Transformation, which is often referred to in spiritual texts as “Alchemy”, and in Biblical texts as redemption, is described as a thinning, sorting, and filtering process of calcification, dissolution, distillation, coagulation and so on, as the process necessary to separate out all contaminates and impurities, and restoring the system to a purified state. These processes as a step-by-step procedure provide a metaphor for understanding how they come as actual life experiences that take us through this same type of process naturally. These same type of processes in life as an experience come as challenges, problems, hardship, tragedy, trauma, despair, desolation, all of which serve to push us to the point of hopelessness where the very foundation of our life is torn away.

Transformation only takes place through a crisis of some sort that not only pushes us beyond existing limits, but also shatters the belief system holding them in place, and supporting what is in fact a delusion as an error in thinking and believing. While this is often experienced as deeper forms of pain and suffering, the kind that usurps our morality and personal values, destroying the image of ourselves that we’ve build out of various illusions, and push us not only beyond our comfort zone, but leave us in a tail-spin spiraling downward with no sense of control or possibility of recovery. Eventually we find ourselves plunged into an abyss of the dark and unknown, while we frantically search our heart and mind over and over for ideas, possible solutions, things to try . . . and there’s nothing. This absence alone becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and we eventually hit a point that’s referred to as the “dark night of the soul”.

The “dark night of the soul” is experienced as being totally lost in a complete state of despair, of devastation that’s sweeping and all-encompassing. In this moment as you plummet and hit bottom, and exist in the realization of it, your world is shattered beyond repair. And in that moment, you honestly let go of everything that put you there, your beliefs dismantled and scattered like dead debris in the wind, no longer cohesive and meaningful, and you experience a form of “death” in the most literal sense. Life as you have known it up to that point, will never be the same. Your fears surmount and overwhelm you, no longer able to deny or repress them, you have to give them free reign over you, and you act to express them freely by surrendering to them. And in that final moment of complete defeat, as you let go, no longer trying to resist them or hold them in, they leave you. And in the very same moment that you feel completely distraught, a strange feeling of relief comes over you.

In the aftermath of a complete emotional meltdown, the disintegration of your entire belief system and the reality it created and served to maintain takes place, an experience known as “shedding or killing the false ego” as your “false sense of self”, and you feel a kind of cleansing, an emotional purging, and a new kind of open spaciousness as a calm feeling comes in its wake. Like having a clean slate, ready to begin again. In these moments, we come face-to-face with our own demons, and we’re forced to look with full awareness on our own lies and false prophesies. We have to encounter our own shadow aspects in everything else, with the realization that what we thought was being done to us by others and by life, was actually being done to us, by us. We were always negotiating away our dignity, compromising our morals, bartering with sex and affection, manipulating by persuasion, and surrendering through acceptance and agreements of some sort. No longer able to project our own issues and tendencies onto others, blame or defer responsibility for our own conduct, we are forced to turn inward and look directly in the mirror. We have to visit and spend time in the shadow of our mind, where danger is always lurking, scary and powerful because it’s unknown.

In the wake of total devastation, with our morality cleansed, a feeling of hope, like a seed planted in our heart begins growing, and a glimmer takes hold and begins to formulate, and we suddenly realize we’re free to begin anew. The beauty of hitting bottom is there’s no place to go but up. The more complete our fall, the more exalted our rising. Cleansed of all that caused our demise, like a purging and ripping out what’s not of us, emotional debris we’ve attracted and collected along the way, shed, no longer in us as a part of us, and we suddenly realize we’re free of what was self-imposed limitations. But like all cleansing that creates a kind of void, our mind will act to unconsciously draw something into the void to replace it, and so in order to gain control over the creative process of our self and our life during this time, we have to decide what to employ in its place. Otherwise we could draw back in more of the same stuff that appears slightly different, or something somewhat different that will send us on another side trip as a distraction from our main goal in life, which is to always act on ourselves to heal ourselves of all errors in perceiving and thinking, and taking full responsibility for deciding and taking deliberate action in creating who we are.

Once we clear out destructive beliefs and the emotional compulsions around them, we have to decide and intentionally choose what we’re going to replace it with. We don’t have to try and correct it by working “through it” (our issues) as an outside event or actual memory, all we have to do is recognize the part of our character that caused it (undesirable character trait), and then strategically employ the opposing virtues in its place, while cultivating them through disciplined practice until they take hold, and we begin creating experiences of ourselves “as” them, transforming our character by integrating them, until we start start automatically creating something different out of them. All of our life experiences flow out of the natural expression of our mental paradigm as our character. To change how we think and act and what type of dynamics we naturally engage in, we have only to change our own inner nature as our core self.

To change the outer form, we have to change the inner state in-forming it. By changing our inner nature and intentionally cultivating desirable qualities and characteristics, we systematically change our vibration and what we attract and are attracted to, what and how we perceive the world around us, and what type of situations and relationships we’re willing to entertain. As we ourselves change, our experiences of life change accordingly. If we don’t change ourselves however, we keep on recreating the same “type” of experiences over and over with different people and circumstances, until we begin recognizing what our part is in our own life creations.

The process we undergo because of life challenges and tragedies throw us head on into a full blown life crisis as an identity crisis. These extreme moments force us to examine ourselves internally, hashing through all our experiences in order to gain some form of insight into the workings of our own unconscious mind, and as we separate out the impurities as bad character traits, and either eliminate them altogether, or transform them into pure qualities that serve our true identity. Undergoing this filtering, eliminating and reformulating process of self-awareness and realization, we reform ourselves to be more of who we truly are, and create ourselves and our life through a new character that naturally expresses in new ways, no longer creating the same type of problems all over again, but creating a new version of ourselves that come as an expression of the qualities we intentionally cultivated in ourselves.

Dr. Linda Gadbois