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Walking through a dark night of the Soul

The Weekly Seeker #7

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Have you ever experienced a dark night of the Soul? Are you currently experiencing one?

This is a term we use in the spiritual community to describe a painful, challenging, disorienting period in our lives — one that tests our resilience, our patience, our capacity to remain present, and in some cases even our sanity.

Traditionally, this term has been used to describe, for example, the period in one’s life after the death of a loved one.

Human life is full of vastly diverse experiences, ranging from the ecstatically joyful to the deeply painful and sorrowful. None of us will be able to escape or avoid pain, confusion, or grief forever.

This is because pain, confusion, and grief are natural components of our human experience. (And they tend to make the joyful moments even more joyful, once we’ve walked through the fire of grief or pain. We never take joy for granted again.)

So, yes — sometimes you have to walk through those hard times. Those dark, awful, unbearable times. They are a part of life.

When you’re in this place, it might feel like everything around you is dark, or like you’ve fallen deep into an abyss and no one can help you get out.

For me, the abyss was “chronic” illness, with debilitating and terrifying physical symptoms at times, throughout most of my adult life.

Perhaps, for you, the abyss was (or currently is) a painful divorce, the loss of someone you dearly loved, the loss of a career, or hitting rock bottom through an addiction.

Many of us have been in that abyss. Often, our natural reaction is to desperately try to get out of that abyss, or go into denial about where we are, or suppress our emotions and force ourselves to keep going no matter what.

Resisting where you are — trying to make the darkness or the pain or grief go away — typically makes you tumble even deeper into that abyss. Resistance creates greater stress, inner tension, and keeps you in a sustained fight-or-flight reaction.

So what you must do is (1) accept you’re in the abyss, and (2) help yourself calm down enough so you can shift out of fight-or-flight, and gather your bearings.

You cannot get out of the abyss by pushing really hard, or by desperately trying to claw your way out, or by trying to fix yourself.

You first have to sit at the bottom of that pit, that dark abyss, and befriend the darkness. (In other words, surrender to it.)

Learn how to see in the darkness, and breathe in the darkness, and be ok sitting in it. Without panicking.

(Not panicking while you’re in the abyss is one of the hardest things you’ll ever be challenged to do.)

Once you can sit and breathe in the darkness of that abyss without panicking, you can start to calm down a bit. You can see what’s in front of you a little better. You can gradually gather your bearings. You can allow the fear to move through you, like a wave.

From there, without panic and without rushing, you’re in a much better position to understand and see the way out.

Sending you all my love,
Josephine

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