VIII.  Dark Night of the Soul

1.  The soul and loss of God
2.  Experience of the dark night
3.  Total surrender required

Materials needed: Journal, collage materials

Books needed:

Dark night of the soul
The circle of love*
The paradoxes of love*
Eternal echoes*
Reaching out (optional)
When things fall apart*
The bond with the Beloved
The Holy Bible: The book of Job*
J. B.   or
The book of Job by thomas Moore
The stormy search for the self (optional)

Exercises and practices:

Dark night of the soul

* You may already have these books.

“Being, not doing is the first aim of the mystic.” – Evelyn Underhill (1961, p. 381)

It may be difficult to see what Being has to do with a dark night of the soul.  First we must acknowledge that the spiritual journey has crossed over from simply trying to live a good and moral life into mysticism.  We are now on a mystical and spiritual journey.  That means that the individual puts identification with the only Being first and foremost in his/her list of priorities.  Everything else, the world included, fades into insignificance.  A singular commitment is made to dedicate one’s life to this journey and to persist until death or the journey is completed.  We have called this surrender.  Now surrender takes on a new meaning, that of ego annihilation.  So, at this point, the soul emerges as the primary journeyer.  We have to call on the Beloved to sustain and protect us as we undertake the initiatory journey into the depths of our psyches to be reborn as god-people.  The Trinity now becomes: Godhead, Humanity (son of man) and Spirit.  Christ came into the world to show us how to be god in the world.  This is our role, the part we are meant to play in the drama of involution/evolution.  We cannot do it unless we acknowledge our divinity.

The Soul and Loss of God

The dark night, according to St. John of the Cross (Peers, 1959) has two substages: dark night of the senses and dark night of the spirit.  Dark night of the senses [and egomind], as St. John describes it, is basically renunciation as we have met it before with some new insights into the ego quirks and spiritual materialism of novitiates as he saw them in his monastery.  Remember from Yoga that the senses are tools of the mind.  Therefore, renunciation of the world weans the senses, old habits and learnings away from their targets of gratification during which time the first signs of abandonment set in.  Accompanying this are feelings of dryness, emptiness, and yearning for God all of which leads ultimately to the “strait gate” to the dark night of the spirit which is experienced by the very few who will go on to union in this lifetime.

At this point, we need to revisit soul since the focus is now on that rather than on ego as it has been up to now.  Soul is our personal essence (Almaas’ name for it), the individual “I” that is spirit rather than ego.  It is our sense of presence or beingness, that which feels and is capable of intense suffering due to separation.  Soul is larger than body, ego, intellect and personality and probably encloses them.  It is part god and part human, that which is immortal and reincarnates.  By comparison, the Higher Self is an objective witness entity, spirit is the spark of life, and Spirit is Divine Love which has no personal characteristics.  It is pure Presence and Love, a wholly divine entity.  Beyond Spirit is the Divine One, the only Being or Ultimate Reality.  This is just to get our terminology straight.

Soul is exceptionally hard to describe because it has no form as such.  Still it is partly human, the numinous aspect of a person.  In most of us in western societies, soul has been largely repressed in favor of ego domination.  We might, as a result, expect some ego-soul conflicts.  Whereas ego operates in an externally-oriented manner in an intellectual, linear fashion; soul is inner-directed and manifests  through intuition, symbols and creative arts as its forms of self-expression.  Soul is fed by beauty, love, harmony, silence and solitude.  So when we get caught up in frenetic daily routines we starve our souls and, more often than not, lose track of the communicative channels to it.

In the dark night of the spirit, the soul is purified and purged of all its past learnings and the deeply rooted imperfections that survived the dark night of the senses.  This is an intense stripping process of all faculties, affections, feelings, and understandings.  Even previous blessings have to go leaving the soul completely open, vulnerable and helpless in order to receive God’s love.

The Divine Light that accomplishes these tasks is perceived by the soul as intense darkness as if the brightness of it blinded one’s eyes.  This is the night aspect of the process.  Suffering of the soul in this stage is intense.  Toward the end of the stage, the soul falls passionately in love with God and begins to reach out and search for God.  These passions subdue the will.  God guides the blinded soul through the darkness and purging and protects it from all that is not God.  The ladder to God summarizes stages of the dark night of the spirit, and St. John’s book concludes with a description of protective disguises and blessings inherent in the process.  The stage ends with union with God.

Underhill says each transition in the spiritual journey creates a crisis.  So far we have seen awakening and illumination as periods of equilibrium and light while purification was a time of disequilibrium, pain and suffering as the personality was cleansed.  Now we are faced with a second disequilibrium and darkness called the dark night of the soul.  The dark night involves the death of ego and rebirth of the soul which has been hiding in the depths of the unconscious.  Death and rebirth is initiation, historically called a descent into the underworld of darkness and despair.  Such is the dark night because it involves a sense of abandonment by God.  Underhill (1961) describes it this way:
   Sooner or later, however, psychic fatigue sets in; the state of illumination begins
    to break up, the complementary negative consciousness appears, and shows itself
    as an overwhelming sense of darkness and deprivation.  This sense is so deep and
    strong that it inhibits all consciousness of the Transcendent; and plunges the self
    into the state of negation and misery which is called the Dark Night. (p. 382)
   . . the self can do little but surrender itself to the inevitable process of things; to
    the operation of that unresting Spirit of Life which is pressing it on towards a new
    and higher state, in which it shall not only see Reality but be real. (p. 386)

    . . the self which thought itself so spiritual, so firmly established upon the super-
    sensual plane, is forced to turn back, to leave the Light, and pick up those qualities
    which it had left behind.  Only thus, by the transmutation of the whole man, not by
    a careful and departmental cultivation of that which we like to call his “spiritual
    side” can Divine Humanity be formed. . (.p. 388)
St. John of the Cross ((Peers, 1959) gives us the perspective of the feeling of abandonment by God.    He says, “But what the sorrowful soul feels most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks, that God has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into darkness; it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God has forsaken it. (p. 104)”

Exercise: Dark Night of the Soul

1.  Read Dark night of the soul by St. John of the Cross (Peers, 1959) .  There are numerous copies available by different translators, so it should not be hard to find.  It will be most helpful to outline it as you go because it can become very confusing.  Also read chapter 5 in Circle of love.  Take your time and reflect on what meaning these books have for you.  Can you distinguish between the dark night and depression?  What are the critical defining factors of the dark night that enable you to discriminate it from other kinds of depression or “blues?”  Would you call this stage a conflict between the ego and the soul?  How does the dark night qualify as ego death?  Where does the soul come into this equation?

2. Also read Paradoxes of love, pp. 42–51 and When things fall apart chapter 10.  How do these books give an added dimension to the problem?  Can you find the parallels between Sufism, Christianity and Buddhism?  What do they all have in common with respect to the dark night?

Experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul

There are several characteristic ways in which the dark night is experienced: as emptiness, dispiritedness, meaninglessness, longing and loneliness, loss of faith and disappointment, initiation, and sometimes as spiritual emergency.  We will look at each of these independently.


We have spoken of the unconscious as the probable void or godhead out of which everything is created.  The ego has erected a major defense against our awareness of the unconscious because to become aware of it would threaten ego’s very existence.  However, babies and young children seem to be still in contact with the source from which they came, and this shows up in the nightmares of preschool children just prior to the closure of the threshold by the ego at around age five.  From this time on, ego is invested in protecting its self-image which requires maintenance of the separation from the godhead.  Washburn (1995) discusses how this comes about in great detail in The ego and the dynamic ground.  Among other things, he notes the terror that is generated by threat of an encounter with the numinous.  This is the threat of non-being or loss of ego-identity.  Something in us always knows that it is possible to become engulfed by and lost in the Divine One.

Now compare this with St. John’s dark night.  He says that the purpose of the dark night is for God to purify and purge the soul.  This is done in darkness in order to protect the process and the person from interference from the outside world, intellect or ego.  In short, we are not able to be aware of what is happening in us for our own protection and, therefore, must trust that it is for our own good.  This requires surrender.  And this surrender is guaranteed by the darkening of understanding.  This is a stage of the journey that cannot be helped by the mind.

In dealing with the feelings of emptiness, prayer would be my first recommendation because it has the qualities of dialogue.  In prayer, you can ask for help, express a need for trust, beg for Presence, surrender, open  yourself to the Beloved and work on acceptance.  Prayer can range from something as simple as “Help!”  to long prayers devised by others for specific purposes.  It differs from meditation in that it is usually attempted dialogue.  We want something if only a feeling of connection.  In meditation, we simply open to whatever the Beloved wishes to bestow or not.  A dialogue might merge into channeling if there is a relationship with inner guidance.  Or a prayer may not elicit any response in which case we can continue to call God or beat upon the cloud of unknowing.

Another form of prayer is a brief, light touch in which we stop what we are doing for a moment and reach out to touch the Beloved.  It may just be an acknowledgement of Its Presence or an expression of gratitude for a beautiful sunset.  The more we can remember to reach out and touch the One, the easier it becomes to make a connection.  Remember that it is we who must make the initial move as our space cannot be invaded. . . usually.  Perhaps that is why a sudden opening is experienced as trauma.

We may also make use of formal religious services if such is available and compatible.   Sometimes religious ritual can be enormously comforting.  If there is no compatible religious group nearby, you might create your own by gathering a circle of friends to share your own rituals with you.  Or you may do it alone.

Exercise: Prayer

1.  Read Eternal echoes, chapter 5, (Reaching out, chapters 7-9), Paradoxes of love, pp. 72-84 and When things fall apart, chapter 4.  Make some notes of what resonates with you.

2.  Begin to practice the “touch and go” form of prayer by tuning in briefly whenever you think of it.  This can be while waiting for a stop light, waiting in line somewhere, in the shower or bathtub, before meals, at bedtime, etc.  If you just don’t think of it, find some way to remember throughout the day.  I once put red cupid angel stickers all around the house to remind me.  Your message can be gratitude for something nice or just a simple “Hi, are You there?”  Don’t be surprised if you get an answer.


This is a term coined by Bugental (1984) to describe a condition “. . and the emotional aspect of that condition in which a person is unable to bring significant life intentions from the unconscious through subjective processing and thus to actualization” (p. 49).  In other words, the person can neither act nor create.  Note the reference to the unconscious again in this context.  What Bugental has described in the quotation above defines creativity or lack of it because the source of inspiration for creativity lies in the unconscious.  It is the potential for creativity that brings joy to the work we have to do in life, so we need some access to unconscious inspiration.  Without it, we feel empty, lifeless, and often downright depressed.  There is a sense of isolation and aloneness as we imagine that no one else feels this way nor can they understand what we are going through.  We cannot explain our lack of energy and ambition, the fact that nothing motivates us to move to help ourselves.  There is an overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness.  All of these symptoms can be seen as ego defenses against awareness and terror of the power of the dynamic ground.

Another source of dispiritedness may be anger at not being able to function nor to understand why one cannot.  Because such anger may be seen as irrational, it can be repressed as well.  This is a common source of depression, so it also may be a trigger of dispiritedness.  Bugental ties this malaise to blockage of intentionality.  In other words, we cannot bring to fruition those things that we feel support our sense of identity.  So, if Spirit is working on our souls in the dark night in a way that denies our ego-image, we are blocked in our usual ways of satisfying our wants and needs.  You may want to read this article as Bugental goes on to talk about relinquishment (what we know as renunciation) and how to distinguish dispiritedness from depression as a clinical category.  He also addresses existential anxiety.

The response that seems most useful to me here is acceptance.  If we understand the general framework of what is happening to us, it becomes easier to wait for change to occur.  If we accept that our malaise is due to God’s working with our souls, we can find more patience to watch the process and cooperate with it.

Accepting and using solitude to meditate and reflect on the journey will assist the process as well.  You may find you are jealous of your solitude and wish to protect it from outside intrusions.  This is all right during this period as being quiet in mind and ego allows the Beloved to work with less interference.  It is helpful to develop the ability to say “No” to those who may have been used to popping in without warning or to telephoning you at all hours.  Even children are capable of understanding the need for peace and quiet.  If you explain to loved ones that you need this time for solitary reflection for your own health, they will be less likely to view it as rejection.  Often children are willing to do meditation with you if that is not too distracting.

Contemplation, meditation, chanting, dance, running and other forms of gentle exercise may also help.  All spiritual practices are useful with one exception.  If you are experiencing kundalini vibrations, heat, etc. and are bothered or frightened by them, do not meditate but use more active forms of contemplation.  Exercise gets your pulse up and your muscles oxidated which, almost by definition, makes you feel better.  Hatha Yoga is excellent.  It not only tones your body, relaxes the mind and renews the spirit, it also may put you in the company of like-minded others.

Exercise: Dispiritedness

1.  Read Psalm 22, Paradoxes of love, pp. 1-411, 84-95, and When things fall apart, chapter 7. The Bugental article can be found in The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 1984, 24, (1), 49-67.  Make some notes about how you experience this phenomenon.  Also compare the idea of dispiritedness to descriptions of the emotional responses to the dark night.  Can you make a list of all the feelings and emotions that might come up as a result of a threat to your own ego-identity.  What does the term ego-death evoke in you?  How would you deal with it if and when you are confronted with the possibility of it?  How might mindfulness practice be of help when you feel dispirited?  What does the Sufi perception of the Beloved offer to help sustain us in the dark night?

2.  If you are able to completely quiet your mind in meditation, what do you then feel?  In this situation, you are not experiencing your ego-identity.  Does that frighten you during the meditative experience?  Compare the experiences of meditation and the dark night, and make some notes about what you discover.

3.  Select some form(s) of exercise you can do on a daily basis and pledge yourself to it for a month.  This can be formalized exercise, housework,  gardening, walking, hiking, dance, Yoga, whatever makes you glow a bit.  If it gets you out of the house, all the better.  Go walk your dog, or someone else’s.  Clean up the garage.

Meaninglessness crisis

The smoke in chakra five means lack of clarity and confusion.  One of the manifestations of this often is loss of purpose in life.  You will recognize this as one of the defining characteristics of the mid-life crisis.  But it can occur any time in life.  It seems that it is only when we have exhausted our own repertoire of solutions to life’s problems that Spirit can get a foothold into our psyches.  We have seen how this type of crisis can set off the awakening that begins the spiritual journey and how it motivates a person to do the purification of the personality that was essential at the third chakra level.  Now it may re-emerge as the ego is challenged once again to give up its more deeply rooted and favored agendas.  However, this is the final purification.  We even think of it as purification of the soul as opposed to purification of the personality and ego.  In this case, reason and intellect block the clarity of truth we are seeking.

Truth is in the eye of the heart.  Notice that the eastern traditions have long said that the mind of wisdom is in the heart.  And that there is where we must seek the truth or seek to validate the truth.  However, when the intellect that is used to govern all decision-making is blocked in its purposes, there is usually a cloud of aroused emotions that follows.  And, in fact, this is what may happen in the dark night.  In the darkness, intellect cannot function properly, so it retaliates with a cloud of unknowing.  However, the wisdom of the heart is not affected by this upheaval and remains intact.

Meaninglessness and loss of purpose may result in a form of depression or dispiritedness.  We feel low because there seems to be no reason for living especially in the pain of so-called rejection.  Again, acceptance and making an effort to understand the process can help to bring meaning to the situation.  Surrender helps to the extent to which you can bring yourself to it.  Keep in mind that this is a gradual process that will become easier as you go further into it.  My experience has been that everything I want or like in my life is being systematically taken away from me, not roughly but gently as you would relieve a child of a medicine bottle.  “No, this is not good for you.  Here play with this other toy.”  This can apply to favorite TV programs, food, house plans, old friends who are dying, your favorite route to work, your favorite brand of jeans, a supplement that worked especially well for you.  You get the drift.  Maybe this has been true all along and I am just now noticing it.  The important thing is that, now that I am noticing, my focus is being kept on it as a systematic renunciation of attachment.  And it is getting clearer and clearer and occurs more and more often.  Noticing these things helps because you realize that there is another Being in this with you, one who is guiding the process.

Faithfulness and persistence help too.  Determine to stay in there with it until it is finished.  One way of doing this is to get into your Observer Self and watch the process.  This can be very interesting even entertaining at times when you can catch your behavior with a touch of humor.  It gives you more perspective on the issues that come up, so you don’t need to get so blown away.

Humor, it goes without saying, can be a godsend.  Granted this is the most serious  thing you have probably ever done, it can still have its lighter moments.  Remember that one of the hallmarks of a saint is joy and playfulness.

Exercise: Clarification

1.  Read the article by A. H. Almaas called “Clarification of the Personality.”  It can be found online at  Think about how Almaas’ ideas fit with those of Washburn and St. John of the Cross.  You may have to do some studying to see which concepts match in the various articles.  However, if you do so, you will be rewarded by an understanding of how universal these practices are.  Ultimately, this may help you surrender.

2.  You may be lucky enough to live with a clown (this could be an animal, a family member or a roommate).  If not, find a source of humor and touch in to it regularly especially when you feel sorry for yourself.   Playing with a cat or dog is good.  Seek out children and play with them.  Find games you can enjoy either alone or with others.  Do art work.  Find engaging music and dance.  Read funny books.  Take occasional deep breaths as you do these things.  The more the better.

Longing and loneliness

In the condition of the dark night, we not only feel abandoned by God, but we may  discover we cannot find any support from those we know and love unless we happen to be living in a spiritual community where there is likely to be someone who has trod this path ahead of us.  Like Job, whom we will visit in a bit, our friends either think we are becoming peculiar or that we have earned our woes through some fault of our own.  We “should” just make more of an effort to pull ourselves together.  Our attitude is wrong or we expect too much out of life.  We should get treatment: either a tranquilizer or other modern drug to put us out of our misery, or we should get some therapy.  None of these will help except perhaps a transpersonal psychotherapist who may have some training in spiritual journey.  Otherwise, a therapist will try to help you adapt to your situation which really cannot be done on any kind of permanent basis.  Drugs may abort the process to the detriment of your journey.  However, if your depression is intense, you should see a therapist to discover whether there is a clinical basis for it before attempting to surrender to it.

All of this produces a profound sense of isolation and loneliness.  Here I am all by myself confronted by the meaninglessness of my life and there is no help to be found.  I feel homeless, empty and deeply yearn for the unnameable.  This is a prime condition for addiction.  In fact, many alcoholics well know that the emptiness they try to fill with alcohol is a loss of God or contact with a Higher Power.  This is undoubtedly true of other addictions as well.  We grasp for anything that will dull the ache of longing.

In addition to the lack of support, we also may find ourselves alienated from the world as a result of the practices that have brought us through a great deal of renunciation.  We no longer take pleasure in the usual activities and social events such as parties.  We find the mindless chatter and gossip that goes on in most social gatherings irritating, so we begin to avoid them.  We may discover that we cannot think of anything to say to people especially those we do not know.  And we yearn for a community of like-minded souls with whom we can share our spiritual journey.

In short, we deeply need something more satisfying, but we don’t know what it is.

The most helpful insight I had around longing was that the longing is the loving.  If you feel alone and that you do not know how to love God, consider that you may be expecting it to manifest in the usual ways that you love people.  And, in fact, loving people is loving God since the godspark is in everyone.  This can be a challenge –  to see that.  But, beyond that, think about compassion, empathy, sympathy, awe, respect, healing, caring, helping out, as well as all the other forms of giving you can generate in yourself.  They are all loving, and they are loving God no matter to whom they are directed in your external life.  Loving yourself is also loving God.  It is an old adage that in order to receive something, i.e., love, we must give it to others.  So find a way to give to others and see if it is returned to you.

Radha’s tears come as a result of separation from God.  Radha was the human beloved of the god Krishna in the Hindu tradition.  Krishna wooed her, then left her.  Sound familiar?  Radha is a symbol for the human soul in love with God.  Radha’s tears also come in moments of ecstasy when the love affair is going well.

Exercise: Longing

1.  Read  Paradoxes of love, pp. 52-71, and the Introduction and chapter 1 in The bond with the beloved.  The latter book is all about the dark night, so you can continue with it at will.  Chapters 1-3 in Reaching out by Nouwen (1975) deal with the movement from loneliness to solitude if you want to go into that in more depth.

2.  Sit with these ideas for a while, then reflect on your aloneness.  Think about the difference between aloneness and loneliness and solitude.  All are conditions of being by oneself, but the quality of each is different.

3.  Take a few moments every night before bedtime to review your day and write down all the loving moments you have given out in whatever form they occurred.  Notice the number and variety of them.  Consider that they might be love messages from the Beloved to whomever you gave them using you as a conduit.  You may also notice that they nourished you as they traveled through.

Loss of faith and disappointment

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the dark night is the loss of faith or temptation to loss of faith.  This comes as a result of not being able to understand what is happening or of a conflict between what we believe and what we are experiencing.  We could see this as a transition from a belief in God to knowledge of God.  Our religions ask us to believe, but belief is different from knowledge.  We know something because we have actually experienced it.  Belief is second hand.  Someone else experienced it.  Faith is knowing without experience.  It could be placed  somewhere between belief and knowledge.  Or we might say it is intuitive knowledge which lacks actual experience.  For example, I know there is a god, but I have not yet come face to face with Him/Her/It.  Many of the scriptures say that human beings cannot come face to face with God and live.  This is another example of the terror of the dynamic ground.

Meanwhile, I am in a state of grief and mourning because the relationship I had with Spirit appears to have changed.  Either Spirit is gone completely or the relationship is attentuated or trivialized.  Swami Radha called this a test of ideals.  Can I continue with my worship and devotion and love of God even when It has apparently withdrawn from me?  And, if so, for how long can I sustain it?  There are several ways people can react to this predicament.

Loss of love for God.  Where there had been a mutuality in the relationship be-fore, now it feels as if I do not know how to love God.  How does one love something that is not in a body?  that manifests only as a Presence?  Without realizing it, I turn my back on the Light and cry because I have lost the love of my life.  

Plato’s cave.  When I turn my back on God, I stand in my own shadow and the world with all its complexities and pleasures seems dead and black to me.  On the other hand, when I turn my back on the world to face God, the world becomes my shadow.  So I behave like the prisoners in Plato’s cave unsure of my own perceptions of reality (see Appendix A).

If you would like more information on the shadow, read the “Shadow” edition of Parabola, 1997, 22, (2).

Heart closed.  When I can no longer tolerate my grief and suffering, I close my heart and am unable to give love to anyone else as well.  Furthermore, because I have shut myself off, as if to pull my dungeon in behind me to grieve, I cannot reach out to anyone else for help or sympathy.  And I no longer love myself which is perhaps the greatest pity of all.  It may be that, in this condition, we can accept love only from our animals who do not make demands upon us.  To become unable to love or to accept love from another feels like the depth of despair and hopelessness.  A person can go through all the routines of the day, talk to people, keep house, go to work, keep up with personal hygiene and still not be present to others or to the work.  One operates on automation and habit while the grief simmers internally.

Here is another opportunity to develop patience.  God cannot be commanded and is more likely to be helpful if our attitude is one of humility.  Divine intervention is a form of grace that comes when least expected.  There is no time in the divine realm.  So we wait. . . and pray.  It might be useful when feeling impatient to remember that God is working in the darkness and accomplishing things we are not aware of.  There is a plan being fulfilled of which we cannot be conscious at this time.  So we wait.

Exercise: Bodhicitta

Read Healing Communication, ch 7, Paradoxes of love, pp. 142-159.  What is bodhicitta?  Is that something you would be interested in striving for?  Why is silence important?  Why is love beyond dualities?  What is the relationship between choicelessness and unity?

Job as personification of the dark night

It is possible to suffer all this and not lose faith in God.  And, in fact, doing so may even move the Divine One to compassion and repentance.  This is the story of Job.  In the story, God is tempted by Satan to allow him to abuse Job to see if he can shake his faith in God.  For whatever private reasons, God acquiesces.  Satan then takes away all Job’s possessions and his family.  He bestows a plague of boils and other persecutions, but Job does not waver in his faith even to the point of death which God has disallowed.

Here we have abandonment and withdrawal coupled with the injustice of the  persecution of an innocent and good man who loves God.  Why would God allow that?

Job’s strategy.  Job was successful in weathering the dark night for several reasons that might be instructive for us.  First, he was not afraid of God.  He was not confused because he had a strong, resilient faith that what God was about was just what he needed,  however painful.  His heart stayed open because he trusted God.  He did experience the longing and loneliness of separation.  So did Jesus.  So did David and probably all the great saints at one time or another.  Job’s sense of meaninglessness was resolved when he finally detected the reason for his trials and he was able to forgive God for hurting him.

Exercise: Job

Read the "Book of Job" in the Bible first.  Then read either or both of the following: J.B. a play by Archibald MacLeish and/or The book of Job with commentary by Thomas Moore.  Please do this before continuing because we are going to examine the symbolism in the Book of Job.  If you want to study this in depth, you might include Transformation of the God-image: An elucidation of Jung’s Answer to Job by E. F. Edinger (1992).

Interpretation of Job.  All scriptures that tell a story should be read as symbolic of the spiritual journey in some or one of its aspects.  The story line attracts attention, but the meaning lies within the individual symbols of the story.  In the case of Job, my take on it is that Job represents the soul or the ego, either would be relevant.  The tortures he undergoes are analogous to the suffering of the dark night when all that is valued is taken away from us, even the love of family and friends seems to be gone.  In fact, we may be ridiculed by some people for clinging to God even when He seems to be hurting us.

When Job insists on maintaining his love for God in spite of the persecution, God is moved to rescue him and to restore his losses.  Some interpreters see this as a story about the evolution of God into a more compassionate being as if He were not perfect to begin with.  This does not make sense to me if we believe God is omniscent, omnipotent and omnipresent.  But here we have another belief.

What does make more sense is that we project our own issues and images upon the Divine One, then rationalize our own behavior accordingly.  God makes a bet with the devil.  God turns away in the face of our distress.  Then God repents and makes restitution.  These surely are human behaviors projected onto the One to try to make sense of why we suffer in life when we are trying so hard to be good.  The error occurs in assuming that if we behave ourselves God will make everything right for us.  So, when He does not, we feel victimized and betrayed.

It is easy to feel betrayed in the dark night because the rules have changed.  We have been good and tried to live a moral and compassionate life.  Yet we suffer this abandonment and loss of love and light that formerly graced our lives.  Why?  I think it is because we have to go to the Beloved empty handed, bearing all our love only for the One.  All of our commitment must be to the One as well.  We cannot divide our loyalties at this point.  Some for family, some for work, some for God.  Now we need to give the full force of all the love of which we are capable.  In that sense, this is a test.  

But think of it another way.  Unless I can make a full, unencumbered commitment to the Beloved, how can I be God in the world?  Enlightenment is not the end of the line.  Service is.  Once I am identified with the One, I must come back into the world and give assistance to the transformation that is ongoing.  To do this, I cannot be swayed by allegiances to anything else.  This does not mean I have to leave my family and friends physically or my home or give all my worldly goods to the poor.  But it does mean I must put God first in everything I do or think or feel.  Total commitment.  Total surrender.  Job did this and so can you.  Hopefully we can let go without having to undergo the same tortures he did.  We can learn from the experiences of others.


It seems to me that trust is critical. To bolster trust, we can study to find every proof possible that God indeed exists and is benevolent.  We can go out into nature and marvel at the handiwork of a Higher Power that has had the intelligence and love to create a gorgeous world full of animals, plants, stars and people for us to enjoy and to remind us of Love and Light.  If we doubt God’s benevolence, which is easy to do in these troubled times, we must subtract our own ego choices from the equation first.  One measure of our godliness is that we have been trusted with free will.  That we choose to turn it to materialistic profits, greed and warfare is not God’s fault, but ours.  I am sure the One suffers along with us as we consider the devastation going on all around us.

And, finally, we can engage in the spiritual practices that are designed to help us access the Beloved directly.  As we move closer to the Light, our faith grows in proportion to the darkness, so we are not left without recourses.  Imperceptibly we are drawn into the arms of the Beloved in the enfolding darkness even though we are not aware of it at first.


We could think of the dark night as an initiation.  It involves trials and tests of our commitment and faith.  Tremendous anxiety if not downright terror may be generated.  There is a huge unknown.  We have to depend on someone else to guide us as our own faculties are useless.  We do not know where we are nor how to escape.  It is dark and there is a threat of engulfment by unknown, powerful forces.  There is no timeline to assure us that it is limited in scope.  This has all the characteristics of an extended, intensive nightmare.

However, we have chosen this or we would not be here.  It is important to realize that much of what we experience has already been chosen on the soul level over and above the conscious choices we are able to make in daily life.  Before we came into a body, we chose our parents and the important interpersonal encounters we would make in this life as well as the lessons we needed to learn.  If we do not take responsibility for these choices we are at the mercy of fate.  Usually we can identify what choices we made with a little quiet introspection once the possibility of that
becomes known to us.  Then the responsibility becomes a further choice.  Such a choice frees us from victimization.

In the dark night we confront the death of ego in its self-serving aspects and rebirth of the soul into Light.  All of the illusions about who and what we are must be relinquished in order for us to greet and merge with the maturing soul in its journey to the One.

You may be familiar with the myth of Persephone who was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of the grain, in Greek mythology.  One day as young Persephone is picking flowers in the meadow, the earth opens and she is kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld.  Demeter is distraught and wanders the world in search of her daughter.  When she finally finds her, Persephone is allowed to return to earth but only for two-thirds of the year because while in Hades she ate some pomegranate seed, a symbol of death.  Therefore,  she must return to Hades for the other third of every year.  Because of this, Demeter, in her anger, caused the vegetative life of the world to shrivel and die during those months.  Now Persephone was a girl when she was kidnapped, but when she returns to Hades later on she becomes its queen.  We can see this story as a metaphor for the maturation of the soul if we think of Hades not as hell but as the unconscious.  In such a case, part of the soul remains unconscious in the emptiness of the void.  But another part of it can be brought into consciousness through its sojourn in the dark night and thus restored to life on earth.  Its queenliness would be attained through marriage with the king of the void – the Beloved One.  

It is only in western religions that Hades is equated with hell and darkness is considered to be evil.  In other traditions, the chthonic is considered to be the womb of creation, the divine feminine.  “In the unconscious lies the archetypal feminine – her roots are buried deeply in the rich soil under the dark waters. . . Chthon refers to the depths. . . a sense of fullness within the emptiness. . . a darkness which is full of potential, vibrant, life-giving” (Joslin, 1982p. 31).  Given this, we must suspect that the motivation for a negative interpretation of the underworld is control over the population, especially women.

Along these same lines, we have the story of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth (Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983) who was also variously a grain, love, war and fertility goddess in Sumerian and Akkadian cultures thousands of years before Christ.  In this story the ruler of the underworld is Ereskigal, Inanna’s older sister.  Inanna makes a descent into the underworld to challenge Ereskigal and suffers judgment and death for three days and nights before being restored at the behest of Enki, the god of wisdom.  That both of these descents were made by women is significant when we consider that the soul is often thought to be feminine and God to be masculine.  This duality enables the spiritual marriage (hierogamos) to occur.  When we speak of surrender to a lover or to the Beloved, reference is made to the same kind of union.

So we may consider the dark night to represent the soul’s descent into the dark womb of creation in which it is protected during its incubation in order to be reborn as a mature soul.  The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus has reference to the same process.  So do the Eleusianian mysteries.  The death and resurrection of the son of the great mother idea goes back even further into Egyptian history.  There is probably an analogous myth in every religious tradition.  It originated in the death and rebirth inherent in food crops in temperate regions of the world.  What would this mean to us standing on the brink of the dark night?  It is reassurance that the suffering we are undergoing is only temporary and something new and glorious will be the outcome.  We will be reborn and able to start life anew on a higher level of consciousness and beingness because we will be able to live the god sparks within us at a conscious level.

Exercise: Initiation

Draw or make a collage of initiation.  This may refer to an initiation you have actually experienced or merely to what you have learned about it.  Some social initiations are christening, baptism, first communion, confirmation or other puberty rites, graduation, marriage, divorce and death.  If you use one of these, treat it as a death and rebirth event looking for appropriate symbols.   What died in you?  What was reborn?  How?  What was the refining process?  Have you had spiritual initiation into an established order?   If so, you may use that.  Have you had an initiation directly from Spirit or the Divine One?  Select what is most meaningful to you at present.  When finished, put the picture up where you can live with it for awhile and journal your insights into the process and its value for your life.

Spiritual emergency

All of what we have been discussing is a normal transformative process that occurs during the process of spiritual development.  What constitutes a spiritual emergency is an unexpected or accelerated part of this process that causes an individual to become unable to function in daily life.  It can be distinguished from psychosis in a number of ways that I am not going to go into here.  The stormy search for the self by Christina and Stanislav Grof (1990) describes and documents the whole process of spiritual emergency including the various forms it may take and how it is related to the dark night of the soul.  They also chart the differences between spiritual emergency and psychosis.  Spiritual emergency is a more radical shift in the balance between the conscious and the unconscious, so that the latter “overrides ordinary awareness” (Grof, 1990, p. 33).  In their chapter “The Dark Night of the Soul” the Grofs discuss various kinds of feelings of fear, sense of devastating loneliness and isolation, fears of insanity, internal chaos,  and the  confrontation with symbolic death.  

If you have reason to believe you may be experiencing a spiritual emergency or someone close to you is, you may want to read this book.  Another resource is The call of spiritual emergency by Emma Bragdon (1990).  She also deals more briefly with the dark night.  If you need to talk to someone, there is a Spiritual Emergency Network, based, I believe, at the California Institute of Integral Studies.  Phone 415-648-2610.  They have a website at The California Institute of Integral Studies [alternate site is The Center for Psychological and Spiritual Health which is the new form of the Spiritual Emergency Network.

On the whole, the major difference between psychosis and spiritual emergency is that in the latter individuals have not lost touch with reality and can be reached through normal communication channels.  They may even recognize what is happening as part of their spiritual journey probably because they have been engaging in practices that were instrumental in causing it.  One of the important reasons for finding a teacher is that there is a need for preparation so that the bodymind is prepared to withstand the forces being unleashed from the unconscious.  Hence we do extensive purification.  What is happening here is a psychic opening, and it can be very traumatic if it occurs suddenly and the person is not prepared for it.  Kundalini psychosis is a well-known example.  Kundalini is the fire that burns up ignorance, but in the hands of a pseudo-guru who may be  raising it for reasons of his or her own ego-inflation, it is an exceedingly dangerous, incendiary bomb.  This is why it is so important to make sure your teacher or guru is legitimate and part of a spiritual lineage of training.  I might add that psychic experiences are not kundalini.

There is a great need for discretion, discrimination and discernment in this area as well as in the dark night.  The Spiritual Emergency Network can help with this as well.

Total Surrender

All attachments that chain us to physical reality must be renounced.  Notice the emphasis on “attachments.”  That means a reordering of priorities.  All the habits, conditioning, experience and traumas from the past must be sifted for their meaning and value for learning and then be either discarded or kept if they are still useful.  All needs for control based on ego agendas must be given up.  Faith must be cultivated until it can flower and support our next tentative steps into paradise.  Fears of the unconscious must be overcome in order to meet the numinous Light of the Beloved.

What this all adds up to is Surrender.

Acceptance is needed for surrender and trust is needed for acceptance.

May the Beloved grace you with the trust you need in order to proceed.


Almaas, A.  (2003).  “Clarification of the Personality.”  Diamond Heart, Book IV, article online at

___________.  The Holy Bible.

Bragdon, E.  (1990).  The call of spiritual emergency:   From personal crisis to personal transformation.  San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Bugental, E. & Bugental, J.  (1984).  “Dispiritedness: A New Perspective on a Familiar State.”  Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 24 (1), 49-67.

Chodron, P.  (1997).  When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times. Boston: Shambhala.

Edinger, E.  (1992).  Transformation of the God-image: An elucidation of Jung’s Answer to Job.  Toronto: Inner City Books.

Grof, C. & Grof, S.  (1990).  The stormy search for the self: A guide to personal growth through transformational crisis.  Los Angeles: Tarcher.

Joslin, H.  “The Deep Feminine.”  Inward Light, XLV (98), 30-36.

MacLeish, A.  (1958).  J. B.: A play in verse.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Moore, T.  (1998).  The book of Job: With commentary.  New York: Riverhead Books.

Nouwen, H.  (1975).  Reaching out: The three movements of the spiritual life.  New York: Doubleday.

O’Donohue, J.  (1999).  Eternal echoes: Exploring our yearning to belong.  New York: Cliff Street Books.

Peers, E. (Tr. & Ed.). (1959).  Dark night of the soul by Saint John of the Cross, 3rd. revised ed.  New York: Doubleday.

Plato.  The republic: Book VII.

Underhill, E.  (1961).  Mysticism: A study in the nature and development of man’s spiritual consciousness.  New York: Dutton.

Vaughan-Lee, L.  (1993).  The bond with the Beloved: The mystical relationship of the lover and the Beloved.  Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.

Vaughan-Lee, L.  (1996).  The paradoxes of love.  Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.

Vaughan-Lee, L.  (1999).  The circle of love.  Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.

Washburn, M.  (1995).  The ego and the dynamic ground: A transpersonal theory of human development, 2nd ed. revised.  Albany: State University of New York Press.

Wolkstein, D.  & Kramer, S.  (1983).  Inanna queen of heaven and earth: Her stories and hymns from Sumer.  New York: Harper & Row.

In this unit, we have been examining the dark night of the soul.  In Unit IX. Acceptance, we will go more deeply into the role of acceptance in surrender.

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