Some people experience a time in their lives when they feel utterly lost. Life has no meaning; they examine their very existence and purpose. They ask the question: “Why am I here?” Although this sounds very much like depression, it is more complicated than that.
Imagine you are carrying on with your life as usual; going to work, socialising, studying, perhaps working towards a serious relationship, considering a family. In essence, all of the normal stuff we humans do.
Then suddenly, nothing is important to you anymore. It is all meaningless. You wonder what the point of it all is. Philosophers call this the Dark Night of the Soul. Eckhart Tolle describes it as:
“…a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness.”
So how do you know if you are going through this process? Here are 12 dark night of the soul symptoms:
12 Dark Night of the Soul Symptoms
1. You experience a traumatic event
It can take a traumatic event to trigger symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul. The death of someone close to you, a brutal betrayal, a plunge into extreme poverty, or being the victim of abuse.
You may experience an injustice or witness a terrible accident. Or you may wonder if any of your achievements mean anything.
Many people would class the latter as a midlife crisis, and in some way, it is. But it can happen at any point in your life. Whatever the reason, something has caused you to question the meaning of your life.
2. You start asking questions
Sometimes it doesn’t take a traumatic event to prompt a re-examination of your life. Frequently, people will experience symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul when they are happy and content with their lives.
You may feel you have a wonderful home, a loving family, a good job and a compassionate partner, but you are not happy. You know you should be; you have everything you need for a fulfilling life. However, you start to question what is really important.
You wonder what purpose you have, why you are here, and what is the point if you are going to die?
3. You feel despair and anxiety
“There are many ways not to be happy that do not equal depression.” Spiritual writer and former Catholic monk Thomas Moore
Once you begin asking these questions, it becomes obvious that everything you held dear is worthless. All you have accumulated throughout life is meaningless. This plunges you into despair. You are helpless. You don’t have the answers to these fundamentally important questions of human existence.
There’s nothing you can do, so you sink into depression. You feel empty, worthless, and unmotivated. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. You might cry for no reason. Whatever your symptoms, you feel desperately sad.
These feelings of despair and hopelessness increase your anxiety. You know something is fundamentally wrong, but you don’t know how to deal with it. What you don’t realise at this point is that you are finally becoming aware of your ego and how it has dictated the way you live.
Once our idea of ourselves and how we fit into the world conflicts with our souls we experience ego death.
4. You withdraw from society
Withdrawing from society is a less common Dark Night of the Soul symptom. Simply because some people try to carry on their life as normal.
Others will begin to withdraw from society. You don’t reach out to friends or family, nor do you respond when they make contact. You begin to question your circle of friends. Are they really your friends if you can’t tell them what is happening to you?
You start to realise that the things you thought made you happy, i.e. going out, socialising, working hard for that promotion, don’t matter that much to you anymore.
You become lethargic and lazy. You let dishes pile up, order take-outs because you can’t be bothered to cook, and never get round to cleaning the house.
5. You question what matters
Once you are on the hedonic treadmill of life, it’s difficult to get off. What we thought we loved suddenly doesn’t make any sense.
Perhaps your parents have expected you to take a certain route career-wise? Or maybe you have become trapped in a relationship that is sucking the personality from you?
Life appears to be a competition. Who has the better house, car, partner, job, etc? We define ourselves, and other people, by what they have, what they have accomplished. Not who they are.
6. Your physical health suffers
So far, most of the Dark Night of the Soul symptoms have been inside your head. At this stage, you are likely to suffer from physical symptoms. In particular, your sleep is disrupted. You might find that you can’t sleep or you have too much sleep.
As your eating habits change, your digestive system plays up. You may experience bloating, and sluggish digestion; all signs of constipation.
Your anxiety increases. This may lead to a social anxiety phobia.
7. You feel as if you are stuck in a rut
Sometimes, doing the same things over and over is enough to trigger symptoms of the Dark Night. Feeling stuck indicates that we are not living to our fullest potential. We are on the wrong path. This could be a relationship, a job, where you live, your lifestyle, anything.
Now you realise how stuck you are, confusion will set in. If this isn’t meant to be your life, what is? What will you do?
8. The purge
The phrase Dark Night of the Soul derives from a 16-century poem by a Spanish monk. The poem describes the hardships the soul is suffering as it continues its path to God. In the original poem, the monk gets rid of all his possessions and lives a simple life to be closer to God.
One of the more common symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul is an overwhelming desire to de-clutter your life. You may decide to cut certain people out or give clothes away that you haven’t worn for a while.
You look at the things you have acquired over the years and see them as they are; meaningless objects. Of course, some objects hold memories for us or were gifted by special people. But they are objects, nonetheless.
What is happening is that your framework of the world is changing. You recognise what is valuable and what is not.
9. You notice coincidences
Coincidences occur to show that we are on the right path. So, it’s a good sign if you start to notice strange coincidences. Little things such as thinking of a friend and they call or text you. Reading a sentence in a book and the exact word appears on TV or the radio as you are reading it.
Pay attention to recurring numbers, they all have different significance:
- 11: represents your gut feelings, dreams, intuition, and insight.
- 22: contains all the attributes of number 11 but practically combines them with leadership, confidence and discipline.
- 33: the most powerful number as it contains both 11 and 22. This number represents spiritual learning and teaching.
999: relates to transformation, changes and rethinking your life.
10. Dreams are more intense
One of the Dark Night of the Soul symptoms is a shift from conscious thought to the subconscious. It is as if we have been sleepwalking through life. Now you are more aware and your thoughts are shifting, and this allows your subconscious to rise to the surface.
Dreams are vivid and full of symbolism; you recall childhood memories; you remember old friends and how they were important to you at the time.
11. You embrace the change as your priorities shift
In the beginning, you felt that the rug had been pulled from underneath you. Now you understand what’s going on. You are not afraid of change. You walk towards it, rather than hide away in fear.
You understand it is not that everything you thought was important, including your existence, is meaningless. What has changed is your concept of what is important. In other words, you question why you gave meaning to certain things in your life.
It is as if you are pulled from the Matrix. And this can be frightening because your whole view of the world has changed.
12. Your spiritual side awakens
Now you see the world on a spiritual level, not through concepts created in your mind. You find a deeper meaning in life. Your life is no longer connected to the meanings you have created for it. The old you has died and your true self is born.
When you experience Dark Night of the Soul symptoms, it signifies the death of your ego and rebirth, allowing a spiritual awakening, or healing if you like.
“…is no longer identified with mental, emotional or bodily ‘recovery’ but rather, with self–discovery – the birth of a newly felt bodily sense of self.”
-Philosopher Peter Wilberg
What Is the Dark Night of the Soul?
Fundamentally, it is the disintegration of everything that gives you meaning in life. It is as if you have stepped away from the rat race, looked at your life objectively and questioned everything you thought was important, including your own existence.
Despite the frightening nature, this state of being does not signal a collapse in your mental health. Rather, it is one stage along a spiritual journey of enlightenment.
Humans have an ego, and when the soul and ego are no longer in tune with each other, something drastic has to happen. The soul intervenes and we experience the Dark Night of the Soul.
However, this is not really about our soul suffering. Souls represent our moral compass, our higher self. Souls form our true nature and beliefs.
Our soul recognises we are traveling along the wrong path, or that we are prioritising the wrong things. So that we can move forward towards spiritual enlightenment, the ego has to die.
As terrifying as it sounds, it is not a death; more a chance for rebirth and to evaluate what is important.
It is important to remember that experiencing Dark Night of the Soul symptoms does not mean you are having a mental breakdown. It is more of a spiritual awakening.
I’ll leave the final word to Thomas Moore. He advises:
“…remain in the present, not bound or deluded by the past and not imprisoned in a fixed and defensive idea about the future…the most difficult challenge is to let the process take place, and yet that is the only release from the pressure of the dark night.” Thomas Moore
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This Post Has 2 Comments
Very valuable information indeed. Honestly, knowing that as I follow intuition, I see the right path gives me hope. Accepting to receive support when the time comes is also one of the details that accelerate the development of the person. The awakening comes sooner or later, slow or fast, but on its own time. One of the books that impressed me the most on this spiritual awakening subject was Michael Brown’s The Process of Existence.
An excellent article and eye opener. I have experienced this at different junctures of my life.