Is the Dark Night of the Soul a Necessity if we are to Awaken?

“Is the Dark Night of the Soul a Necessity if we are to Awaken?”
Many mystical teachings talk of the “dark night of the soul”, an extended period of internal suffering that includes a profound aloneness, hopelessness and despair, all mixed in with an intense longing for union with God/the Beloved. This darkness – which is so horrific because it seems to be without end – is often a precursor to divine revelation or enlightenment.

In more recent times, we hear about the “awakening out of the dream of separation” that can occur in amidst a dark period of life, such as deep depression or an unexpected and intensely painful circumstance. Very often, this is accompanied by loss of some kind, usually the loss of material possessions, loss of career, loss of a loved one, or even loss of interest in the world.

Inevitably, these “reports of how enlightenment happens” set up a mental picture in the seeking mind. All sorts of stories and myths get created, frequently leading the seeker astray and bypassing the very real possibility of awakening in this very precious moment.

In the seeker’s mind, these stories and myths give rise to a conglomerate of questions that all revolve around a basic misunderstanding: that awakening/enlightenment conforms to the same set of rules as everyday linear experience (i.e. “unconscious or unawake” perception). In Satsang, the seeker arrives with these kind of questions:

“Do I need to experience a dark night of the soul in order to awaken?”

“I’m experiencing a lot of suffering (my husband left me / I lost my job and my home / I have a chronic illness and I’m in pain / I’m deeply unhappy with my life / and so on) – does this mean I will awaken soon?”

“I really want to awaken, but my life is good, I’m secure and comfortable, I’m not suffering – does this mean that I have to lose everything or give up everything in order to awaken?”

Satsang offers the opportunity to unravel these questions, pointing the seeker to a vertical dimension that dissolves linear perception. It is in the depths of this vertical dimension that awakening is available as a natural state of being. Here, the questions themselves – if truly examined – hold no validity; they are seen to arise from the acquisitive mind.

The honest investigation of what is true reveals that enlightenment is not a commodity: it does not arrive on your plate when you want it, like when you order dinner at a gourmet restaurant. Neither can it be replicated, like a painting that has been carefully copied so that it looks just like the original masterpiece. Just because you’re in the midst of chaos or tragedy, just because your current life experience is dark or painful, just because you want to be free of this pain, just because you have heard that darkness often precedes the light … none of this causes liberation from ego mind, none of it leads to self-realization. Suffering does not guarantee enlightenment.

The “dark night of the soul” is a term sometimes used carelessly to describe any personal experience of pain or suffering. When a tsunami hits our lives – whether it be the death of a loved one, sudden illness, unexpected financial or material loss, or anything else that we don’t want or like – we often call this a calamity, a tragedy, a terrible thing that has happened to us, and we may experience intense anxiety, rage, despair, depression, fear. Sometimes we simply can’t seem to find our way out of these difficult and unwanted feelings. If we are spiritual seekers, we may start to identify with the “sufferer” who experiences a “dark night of the soul”. And then all the expectations of “awakening out of this darkness” start to seep in and we are even more lost than before.

But the “dark night of the soul” is more specific than painful emotions – it actually refers to a very particular inner experience that is part of the spiritual path. It really has nothing to do with events that happen in your life, nothing to do with circumstances or emotions. In fact, there may not be any external catalyst for this inner experience.

There simply comes a point in life – perhaps there is a readiness to finally dive into the unknown, or perhaps there is a ripeness of the soul that calls you home to your true nature – when meeting that which has been previously turned away from becomes unavoidable. It’s a final call to stand at the edge of an abyss, to enter new territory where the mind cannot go. What is faced here is the terror of annihilation, the idea that the self as you know it – the “you” that is your personality, your memories, your dreams, your imaginations, your beliefs, etc – will no longer exist if you fall into the abyss of being. The mind does not know being-ness (only being can know being-ness) and so it cannot conceive of existence outside of itself.

This edge, if it is fully turned towards (even though it is full of terror), has the possibility to bring you to the core wound of separation, the place where “self” ends and something unimaginably unknown in its vastness begins. It is right here that a profound and seemingly eternal aloneness is experienced. The “dark night of the soul” is a time of acute alienation from all of existence, an excruciating sense of barrenness amidst a meaningless world, a visceral experience of being past redemption, an agonizing feeling that there is nothing beyond the small self and it’s suffering.

As already said, this suffering has nothing to do with the circumstances of your life, it is not a story of “poor me” or “why do bad things happen?” The suffering that comes about when the inner terrain of the psyche reveals a landscape of desolation without escape, is not a victimhood.

It is a raw and honest “end of the road”, a “head on collision” with naked truth, a screaming “stop” of the mind when it realizes that there is no exit. Right here, in this “stop”, is the possibility of surrender. And this surrender must be total. Surrender to what, you may ask? To the unknown. And the unknown is vast, infinite, eternal, absolute. The unknown is the most terrifying thing to the mind that can only operating in knowing-ness. Surrender must have no agenda, the outcome of surrender cannot be forced or controlled or even expected. In fact, you must expect no outcome. Nothing! You – as you know yourself up until now – must die! Your suffering must not be worn as a badge of honor, expecting some kind of salvation. You must be willing to be annihilated, to exist no more, to die into no-thingness/emptiness.

It is not material loss that is important for spiritual liberation, but loss of self-identity. This self-identity is what keeps us self-protective, defensive, arrogant and ignorant. Self-identity is rooted in ignorance of true nature, it stems from a core belief in separation. The illusion that we exist as an entity separate from the totality of existence is the very thing that perpetuates psychological and earthly suffering. Falling into the abyss of being means losing the self. And when you lose your self totally, you find out who you really are, you discover your true luminous nature that is inseparable from the radiant essence of existence itself. This is the realization of true Self as one and the same as Life, as God, as the Totality.

Even if your worldly life is comfortable and there is no obvious lack or calamity, there can be an inner sensitivity to existential aloneness: this is the ripeness required for the death of self-identity. It may indeed be harder to access the abyss of being because your attention is given to worldly comfort, but it can still be available to you are sincere in your search for truth.

And if you are sincere in your search for truth, then it must be that some aspect of your comfortable worldly life or your comfortable psychological state is seen to be not true. There must already be the seed of discontent that sprouts into the darkness of internal suffering, in order to even be a seeker. Although very often, this honest seed of truth is hidden beneath layers of acquisitive desire which, when turned towards the spiritual search is a desire to be “more spiritual” because it makes you more special or more evolved or more worthy or more this or more that. As long as the search for truth is an accumulation of spiritual brownie points, there is no transformation of consciousness. You must be willing to give everything up, both who you think you are and all the things in your life that uphold who you think you are.

If your surrender is total, then maybe those structures that no longer serve what is true will fall away. But it is not necessary for there to be a complete collapse of your world. It is the inner world that changes and then the outer world will change to come into alignment.

These days more and more people are awakening without crisis; it is an evolutionary step. Although darkness is often the catalyst; one way or another, we need to be brought to our knees in order for ego to bow down before God.


Amoda Maa is a contemporary spiritual teacher and author. Her teaching arises out of direct experience of awakened awareness and emanates the untamable fragrance of freedom whilst radically embracing the mystery and mess of human existence. Her invitation is for you to open to the fullness of life, to say YES to the totality of your experience and to meet reality with radical compassion.

For more on Amoda Maa Jeevan view HERE

A Conversation with Rupert Spira and Santena Augusto Sabbadini on the Nature of Reality

Published on Aug 11, 2015

How does the appearance of an objective world arises? Why we and the world appear localized in space and time if we our true nature of infinite?

The non-dual teacher Rupert Spira and the quantum physicist Santena Augusto Sabbadini discuss the nature of consciousness through the lenses of non-duality, quantum mechanics, Tao Te Ching and poetry. This conversation was recorded at SAND15 Italy.

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