Updated: Nov 19, 2020
An existential crisis to end all crises
“My desire to live is as intense as ever, and though my heart is broken, hearts are made to be broken: that is why God sends sorrow into the world.”
— Oscar Wilde
Life of Pi · Director Ang Lee
The Shaman’s Prayer
I am already given to the power that rules my fate I cling to nothing, so I have nothing to defend I have no thoughts, so I will See. I fear nothing, so I will remember myself. Detached and at ease, I will dart past the Eagle To be free.
The declaration of the Spiritual Warrior
Our assertion in times of deepest distress, or when in very real personal danger.
It’s written for our body and soul survival when the threat of annihilation arises, where others might enact their inexplicable hatred upon us through destroying us. Or after extensive unbearable trauma, where we ourselves consider for a moment or longer, taking our life into our own hands.
One way or another.
Our prayer is to see our way through this threat of utter annihilation and obscuration of our very essence, to remember this is impossible after all. Because who and what we truly are will never fade.
Our essence is an eternal pure light within those Nights of Darkness.
Yet when we confront the particular darkness born of the ignorance of others, over time our soul-weariness seems to dim our own candle of inner light. And we feel our life is about to be extinguished, and die.
The Luminous Ocean · Life of Pi
Many kinds of night
This is one kind of Dark Night, triggered by the soulless hatred of others towards us.
A kind of inexplicable hatred that leaves our sensitive soul feeling it’s being battered and stabbed by invisible razor-sharp swords.
And yet another kind of Dark Night is born within — an existential meaninglessness engulfing our senses like a massive tidal wave, where our life feels stuck in a black tunnel seeming to have absolutely no purpose.
Whilst we’re in it there seems no reprieve
We’re confronted by our own existence and our own mortality. And all that lies between. And beneath.
There seems to be no chance of any respite or let-up.
We awaken and we go to sleep (if we can) with it in our face. And this profound state of spiritual depression and questioning can last for a few hours or days, and for some it can stretch into months and years.
Depression is not a life sentence
I always try to reassure myself and others that no emotional state should be seen as a life sentence, but when it comes to intense trauma caused by life experiences, this can seem to be a moot point.
Because some of our trauma is not only inter-generational, but spans this lifetime and many other lifetimes. And seems etched within the very cells of our soul and our DNA.
So, we need to work with it and get through it.
One thing is for certain — there’s no avoiding or ignoring it when you’re in it.
What is the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’?
It’s a time of our deepest desolation, and a sense of disconnection from Source — a feeling of unbearable separation from God, from home — and a terrible spiritual loneliness that cannot be bridged by any other.
Its hallmarks are feeling completely lost and consumed by a kind of emotional pain that burns into our spirit like acid. Or deadly shards of glistening glassy ice slivering into our soul. Or a deadening dullness that completely removes your appetite for life.
Either way. It hurts like hell. It is hell. Hell on earth.
Meerkat Island · Life of Pi
Feeling forsaken and betrayed
We begin to constantly question our very reason for living, asking:
‘Why are such bad things happening to good people, including me? And why did I have to come here, in this time, and in this place?’
‘So why am I here and why am I even alive?’
‘What’s the actual point of me being here? And going through all this?’
‘Where are you, my God? I mean really — where are You?’
It’s not really a clinical depression, although it could really be called a spiritual depression. We know the difference because it’s rooted in powerful existential and spiritual questions, and not a momentary or situational life angst.
And whilst seeking answers to what seems unfathomable, we realise the truth is this:
Nothing and no-one can save us but ourself.
The philosophy born in the night
Many say that on the other side of such a Dark Night, we’re reborn to experience a life of absolutely luminous sunlight once more. In a state of enlightenment born only through suffering. Like a beautiful butterfly now leaving the entrapment of its encasing cocoon.
This has been experienced by many. And this enlightenment only comes with the acceptance of a definite and absolute proviso. Of confronting those demons that live in the Night, head-on.
Whether they’re our own inner demons, or demons of this world or the astral, we needs face them, do battle with them as a spiritual warrior, and defeat them through making our peace with them.
Some say the demons will never leave the earth. But to survive, we must rise. High above them.
So, this is the Shaman’s Initiation — to die a thousand deaths, to even experience a total astral dismemberment — in order to come fully alive once more.
Darting past the astral eagle
The eagle in the Shaman’s Prayer is an astral entity seeking to eat our very soul essence, but we must not let it see us, nor take our power.
For this is its aim — to eat us alive, spit out our bones and take on and absorb our soul essence.
But listen here, we’re not their food — those hungry souls and empty angry entities. They don’t get to eat us after all.
Not on my watch.
The pearl is formed by the friction within
But our soul rages against the outrageous unfairness of it all.
Why must intense suffering be the force that polishes our soul? Could we please learn through peace and plenitude instead? This is our soul’s cry in the midst of its anguish. The bargaining we call out to our God to try to end the Night's misery.
Why must we die to live? And suffer through such a living death?
Didn’t someone else already do that for us? So why must we go through it also? Weren’t we born wise, carrying knowledge from many lifetimes of experience? Why does our wisdom still need further sharpening on the stone of pain? Our soul endlessly battered like a stormy sea against the craggy cliffs.
Surely, we deserve at least one lifetime of some kind of ease?
Suraj Sharma · Life of Pi
In the end we must find our own meaning in it all
And realise there’s no right or wrong answer, but simply an infinite desire to be a clear channel for God to see though our eyes, to live through our life, and shine through our heart upon this world. Bringing some kind of peace into the turmoil of the lives of others becomes our over-riding mission.
But if not directly confronted, the Night repeats, over and over in a loop of ever-increasing despair. And even when we win through one Night, another challenge often arrives in its place.
That’s the nature of this place.
So, my friend, put on some music that sings to your heart, meditate on what’s here right now, and look that darkness right in the eye. You won’t end up drowning in the legendary abyss if you carry this through.
The spiritual awakening
It’s only natural to resist change. We’re human after all, and growth is not always seamless or painless. For those of us who need a sense of certainty to feel solid ground beneath our feet, any state of not-knowing is definitely very undesirable and difficult.
But the Dark Night is our messenger of desperately needed change.
The message is always an urgent one, and it’s that our life has to change, or we’ll die if we try to remain in that same way of living, or in that same state of mind.
The triggers are many: old age; a terminal prognosis in illness; an NDE (near death experience); suicidal depression; the ending of a relationship; the loss or death of a loved one; accidents; loss of home or homeland through warfare, or a natural/unnatural disaster; or a profound religious crisis, and loss of faith.
The halo effect
The halo effect is a term used by Sufis to explain the experience of a sublime and transcendent experience of union with the Divine, and a subsequent fading or loss of this powerful sense of total God connection.
This too can bring in the Dark Night.
The incredible experience of a sublime light within is something no words can really convey.
I remember feeling I must look like a lighthouse to others, the light felt so blindingly bright, and the brilliance utterly pouring out of my head and my eyes — only to realise this wasn’t so at all.
Others couldn’t see what was going on for me at all.
When this experience of divine ‘grace’ fades over time, the sense of loss can trigger a painful thud back into the ordinary world. And yet also give birth to our desire for a future transcendent abiding connection and union with God.
It’s this experience that gives birth to the Shaman. With an uncanny ability to walk with one foot in each world — the world of the mundane, and the world of Spirit.
But this halo effect can also bring on the Dark Night, with that intense sense of loss of total connection with God.
And in the end, many things have changed
Often beyond all recognition. Things once valued seem useless now, and people once dearly loved are lost, or were left behind during our storm. True colours were seen and our vision became crystal clear. Certain things could no longer be denied.
But let’s not insult our intelligence and pretend that on the other end of such a night we’re now happy, and living in some kind spiritual bliss.
We did lose most of our fear. Except the natural kind — the visceral reaction that rings warning bells of danger. Because life in this place is not safe, let’s face it.
It’s more real and honest to acknowledge we found our peace. And inner peace at this time, and in this place, seems more valuable than a state of ecstatic joy.
Now we find our peace in creation.
Integrating it all · Life of Pi
…Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.
There you can be sure you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in
Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
— David Whyte, Sweet Darkness
With many heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Ang Lee and the incredibly beautiful concept art photos from Life of Pi
Copyright 2019/2020 © Julie Von Nonveiller Cairnes. All rights reserved.
I first published this in MEDIUM on Oct 13, 2019 https://medium.com/poems-mystical-musings/the-darkest-nights-of-our-soul-90bcc196e14e None of my messages are about other people (ie 'celebrities' and so on) - no matter what they might think - these come from me, to you my friend, for your soul upliftment