St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic and poet who lived in the 16th century, initiated the term “Dark Night of the Soul”. Having experienced his own dark time while imprisoned, he wrote about painful experiences as a process of “purification” in the spiritual journey towards connection with the divine.
An experience of the Dark Night is almost always precipitated by a crisis: a dreadful disappointment; a terrible heartache; a distressing illness; or, the loss of a loved one. What follows is a difficult, but significant transition to a deeper perception of life through a painful shedding of the beliefs and conceptual frameworks we use to give meaning to identity, relationships, career, etc.
Jung referred to the Dark Night as the ‘night sea journey’ or ‘nekyia’, believing that our sorrow and suffering serve the individuation journey. As an archetypal pattern or process it involves a basic restructuring of the psyche, transforming our individual or collective values and attitudes. Jung metaphorically compared alchemy (transforming lead into gold) to the psychological process of navigating the Dark Night of the Soul, equating it with Nigredo stage.
The Dark Night symbolizes death and initiation. The individuation journey must include a meaningful psychic descent into the underworld, a facing of our shadow aspects. Mythology describes many such descents in the tales of Inanna, Persephone and others.
The Dark Night of the Soul can be a painful, chaotic, frightening, overwhelming and disintegrating life crisis. It can also be a time of transformation, renewal, rebirth and finding deeper meaning in life. Our collective response to the current coronavirus pandemic has the potential to reframe, renew or even completely change our belief systems which may bring a shift in consciousness and alter the future of humanity.
A social media post I wrote for @jungsouthernafrica
Image credit: Michal Karcz
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