text © Jonathan Zap
The dark night of the soul can be a zone of intense anguish where the will to live is challenged. It is also a zone where great transformation is possible.
Carl Jung, in his study of alchemy, related the dark night of the soul to the “Nigredo.” Nigredo is an alchemical term for a condition of decomposition that was the first step in the transformation of base matter into the philosopher’s stone.
William James, the great American pioneer in psychology, a renown Harvard professor, would sometimes write in his journal, “Please God, give me a reason to live for the next fifteen minutes.” I’ve had numerous dark nights of the soul. In the most acute episodes of despair that I’ve experienced, it felt like I would never be a functional human being again, and that suicide might be the only remaining act of self-love possible.
In the dark night of the soul, the old identity crumbles, and the will to live may collapse. The great potential for metamorphosis in this state is that one lets the false die, and there is a movement toward the experience of meaning. Only the deeply meaningful can bring redemption to the dark night of the soul. For me, many dark nights of the soul came from feelings of despair at efforts to be loved in the romantic sense. What came in to redeem the torment was recognition of duty to others, that there were loving services I could still perform for others, and that if I could not be loved the way that I wanted, that I could still be love.
The test I often recommend for separating what is truly valuable from what is false and superficial, is to ask yourself what you will remember well on your deathbed. The dark night of the soul is a deathbed of the ego, an invaluable chance to let go of the artificial and return to your essence. Consider this a propitious time to honor the dark night of the soul, and allow your True Will to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of your despair.
See the section on dealing with shock in A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler