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The Dark Night of the Soul
by Paul Levy
Paul Levy

Many people who come to see me in my private practice are going through what Jung would call "the Night Sea Journey" and what St. John of the Cross called "The Dark Night of the Soul." This is a stage which can go on for days, weeks or even years, where we can feel totally unredeemed and completely forsaken by God. To quote St. John "the soul perceives itself to be so unclean and miserable that it seems as if God had set Himself against it."

As Jung points out "the birth of the Self is always a defeat for the ego." During this dark night, which Kierkegaard labeled "despair," we, as an ego, experience our utter impotence and powerlessness. We seem to be caught in an infinite double-bind, and might be afraid that we are going crazy. At times it even feels like we have fallen into the depths of hell. Suicide seems the only way out. To again quote St. John "the soul can do so little in this state; like a prisoner in a gloomy dungeon, bound hand and foot, it cannot stir, neither can it see or feel any relief, either from above or below…"

This process can be so extreme, so radical, that the ego experiences it as death, punishment, torture, and dismemberment. As Jung points out, in this experience we are symbolically confronting the wrath and the dark side of God. This experience is related to the shaman's descent to the underworld as well as the archetypal journey of the wounded healer.

To quote an ancient alchemical text "…the Tincture, this tender child of life…must needs descend into the darkness of Saturn (which symbolizes the point of lowest descent, of death), wherein no light of life is to be seen; there it must be held captive, and be bound with the chains of darkness." Like Christ, who, nailed forsaken to the cross, screams out "My God, why have thou forsaken me?," we feel totally alienated, isolated and disconnected from our source. We are going through a divine "agonia," a true passion play.

If we don't understand that our experience has a deeper meaning, we are truly lost. A key moment is when we snap out of our limited, egoic perspective and recognize, as Jung so passionately tried to point out, that we have gotten drafted into playing a role in an archetypal, divine drama of the death and rebirth of the Gods.

It is key to remember, as the previously mentioned alchemical text reminds us, "in the darkness of this black is hidden the light of lights." To quote Dom John Chapman "I know the darkness is appalling sometimes, but it is the only way of learning that we depend entirely on God…the "royal way" of the Holy Cross is the only way. But you will find out that the darkness is God Himself; the suffering is his nearness."

For the moment when Christ, nailed to the cross, expresses his overwhelming experience of being forsaken by God was also the moment immediately before the resurrected body, or the gracewaves of enlightenment by God. As Jung reminds us, "when the soul embraces and accepts suffering, the pain reveals itself as the birth pangs of a new inner being."

As St. John of the Cross points out, the dark night is actually the time when the divine light of God is shining on us most brightly, so as to purify us, like gold in a crucible. To again quote St. John, "the divine touches the soul to renew it and to ripen it, in order to make it divine." The Dark Night of the Soul becomes the very doorway through which we have been re-born into the life of the living, breathing creative spirit of God, which is none other than our own true nature.

An artist and healer, Paul Levy knows about the Dark Night of the Soul through extensive personal experience. He is in private practice, assisting people to discover the hidden jewels in their dark night experiences. Deeply steeped in alchemy, shamanism, and the work of C. G. Jung, Paul is a long-time Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, and is the coordinator of the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center. He can be reached at (503) 234-64