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
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
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
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