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Depression or a Dark Night of the Soul?

A Dark Night of the Soul can look like Depression!

Let’s discuss what A Dark Night of the Soul is.

A Dark Night of the Soul is marked by 5 qualities:

A Dark Night of the Soul is the progressive ‘emptying out’ of the ego.

It is not a walk in the park!

1.      You feel Baffled!

— Aspects of your life no longer make sense. There can be uncertainty, indecision, fear, pain, sadness, anxiety, worry, negativity and sometimes even hopelessness.

 

2.    Passion withers!

— Things that you used to be into just don’t have the same appeal.

 

3.    Aversion!

— You can become irritable and even highly judgemental and critical of others (and yourself). Events or behaviours that you never even noticed before now trigger you and provoke a strong internal dislike and even rage. You may take a dislike to people, even people you’ve known for years.

 

4.    Toxicity!

— At times it can feel like your system has become toxic. You can experience Grief; Anger; Confusion; Apathy; Stress; and Pain to a degree that you never thought possible.

 

5.    Lack of guidance!

— Our inner guidance system can feel like it gets shut off (or progressively powered down). Imagine one day you boot up your laptop but the Windows or Apple operating system doesn’t come on… How am I going to do anything today? It can be just like that! The internal goals, values, drives and instincts that you trusted and followed now appear to have either vanished or they don’t have the same sparkle or influence over you.

 

If you resonate with these qualities you may be asking yourself:

 

“Why is this happening?”

“What’s going on with me?”

To answer that let’s take a closer look at the Ego.

stylised image showing a woman surrounded by mobile phones

The ego is our unconscious and conditioned self. It is where most of us operate from most of the time. When we are not in our ego it feels different… It’s quieter, calmer, more peaceful and there is a sense of ease and flow. Perhaps even joy, love, elation and bliss.

The ego is a collection of reactions, thoughts, and feelings that start to assemble when we are about 6 months old.

From as young as 2 years old the ego has already taken the driver’s seat and is now running your life. As any parent of a ‘terrible two’ can attest.

The ego is a clever aspect of the mind. As we develop, learn and grow we commit the patterns and sequences of events to a program that sits in memory in a way that uses up very little resource and can even be run unconsciously.

Recall when you were learning to drive, you needed to be so focused and conscious in order to move and safely manoeuvre the car. Eventually, a load of programs were written in your brain and you learned ‘off by heart’. How powerful! These days you can relax while driving and even have enough capacity to do other things like follow the sat nav, listen to a podcast or help your kid with their homework. All of this would have been fairly impossible to do on your first day behind the wheel. Nice one ego; thank you for making our life easier!

If the ego is so useful, how come the it gets a bad rap…?

The ego also learned negative reactive patterns. For example, if your mum made a few frequent comments at mealtimes when you were young you may now always finish everything on your plate even if you are full. Or you may have learned from the adults around you that there is never time to relax because there is always something that needs to be done.

The ego keeps growing and evolving as we get older. Through bringing in awareness and conscious choice you may decide that you don’t need to finish every plateful of food you receive. But not all of the ego programs are as easy to shed.

A time can come when it begins to dawn on us that the unconscious choices we’ve been merrily making are not the best. Perhaps the determination to create your business was covert vanity, it may have been about the accumulation of money or success or stature. The reason you stay in a job you’re not good at within an organisation you despise may be because your ego learned that security and stability are of the utmost importance.

Yes, the ego can be pretty dysfunctional. So we can understand why so many of us have it in for our egos. Ironically though, it’s only ever our ego that wants to get rid of our ego… It’s only our ego that has a problem with our actions or the actions of other people.

Yes, our ego can be problematic!

Eventually, we do outgrow the ego. Those growing pains can be experienced as a Dark Night of the Soul.

Sadly it doesn’t just last a night (for most of us).

A Dark Night of the Soul can come about at various times. It can often be triggered by:

1.      Death.

— The death of a loved one.

— The ‘death’ of a job or relationship

— The death of an aspect of health eg you get a cancer diagnosis or your child is very unwell

 

2.    MId-life crisis.

— a common phase marked by disillusionment and apathy! These days it’s happening much earlier, for many people, it’s happening in their 20’s. For Greta Thungberg she was pretty much still a child.

 

3.    A significant change in life.

— The birth of a baby

— The purchase of a house

— Retirement

 

There is a fourth trigger for a Dark Night’ that is worthy of more words:

 

4.    An awakening.

— This can be a brief moment where you simply find yourself exactly where you are. Something seems to stop. What stops? Your chattering mind and the grip of the feeling state. But life itself seems to become richer, more vibrant. Peace, joy and love arise. Your senses can feel like they have just been dialled up somehow. There is a richness to life, it’s brighter! The full spectrum of life enters you as if for the first time. An awakening can be very fleeting, lasting mere seconds. It’s marked by a sense of both release and awe. And although ‘normal’ life can return swiftly we don’t ever close down to the same degree of unconsciousness as before.

 

A Dark Night of The Soul brings with it the opportunity to see and experience our own shadow. The darker or more problematic side of our ego. The parts that aren’t really serving the whole (of us or of humanity).

What do I do if I am experiencing A Dark Night of the Soul?

Side note:

It can be tricky to give advice on these matters because it is likely that the guidance will be heard exclusively by the ego and co-opted for its own growth and domination. However, if you can picture that the ego is like a big fish in a river staying in the same place and swallowing most of the food that washes down… Just also picture that there are other fish there too and because the big fish stays pretty stationary the smaller fish behind will get to enjoy the nuggets too especially when the big fish is chewing on the big bits.

If you resonate with this article… here are some steps that will help:

1.      Appreciate.

— Understand that A Dark Night of the Soul is a thing. Many people before you have experienced it and many many people after you will too.

— Accept that you may now be in a phase of ego dissolution. See if you can be grateful for it because we need more consciousness in the world in order to stop wars, live sustainably and equitably and, just simply, being nicer to each other. Recognising that you are in a Dark Night’ can be empowering!

 

2.    Allow.

— The duration of your Dark Night’ and the degree to which you ‘empty out’ your ego structure will be determined by how much you resist it. Resistance is persistence. If for example, you feel ‘weird’ and go and buy a sports car in your mid-life and put all your attention on doing track days etc. You may be effectively distracting yourself from the process of ego dissolution. To some extent, it’s your choice. You are likely to continue suffering but which suffering you choose is up to you. ‘You get knocked down but you get up again…’ or do you lie on the ground for a while and reflect on why you got knocked down…? And, perhaps be open to making some changes.

 

3.    Neuroplasticity is taxing.

— A Dark Night’ is effectively a deep operation on your mind. Like the old telephone switchboard (“I’ll connect you…”) the neurons are being plugged into different places now. It can be very destabilising and exhausting. You can support this by doing all you can to ensure you get good-quality sleep and nutrition.

 

4.    Exercise.

— Getting the blood and your focus out of your head will help you! Exercise several times a week! Some short sharp bursts of both cardio and strength work. Indoor cycling, rock climbing, running, Kettlebells, and HIIT, all work great. Make sure you are sweating and pushing yourself to ensure you both a) get out of your head and b) release endorphins.

 

5.    Ground.

— Do something to help you ground yourself on a daily basis. Here are some ideas to mix and match:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Thai Chi / Qi Gung
  • Dance and / or sing to your favourite song
  • Read a spiritual book (eg A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle)
  • Journal
  • Breathwork
  • Allocate time to feel your feelings (without any words eg no analysis or narratives)

 

6.    Talk.

— If you are lucky enough to know other people who understand what a Dark Night of the Soul is… Great! Lucky you! Speak to them…

 

— If you don’t have anyone to talk to about this OR you want to accelerate your journey while at the same time working out the ‘stuff’ of your everyday- business, career or personal life then reach out to me. I have experienced several Dark Nights of the Soul and I have helped many clients to navigate this phase too. I know I can help you and your nervous system. Book a trial session with me!

How to survive A Dark Night of the Soul?

The key is to embrace the lessons, the changes and the ‘emptying out’ of the ego while at the same time being here for your life. Honesty is key! Resist the temptation to get busy ‘doing’ and effectively distracting yourself. Also, it’s tempting to become a recluse but if that’s all you do it only helps to a degree, we need ‘life’ to highlight where our focus needs to be.

 

One last thing. It is not uncommon to become suicidal as part of going through a Dark Night of The Soul. The best piece of advice I can give in this circumstance is: “If you are going through hell, keep going” or “Fake it ‘til you make it”. Like everything in life a Dark Night’ is a phase, it will not last forever and the reason you want to die is that your ego can sense that it is diminishing or dying so it’s your ego that is terrified and not you (in the holistic sense). Believe it or not, this is a marker of progress through the Dark Night’. Take the steps listed above and call Samaritans if you are very close to the edge: 116 123!

How can James, a Business / Career Coach, be of any use while I am experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul?

James O'Halloran, eyes closed, and a tear running down his cheek, wearing a colorful patterned blanket and holding his hand over his heart, conveying deep emotion.

Within the container of a retreat, it felt safe for me to let go. Big boys do cry! If you are experiencing a lot of pain or grief, let it out if / when you can…

I have experienced a Dark Night of the Soul personally and helped my clients to navigate theirs.

Having regular contact with someone who gets this can make all the difference. In addition to helping you understand what is happening to your ego and to your life, I can help you keep your work life and personal life on track.

Book a trial session with me!

 

Yours sincerely

James

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