understanding our dark night of the soul existential fear

Understanding Our Dark Night Of The Soul ―

Do you wake up in the middle of the night overcome with fear?  Perhaps you are getting in touch with something important in your subconscious?  Understanding our existential fear is the key to moving beyond it.

The middle of the night is The Witching Hour.   This the timeframe from midnight to about 4 a.m.  Many ancient traditions say this a time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest.    It’s that time when the world of commerce is silent.  Most people are asleep.  So, if we are awake, our consciousness has less interference.

The term soul is interchangeable with spirit. Others call this the observer.  This is the person you talk to you inside your head.  It’s the person who experiences your dreams.  We know from experience that thoughts and emotions appear real in vivid dreams.

So, the dark night of the soul is more than a powerful emotional experience.  These events could be breakthroughs in perception.  Sure, they are not planned or wanted, but that doesn’t matter.  What is clear is that a message is making its way to our conscious mind.  And this message is triggering one of our primal fears.

We don’t know the origin of this message.  It could be something from our subconscious or some other source like our soul.  Some traditions believe it is the way the universe speaks to us.  Regardless of the source, it is a message that’s trying to get our attention.  We must deal with it.

The Dark Night of the Soul

dark night of the soul

The origins of this term date back to the 16th-century and poem entitled “The Dark Night” by mystic, poet, Roman Catholic St. Paul of the Cross. He was a Carmelite friar and a priest of Spanish origin.

So, what is this dark event?   It’s the time when our deepest fears and memories of loss surface.  These episodes often follow a personal tragedy.  Then, when we are alone, we ponder the fear of death.  We get lost in memories of lost love.  This is when we relive missed opportunities and mistakes.   So, perhaps there is something to the “Witching hour”.

“But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work — and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Cultural Influences

The thinking and emotions that come with this experience are a slippery slope.  Once these thoughts and feelings arise, they overwhelm your reason and common sense. So, this is when many people become self-destructive even to the point of committing suicide.

Unfortunately, our culture is the source of many of the troubles and stress.  Instead of providing a safety net for society exacerbates the underlying issues.  As the divide between the rich and the rest of humanity gets greater, so do the pressures of daily life.  Many individuals have more than one job.  People lose their savings and homes to pay for necessary healthcare. Children go hungry in the most developed countries of the world, while billionaires contemplate buying a new yacht.

Therefore, it is so important to keep questioning the cultural narrative.  Don’t allow yourself to fall under the control of this propaganda.  This allows others to control what you value.   That doesn’t mean you should not engage in proper social responsibility.   It may awaken a passion to help others.  We need more people who are awake and want to help others and preserve our planet.

Spiritual Influences

Those involved with intense inner work will find themselves in this state.  And, therefore, it can happen at any time. That’s because intense inner work will bring hidden things to the surface.   So, it does not confine these dark thoughts and emotions to the Witching hour.  However, it seems worse at night.  This situation affects the Empath to the greatest extent. These are people with a gift of being sensitive to the physical and spiritual energies of others.  They must learn proper coping mechanisms.  Otherwise, they are subject to the moods and negative emotions of others.

Yet, this experience can also be a doorway if we learn the key to opening the lock.

“There can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were.”
― Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

When you recognize you are going through one of the sleepless nights, make it a time of self-discovery.

Religious Influences

Yes, religion has its own special contribution to this dark night experience.  That’s because the most most popular religions take advantage of your fear and insecurities.

One needs to be mindful of the proper use of mythology.  Mythology is a metaphor or an analogy, but not a fact. So, thinking in mythological terms helps you to keep perspective.  “The veil of tears” is similar to the expression, “the dark night of the soul.”  Both express the emotional turmoil of the spirit.

It’s hard not to treat myth as a fact especially if your identity is part of your religious beliefs.  Religion is the biggest source of this intentional misrepresentation of metaphor as fact.   Be mindful of how to treat the power of mythology.  Don’t let religion be a source of fear.  Don’t let the Witching Hour be a source of your fear.  Learn how to see religion in mythological terms instead of a factual occurrence.

“Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears.You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life… The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” ― Joseph Campbell

Understanding Our Existential Fear

The Way Out of the Dark Night

In general, the best way out is to go through.  You can’t back up.  You can’t change the past.  But, the moment you find yourself facing this turmoil, you need to engage in some type of self-care. You need to find a “healthy” way to relieve your emotional distress.  There are three basic steps to this process.

This basic fear is one that should teach us to value life.  It should propel us on an inward journey of exploration.  This quest is what we call spiritual exploration.  If you are reading this it could be because you need to start this journey.  If you don’t the fear of death will keep coming up.

This is something that is beyond religion to fix.  You can’t “believe it” away.  You must learn to face this fear and explore it.  Understanding our existential fear is the only way to make it work for our lives.

Step One ― Recognize it

Once you realize what’s going, on you can guide the process.  Say to yourself, “I see what’s happening”.  Now you regain some control of reason and common sense.

You have two choices.  First, you can stay in this downward emotional and spiritual spiral.  Second, you can change the downward spiral into a circle.

Step Two ― Move Through it

What changing the spiral to a circle means circling back to acknowledge the thought or feeling. Find out where it started and then frame it positively.  For instance, dark emotions might be focusing on lost love.  So, you acknowledge the pain.  But also acknowledge the positive feelings and events.  Then you frame it positively, by saying this experience helped me to understand the power of love.  Minimize the negative and stress the positive.

If you can’t find a positive way, change the subject to something positive.  Either way, decide this is not healthy.  This is a way of going through it.  You don’t deny the thought or feeling.  Rather, you are moving through it.  What you don’t want to do is dwell in the pain.

Step Three ― Seek Help

If you can’t move through it on your own, seek help.  Call a friend.  Call your spiritual teacher.  Or, call the International Society for Suicide Prevention.  Above all, find a way out so you can live to learn from the important life lesson involved.

In Conclusion

Understanding our existential fear is one of the first goals of the inner quest.  We are only able to grow intellectually and spiritually when we move beyond this boundary.  Another powerful exercise we use in our introductory phase we call exploring memories.  This helps us to learn what we value and what we fear.

We hope you found this article helpful, maybe even thought-provoking.  You will find more interesting posts on our blog page. Use the “search” option on the blog page to find articles by key terms, topics, or category.

Does spiritual exploration interest you?  If so, we offer both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions.  We use a blended learning process to get the best learning outcomes.  This blended approach aligns with what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey.

Our mission is all about sharing methods for developing and exploring consciousness.  You can find out more at our FAQ link.  Please consider giving a donation to help others learn.


Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
International Society for Suicide Prevention, Wikipedia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *