The Dark Night of the Soul Test Our Existential Fear

The Dark Night Of The Soul Test — Defeating Existential Fear

If we are to defeat our fear of death, we must understand our existential fear. Then we can confront and defeat it.

Do you spend a lot of time dealing with insecurity and fear?  Perhaps you are getting in touch with something important in your subconscious? ”

The origins of this term date back to the 16th-century and the poem entitled “The Dark Night” by the mystic poet, Roman Catholic St. Paul of the Cross. He was a Carmelite friar and a priest of Spanish origin.  The poem itself uses veiled references for his desire to be with his lover in eternity.   However, it has since become a reference to our most basic of all fears; what lies beyond death?

The witching hour” is the timeframe from midnight to about 4 a.m.  Many ancient traditions say this when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. The world of commerce is silent.  Most people are asleep.  So, if we are awake, our consciousness has less interference.  Our fear of death can surface any time.  Losing someone close to you can trigger this deep fear.

Understanding Our Existential Fear

The term soul is interchangeable with spirit. Others call this the observer.  The observer 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.

The “dark night of the soul test” isn’t just a powerful emotional experience.  These events could be breakthroughs in perception.  We may not plan or want this experience, but that doesn’t matter.  All we know for sure is a message is making its way to our conscious mind.  And this message is triggering one of our primal fears.  (1)

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.  We may not know the origin, but it is a message trying to get our attention.  We must deal with it.

The Dark Night of the Soul Test

dark night of the soul

So, what is this experience? 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.  It is a time when we relive missed opportunities and mistakes.   There may be 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 emotions which drive this experience are a slippery slope.  Once these thoughts and feelings arise, they overwhelm your reason and common sense. Some become self-destructive, even to the point of committing suicide (2).

Our culture is the source of a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. It fails to provide a sense of community, fairness and safety. Instead, it promotes inequity and sectarian thinking. The divide between the rich and everyone else grows, and the pressures of life increase for the majority. Many people have more than one job. People lose their savings and homes to pay for necessary medical care. Children go hungry in the most developed countries, while billionaires buy a second yacht.

Therefore, it is so important to keep questioning the cultural narrative. Don’t allow yourself to fall under the control of this propaganda.  The more you expose yourself, the more susceptible you become to self-hypnosis techniques.  It will enable others to control what you think.   You don’t need to disengage from your social responsibility.   However, it would help if you learned how it affects what you think.

Spiritual Influences

Those involved with intense inner work will find themselves in this state.  And, therefore, it can happen at the most inopportune times. Intense inner work will bring things to the surface.   We do not confine these dark thoughts and emotions to the Witching hour.  However, it seems worse at night.  or

The dark night of the soul test is a wake-up call.  It prompts us to investigate our deepest fear.  Fact is, it leaves us no choice but to either confront and overcome it or hide in the counterfeit comfort of religious dogma like the afterlife.

This situation affects the Empath the most because they are sensitive to emotions of others.  So, they must learn proper coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of those around them.  Otherwise, they are subject to the anxiety of a negative culture.

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

Make it a time of self-discovery when you realize you are in this experience.  Instead of cowering, confront it. Don’t take the easy way out and apply counterfeit beliefs.

Religious Influences

Religion contributes significantly to the harmful programming in the culture. The most “popular religions” take advantage of your fear and insecurities.  Instead of providing tools to explore your existential fear, it sells a false antidote.  The afterlife is a counterfeit that substitutes one fear for another.  Now you get to worry about obtaining your afterlife benefits.

One needs to be aware of how to use metaphors and analogies found in mythology.  Mythology is a metaphor, not a fact. So, thinking in mythological terms helps you to keep perspective. “The vale of tears” is similar to “the dark night of the soul test.” Both express the emotional turmoil of our spirit.

If we look more closely at the poem by St. John, it talks about sneaking out at night in other clothes so no one would recognize him as clergy.  He describes being with his lover, “moving in unison,” a clear reference to sex. And so he finds peace, peace “laying face to face with his lover,” something he could not do as a priest.  Here is where he wishes to spend eternity “forgotten in the lilies.”  It’s a type of surrender to his situation in life, separated by religious laws against such relationships.

It’s hard not to treat myth as a fact, especially if your identity is part of your religious beliefs.  Religion is the most significant source of this intentional misrepresentation of metaphor as fact.   Be mindful of how to treat the power of mythology.  Use the myth as a metaphor to help point you away from organized religion.

“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

Moving Beyond Our Existential Fear

The Way Out of the Dark Night

The best way out is to go through it.  You can’t back up.  You can’t change the past.  When you face this turmoil, engage in self-care and find a “healthy” way to relieve your emotional distress.  There are three necessary steps to this process.

Death teaches 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 deal with it, the dread of death will keep coming up.

Substituting the afterlife for fear of death does not address the issue.  You can’t “believe it” away. You’ll need to face this anxiety 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.

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 focus on lost love.  If so, acknowledge the pain and find the lesson to be learned.  Learn to recognize positive feelings and events.  You frame it positively by saying this experience helped me 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. Don’t deny the thought or feeling. Instead, resolve to move through it.  What you don’t want to do is to dwell on the pain.

If harmful programming keeps you from moving beyond fear, remove the destructive programming thought script.  You can do this using the Enneagram and the Repeating Question exercise.  With these tools, you identify the source that’s holding you back and then delete or minimize it.  To delete it, you learn to “banish” the thought or memory.  If you can’t delete it, you minimize it by turning down the volume of memories.

Step Three ― Seek Help

If you can’t move through it on your own, seek help.  Call a friend.  Call your spiritual teacher, or contact the International Society for Suicide Prevention.

In Conclusion

Understanding our existential fear is one goal of our inner quest.  We can be victorious over the dark night of the soul test.  We can only grow intellectually and spiritually when we move beyond this boundary.  Another powerful exercise we use in our introductory phase we call exploring memories.  It helps us to learn what we value and what we fear.


(1) The Interactive Factors Contributing to Fear of Death:

(2) International Society for Suicide Prevention:

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