Having just lived through a dark night of the soul experience, I find myself in company with another who has recently also had a similar dark night experience. She asked me to write about my understanding of the experience from my new perspective having evolved through it. She is still in it and looking toward the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel and I sense she is questioning her experience and trying to make sense of it. I understand where she is because I too spent many days and nights, weeks and months trying to make sense of my experience.
My sense is that, what Catholics and mystics call the “dark night of the soul” is part of the path to initiation that Steiner writes about in his book, Knowledge of Higher Worlds. This is the path of esoteric wisdom, the path of the spiritual seeker, the path of enlightenment. You may be on the path and be a seeker and not even know it – so when the tests of initiation come into our lives we do not always recognize their spiritual cause and significance. I believe my husband has had his dark night, he is a seeker that follows the path of science and so for him it was not obvious that his experience was a spiritual one. It was obvious though to me.
He had lost his job of 17 years, a job that his father had and his grandfather before. A legacy job that he felt entitled too. It happened at a time when he could afford to lose his job because we had just earned a substantial amount of money in real estate and fortunately we were sustained financially for the first two years of my husband’s dark night. The last year was a bit rough but he finally learned what he needed to learn, he learned to swim. When friends would ask me about his job loss I would say, “he has something to learn and when he does another door will open. I’m not worried about it.” Sure enough, just in time, he learned to swim and another door opened. His perspective was forever changed, changed for the better. He was more open to gratitude, he didn’t take things for granted and he became humble. He was more willing to be open to things he could not believe or see. He moved into a new reality. We married during his dark night and as his new door opened, we got pregnant and welcomed two daughters into our lives.
My dark night was more recent and as I was experiencing it I knew it was deeply spiritual. Knowing it was spiritual did not make it any less intense but I think it did quicken my lesson and evolution. I was able to go into deep meditation to find the inner power to deal with the pain I was experiencing. I became more aware of the spiritual realm and the energetic currents that affect our material lives. I see people differently now, I am more aware of the shadow side of life and have come to appreciate the importance of overcoming fear through consciousness.
Here is what I can share in a very matter of fact way. The path to initiation (whether you know you are on it or not) contains three tests. The fire test, the water test and the air test. The dark night of the soul is the water test. It is the situation that causes the ground to be pulled out from under you. The test where you cannot find your footing or rely on anything you once counted on as an anchor. It requires that you learn to swim. Literally you will feel like you are in over your head, drowning. When I was in the water test, I thought of the witches of Salem who were literally drowned in a water test to determine if they were really witches. It must have felt unfair, illogical and like they literally had no ground to stand on, no one they could turn to – they had to swim. And swimming meant that life as they knew it was over.
So you may ask if the dark night of the soul is the water test, then what was the first test? The fire test? For me the fire test was three years before the water test. It was the time right after I had my first awakening experience – when I knew I had to follow my intuition and step into my Hero’s Journey. Yes, the fire test is what Joseph Campbell writes about as the Hero’s Journey. We may have several opportunities that we walk away from but when we finally take the leap of faith and jump into the fire we’ve crossed the first threshold and begun our journey. The book, The Alchemist is a wonderful example of a Hiero’s Journey. When we cross the first threshold into the journey, we are protected, divinely protected. And if we continue on our journey we will come up to the water test. When my husband came to his water test he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank. He wouldn’t have been able to go through the test without that divine protection. I too had financial support as I went through my test. I was guided to apply for state disability insurance when I left my employment during my test. Those funds completely replaced my income until I could recover. My husband and I had also just received an inheritance which sustained us through a necessary house move and job relocation that were all part of my trial by water. Not only were we financially sustained through our tests but we had people in our lives who supported us, spiritually conscious people. My assistant was an angel who stood by me through my test and I believe I was my husband’s guide.
Part of surviving the water test is not only learning to swim but also conquering fear. Think about when you first learned to swim. It was scary. I recently had the opportunity to teach my daughters to swim and it reminded me of how hard letting go and not touching the bottom is. First you learn to float and then you learn to manage your breathing and finally you kick and learn to navigate through a new denser atmosphere – water.
A big part of my water test was breaking an old pattern, an unconscious pattern. I had been gas-lighted and I spent many hours and days wondering what I had done to deserve what had happened to me, wondering how I had brought this situation upon myself. At some point I came to realize that no one was going to stand up for me except me. I realized that I had to tap into my higher self, my source of true power. I had to stop giving my power away. I had to swim – by myself. For me that meant quitting my job, taking back my sanity, embracing an active plan of self-care, moving away from my community and starting over in a new town, at a new job with new colleagues and new awareness.
The final test is the air test. I haven’t gone there yet but I already know what it will be. Unlike the fire test that is presented as an opportunity that requires a leap of faith and unlike the water test that is thrust upon you like a sunami, the air test only comes from our own will, it is not forced upon us.
Steiner writes, “If the candidate is in this way sufficiently advanced, a third trial awaits him. He finds here no definite goal to be reached. All is left in his own hands. He finds himself in a situation where nothing impels him to act. He must find his way all alone and out of himself. Things or people to stimulate him to action are non-existent. Nothing and nobody can give him the strength he needs but he himself alone. Failure to find this inner strength will leave him standing where he was. Few of those, however, who have successfully passed the previous trials will fail to find the necessary strength at this point. Either they will have turned back already or they succeed at this point also. All that the candidate requires is the ability to come quickly to terms with himself, for he must here find his higher self in the truest sense of the word. He must rapidly decide in all things to listen to the inspiration of the spirit. There is no time for doubt or hesitation. Every moment of hesitation would prove that he was still unfit. Whatever prevents him from listening to the voice of the spirit must be courageously overcome. It is a question of showing presence of mind in this situation, and the training at this stage is concerned with the perfect development of this quality. All the accustomed inducements to act or even to think now cease. In order not to remain inactive he must not lose himself, for only within himself can he find the one central point of vantage where he can gain a firm hold. No one on reading this, without further acquaintance with these matters, should feel an antipathy for this principle of being thrown back on oneself, for success in this trial brings with it a moment of supreme happiness.”
So, Dark Night of the Soul behind me and supreme happiness ahead. What more could a spiritual seeker ask for?