Dark Nights of the Soul are not exactly sought after experiences. I have had 7 major ones and several minor ones, plus living through this strange era of the 2020s, which is a global Dark Night of the Soul.
For most Dark Nights of the Soul, you come out at the end with blessings and teachings, an entirely new perspective on life, and, with support, stronger resilience. Sometimes you’ll come out of it with an amazing new life but sometimes that takes time or isn’t as great as you were hoping.
Each one is its own journey and it may take time before you feel like you’re coming out of the darkness and back into at least a little bit of light. Then you can make space again for more and more light, so that you recuperate and can improve your life.
What is a Dark Night of the Soul?
Without going into probably countless dictionary and other definitions, here’s what I’ve experienced probably about 15 times in my life. It’s messy, strange, unexpected and never fun, but mine have all ended in some kind of spiritual awakening – except the 2 I’m still living through. It might show up as the death of a loved one. It might be finding out about a serious health condition. It could be a new relationship with an abuser. Some of my Dark Nights of the Soul:
Other than losing my mom, my dad and recently my son, the first one I can remember was several years of having sleep paralysis. I had no support for that until I found a book that changed my life and gave me the power to stop those terrifying experiences that felt like a living nightmare.
My 2nd DNOTS was when I fell off a horse onto my head. I was lucky with physical therapy that I could even walk again. My daughter and I got hit by a van, as pedestrians. I saw her spirit leave her body. The physiotherapy was one thing but I needed counselling for the trauma too.
I’ve had a really weird DNOTS that started with being beat up on the first day of school and ended many years later with some of the most powerful spiritual teachings and medicine songs that have ever come to me.
In 2019 I had a bad fall that has left me with serious pain and took from me my ability to go for a walk or to dance or do much exercise at all.
And here we all are in the strangest era that is affecting us all in different ways. Here’s the basics of what happens in a Dark Night of the Soul.
The Shock and Initial Impact:
It might happen over time without you even realizing you’re in it. Or it might hit you out of nowhere like a punch in the stomach. Either way, at some point there is a shock to the system. You stop. Life stops. It’s as if you’re in a time warp and you know your life will never be the same.
If you already carried trauma before, it might be triggered. If you were already living with grief, especially if it’s unexpressed grief, that grief will likely well up and want to pour out.
Even without trauma or grief, your Dark Night of the Soul will always come with grief and might spark a trauma experience. How do I know? One of the most common forms of grief that most people don’t even know they’re carrying is the grief about what might have been.
Waves of Grief:
Grief comes in waves, and over time, the intensity of those waves becomes less like a tidal wave and more like waters bubbling up around your feet. The phases of grief do exist but they don’t come in a neat little package one after they other. They hit you when they hit you, and sometimes it’s all at once.
After the initial shock, denial can come and go or last anywhere from a day to several years, but those waves and the in between spaces can feel like that’s all there is. Even after I’ve had so many of these experiences, it’s not like in the middle of it I’m going “Oh hey, that spiritual awakening is coming!” But I promise you, if you are open to it, it will come down the road.
Trigger Warning: murder, suicide, child and parent loss
You might know that on January 31st, 2016 my son Quinn was murdered. If you didn’t know, please take a big breath and let it out. I know it’s not easy to hear.
I’ve gone through several phases of this Dark Night of the Soul and it is far from over for me. I’m now on this new journey of reclaiming my voice yet again in a way that no mother should ever have to do. No matter how spiritual a person is, there is just no sugar coating something so sudden, violent and unexpected. It’s the worst of all the Dark Nights of the Soul I have experienced, including losing my mom to suicide when I was 15.
The first year after Quinn died was very dark for me. I sought out and found blessings and teachings in my own experiences very quickly after my son’s death, but honestly, nothing makes it better because nothing can bring my son back to me in human form. With murder, it’s never really over either and closure may or may not come but it can take many years.
Going through loss, trauma or any kind of Dark Night of the Soul can make you feel like you’ve lost your voice and your identity. I have felt those losses on a deep level in my physical voice as well as my personal and business identity. It can cause you to question everything about you and your life.
Apart from the initial shock of a Dark Night of the Soul, picking up the pieces, reclaiming your voice and recreating your identity after having your life shattered is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. But it is doable.
Spiritual Awakening or Re-Awakening
You can have a spiritual awakening in an instant or it might take up to several years to fully come through. I have experienced some level of spiritual awakening with every single Dark Night of the Soul I have had. It’s like an “aha moment” x 1000. Once you have one, there’s no going back, or if you do it will not feel good, to say the least.
Spiritual awakenings are, for me anyway, the biggest blessing of all. They are what bring the change in perspective, which in turn changes your life. The first change in perspective usually is not your awakening. Spiritual awakenings can’t really land for us until we’re ready to receive them and apply them to our lives. I’ve had many of these over the years, always unexpected and always unique. It’s like the holy grail of experiences after the darkness. I realize not everyone gets a lot of these or even one but we are now living in an era where it is much easier for them to happen.
If you’re going through the rough parts of a Dark Night of the Soul, just know that you are being primed for a spiritual awakening. After or during that awakening, you will find your voice in new ways and you might grapple with who you are.
Reclaiming Your Voice and Identity:
I’ve spent my entire life finding my voice in different ways and on different levels. I’ve been teaching women to find their voice for over 20 years. Since I’m immersing myself in what I’ve learned every time I go through another Dark Night of the Soul, I thought I’d pass on my favourite supports on to you:
I am a First Nations hand drum carrier and I can speak to the power of using our drums and voices together to sing healing songs. But you have to have a drum. You can listen to drumming. Come to my virtual Full Moon Healing Circles and you will experience that kind of healing.
Drum on your body. Drum on pots and pans. Use forks and knives as drumsticks on pots and pans. If you have a drum, then definitely use it. The health benefits of any kind of drumming are so vast that it would take another few articles just to talk about them. A few that people experience from my drumming circles and retreats are:
- Ground Yourself.
- Release headaches, back aches and joint pain.
- Release painful emotions (in a minute, I’ll tell you how to do that without having to put anger into your drum).
- Express and amplify positive emotions.
- Build your energy.
- Raise your vibration.
- Connect with the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
- If you’re in circle, you get to connect with everyone else’s heartbeat too.
- Connect with Spirit, deeply and instantly.
2. Release Painful Emotions!
Trauma and shock can put you in a bit of a deep freeze or even dissociation. That’s what happened to me when I lost my mom, my dad and then my son. It’s what happened when I fell off a horse onto my head and got hit by a van. I remember the physical process of it when I had a bad fall.
Your brain and body will know how much and how fast to let out any painful emotions but if you aren’t picking up your body’s and brain’s signals due to trauma or shock, you can end up with physical body pain or illness from emotions lodged inside you. Do your best to let the tears flow, and let go of whatever is coursing through you, right in the moment if you can. At the very least, let yourself cry when you’re in a safe space.
How to release emotions?
Use Your Voice: Scream into a pillow. Cry. Yell when nobody is around. Sing! Here’s what I did at a friend’s ceremony. There was an invitation to sound with our voices or an instrument, so I started using a shaker. But then I realized I had free license to let some emotion out through my voice, so I did what we call a buffalo yell in the Indigenous drumming community. A Facebook friend even suggested howling like a wolf, which is similar. I felt so good!!! I could feel the release happening. Then I realized I could at least do that here without freaking out my cats or my apartment neighbours.
Rage Room or Anger Room. Is there one in your city? If you feel like you could get a good release by smashing things, go for it! You get protective equipment, a soundproof room, and you can choose what you want to smash and throw against the wall. I have not been able to have this experience because of the chronic pain in my body but I sometimes imagine that I’m smashing things or yelling really loudly and it really does help.
Dance! Or shake, or move any way you want or can. Always let your body lead you, especially if you have chronic pain.
Listen to music! (and of course, sing and dance to it!). Of course, being a singer all my life, I’m going to suggest singing. It’s not just that though. Singing helps dysregulated nervous systems to heal. It calms you, warms your body, helps you express yourself, and it opens up what I call your Gateway to Truth and your inner Sacred Feminine Success Path.
Some of my other favourite supports to release emotion are massage, chiropractic treatments, osteopathy, acupuncture, other forms of body work, counseling, personal mentoring and healing.
If you need support, I have a few ways you can work with me one-on-one.
3. Immerse yourself in a meaningful project.
If you have the energy and motivation for it, listen for what wants to happen. Follow your creative impulses. Dive into a project that can distract you from the pain when you need that, but also stand for something and make a difference for yourself and others. One of the things I have done during anniversary dates is book media interviews speaking about gun violence awareness and resilience. I also created the Picking Up the Pieces album and 13 Moon program for women.
4. Create or Attend Sacred Experiences.
Don’t let anything stop you, including thinking maybe you don’t know how. We are primal beings at our core. Connect with your spirit and your Higher Realms Support Team the best way you know how, and do what comes to you. Trust your intuition and your higher guidance.
Maybe it’s just lighting a candle or lighting some incense. Maybe you go for a walk in nature. It can be whatever nourishes you and helps you to feel, express and be who you are. My ceremonies consist of Indigenous and Celtic teachings as well as whatever comes through Spirit in the moment.
If you’d like to experience one of my ceremonies, come out to one of my live or virtual events, which always include ceremony.
Even though it can feel like it will never end, what if your Dark Night of the Soul was a sacred experience?
Yes, perhaps one you were flung into unexpectedly, and not something you asked for or created, but a ceremony still. And we know that every ceremony has a beginning and end.
What sacred items or sacred space could you put together for yourself right now to make your challenges easier to get through? What supports could you begin using?
Hope this helps. If you have ideas or feedback, please share. Getting through a Dark Night of the Soul is never easy, but remember there is a beginning and an end to every one of them.
Love & Blessings,
Brenda MacIntyre, Medicine Song Woman
- Want to dive right in and get some support? Head over here.
FOLLOW ME ON SPOTIFY – MUSIC FOR THESE CRAZY TIMES:
- Follow My Artist Account on Spotify.
- Follow my Global Pandemic Playlist on Spotify. The studio (CD, not live) version of the songs I sang in the livestreamed concert are also in this playlist.
- Follow the RENEWAL Playlist for springtime on Spotify