From “Why Me?” to “What Now?”: A Guide to Turning Your Dark Night of the Soul Into Empowerment

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Woman at a night time event, experiencing the dark night of the soul
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Summary: Doubt and despair, loss and confusion—life can really put a damper on your spirits. Learn how the dark night of the soul can help you rediscover your spark.

There’s depression… Existential crisis… Burn out… Doubt in God or the Universe… 

And then there’s the dark night of the soul (or DNOTS, if you prefer).

Granted, it sounds a little nyctophobic. And sure, it shakes the foundation of your existence.

But best you believe that it has nothing to do with getting lost in the dark of the night. Rather, it’s a grand opportunity for profound personal growth and spiritual awakening.

What Is the Dark Night of the Soul?

“Dark night of the soul”—its meaning describes a unique and challenging period in a person’s life. There’s a deep sense of despair, loss, and confusion.

Don’t confuse it, though, with depression or sadness. This is a transformative process where soul-searching and ego death are involved—all leading to a necessary crucible that leaves you forever changed, in the best way possible.

For example, imagine a lawyer who’s had years and years of success—let’s call him Larry. Despite all that he’s accomplished, he feels disconnected from what once gave him joy and passion, questioning his life’s purpose. It’s this challenging period, full of doubt and confusion, that encapsulates Larry’s dark night of the soul, pushing him towards seeking deeper meaning and spiritual fulfillment.

Research even shows personal paradigm shifts, along the same lines as the dark night of the soul, can be a catalyst for self-discovery. One such study on midlife transitions found that this significant period can spark periods of questioning, reflection, and personal growth.

And like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this newfound self-awareness can be the foundation for you to build a more authentic and fulfilling life.

The Poem by Saint John of the Cross

The 16th-century Spanish mystic, poet, and Carmelite friar, Saint John of the Cross, was the one credited with the term “dark night of the soul.” He used it in his poem (aptly called “Dark Night of the Soul”) to highlight the journey of the soul from its bodily home to its union with God.

But what’s so significant about it is that it lays the groundwork for understanding that this deep spiritual crisis is a gateway to deeper connection and spiritual awakening

Here’s the poem:

The Poem by Saint John of the Cross that describes the dark night of the soul

Stages of the Dark Night of the Soul

As with anything in life, things don’t just happen; they gradually get there. And it goes the same way with this type of awakening. 

Let’s take a look at the dark night of the soul stages:

1. Awakened discontent

You feel unease, you’re confused, and you start questioning why things are the way they are. Welcome to the first stage, where an event or realization shatters your existing worldview. 

It could be triggered by a loss, a failure, or simply someone calling you out that exposes your dissatisfaction with your current beliefs and values. Much like Neo in The Matrix when he starts questioning reality.

The thing is, it isn’t necessarily negative. Rather, it marks a shift away from what you know.

2. Descent into darkness

Now, you start feeling a little bit like “WTF is going on here?” as you start to face personal shadows and confront painful experiences. Do you pull a Neo and go for the red pill? Or the blue pill?

It can be quite an intense experience and definitely emotionally challenging. However, it’s a crucial stage to confront your inner darkness, release your limiting beliefs, and heal your ancestral wounds.

3. Detachment

You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he’s afraid to close his eyes.” You remember that line from Morpheus? It’s when Neo starts to detach himself from his preconceived notions and challenge his physical limits. 

Similarly, this stage invites you to face the impermanence of things. It may leave you feeling empty, directionless, stripped bare of illusions, and detached from worldly desires. 

But what it does is allow you to release outdated patterns so that there’s space for transformation.

4. Facing the shadow

This stage is all about the shadow work. You’re confronting repressed emotions, negative aspects of the self, and hidden fears and insecurities. Basically, you’re going face-to-face with your own Agent Smith.

The shadow is the part of ourselves that is made up of all we hide from,” explains Jade Shaw, an out-of-body experience expert and trainer of Mindvalley’s The Art of Astral Projection Quest. “And all that has been split off from who we think we are—our shame, our fears, our wounds—but also our divine spirit, our blinding beauty, and our hidden talents.”

Dreams, meditation, shadow work, and facing difficult truths can trigger this stage. It can feel isolating and scary for what lies ahead. But it propels you forward toward personal growth and authenticity.

5. Surrender

You know that scene where Neo faces The Oracle, learning the truth about his potential and accepting his role as “The One”? That’s this stage.

It’s when you surrender to the process, accept not knowing, and let go of the need to control. What’ll help you get here is deep reflection and spiritual guidance.

As The Oracle said to Neo, “You didn’t come here to make the choice. You’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand WHY you made it.”

6. Rebirth

Hello, you. Congratulations on making it out of the dark and into a new, more authentic way of being in the world.

This stage is the culmination of your journey through the dark night of the soul. It’s where you reemerge with a transformed identity, a newfound purpose, increased compassion, and a deeper connection to yourself and others. 

You’ve done the inner work, integrated the lessons learned, and engaged in meaningful activities. And you now know, as Morpheus puts it, “there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

Man meditating for the dark night of the soul

15 Symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul

We’re all unique in our own right and may experience this existential period differently than others. But when it comes to the dark night of the soul symptoms, we do share some common ones. 

Here’s a list broken down into emotional, mental, and physical:

Emotional symptoms

  1. Deep sadness and despair, like nothing will ever be okay again.
  2. Emotionally disconnected and unable to experience joy or excitement.
  3. Doubting your values, beliefs, and purpose in life.
  4. Overwhelmed by worries about the future and uncertainty about your path.
  5. Irritated and impatient, even with the things you used to enjoy.
  6. Disconnected from others and unable to find solace in relationships.

Mental symptoms

  1. Constantly criticizing yourself and dwelling on your flaws.
  2. Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  3. Feeling foggy-headed and struggling to focus on tasks.
  4. Vivid and unsettling dreams that may reflect your inner turmoil.
  5. Doubting your faith or questioning the meaning of life.

Physical symptoms

  1. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing nightmares.
  2. Loss of appetite or overeating.
  3. Feeling drained and lacking motivation.
  4. Unexplained headaches, body aches, or other physical discomfort.

This, of course, isn’t an exhaustive list because it’s not really a “one size fits all.” Furthermore, not everyone who experiences these symptoms is going through the dark night of the soul. 

If you are experiencing significant distress, though, it’s important to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor.

How to Get Through the Dark Night of the Soul

The thing is, this journey is a deeply personal experience. It’s something Mindvalley’s spiritual teachers, like Sadhguru, Jade Shaw, and Rachel Pringle, know very well; they, too, have gone through it and emerged on the other side.

If you are facing an emotional tsunami, an earth-shattering situation, or a dark night of the soul…  know that there is another world waiting. Such darkness is precisely what creates the light on the other side.— @JadeShaw_OBE Click To Tweet

So, turning to their expertise, here are some steps that can offer support and guidance:

1. Acceptance

Denial is not just a river in Egypt; it’s also what can hinder this experience. The fact of the matter is, the dark night of the soul can potentially be transformative…if you let it.

Sure, it can seem scary. But as Sadhguru, a renowned yogi and trainer of Mindvalley’s A Yogi’s Guide to Joy Quest, points out, “Darkness means there is nothing. Nothing cannot hurt you; only something can hurt you, isn’t it?

So, what can you do? Two things:

  • Acknowledge that you’re going through a difficult period and that it’s okay to not be okay.
  • Accept the experience, even though it’s challenging—it can shift your energy from resistance to understanding.

Change does start from within, after all. And according to Sadhguru, whatever human experience you’re experiencing—happiness, unhappiness, misery, joy, estaticness, pleasantness, unpleasantness, and so on—“just know that it’s happening from within.”

2. Spiritual practice

Use this time for self-reflection. Explore your emotions, beliefs, and values, asking yourself what truly matters to you.

Find that meaningful reason—your reason why,” explains Jade. “And then the greater consciousness system, your spirit guide, your higher self, is going to get on board with you to make these experiences happen.”

You can opt for meditation, prayer, yoga, or whatever resonates with you and can help you connect with your inner self and provide comfort. 

Now, if you want something a little more advanced, Jade highly recommends soul retrieval. This is “the process of reintegrating aspects of the self that have somehow become split off.” 

It goes hand-in-hand with shadow healing, or what she calls “shadow integration.” This is “shining light into the dark caves of our minds to reintegrate the split-off, traumatized parts of ourselves.”

How do you do it? Jade teaches it through astral projection (but you can do it in other altered states like meditation or dreamwork). 

Here’s what it looks like: 

  1. You’re in an environment where you “sense soul loss.”
  2. Using shadow work prompts, you say and feel the words as deeply as possible.
  3. And then, “just be open to whatever might happen afterwards.”

3. Creative expression

The thing that our being yearns for the most is to receive, hear, accept, and love all parts of ourselves,” says Rachel Pringle, an embodiment coach and trainer of Mindvalley’s Wild Woman Sensuality Quest. 

This is where creative outlets like writing, painting, music, dance, or primal shaking come in. They can help you process your emotions and express what might be difficult to put into words.

Rachel’s a huge advocate of movement, which helps you to make “friends with [your] darkness” and release all the blocked energies so that you can enter a kundalini awakening.

Our light and our darkness [are] actually equally important,” she says. “Creating a safe space… to allow the fullness of our darkness to take place, to express it with movement sound, and allowing whatever wants to come through.”

So let loose and let your body flow.

Rachel Pringle, trainer of Mindvalley’s Wild Woman Sensuality Quest, demonstrates the Primal shaking technique
Rachel Pringle, trainer of Mindvalley’s Wild Woman Sensuality Quest, demonstrates the primal shaking technique


Is the suffering necessary?

What you’re suffering is, you are half alive,” Sadhguru explains. “You’re desperately trying to make yourself fully alive through money, through drink, through sex, through going on a trek, coming to the astro in so many ways.”

With that being said, it’s not really the suffering itself that’s necessary, but what you learn from it. That’s the point of the dark night of the soul—facing hidden aspects of yourself to shed old patterns and beliefs that no longer serve you.

And when you do so, you come out of being “half alive.” 

How long does the dark night of the soul last?

It’s difficult to put a number on the duration of the dark night of the soul. It depends from person to person.

For some, it’s a couple of months. For others, years. And there are some where it lasts even longer.

But here’s what you need to keep in mind: the journey is yours uniquely, and it’ll unfold in its own time. The focus should be on the process and the growth it brings, rather than the time it takes.

What happens after the dark night of the soul?

Coming out of the dark night can be an incredibly rewarding experience. You might notice several positive changes, such as:

  • Gaining a better understanding of your emotions, values, and motivations.
  • Feeling more equipped to handle challenges and navigate future difficulties.
  • Discovering a deeper meaning and direction in life.
  • Experiencing more empathy and understanding for yourself and others.
  • For some, this may involve an enhanced connection to a higher power or a sense of belonging to something larger than yourself.
This is a part of yourself. It wants to be integrated; it wants to be seen. So see it. — @JadeShaw_OBE Click To Tweet

Keep in mind, though, that this is life and there’s no linear path. You may experience dips of doubt and challenges in the “after,” which is totally normal. But in going through the process, you may find yourself on the path of growth, resilience, and a deeper connection to your true self.

Learn more: The Spiritual Awakening That Changed My Entire Life

Awaken Your Unstoppable Spirit

If you find yourself longing for a deeper purpose, boundless adventure, or connection to your true self, it might just be the dark night of the soul calling.

This is where Jade Shaw’s The Art of Astral Projection Quest on Mindvalley can help you break free from limitations. This 28-day program, designed in collaboration with The Monroe Institute, unlocks transformative self-discovery and healing, empowering you to master astral travel—journeys beyond the physical world. 

And echoing Morpheus in The Matrix, this program opens a doorway to boundless potential. But you’re the one who has to walk through it.

Welcome in.

Images generated on Midjourney.

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Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
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Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Expertise by

Sadhguru is the trainer of Mindvalley’s A Yogi’s Guide to Joy Quest. His ability to make timeless truths and profound yogic technologies accessible to modern audiences has made him one of the most widely followed spiritual masters of our generation.

Over the past four decades, Sadhguru has offered yoga and meditation to millions of people across the world and has established the Isha Foundation, supported by over 11 million volunteers in 300 cities worldwide. As the visionary behind several massive-scale humanitarian projects in public health, education, and ecology, Sadhguru inspires millions to dedicate their time and energy to creating inner well-being and, in turn, creating a conscious planet.

Jade Shaw - Trainer
Expertise by

Jade Shaw is the trainer of Mindvalley’s The Art of Astral Projection Quest. She’s a globally recognized expert in astral projection and altered states. Her classes, body of research, and contributions to various high-profile media projects have been instrumental in bringing astral projection into mass consciousness as a tool for personal growth and spiritual discovery.

How we reviewed this article:
Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.

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Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. 

We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

The Mindvalley fact-checking guidelines are based on:

To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.