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Q: Dark night of the soul ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Dark night of the soul
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 23 Mar 2003 21:55 PST
Expires: 22 Apr 2003 22:55 PDT
Question ID: 180165
What are the psychological or neurological explanations for the experience
called "Dark night of the soul"?
Subject: Re: Dark night of the soul
Answered By: larre-ga on 24 Mar 2003 21:34 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks (again) for asking!


St. John of the Cross, sixteenth century Roman Catholic
theologian/mystic, and co-founder of the Carmelite Order, used the
phrase "dark night of the soul" to describe the extreme desolation
which epitomized the eighth stage of his ten stages of spiritual
ascent, or, in other words, the depression, isolation, and alienation
which afflicts those seeking spiritual enlightenment just prior to the
dawning of transcendence.

An electronic version of this treatise, Dark Night of the Soul is
available at:

Catholic Spiritual Direction

A Catholic biography of St. John of the Cross declares "It has been
recorded that during his studies St. John particularly relished
psychology; this is amply borne out by his writings. He was not what
one would term a scholar, but he was intimately acquainted with the
"Summa" of St. Thomas Aquinas, as almost every page of his works
proves. Holy Scripture he seems to have known by heart, yet he
evidently obtained his knowledge more by meditation than in the
lecture room."

The Catholic Encyclopedia

The usage of the phrase, and the concept itself, have been most
closely identified with religious philosophy, and Jungian and
transpersonal psychology.

"The "dark night of the soul" is a familiar concept to students of
mysticism. Though the term is often used in popular parlance as little
more than a euphemism for a particularly difficult period in a
person's life, it is in fact an advanced stage of psycho-spiritual
growth reached by only the most committed spiritual aspirants. This
difficult phase takes its name from St. John of the Cross's classic
work, Dark Night of the Soul, and has been the subject of so many
commentaries that I think it can be safely assumed to be a working
concept in transpersonal thought (Bache, 1991, 2000; Underhill, 1961,
Wilber, 1995). This night has well defined characteristics that show
up in mystical traditions around the world under different names. It
comes after a series of lesser trials and just before final awakening
into unitive consciousness. It is the final stage of a long spiritual
process of intense purification in which one's identity as a discrete
self is challenged at its core and eventually surrendered. Its trials
and hardships culminate in a spiritual death that is more profound
than mere physical death. According to many mystical traditions,
physical death alone does not unravel our deepest instinct for living
as a separate self, and thus is often said to be followed by another
birth. What dies in the dark night is precisely our deep attachment to
separateness itself, and therefore the dark night represents the
culmination of a long history of spiritual effort, usually assumed to
extend over many lifetimes."

Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness
The Possible Impact of the Eco-Crisis on Human Evolution
Christopher M. Bache, Ph.D.

A comparison of the "dark night of the soul" component of the
universal "religious journey" is undertaken by Arlen Wopert. The
phenomenon is characterized as:

Western/Judeo-Christian: Dark Night of the Soul
Greek/Neoplatonic: Katharsis
Judiac/Hebraic: Hatarat Hakesharim 
Islam/Sufi: (overcoming)Nafs
Sanskrit/Hindu: (overcoming)Samskaras
Buddhist/Zen: Samsara

A Meditation on Mystical Union Using System Dynamics
Chart - 14 Stage Religious Crisis

Further Reading:

The Metaphysics of Mysticism the Dark Night of the Soul
Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
Geoffrey K. Mondello

Emptying Your Cup


The psychologic causation of the Dark Night of the Soul is address by
psychiatrist Carl Jung.

In "Ego and Archetype", by Edward F. Edinger writes "Jung says that
the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego." Paula van
Rein replies: "I think this is paradoxal. On the one had he is right,
because ego experiences itself in that “dark night of the soul” as
being utterly lost (things are meaningless whose meaning have always
been self-evident), a victim of life, depressed beyond deliverance,
unworthy, guilty of sin; in other words totally abandoned, totally
alienated from its roots and therefore defeated by the seemingly
unattainable perfection of Self. This Ego realizes that the ground on
which is was built can no longer hold it, its old picture of what it
was does no longer fit. Ego thus experiences Self as the other, lets
go of its identification with Self: as we saw the only way for us
humans to become conscious.

And then, in its surrender to the feeling of being lost, detached from
all former projections, this ego is able to encounter and experience
an underlying ground in being, Self, the numinosum. A new reality
dawns, new meaning sprouts from a larger whole(ness)/holon. Ego then
realizes its own potential perfection, its own wholeness, its own
“being so much more” than it ever considered possible before, and is
delivered, set free, in the end winning.

It is as if ego re-owns the projections it made upon the other (Self)
and can reclaim its lost energy (consciousness). Ego no longer
desperately seeks acceptance from Self but accepts itself; ego no
longer projects wholeness upon Self but reclaims this wholeness as
being its own."

Hypnogestalt - Articles - Jung

Jim Moyers further elaborates upon Jung's "Treatment of the Soul."
"According to the great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, modern culture
has lost contact with soul along with the traditional means of
honoring it through myth, ritual, and spiritual practice.  As he put
it, the gods who shaped the lives of the ancients have become the
diseases that afflict us.  Psychotherapy as practiced by Jung and
those who followed in his footsteps is, at its best, a means for
reconnecting with a mysterious something deep within our being that
gives our lives purpose and meaning.  It springs from much the same
place as does religious experience.  However, it differs from formal
religious practice in not imposing a dogmatic structure on human
experience, not trying to make life fit into some preconceived form,
but acknowledges each individual's experience as the unique creation
that it is.

Soul focused psychotherapy is rare in these days of quick fixes,
measurable outcomes,  and cost effectiveness.  It takes time and
effort to connect with soul.   The goal of soul based therapy is not
symptom relief but the discovery of meaning in the symptoms which, in
Jung's formula, are the soul's means for getting our attention. 
Something special happens when two people meet over a period of time
to explore the life of one of them.  There is something almost magical
about the process of telling one's story to a carefully attentive and
involved listener.  Change comes not so much through learning new ways
of being, connecting past experience to the present, gaining insight,
etc. although these things and more do occur.  Rather, healing comes
through the experience of having one's soul carefully attended to and

Attending the Soul
Psychotherapy and Spirituality
Jim Moyers, MA, MFT

Jay M. Uomoto offers an analysis of psychotherapy as soul care. "One
solution to the tension defined above would be to somehow meld
psychotherapy and soul care and treat them as one activity.
Psychotherapy as a stirring of the soul, and the consequent insights
and changes brought about by therapy, could be understood as caring
for the soul. Jung was adept at recognizing the soul as something to
be addressed and sought as a part of analysis and psychotherapy. He
was facile in moving between conceptualizing the significance of dream
analysis to contemplating upon the spiritual problems of man.6 In
practice, the soul is accounted for within psychologic interventions
and one does not worry whether or not one has actually spoken a word
about God, spirit, or soul. Yet, even Jung raises the tension between
psychotherapy and soul care at the point of considering the relative
roles of physician and clergyman on issues of the suffering soul:

It is in reality the priest or the clergyman, rather than the doctor,
who should be most concerned with the problem of spiritual suffering.
But in most cases the sufferer consults the doctor in the first place,
because he supposes himself to be physically ill, and because certain
neurotic symptoms can be at least alleviated by drugs...We can hardly
expect the doctor to have anything to say about the ultimate questions
of the soul. It is the clergyman, not the doctor, that the sufferer
should expect such help.7 (p. 227)

Thus, there are limits to the degree to which the psychotherapist may
approach and properly address larger or deeper issues of the soul.
Psychotherapy is not seen as a substitute for soul care, but that it
can enhance one's own wrestling with soul care issues. Jung might say,
however, a boundary exists between the two at the juncture of such
issues as good, evil, ultimate meaning, faith, and grace imparted by
God. Should a person's psychological disturbance be rooted in
spiritual pathfinding, that is the point that psychotherapy is
distinguished from soul care."

Psychotherapy and Soul Care: Toward Clinical Rapproachment
Jay M. Uomoto, Ph.D., ABMP

Further Reading:

Transforming Depression:A Jungian Approach Using the Creative Arts
By David Rosen

Mysticism vs. Freudian Psychiatry (Word document)

An Introduction to Transpersonal Psychology


Physiologically, the Dark Night of the Soul most closely translates to
the clinical condition of depression. "The cause of depression is not
entirely clear. It is thought to be caused by an imbalance of certain
brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). Depression seems to run in
families and is often triggered by stressful life events and lack of
social support, and it tends to recur."

Depression - Topic Overview


"Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by the nerve cells in the
brain that send messages back and forth across the space between the
cells (synapse).

The neurotransmitters believed to play a role in mental functioning
are serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid
(GABA). When the normal balance of these neurotransmitters is upset,
headache, depression, or other mental health problems may develop."

WebMD - Health Guide

Symptoms of Depression include: 

"...loss of ability to experience pleasure or feeling depressed. In
addition, at least four minor symptoms are usually present. They
Sleep Disorder (early awakening or excessive sleep)
Motivation to take an action
Hopeless, helpless, worthless feelings
Fatigue in morning, may improve in evening
Concentration difficulties (includes short-term memory problems)
Overeating or undereating
Irritability, anxiety, slowed speech and movement, or depressed affect
Suicidal ideation or plans


Diagnosis is made based on the symptoms specified above. Ina ddition
many patients also present with physical complaints. For example,
persistent pain, such as headache or backache, is common. Frequently,
periods of depression alternate with periods of mania (feeling
"high"). The elderly tend to have more physical complaints and may
have paranoia or agitation when depressed. In children and
adolescents, school avoidance, separation anxiety, irritability or
aggressiveness, promiscuity, drug abuse, or school problems are
signals for possible depression. The presence of substance abuse,
alcoholism, coexisting anxiety (especially panic disorder), a history
of mania, and being single increases the possibility of suicide.
Suicide attempts, threats, frank suicidal plans, psychosis, mania, and
treatment failure require an immediate consultation with or referral
to a psychiatrist." - Depression

Further Reading:

WebMD - Depression - Cause

The Chemistry of Depression
(Caution: annoying pop-ups)

Google Search Terms:

"dark night of the soul"
"dark night of the soul" -"of the cross" psychology
"dark night of the soul" -"of the cross" psychology Jung
causal forces psychology
clinical depression symptoms
physiology depression

Once again, it's been a pleasurable challenge to locate appropriate
resources for you. Should you have any questions about the material or
links provided, please, feel free to ask.

qpet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Great job, thank you!

Subject: Re: Dark night of the soul
From: cryptica-ga on 25 Mar 2003 15:59 PST
Hey, and don't forget the famous quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald in "The
"In the real dark night of the soul it is always 3:00 in the morning,
day after day."
Subject: Re: Dark night of the soul
From: waterlilly-ga on 24 May 2004 19:29 PDT
Correction to first reply on John of the Cross ? Larre-ga says John of
the Cross was co-founder of the Carmelites.  He'd be surprised to hear
that. Or be very, very old.  The Carmelites were founded in the 12th
Century in Palestine, very connected to the asceticism of the desert
hermits of earlier centuries.  The movement made its way to Europe
eventually, and adapted its rule.
Since John of the Cross lived in the 16th Century, in Spain ? he could
hardly have founded the order!  He was a major reformer of the order,
as was his contemporary Terese of Avila with the women's monasteries.
This is a pretty big error to have placed on here ? a word to the wise . . .

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