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Surviving Dark Nights of the Soul

Surviving Dark Nights of the Soul

At three oíclock in the afternoon, itís pretty easy for me to be kind and compassionate with myself. I can feed my body green juice, sit in meditation and treat myself with loving kindness, bless my body with yoga or a hike, and receive a nurturing massage.

But sometimes, at three oíclock in the morning, I find it practically impossible. On those dark nights of the soul, the voices of my Gremlins become deafening. The voices usually start in dreams, when Iím vulnerable and my defenses are down. And then the voices get so loud they wake me up, and the battle ensues in real life.

You’re not enough…

On these dark nights of the soul, the voices spew not only all of my fears, insecurities, and doubts — they also echo the voices of other people who are either†criticizing me or trying†to improve me. The bottom line message is ďYouíre not enough. Youíll never be enough.Ē

This is just the beginning of the self-torture. As the night rolls on, it gets worse. In the half trance fatigue, the Gremlin morphs, shape-shifting into other people I love, projecting onto them voices that scoff and sniff, ridicule and judge. I become disoriented. I lose touch. I canít quite tell whatís real anymore. I sink into a hell of my own creation. I lose my faith.

Then morning rolls around, and the sun peaks its little head over the mountain, and Iím surrounded by the grandeur of nature where I live. And 5-year-old Siena wakes me from my restless night and snuggles in next to me and tells me how much she loves me — and it should snap me out of it, but it doesnít. The dark night lingers through the morning sometimes, the voices still reverberating in my head, taunting, jeering.

But it doesnít last. By three oíclock in the afternoon, I can usually find a way to give myself a hug, nurture my body, forgive myself for my shortcomings, and pat myself on the back with an, ďAtta girl!Ē

Waking up

Back before my Perfect Storm, when I was still sleep-walking through my life, I didnít use to have dark nights of the soul of this intensity. Sure, I had the occasional sleepless night wherein I wrestled with stress and uncertainty. But now these nights are alive with demons in a way they didnít use to be. It makes me question: am I doing something wrong? Have I gotten off course? Are these dark nights Signs from the Universe that I should be switching directions? At three oíclock in the morning, I tend to think so.

But at three oíclock in the afternoon, I think not. I think that when you start to wake up, you feel everything more intensely. Along with the deepening joy and vitality comes a darker, more visible shadow. I think itís about learning to embrace the shadow, about learning to know that you ARE enough, even in the midst of a dark night of the soul.

Until we can stand face to face with our shadow and be with what truly is, the dark nights of the soul will force us to go there. Our subconscious minds will create dreams. Our Gremlins will spew evil nothings. The more we run from the shadow of ourselves, the more our shadow will chase us. Until we learn the lessons we are meant to live in this life, we will be pursued by our darkness.

Embracing the shadow

So now itís 7:00am, and Iíve just awoken from one of those dark nights of the soul with new resolution. What if, instead of wallowing on these mornings, I can honor myself with radical self-care? What if I can sip my green juice, do some yoga poses, take a hot bath, rub myself with aromatherapy-scented coconut oil, and remind myself that I am enough, just as I am? What if I can sit in meditation next to my shadow and hold her hand, welcome her in, and integrate with her, rather than fragmenting myself?

So that is what I will try to do this morning. I will go to the darkness, rather than running from it in frantic search of light. I will be my shadow. I will live in that. I will see how that feels.

When we make it wrong to have a dark night of the soul, we give it power. If we can remove the judgment and allow it to be just another learning experience, we can neutralize it so that darkness and light can coexist more peacefully.

So I will try, and Iíll let you know how it goes. Itís always a journey.

What about you? Do you have these dark nights of the soul? How do you handle them? Do they get you down? Do you learn from them? Can you learn to love your shadow?

Do tell, my love.

Embracing darkness,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of†,†motivational speaker, and author of†Whatís Up Down There? Questions Youíd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about†Lissa Rankin here.


Read more: Health, Insomnia, Mental Wellness, Self-Help, Spirit, , , , , , , , , ,

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the†Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of†Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.† She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.† Lissa blogs at† and also created two online communities -† and† She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


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7:45PM PDT on Aug 14, 2012

I agree that the more you resist dark nights of the soul the more they can persist.They come to you..they can feel like depression..but they truly have something otherwordly about them.I believe it truly is a battle between your ego...who you think you are & your soul..who you truly are.Depending on how afraid you are to surrender to your deepest self & let go of the self you think you are (the you that is from conditioning or your own idea of what or who you think you should be)..or to let go and fall into what waits on the other seems it will be a seems like it is God wrestling with the devil inside of yourself.I like what was written above in the article..that maybe to integrate your darkness inside of yourself instead of feeling it is something to resist or rid yourself of is maybe to find the the dark night...that reveals itself once you come out of the fog.In American seems superficiality prevails & to go inward to find deeper meaning inside ourselves is not valued.there is nothing that speaks to such a profound experience in out culture.You feel alone.I know 3 am. and I think that is where beautiful souls reside..if you surrender..I believe the dark night has something invaluable waiting on the other side.Who you truly are.

9:56AM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

Thank you

8:52PM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

My shadow's the only thing that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
Til then I walk alone

"Boulevard of Broken Dreams"......Green Day

6:02AM PDT on Jul 17, 2011

Thanks for the article, i wish more people would recognize how much influence depression have on health, work, etc. That it is an illness and not beeing sad for a while. There are still too many people, also in families, who do not want to see the problem, who shake heads, call a depressed person lazy etc., that he/she should pull him/herself up (is it the word? Sorry, but i am not from an English speaking country). They do not want to read about it, do not know something about it - as if this ignorance could erase that problem... this reminds me about that monkey figures, on with hand over the eyes, one with hand over the ears, one with hand over mouth (i do not know if there are more). I have depressions, too. Since childhood i have been silent, shy and thoughtful, then, i don't know when it became more. I also have borderline (wounds and wishes to not wake up anymore since childhood), trauma experiences, and burnout. And i still have not found out how to live with all these, it has always been a "surviving"...

8:57PM PDT on Jul 2, 2011

.... and I AM enough.

8:45PM PDT on Jul 2, 2011

We must all learn to BE that which we seek. I have found that the last bottom line is to be there for myself. To be the best friend, the supporter, the encourager, the pamperer who soothes me when I am in need. Other people are great to have access to when I feel lost but they are not always available. But I always am.
When I seem to need more than I have, I go INWARD to my Source. In devastatingly trying times, I eventually found deep within myself strengths and talents and abilities I never would have known existed if I'd not been forced to find them due to the inability to find an available "other".
I believe in Angels, for it was they who taught me that "that which I seek without can only be found within." Once I did find it I became able to offer it to myself as well as others. When all else fails, "I" am always here for me.

1:57AM PDT on Jul 2, 2011

thanks for sharing.

1:31PM PDT on Jul 1, 2011

I understand this – thank you for your courage in sharing. And I think you are absolutely right – the more you wake up, the more intensely you feel. I have been practicing welcoming that shadow, whatever form it takes: sometimes it's my own little girl, and I hold her hand and surround her with my heart. Sometimes it's just about noticing what the inner "voices" are saying and reacting to, without doing a thing except letting them be ... and often the internalized drama or anxiety or wound will dissipate itself under the simple compassionate witnessing I give it.

Here's to the spiritual warriors, shifting consciousness one thought at a time :)

9:00PM PDT on Jun 30, 2011


7:08PM PDT on Jun 30, 2011

Beautiful. Thank you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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