At some point, most of us go through a phenomenon known as the Dark Night of the Soul.
Although we try to run from it, it is still there. Although we try to cover it up and smother it, it is still there. Although we try to put on a happy smiley face and pretend it away, it is still there.
While some of us seek repose in religious thought, others of us seek respite in spiritual philosophy, and still a small portion of us seek reprieve with professional psychologists.
But the Dark Night of the Soul is not the same as depression, which is usually characterized by biological chemical imbalances, destructive mental patterns and/or excessive self-concern, and comes as a result of loss, mental illness, physical illness, abuse, genetics, and so on. Although depression shares many of its characteristics with the experience of having a Dark Night of the Soul, it can often be treated and sometimes cured with medications, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices, lifestyle changes and so forth.
But having a Dark Night of the Soul is a much different experience because it is primarily a spiritual and existential form of crises that can’t be treated or cured with therapy or psychiatry. Therefore, those of us going through the Dark Night often feel an increasing sense of hopelessness, unease and despair as we discover that no one can save us but ourselves. Inevitably, this makes us feel even more alone, frustrated and confused about the world and about ourselves.
I am intensely aware of what it is like to experience complete psychological and spiritual desolation and although the feeling seems endless, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you just know where to look.
In this article, we will explore one of the major questions that eternally haunts us during the Dark Night of the Soul: “What is the point of living?”
What is the Dark Night of the Soul?
The concept of having a Dark Night of the Soul has existed for a long time, and spans back to the 16th century when poet and Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross wrote a poem entitled, “La noche oscura del alma (The Dark Night of the Soul).”
Said Saint John:
If a man wishes to be sure of the road he’s traveling on, then he must close his eyes and travel in the dark.
Traditionally, the Dark Night of the Soul refers to the experience of losing touch with God/Creator, and being plunged into the abyss of godless emptiness. The modern understanding of having a Dark Night of the Soul however, is not exclusively a religious one, but can often mean losing all meaning in life, feeling out-of-touch with the Divine, feeling betrayed or forsaken by Life and having no solid or stable ground to stand on.
Some of the heaviest questions we ask during this period include for example, “Why am I alive at all?” “Why do good people suffer?” “What is truth?” “Is there a god or afterlife?” and “What is the point of living?”
This last question we will now explore.
What is the Point of Living?
Such a question weighs down on us like led, oppressing us constantly when we experience the Dark Night of the Soul.
Each day we might obsessively search for an answer, but find to our greatest dismay that the answers to such a question are as expansive as the waves on the ocean.
Some people tell us, “the point is to serve God,” others tell us, “the point is to make a difference,” and others tell us, “there is no point: you make your own meaning.” These are only three of hundreds, even thousands of possible answers.
What the hell are we supposed to do? Who is right, who is wrong … if there really is any “right” or “wrong” answer? We walk down one path and immediately become dissatisfied, disillusioned and repelled by what we discover. Then we walk down another path and history repeats itself again and again until we realize with horror, “Every path of meaning is meaningless to me,” and we collapse in grief and despair, winding up at square one again.
Such a cycle repeats itself over and over again during the Dark Night of the Soul, so much so that it can become like torment. I know because I have experienced it. The strange thing is that although we get to a point of complete desolation, we still hold a glimmer of hope that pursuing the same path over and over and over again will somehow bring us a deeply satisfying meaning one day. We seem to think that the mind is the solution to our problems; that utilizing the mind will release us from the original prison created by the mind that feels the need to quantify, measure and define everything.
What most of us fail to do however, is to question the actual questions we are asking and pursuing the answers to. Have you ever tried asking:
Why must there be a point to living? Instead of, What is the point of living?
We will elaborate on this below.
Happiness Isn’t This or That, Happiness IS
Earlier today I opened my email and received a poignant message from one of our long-time readers asking:
I don’t understand. Why am I alive? Why do I experience life? I don’t know why I am here now. I don’t see the point of living my life. I don’t want anything, not material /physical achievements, not relationships, not entertainment, nothing. I don’t know what to do with this body, mind, and feelings. Or maybe I just experience this life too intensely until I am numbed. But why?
My answer is that although you might feel cursed, you are actually blessed. It sounds absurd, even insulting, but this is the truth. Before any true growth or healing can occur, there must be a process of destruction and complete annihilation of everything you thought would bring you happiness.
Most people experiencing Dark Nights realize this: that nothing makes them happy anymore; not bodily, not sexual, not emotional, not material, not political, not social, not even spiritual. And this is the start of the purification process. Since birth you have been conditioned to believe that money will make you happy, a sexy/rich partner will make you happy, a high IQ will make you happy, a big house will make you happy, a thriving career will make you happy, a perfect life will make you happy.
But this is all a lie, because whenever you pursue happiness, you are immediately losing touch with the fact that happiness is already here, right now, in this very second, without you having to do anything or question anything. Happiness IS.
This sounds like the most ridiculous thing you might have ever heard, and yet deep down you might sense the truth in it. If this is the case the first layer of your illusions has been peeled away; what a blessing!
In reality, it is absolutely terrifying to have the ground beneath your feet ripped out from beneath you, and this is precisely what we experience during the Dark Night of the Soul. And yet, this experience is the greatest teacher of all to us because it illuminates what is fragile, transient, and subject to change, growth and decay. We are subsequently left with a feeling of great inner emptiness, but within this emptiness we eventually come to see what can never come, go, change or die, and that is the truth of who we are: pure, peaceful and blissful conscious essence.
The mind is a product of our evolutionary development: it protects us and structures our existence, and through it we can experience the beauty of life, but in order to truly come to any closure during our Dark Nights we must understand that the mind is limited, narrow and finite – and therefore so is our reasoning.
Why must there be a “point” to living other than the experience of being alive in all of its fascinating and shocking diversity? Why must we “pursue” or “find” something rather than simply experiencing each moment fully and completely in the simplicity of Being?
That is why I say that happiness isn’t this or that, happiness IS. And what exactly are we seeking when we want to answer the question, “What is the point of living”? We want a satisfactory answer that will appeal to the mind to GIVE us happiness.
But happiness can’t be given because happiness IS. This might all sound like fancy rhetoric, but I recommend that you let it sink in and really look into it more. For me it took years, but the questions in this article helped to solidify the understanding that happiness and fulfillment are already here, now. Please read them to continue your journey.
Ask yourself: Why must there be a point to living? Why can’t I just be here, as I am, already whole and complete, now?
The higher he ascends,
The darker is the wood;
It is the shadowy cloud
That clarified the night,
And so the one who understood
Remains at last unknowing,
All reason now transcended.
This knowledge by unknowing
Is such a soaring force
That scholars argue long
But never leave the ground.
Their reason always fails the source:
To understand unknowing,
All reason now transcended.
– Saint John of the Cross (Dark Night of the Soul)