Over the last few years, I’ve been in what some refer to as a “Dark Night of the Soul”. It is a spiritual journey that mystics sometimes find themselves in where the individual or mystic finds themselves in a state of spiritual death or desperation, and a spiritual depression or insanity where they question themselves, the world, and others around them. It is similar to what psychologists refer to as an existential crisis. During this time, a person generally leaves behind their previous belief systems and even personality and goes on to develop new ones. Many say that their spiritual or mystic beliefs are stronger upon completion of the Dark Night.
One of the reasons why I might have gone through a Dark Night is due to my experiences with Psychopaths, or those who pursue the parts of humanity that do not lie in the positive archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. It is argued by some that during the Dark Night one experiences and becomes aware of the darker aspects of one’s soul and of all of humanity. This is said to happen because one has had a brush with a psychopath, which left a scar on his or her soul that needs to be mended. There are those who believe that this can only be done through an exploration of the shadow or dark side of the soul through a Dark Night.
I can tell you that during my Dark Night I have definitely felt filled with darkness. The world itself and my inner world actually looked somewhat dark, and I have and am still exploring the shadow part of my soul. At the beginning of the Dark Night, I felt a strong sense of foreboding as well, which has now mostly passed.
I began to question everything and lost my faith in the God that I knew. I questioned myself, the people around me, the organizations I was in, my family, my past, and contemplated what my purpose is in life (I’m still doing this). I also questioned bigger things like humanity itself, what right and wrong is, religion, philosophy, psychology, and many other things. My overall belief systems were lost, and I have begun to replace them with new ones. My life was turned upside down, and still somewhat is.
You might be wondering why this happened to me or why I did this, and the answer is that I don’t know. It just happened. I am glad that it did, though, because today I am beginning to build my own set of ethics, morals, and values to live life by that I did not have before and am stronger in my ideas and opinions about life. I have the ability today to question anything that I want, even if doing so brings about fear. So yesterday I began to ask myself the question for the first time in my life: What would it mean to me if there is no life after death?
I am in awe of myself today that I have grown to the point where I can even ask this question. Before this, I would have been so fearful to really contemplate the possibilities in life after death that a true query into this question might have sent me into an emotional breakdown. Also, I was very convinced that my monotheistic beliefs as the time were correct.
I was terrified of death my whole life. Sometimes I was aware of this, and sometimes I was not. Therefore, ideas of heaven really appealed to me, and I stuck to that idea at any cost. If you would have asked me this question before my Dark Night, I probably would have told you something along the lines of “I see no reason to really know the answer to that or to question it” as I believed that questioning faith was not necessary to have faith. I held this belief, though, not just out of faith, but also out of a fear of the unknown, to the point of where it brought me great anxiety and affected my life negatively if I questioned it or the faith that I held on to so strongly.
The Christian ideas and beliefs that I had were due to the strong fundamental Christian ideas of my family. Although my parents didn’t preach heaven and hell, they made it clear that terrible things would happen to me if I didn’t follow the “family value system”, reinforced an idea of heaven and hell, even if my immediate family purported that they did not believe in these ideas. The ritual and severe abuses that I went through with them, though, did include Christian ideals of heaven and hell as scare tactics, but this was not talked about. I had many extended family members who touted strong ideas of hell to me and other younger family members. My Uncle, who was a minister, used to frequently tell us things like “the devil is out to get you” and “the devil will jump out behind you if you…”. He even put a red hat and jacket in a closet once and half open so that we would think that the devil was in the closet. It was these kinds of scare tactics that drove into me that life after death could be scary, even if I wouldn’t admit consciously that I believed in anything like that.
Because of all of this, I learned to rely on external value systems other than my own. I never really developed a set of ethics or reasons for doing what I did in life. I reacted rather than acted and didn’t have a strong internal moral compass for what was right and what was wrong. I learned right from wrong mainly from sources outside of my family such as television, friends, and other adults, and even though I never participated in antisocial acts I didn’t develop a strong internal sense of right versus wrong until sometime during my Dark Night. When I got to AA, my internal compass only got weaker as I was told how to live based on behaviors that would make or break my sobriety and were in line with 12 step ideology. Thus, my internal feelings of right and wrong became weaker over time. I still knew right from wrong, though, on a surface level, so was a pretty good person, but I also based a lot of my behaviors on what I was told to do in AA and by my family rather than based off what I really thought or felt.
I met my boyfriend David in November 2014, and for the first 7 months, I was the model girlfriend/housewife according to Christian and AA ideals. I wanted to be “of service” to him in order to be a “good girlfriend” and to “stay sober”. When I stayed at his house, despite my health difficulties, I prepared and arranged his breakfast, lunch, and dinner, did his laundry, cleaned the house, scheduled our weekends, and always tried to make his evenings fun after work. My whole life revolved him, and I saw this as essential to staying sober. At about 7 months into our relationship, my Dark Night started, and I began to question why I was really doing these things and what I really wanted our relationship to look like.
I began to realize that it was not very meaningful to David or to me for me to do nice things for him just to “be of service in Alcoholics Anonymous” and to benefit my sobriety. I became embarrassed about my behavior, and couldn’t believe that I had done those things to “be of service”. Eventually, my moral compass swayed so that I started to really understand what right and wrong, good and bad, is, for me, outside of an organized or strict family belief system. Today if I do something nice for David it is could be for a variety of reasons: I want to, it is agreed upon that it is a household task of mine, it is a nice thing to do, or because it makes me feel good to do it. The beauty of going through the Dark Night today is that I do not have to have reasons like “I need to be of service” or “it’s part of my family’s values” in order to live life. I find that life is much simpler and more enjoyable when I do something because it’s the right thing to do or because it makes someone else and/or myself happy versus because I want to go to heaven or to stay sober.
So what does all of this have to do with life after death? What my Dark Night has brought me it to a place where if someone were to find that there is no life after death, I would still be able to live an ethical and happy life. I do not need the fear of death or heaven and hell anymore, or the fear that I will drink, in order to do what I consider to be the right things in life. I also do not need any kind of spirituality to find the motivations to participate in life., to accomplish things, to love another person or animal, or really to do or experience anything else that life has to offer. If I would have found out that there was no life after death, though, before this, I would not have been able to handle it. My whole life would have fallen apart, and my health most likely would have failed as well. Today, I do not become fearful, either, like I once did when a person questions my belief systems. This opens me up to the possibility of new and interesting conversations and friendships with people and makes me more agreeable overall since I do not vehemently need to defend any sort of faith.
Today I can question whether there is life after death, and know that there is a possibility that there is not. In my previous life before my Dark Night, I would not have even questioned this. I am glad that today I am able to and willing to explore such topics. I even am aware that there is a possibility that there is nothing bigger than us in the Universe.
What is life, anyways, if we are not willing to explore it and all of the questions that come along with it? For me, an exploration of the meaning of life itself has provided me with the ability to really think and explore pretty much any concept that I find interest in. It has helped me to be more independent, more loving, more tolerant, yet also to be more critical of ideas, people, and even myself in a constructive versus destructive way. This also helps me to be able to better judge whether other people or situations are safe.
What would it mean to you if there was no life after death? Would it change the way that you live your life? And if you found this out to be true, would you have an internal value system outside of faith that is strong enough to get you through life? These are all questions to ask yourself as you think about how your faith, or lack thereof, has affected you so far in your life and how it continues to affect you today.
Thanks for reading today! Stay tuned as I write more blogs about philosophy, psychology, and cats!