Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals

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Penguin, 2005 - Body, Mind & Spirit - 329 pages
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Every human journey is filled with emotional tunnels: the loss of a loved one or end of a relationship, aging and illness, career disappointments, or just an ongoing sense of dissatisfaction with life. Society tends to view these "dark nights" in clinical terms as obstacles to be overcome as quickly as possible. But Thomas Moore's extensive career as a psychologist and theologian has taught him that honoring these periods of fragility as periods of incubation and opportunities to delve into the soul's deepest needs can provide healing and a new understanding of life's meaning. Dark Nights of the Soul presents these metaphoric dark nights not as the enemy, but as times of transition, occasions to restore yourself, and transforming rites of passage. Moore shows specific ways to engage life more deeply through particular challenges and shares a powerful new outlook. With the soothing, accessible tone and practical philosophy that have made Moore an internationally beloved author, Dark Nights of the Soul will help you tend to the deepest needs of the heart and spirit in a modern world full of life's challenges, and is sure to be a comforting companion during your most difficult times. Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Care of the Soul comes the long-anticipated sequel, an uplifting and groundbreaking approach to life's darkest hours. Moore shows specific ways to engage life more deeply through particular challenges and shares a powerful new outlook on such topics as: The healing power of melancholy; The sexual dark night and the mysteries of matrimony; Finding solace during illness and in aging; Anxiety, anger, and temporary Insanities; Linking creativity, spirituality, and emotional struggles; Finding meaning and beauty in the darkness.

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User Review  - jlapac - LibraryThing

I picked this audio book up on a whim when I was feeling a bit down. I got over being down, but became really interested in the book for a number of reasons. First, the author cites a multitude of ... Read full review

Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

In his 13th book since Care of the Soul (1992), psychotherapist and theologian Moore concentrates on the painful, emotionally taxing periods of life. He believes that these can be enriching, growth ... Read full review


The Night Sea Journey
Rites of Passage
Sorting Out and Starting Over
The View from the Moon
Lifes Ironies
Creativity the Child and the SureFooted Goat
Dark Beauty
DEGRADATIONS 11 The DeepRed Emotions
Temporary Insanities
The Island of Illness
The Twilight Years
Navigating a Dark Night

Wedding Nights
Night Eros

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About the author (2005)



At one time or another, most people go through a period of sadness, trial, loss, frustration, or failure that is so disturbing and long-lasting that it can be called a dark night of the soul. If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you.

Today we label many of these experiences "depression," but not all dark nights are depressive, and the word is too clinical for something that makes you question the very meaning of life. It''s time for a different way of imagining this common experience, and therefore a different way of dealing with it. But, I warn you, this business is subtle, and you will have to look closely at yourself and at the examples I give to see how a deeply disturbing episode can be a precious moment of transformation.

Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical and depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, and summer and winter?

If you are like most people, you have gone through several dark nights of the soul. You may be in the middle of one now. You may be in a difficult marriage, have a child in trouble, or find yourself caught in a tenacious and terrible mood. You may be grieving the loss of a spouse or parent. You may have been betrayed by a lover or a business partner or going through a divorce. For some people, these situations are problems to be solved, but for others they are the source of deep despair. A true dark night of the soul is not a surface challenge but a development that takes you away from the joy of your ordinary life. An external event or an internal mood strikes you at the core of your existence. This is not just a feeling but a rupture in your very being, and it may take a long while to get through to the other end of it.

A dark night may not feel like depression. In a long illness or a troubled marriage you may be anxious, but not depressed. On the other hand, a clinical depression might well qualify as a dark night. Whatever you call it, the experience involves you as a person, someone with a history, a temperament, memories, emotions, and ideas. Depression is a label and a syndrome, while a dark night is a meaningful event. Depression is a psychological sickness, a dark night is a spiritual trial.

Many people think that the point in life is to solve their problems and be happy. But happiness is usually a fleeting sensation, and you never get rid of problems. Your purpose in life may be to become more who you are and more engaged with the people and the life around you, to really live your life. That may sound obvious, yet many people spend their time avoiding life. They are afraid to let it flow through them, and so their vitality gets channeled into ambitions, addictions, and preoccupations that don''t give them anything worth having. A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living. It pares life down to its essentials and helps you get a new start.

Here I want to explore positive contributions of your dark nights, painful though they may be. I don''t want to romanticize them or deny their dangers. I don''t even want to suggest that you can always get through them. But I do see them as opportunities to be transformed from within, in ways you could never imagine. A dark night is like Dante getting sleepy, wandering from his path, mindlessly slipping into a cave. It is like Alice looking at the mirror and then going through it. It is like Odysseus being tossed by stormy waves and Tristan adrift without an oar. You don''t choose a dark night for yourself. It is given to you. Your job is to get close to it and sift it for its gold.


You probably know more about the depths of your soul from periods of pain and confusion than from times of comfort. Darkness and turmoil stimulate the imagination in a certain way. They allow you to see things you might ordinarily overlook. You become sensitive to a different spectrum of emotion and meaning. You perceive the ultraviolet extremes of your feelings and thoughts, and you learn things you wouldn''t notice in times of normalcy and brightness.

A dark night of the soul is not extraordinary or rare. It is a natural part of life, and you can gain as much from it as you can from times of normalcy. Just look around at your friends and acquaintances. One is going through a divorce. Another''s mother is seriously ill. A young child has been hurt in an accident. Another can''t get a job. Several are depressed and acting strangely. This is today''s list in my own life, and it doesn''t even include the threat of war and the fear of terrorism. Each of these involves both suffering and discovery.

If you give all your effort to getting rid of your dark night, you may not learn its lessons or go through the important changes it can make for you. I want to encourage you to enter the darkness with all your strength and intelligence, and perhaps find a new vision and a deeper sense of self. Even if the source is external--a crime, rape, an abortion, being cheated, business pressure, being held captive, or the threat of terrorism--you can still discover new resources in yourself and a new outlook on life. We are not out to solve the dark night, but to be enriched by it.


The phrase "dark night of the soul" comes from the Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross (1541-1597). John was a member of the Christian religious order of Carmelites and, along with St. Teresa of Avila, tried to reform that order. Many in the order were so against reform that they imprisoned John for eight months, during which he wrote a series of remarkable poems. His later writing is chiefly commentary on those poems, one of them entitled "Dark Night of the Soul."

John writes about the night of the senses and the night of the spirit. The first phase is a purifying of intention and motivation, the second a process of living by radical faith and trust. John''s work is used especially by those who devote themselves seriously to cultivating a spiritual life through community, meditation, and various forms of service. Less technically, the term sometimes refers to depression or to bleak and trying periods in a person''s life.

In my use of the phrase, I fall somewhere in between. I see a dark night of the soul as a period of transformation. It is more like a stage in alchemy than an obstacle to happiness. Usually it lasts a while--you wouldn''t call a day''s worry a dark night of the soul. It doesn''t always end happily with some new personal discovery. In fact, we will see several examples of people who committed suicide or succumbed to illness. To appreciate these episodes as transformations in the soul, you can''t judge them by any simple, external measure. You have to look deep and close, understanding that you can make significant gains by going through a challenge, and yet it''s not always obvious how you benefited from the darkness. Sometimes a dark night makes sense because of what it contributes to others, not what it does for you.


I am always slow to label difficult emotions as sick. Usually I would rather see them as trials that make you more of a person. I keep in mind the many men and women of the past I admire, who were complicated, who were neither whole nor healthy. You will find many such people described in this book and held up as models, even though their imperfections and failures showed luminously in their lives. In general, I place a higher value on soulfulness than on health and propriety.

One chapter of my book Care of the Soul in particular made an impression on many readers--"Gifts of Depression." I have learned from many sources--ancient medical books, thoughtful artists and writers, and the work of C. G. Jung and James Hillman--to value visitations of melancholy and sadness. I tried to be specific about the rewards that can come from depressive moods. As overwhelming and distressing as it is, what we call depression is, after all, a human experience, tied to all the other meaningful events in your life. You do a disservice to yourself when you treat your feelings of despair and emptiness as deviations from the normal and healthy life you idealize. The dark times, too, like enlightenments and achievements, leave their mark and make you a person of insight and compassion.

This book begins with some strong images from ancient ritual and religion. People of the far distant past knew secrets to dealing with trying times that have been forgotten; the image of the night sea journey, the notion of catharsis, rituals to help with life''s passages, and a moon spirit with rather unholy but helpful blessings. Then we look at intelligence and love, how to think and how to be connected, as important lessons to learn from a dark night. Finally, we consider various aspects of ordinary life in which a dark night of the soul might well appear: in attempts to be creative and our need for beauty, in anger and in those times when we "lose it"; in illness and in old age. Each of these experiences might spawn a special kind of dark night.


Emily Dickinson said that her penchant for solitude was like the minor key in music, a refreshing alternative to the brighter major key. Now think of your dark nights. Could they be as useful and e

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