Help in Surviving Our Dark Night of the Soul


by Alice A. Holstein, Ed.D. 

I am one of the lucky ones with the solitude and physical comfort of a home where I can pursue my writing, which for me is like having an endless supply of food in precarious times.

The unhindered freedom to pursue writing is a gift, and my hope is that each of us can find a blessing or several beneath the anxiety and deprivations of these times.

As a somewhat philosophical and futuristic writer with a heavy background in humanistic and transpersonal psychology, I find myself wondering if our collective “dark night of the soul” isn’t worth remarking about in those terms.

Some individuals are familiar with this psychological requirement to go much deeper within oneself in response to outward loss, significant life shifts, hardship or the typical mid-life passage of finding a deeper Self beyond our egocentricity.

Some common questions at such a time are, “What is the deeper meaning of life? Is this all there is? Who am I, really?” and What really matters?”

 These unprecedented times are ones in which to ask such questions, going beyond our outer selves lived in an overly consumerist, shopping-hungry, work or career only defined identity. 

These are times to question and answer—what really matters?  And yes, these are also times to mourn, for what we are being forced to give up are also partly things that really matter, such as in-person social connectedness, work we love, financial and economic safety, etc. 

As a spiritual companioning practitioner, I think it is important to do the mourning, to take time to feel, really feel any sadness there may be. Some will experience deep pain. Some will rush to put on bandages; some will look for the gifts beneath the surface. Some will do all of this, searching for and finding surprising coping strategies, even breakthroughs.

For years I have been waiting for, hoping for and writing about a needed shift in consciousness that would take us to a higher level of maturity and wisdom. Facts show that a number of people are already functioning there, but little did I dream that such a societal shift might come in such form as this, or carry such heavy costs, both financial and psychological. 

But our “dark night” is here and may reflect a turning point for civilization.

This means a recognition of how interconnected we are despite the closing of borders, of how dependent we are on each other for survival and cooperation despite isolation.

We need government to get off the dime to act in bipartisan fashion rather than standoffs and bickering.

We see how innovative we can be to turn a distillery into a production line for hand sanitizer, of how dedicated our caregivers are to put their lives on the line, of how much our children mean to us and that we must raise them early to cope with anxiety and enforced simplicity without over-sheltering them.

We understand how important it is, for those who can afford it, to keep six months of living expenses in savings.

We know we must take special efforts to care for the elderly, the lonely, the homeless and the deprived rather than turning a blind eye to their existence.

 There is so much goodness in the world, just waiting to be released.

There are two recent library books on my coffee table. Both reflect the state of a world, suddenly turned “dark” while being lit with care.

 One is a 2020 title, The Decadent Society by Ross Douthat; the other is When The Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd, 1990.

This latter is the one I turn to these days. Part 1 of Monk Kidd’s work sheds light on “Moving from the False Self to the True Self.”

 Part 2 addresses the “Passage of Separation: Crisis As Opportunity and “Letting Go.”

 Part 3 describes “Concentrated Stillness” and “Incubating the Darkness.” 

Part 4 is “Passage of Emergence” and “Unfurling New Wings.”

In some ways and within some persons we may be at all these stages. Like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ understanding of death and dying, there are stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief and Acceptance, but these generally move in and out, not in linear fashion.

I am comforted greatly, however, by the fact that these passages are known. If we can ride the waves and heed the lessons, then we too might be reborn. 


Alice A. Holstein, Ed.D.  is a Spiritual Companioning Practitioner in La Crosse, WI. She is a member of the UU Mental Health Network.

Submission: Originally published in The La Crosse Tribune, March 22, 2020, La Crosse, WI