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Excerpted from Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Moore. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living."

  Thomas Moore
Dark Nights of the Soul

Part 2

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.

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