Dark Night of the Soul – 6 quotes from Phileena Heuertz’s book – Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life

by Mark Votava

51T7TEZCf2L1. Discomfort, pain, and disorientation

“Progressing from one stage to the next is not easy – it is filled with discomfort, pain and disorientation. But it is ultimately life-giving, actually essential to the creation of life.”

2. The deeper, more complex phase

“I was quite familiar with the active, engaging, busy stage of life… But I was not at all prepared to explore the deeper, more complex phase that was waiting for me.”

3. The spiritual journey has to be made with simplicity

“The spiritual journey has to be made with simplicity and a desire to be free.”

4. Doubt gives rise to important questions

“In darkness, doubt gives rise to important questions. And abandonment allows us to be free from that which threatens to keep us in slumber. But if we’ve been asleep, we don’t know what it will be like to be awake. All seems dark, unknown and somewhat fear-inducing. Fear is actually the most common response in the brain to the unknown. But studies show that when we face our fears and overcome them, our brain develops and grows; and not only our brain, but our body and spirit as well.”

5. An internal descent into darkness

“Several years prior to being enveloped by this darkness, I had asked to draw nearer to God. In my naivete I had no idea that it would mean an internal descent into darkness. As the weeks unfolded into shadows of death, I realized that ‘emotional junk of a lifetime’ (as Keating calls it) was situated between me and God. Intimacy is about honesty and trust. To grow in intimacy with God, I had to face hidden emotional wounds and subsequent ‘programs for happiness’ and let go of them. As much as God may have wanted to embrace me, I was not free to be fully known by such an embrace. And I was not free to know God as God is. Intimacy is not only about knowing the other but being known as well. I was being invited to come out from hiding and into the agony of God’s piercing light, to eventually emerge into the ‘inescapable delights of the love of God.’ That kind of love could only be experienced through open, honest intimacy. Darkness was an indispensable agony.”

6. The bedrock of the false self

“The intense descent to the bedrock of my false self felt destabilizing. It was far from a pleasant experience. I began to face the unknown of my identity and it frightened me. As falsehoods and old affections and attachments were brought to my attention, the invitation was to let go. Without them I felt as if I had nothing, as if I was nothing. I realized that many of my acts of service were selfishly motivated to fuel a feeling of being loved. If I could meet the needs of others and support them I felt important, needed, wanted, valuable (therefore, ‘loved’). The line between true acts of service or kindness and falsely motivated ones is so thin.”

Have you ever experienced an internal descent to the bedrock of your false self?


My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist