The concept of the dark night of the soul was first coined in a poem by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic and poet. The idea of a spiritual depression, however, is a part of many different spiritual and religious traditions, including Buddhism, where it’s referred to as “falling into the pit of the void.”

According to Anna Yusim, M.D., a psychiatrist and the author of Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life, “The dark night of the soul is essentially anytime when our darkness comes to the forefront. It’s as though we are doing everything we can to stay afloat, and it seems as though the universe, the world, and life is against us.”

Yusim adds that the dark night of the soul will often involve suffering, setbacks, and obstacles. Nevertheless, she says, “Oftentimes, a dark night of the soul is a necessary part of people’s spiritual evolution.”

As Shannon Kaiser, spiritual teacher and author of Return to You, tells mbg, “It often happens to guide us to find our purpose in life, pay back or balance karma, and understand deep karmic and spiritual lessons. The dark night of the soul is a breaking away from the illusions of fear and ego to shift our alignment and values to what is real and true, the connection to the divine, and ultimately pave way for your life purpose and mission here on Earth.”

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