The phrase “dark night of the soul” is usually quoted in association with St. John of the Cross. But he didn’t mean just going through a tough time. It’s a level/stage/time in contemplative prayer (mantra meditation) and/or possibly in the general contemplative life. Supposedly one has to pass through this to reach the goal: union with the divine (that is, recognizing our own divinity). And this “dark night” is dark indeed. Mystic Evelyn Underhill describes it as a “painful and negative state . . . in which the self . . . is forced . . . to leave the Light.” (Mysticism pp. 387, 388) John of the Cross says the person senses that “[God] has cast [the soul] away into darkness as an abominable thing,” that . . . the “torments of hell are most acutely felt.” (pp. 389, 390) Underhill says the anguish “rises to the heights of a negative rapture, an ecstasy of deprivation.” (p. 394)
Scripture says nothing of this dark night that we should seek—in which God himself, it seems, is pulling away, inflicting torments of a sadistic nature and preventing our drawing near. Rather, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8) “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) We can’t avoid normal tough times in life. But we can avoid this dark night of the soul.