'...without a hint of melancholy there is no psyche, only a futile impulse toward action or play...'
Julia Kristeva, Black Sun
a gathering place for some of the writing I've done over the years on the theme of sadness (lots), and how we can learn to receive and relate to the sadness we find within us in ways that enrich and deepen our lives. there is great vitality, sensitivity and depth that often lies stagnant within low mood, because we tend to hate it for being there...
So my wish here is to invite those of us who struggle with repeating loops of gloom, despair or disappointment to be more patient, curious and open to the life that may lie hidden within our sadness.
I became committed to this theme in my twenties and thirties when i struggled with an intense, moody despair that seemed inexplicable in its origin but visited often. In my studies of psychotherapy and spirituality, I started to look for clues as to 'why' this mood was so dense and what formed - and maintained - intense states of sadness and could release them. This led me in many directions, some of which are explored in the words that follow. At the heart, it has left me with two things - clarity that rich, textured landscapes are contained within low mood that can be 'lived into' in ways that are vital and enriching; and that life can lighten as we relate differently to sadness, without losing depth. For many of us, intense bouts of sadness do not need to be catastrophic or damning, and they do not need to last as long or be so inexplicable.
For those of us who carry sadness from childhood, the piece on 'Character Mood' here may be helfpul. It's inspired by some thinking by analyst Christopher Bollas whose work is exceptional in capturing how sadness can come to feel like 'who we are'. For Bollas, the mood of sadness often represents a 'memory' of childhood emotional experience which becomes stuck in us. In a different vein, focusing more on the impact and depth that suffering can lead us toward, was written in appreciation of Leonard Cohen who speaks so very beautifully about the 'vast and shattered love' that lies on 'the other side of sorrow and despair'.
When we struggle with low mood, we come to think of sadness in entirely negative terms: we speak of it as an enemy, and a hostile force that haunts us. But many of us are also deeply bonded with sadness: It is part of the landscape of our psyche, and our identity. This is not to say that anyone yearns to be depressed. But until we see the bonds we forge with sorrow, we are fighting a false battle with low mood. This piece on our Bonds With Sorrow introduces these; the three that follow go more deeply into how we form bonds with sorrow, some rich, some depleting. Capacities looks at how sadness can helps us grow, whether that is in transforming a wounded place, or deepening our endurance and capacity to love. Comforts looks at heart-warming reasons for resonating with sorrow, reminding us that elements of this mood can be experienced as soothing, calming, soft. Shadows - one of the heavier pieces of writing - looks at how sorrow can stake claims on us in problematic ways. This is the darker and sometimes damaging side of our complicity with sorrow; the elements of masochism, martyrdom & victimhood, indulgence and inertia which lurk within us.
Some of the writing here is a little dense or dated. Some simple thoughts too: sadness, and suffering generally, responds well to sensitivity, patience, tenderness. We often need help from loving others to help achieve this - as the habitual, often unconscious ways we weave low mood within our own bodies and minds can be very strong. Sharing our experience with those who have an affinity with how life feels to us, can be very soothing for our nervous systems, and support us finding a different way to be with gloom when it comes... In my experience, deep sadness moves incrementally, through a blend of things that are good for us: honesty about how we feel, good choices in who we share it with (choices that suit our nervous systems and help things move), exercise, meditation, inner kindness, good art...and through learning to feel other feelings that may be buried there: anger, hurt, disappointment.... Also, this piece on re-learning loveliness, may reach us somewhere good.