Honoring our right to claim all the time and space we need to make it safe to feel our "dark" feelings, to uncover the knowings, wisdom and truths in their depths.
When you feel sad, depressed or in grief… Be tender and gentle with your self.
Take the time and space to fold inward, to be with the aching and the tears until they're done… Trying to "cheer up" before you're ready to surface deepens the wounding you already feel!
I spent most of my 42nd year and a good part of my 43rd year awash in inconsolable grieving. The anguish was part of the process of ending an intense, symbiotic seven-year relationship in which I had all but lost my self. (See Others' Views, Being Exactly Where You Are and Covers Over Our Heads for more about the relationship, the leave-taking and the grieving process.)
Despair and waves of depression were a steady undertow that drained me. Amazingly, I was able to pull my self together to work with clients part of two or three days a week. I also found some solace in daily feeding, tending and mucking out the stalls of a menagerie of disabled animals I care-took in exchange for a rent-free living situation.
But, most of the time, I would be sobbing or near to tears. Breathing was often difficult. Food, for the most part, was nauseating to contemplate. Sleep and the lush nest of pillows on my bed beckoned constantly. Walks in the mountains and to the streams around Ojai offered some comfort when I could gather the energy to go hiking.
Being with friends and talking with family proved challenging. Most of the people in my life were relieved that I was finally removing my self from the destructive enmeshment in which I had been caught with my now ex-partner. It was hard for these people who loved me to hear the depth of my pain and grief over the ending that, for them, was cause for relief if not celebration.
It was hard for my friends and family to tolerate the upheavals that came with my efforts to stay connected, at least in a friendship, with my ex. Especially when each contact with her re-opened the wounds I was working to heal. The people who cared about my wellbeing would try to distract me from my suffering. They'd attempt to jolly me into other parts of my being or remind me what a miracle I was creating in my life by setting my self free. They wanted to get me to focus on what lay ahead instead of what I felt I was losing.
Since there was no way to be with my friends and in the middle of my pain at the same time, I mostly chose to spend my time where I needed to be: immersed in my anguish and by my self. One dear couple was the exception. As individuals and as a couple, they offered companionship, open ears, silent presence. They were willing, caringly, to bear witness to my up and down, in and out struggle.
They had no prescription for how I should be doing this mourning or this separating. They shared their home and their hearts without needing me to do my process in any way other than how I was doing it.
They were able to be with my suffering, even when my own actions intensified my anguish. They didn't try to advise or fix me. They could let me be in the pit and still have some loving company, if and as that might be of comfort to me. They didn't expect the comfort to get me out of my funk. They didn't expect that their presence would make me feel better. Yet, and perhaps because they didn't expect or need it to, it often did.
They took me out to dinners, lunches and coffee with them, when and if I could stomach being around food. They didn't expect me to eat unless I could. They didn't cajole or push me into eating what I'd ordered when I found that I couldn't. My weeping at the table didn't distress them. They invited me out with them for movies or in for videos if I might want some temporary diversion or a break from the emotional intensity. And, they accepted when I'd need to leave abruptly, often just moments after I'd arrived.
They were a remarkable gift during one of the most difficult passages of my life. Their simple presence mirrored and supported what I was learning. Spirit was teaching me to have the courage to feel all of my chaotic, turbulent feelings without cutting them off or dimming them down. This couple's undemanding presence, their willingness to bear witness without intruding upon or diverting my process was perfect support. It helped to nourish my growing understanding that surrender into the fullness of the dark feelings was the only doorway to my healing. It was a blessing to be able to have some company when I needed it without having to pay the price of lightening up or cheering up when I still needed to be in the blackness.
The culture we live in is seriously dark-phobic. Feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness and grief engender considerable discomfort, both in us and in the people around us. When we're sunk in these feelings, we feel less-than. We feel that it's not okay to feel badly. We feel that it's somehow shameful, an imposition if we are unable to put on a cheery face for those around us. Yet finding the courage to risk diving into these intense emotions – taking the time to plumb the depths of the darkness – offers us the only real possibility of moving through them/it into healing and greater wholeness. To be with our selves in those places is to honor our wounding, to be tender with our broken hearts, to allow our selves all the time we need to experience and release our pain.
We might, in these times, yearn to reach out for the simple warmth of human caring, believing the presence of a loving friend could offer comfort as we go on with our thrashing in the pit. Unless we're particularly fortunate in the people we have around us, it can be difficult to find anyone able to simply be with us without trying to cheer us up or to fix us. It can be difficult to find others willing to accept that it can be comforting to have their presence even as their presence doesn't appreciably cheer us up.
In these moments, we make a challenging choice. It's important to refuse to pay the price of prematurely lightening up, of trading off being with our difficult emotions in order to keep from discomforting others. To pay that price or make that trade off is to further wound our already suffering selves.
In these moments, we learn instead to practice reminding our selves that depression, grief, despair and feeling blue are natural and expectable parts of being alive and growing. We remind our selves that this is so even when others are put off by these feelings. We practice reminding our selves that these feelings are as much signs of life as the more generally acceptable feelings of joy, excitement and exuberance. We practice reminding our selves that all emotions have a trajectory: they reach a peak of intensity, hang out there for a time and then slowly lessen and decay.
As we courageously yield into our dark emotions when they arise, we gradually increase our skill in riding them. We grow more adept at feeling all the way through them. In this process we uncover the wisdom and truths that our darkness has to reveal to us. We learn that, when we don't prematurely pull our selves together, we can actually observe our selves organically coming together on the other side of the turbulence.
Consider treating your self with gentleness and compassion in the dark feelings times.