Dealing with The Blues

All my life I’ve had days of deep, deep, dark experience that I call “the Blues” No, it’s not a footy club. It’s akin to depression, deep grief, an inner pain and suffering beyond measure. I experience this once in a blue moon, maybe the last time was 5 years ago when my spine surgery got messed up. There’s no rhyme or reason. It comes, and for me, there’s a process of dealing with it that might be helpful to share.

The blues is a state of deeper sadness. It’s hard on the individual who has it and it’s hard on those around it.

Every 3-5 years I get a few days of the blues. My usual solution is to take time out to sit with it and let it pass. I find the more often I go to Nepal for a trek, the less often I get the blues. So, for the first time in 5 years, and for a few days this week I entered a place of the blues. It didn’t impact my life outside the house, but alone at home, it was heavy.

How I dealt with it might be of interest, given that I’m meant to be good at helping others through such periods in their life.

My first step was to sit with it. That’s the hardest part, not reacting or doing something to immediately fix it. I’ve tried that, and it leads to so much unnecessary disruption. I guess I have a trust that it’ll pass. It’s not easy to build that trust. Especially the first few times. I remember having a week of the blues when I was 15 and my girlfriend and I broke up. Ouch, I got drunk on Dad’s sherry bottle. That made it worse.

I’ve also tried many other escape routes from the blues. At one time I would run. I remember running like Forest Gump, 60-70km, trying to escape or burn through the blues. It didn’t work. I’ve also tried sex, but that lasts about as long as it takes. During another short stint of the blues I bought a Porsche. The positive feeling lasted about as long as the first lease payment, so it worked for a while, but the pain came back doubled, a monthly lease to remind me I had the blues, and the blues that didn’t go away. So, retail therapy is also out as a solution that works for me.

I think I could list: starting a new business, firing an employee, leaving a relationship, getting angry at the kids, feeling suicidal, buying things I don’t need and consuming far too much alcohol and food as some of my “Go-To” blues solutions over the years. Time has proven none of them work, for me, long term.

The one solution that stuck was Zen. I’d tried yoga ashrams, they’re so peaceful, but on exit, after weeks of OM’s and “Namaste” I’d leave and within hours be right back where I’d begun, emotionally, however, poorer and very much alone in the real world. But Zen was different.

Zen cuts through. So, if I was sad, (better call it depressed) I’d sit in Zen, slice through, find the other side and be in bliss. It was amazing. I remember after 3 weeks in Zen leaving the Zendo, totally enlightened, (I could hear snails crawl on grass) and sitting in a taxi in a traffic jam on my way from Zendo to aiport, with sweaty palms, worried about missing my flight. Zen worked, just as long as I was in Zen. It fixed the problem but wasn’t a solution.

So, to be frank, I’ve read about it, taken drugs for it, been to doctors to solve it, had therapy, done spirituality, been pinned to the floor with acupuncture needles, drank herbs til my pee turned green, eaten ants and starved myself. I’ve spent money, travelled, done discards, remarried, changed jobs, fired people, been a better lover, a worse parent, and in so many ways tried to change myself. Nothing fixed it. Nothing fixed it for much longer than the process I was in took to do. But hey, that’s me… maybe my research isn’t as objective as it should be however, I’ve seen others go into the blues and never come out because they tried a process that only worked if they stayed in it. That’s not a cure, it’s a prison. My journey did however, lead me to how I deal with it now.

So many of the great poets, artists, musicians, creators of the arts have been tortured by the blues. One begins to wonder about cause and effect. Does being a great artist cause the blues or do the blues cause great artists? I began to look at this question. Slicing off ones ear or drinking and drugging oneself to death are not the marks of “normal” people and yet so many of the greats, from artist to musician, have been through this abyss, no, not through the abyss, went into and out of it, throughout their entire life. Some didn’t make it, the pain so dark they chose perpetual sleep, rather than live another day with it.

When western yogi’s speak of the soul, or bliss, or enlightenment they paint a picture of the “anti blues” they do, in fact, sell their brand of spiritual awakening as an antidote. My yoga mate, Eddie Stern responded to a question by Deepak Chopra on one of their “For Payment” video interviews, saying “the beginning of all good yoga study is the confession of suffering” – The Christian church sells the value of the suffering of Christ as the solution to our own suffering. It’s great marketing, because we all suffer the blues, none of us love it, all of us want an escape from it, and so is birthed the religious, self help, spiritual, healing, wellbeing, yoga market. One solution to all the Blues in the world. “Follow me…”

When I was rowing for my club in Geelong, I loved training. I trained for the Olympics. I loved training. I loved suffering. Really, I loved it. But it wasn’t really suffering. It was nothing compared to the blues. However, half way down a rowing course, in the midst of a real race, against real competitors, in a real situation, when my legs would scream stop, my lungs could no longer keep up, my brain go into a death spiral, I experienced this same feeling as the blues, a pain that isn’t a pain, a cloud so dark there is no way out, a hole, a black hole and I had two options: slow down and exit, or speed up and dive deeper into it. In this I took some awareness. The blues may not be a place one needs to escape from.

When you hear the term “soul” what do you think, feel, imagine? What comes to mind when you hear the word, unconditional love? Do you see beautiful sunrises, gorgeous stars, brilliant lights glowing from your chest, sparks emanating from your hands?

Or do you see a black hole, a dark deep dirty black hole in which nothing material makes sense. A lost place, a lonely deep and miserable, oil filled cavern where there’s no air, no light, no love, no happiness?

When you read “god is love” are you reading the truth, or is it a solution to a human problem?

To have the privilege of sitting in this dark night of the soul, one needs a time capsule. An artist may have a studio, a writer a cave, a composer a darkened room. Einstein a laboratory. From Goethe to Picasso, to Beethoven or Mick Jagger, Michael Hutchence, Heath Ledger and the thousands of others who have experienced the dark, they have chosen places of isolation, to go down the slippery slope of the blues. Drugs often enabled, rather than cured, their slide into the dark. My place, is Nepal’s Himalayas.

Walking along those trails high in the mountains, lost in my thoughts, my world has often turned dark. Whether it is the exhaustion of the altitude or simply the absolute stripping of everything material, I can’t say, but I have sat many times overlooking a shear drop into the valley below, not contemplating the jump, but wondering about why I don’t.

Alone, with my thoughts, in the space of my soul, it is not a magical place of angels and fairy dust. It is a space of emptiness, a void, a vacuum where nothing makes sense. Lost for eternity, this dark, ugly, horrible, void of emptiness is my soul. A vacuum.

Until I got some idea of the cause, it was hard work being alone in that space. The temptation was to grab a handhold and pull myself out of it. THe pain was often so bad that considered any solution better than this. I recognised, at times, the space where my young indigenous friends in Canadian First Nation Communities would go, and the reason they would choose endless sleep, rather than this experience.

But more and more, I began to realist that I would return to reality and everyday happiness if I just stayed with it. More and more I realised that my primary motive for coming out of the blues was the terrible influence it creates for others around us. Being around someone in this dark ugly place is horrible. All we want to do is wrench them out of it. We want to rescue those we love from this dark hole. Mainly, I feel, through the fear that we too might become entrapped in it, sucked down the hole, into the eternal sewer, the dark.

Escape from the darkness is so easy. The world is build for it. A few extra glasses of wine, an extra few calories with meals, a good movie, some fun with friends even a chat with a mate can all shed light on the lighter side of things and bring me through to the “other side.” But I came to a different understanding. It is in this dark hole, the blues, that inspiration, love, creative power, healing and so much more reside. It is, rather than a black and empty abyss, it is a library, an energy source, a resource of enormous wealth. Truly, if we go into it deep enough, there are the pearls we seek.

My second step in handling the blues is to embrace it. To do so, I needed to cut myself space, and not be around those whose lives and love may tempt them to try to fix me. I needed a sacred space and for me, sitting in a cave or hotel room, contemplating my navel, (sitting around doing nothing) doesn’t work for me so I walk: I walk the beach, parks, streets, day and night. I just know to be away from eyes who look to me for confirmation that they are ok.

In facing the blues we must realise that most help that is offered is self-serving. People do not like to be around this dark energy, they worry about us because they worry about themselves. This is not healing but moreover, rescue. We are naturally drawn to prevent others experiencing what we ourselves would not enjoy. We save others from drowning because we don’t like death, and wouldn’t like to drown. We save others from pain, because we don’t want it for ourselves and don’t want to be around people in pain. It doesn’t feel good so we fix them.

The third step is to catch a feather….There are only two root causes of emotion. The past and the future. The dark hole is a story, the soul is a story. When the story is lost, the soul is lost and we are drawn back down into it to find it. When rowing even such a trivial pursuit, mid race, the story is lost to competition, confidence can go, and the dark abyss opens. And so, in times of the blues it is a time for new story.

I knew well enough that the past wasn’t the trigger – I’ve processed the crap out of it, so in times of the blues, I reopen the door to the future. I went down, down and down and exploring my stories about the future. This is dream time. In times of the blues, I’m dreaming, catching feathers rather than manufacturing dreams or visions or ideas about the future, I’m sinking into darker and darker spaces to see what comes up. It can be a truly extraordinary experience, dark as hell.

The blues are caused by road blocks to story. In surrendering, in privacy, giving myself the luxury of the dark without escape, going down the rabbit hole, I find so many half told stories, road blocks, dead ends to ideas and thoughts, and as I allow these to go without reaction or any attempt to swipe to catch the feather, feathers begin to land in my hands. Keys, ideas, pictures to the dreams I create. Small feelings of peace come, stillness starts to envelope me, as I begin to dream time away, as a new script, subconsciously, beyond my awareness, begins to grow in my body. And as it does, dark turns to strength. I begin, cell by cell, to smile again.

I’ve been with my partner in life for 30 months now, sharing nearly every waking moment. And yet, after these two days, she said that “if you ever go through this again, please go find yourself another space for that” – so dark was it, so impacting on her, so painful for her to watch. I’ve been here before. So dark is this silence I enter, it draws all around it into it. Not everyone is ready.

There are three keys:

  1. Know that it’s a journey and you’ll exit it within a day or two if you don’t react and try to escape
  2. Create a space for a while and don’t expect others to understand, it is truly dark and raises the deepest fears in others to rescue us
  3. Catch the feathers, the blues is only a dreamtime process for story telling, your story, about the future. Listen for it, don’t grope for it.

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