Waxing Existential: The Curse of January
I’m sitting here, finding myself in a mid-January slump. The afterglow of a sun-filled, balmy-aired vacation a distant memory, the promise of the New Year slipping away into the overbearing grey Seattle cover. Why? Who knows? I’m feeling cynical of any effort to find meaning and purpose right now. Somehow, I thought I would be immune this year. The January that began so tropically, filled with insights and hopeful banter, is now turning into “Why bother?” and “Who cares, really?” Blech.
Throughout the year, I am recoiled by the casual and common use of such ripostes as “No worries!” and “It’s all good!” Really? NO worries? It’s ALL good? Am I missing something here? Am I missing something about life that makes it all good? And should I stop worrying now? Please, don’t misunderstand me. I am not being ungrateful, and I won’t ask that you have a seat with me on the pity pot. This will turn existential momentarily. The thing is, just as I am pursuing a life of happiness and contentment, like most of us, I always seem to have to pause in mid-January. Actually, it’s like I slam on the breaks. I settle into a space that is gross and dark, unforgiving at times, and full of self-reflection of a different type: loss and grief, unfulfilled potential, and grave self-diminishment.
Some schools of thought would maintain that I am making a choice to feel this way, and perhaps I am. Perhaps I should try steadfastly to hold on to that promise of a fresh beginning, and that ever-present Hawaiian sunlight. However, perhaps the grey that is at once all around me, and invading my interior world is my suffering response to that which could never be permanent. Yes, one of those realities of life. I am reminded of the wise words from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem In Memoriam: 27, 1850:
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
These lines seem relevant to me for all the experiences of beauty and goodness in life that we open to. We are vulnerable in these moments. Although the potential to find beauty in every moment may exist, that is usually not our experience. These experiences may be or seem to be transient. However, I know of none that are not transformative in some way, even when there is a January to get through.
Being open and vulnerable is expansive, even when we feel like we are on the edge of fear. There is much to say about the importance of being vulnerable, but in the context of being vulnerable to something that can so easily be “lost” implies taking risks in the service of expansion, and the acceptance that life is a continuous flow of expansion and contraction; it is mutable and capricious. My own losses that I feel now are bearing down on me, and it is hard to find the beauty. I am feeling hardened by them, incapable of the vulnerability that is necessary to shift my outlook. When I make this very state of being ok, I may yield to the opening of my heart again.
The “it’s all good” really doesn’t have to mean it’s all shiny and happy (remember that R.E.M. song, Shiny Happy People? Here it is. I would like to propose that the expression, “It’s all good”, be understood as more the universal voice of a compassionate Mother telling us that, “Everything is going to be ok.” This would be accompanied with a tender touch, and a knowing look in her eyes. I like the idea of Mom telling me, “It’s all going to be ok, my darling Sibel. And you’re fine, just the way you are. You are enough.”
The recognition of suffering as pathological, or lacking of spiritual connection, is a misunderstanding of the human condition and unawareness of the existential dilemma. To embrace the darkness is to set it free, which is one of those beautiful paradoxes I love and snicker at simultaneously. I don’t want to get down and dirty into these gross feelings I’m having. Really, I don’t. In fact, I kind of love to hate them. And when one is well versed in the language of self-hatred, then it’s easy to continue the dialogue. I’m not interested in transforming my feelings with the wave of a magic wand, or with the resolve to get “better.” Nor am I interested in numbing them, or covering them up with the colloquial “It’s all good.” It’s a conscious place, and needs to be, or I may end up in a depression that I am ignoring, or a place of self-indulgent misery. What I am interested in is to love myself, and having deep compassion for where I am now. I am open to accepting that this is January for me. I am a believer of what it means to me human, and that Januaries can pass through and say, “Hey! Look at how bad you can feel! Look at how loathsome you can be!” Yeah, I’ll have a look. I’ll take the call, because that is all I’ve ever known that is truly transformative when it comes to the “blech” of life.
The anxiety that precedes vulnerability, and the courage it takes to answer that call is immense. I have seen it in so many others living along this crazy timeline of human existence. I have seen it in my family, and in my friends. It will be through self-compassion that I will be able to see it in myself again, facing the Sisyphus of my being and responding with the internal gesture of an extended hand; and offer of respite. Next time someone tells me “It’s all good,” I’ll hear the voice of the Mother, reminding me that it’s all going to be ok.
Perhaps in February.
-- Sibel Golden