"It’s all love and light until shit gets real"
It’s a rather lighthearted if not slightly insulting way to put it, but this is the phrase I found myself crassly repeating many times while falling into the hells of depression.
In a spiritual community that obsesses over remaining positive, what happens when life gets hard? All I have to offer is my personal experience.
Let me start at the beginning:
My journey with this realization started with my wanting to experiment with the world of manifestation. I had always known about movies like The Secret and was aware that there were people out there who claimed to have literally manifested riches for themselves. I had been struggling pretty hard with money and wanted to find a solution. That’s when I decided to begin my ‘manifesting abundance’ experiment. I recognized that I didn’t know if it would work or it wouldn’t work, but I decided for the sake of the experiment that I was going to completely dedicate myself to the whole concept.
I found a goal to move towards. I decided I was going to manifest winning the lottery. I know, it’s cliche and right away makes you shake your head. But that was just the thing about it that I liked. It was impossible. If I was going to be fully in this experiment, I was going to try the impossible. The lottery winner was to be announced on a specific date which was about three months from the day I started the experiment.
I immediately contacted my best friend (who is basically my spiritual comrade), and informed her of my decision. I knew that even if she thought I was crazy, she was going to back me up 100% until I came to that conclusion for myself. As expected, she was on board. From that day forward we sent each other uplifting, encouraging and inspiring content at a constant rate every single day. According to my research on manifestation, the key was to remain in a positive mindset as much as humanly possible. So for the entire three months I dedicated my full attention to keeping myself in a positive uplifted head-space. The encouragement my best friend and I shared back and forth served to strengthen that head-space incredibly. I must say, that three months was genuinely the most intensely blissful time of my life. It’s quite an amazing experience devoting every waking moment to your personal happiness.
My happiness didn’t just stay within me though. It spread to everyone around me like wildfire. My mother, my best friend, my boyfriend… everyone who spent any time with me was filled with motivation and excitement. Only my best friend knew the purpose behind my happiness-obsession. I didn’t tell anyone about my experiment but her.
As the end date grew closer and closer I filled my room with happiness reminders, dream boards and mantras. I surrounded myself completely with only positivity. If a song or TV show came on that was even remotely negative, I left the room and listened to something positive. If someone started to discuss something negative with me, I would immediately attempt to spin it into whatever positive light was available. I sensed after a while that this could be a flaw in the whole “remain positive” teaching. I sensed that it wasn’t fair of me to ignore another person’s negative feelings for the sake of my own happiness. If they didn’t feel happy in that moment, it felt wrong to attempt to change how they felt. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be better for them if they were happy? Was that really up to me? I stuffed these questions down and ignored them for the sake of remaining positive. This act also didn’t sit right with me.
Fast forward finally to the end date. I’d gotten myself to the point of madness, stuffing doubt, confusion and fear of failure deep down, attempting to only let positivity into my immediate awareness. A part of me knew I’d already failed. A very small part of me which I was refusing to pay attention to. I was positive, only positive. I had no fear. I had no doubt. I flooded my senses with as much positive media as I could handle, waiting for the time of the announcement. When the announcement came, my heart sank. It sank deep into my chest and came to rest right in the place I’d stuffed all my fears and doubts for an entire three months.
I hadn’t won the lottery. Not that it was impossible for me to have won, but obviously as lotteries tend to go, the odds were not in my favor. I had begun this experiment with the mindset of “no harm, no foul”. I knew that it was just an experiment, and I knew that if it turned out that I manifested this impossible feat, I would be absolutely changed by that. But I also knew that if I didn’t manifest the impossible, it was okay and I’d lose nothing. It seemed worth it to at least try.
After the three months of forced bliss, I had to try to gently come to terms with the fact that I had negative emotions in me. I couldn’t just ignore that. I couldn’t just stuff them down and force happiness to override them. So many people were preaching that as a way of life, and maybe it did work for them, maybe they went about it differently in some way that actually worked... but it wasn’t working for me. A month or two following the end of my experiment, I received a call from my mother. My father had been diagnosed with cancer. It was bad. My heart broke. Any bit of happiness rhetoric left in me was shattered. The first thing I did was sit down and paint. I said nothing. I just painted. I was incapable of anything else in that moment.
The next day I woke up to a rainstorm and decided I was going to go for my morning run anyway. It seemed to me that it was the perfect time for running uninhibited through pouring down rain. It just felt like the most satisfying thing I could possibly do right then. On my way out the door I slipped and fell hard onto my back and just lay there unwilling to get back up. I wanted to be covered in mud. I wanted to lie in the mud in the fetal position, sobbing. And so that’s what I did. When I finally picked myself up I continued on my way to where I go running, drenched and muddy. It was just as satisfying to my heart as I’d imagined it would be. I cried for the entire run.
Afterwards I went home and tore down my happiness reminders, my dream boards and my mantras. I halfheartedly created a new dream board and put it up in an attempt to not fully let go of all I’d learned about tapping into my bliss. It felt like a ridiculous thing to do, and I felt a lot more like taking it all outside and watching it slowly burn into nothing, but I knew I couldn’t just let myself fall completely into sadness. I needed something to hold onto.
A question that had been secretly gnawing at me ever since the start of my experiment started to surface: Was it right that we should choose happiness in every moment? Was that the answer to a happy life? It seemed to be a pretty logical way to go about it. Or was it better that we should acknowledge the feelings we have in each moment, and allow those feelings to happen authentically without attempting to turn them into our preferred feeling of happiness? These two options seemed to completely oppose each other, yet they both seemed like they could be valid and effective.
This conundrum baffled me for a while. I couldn’t seem to get an answer from anyone that satisfied me. It wasn’t until I found myself in the middle of deep, deep depression that I finally found the answer I was looking for. The answer wasn’t going to come to me through someone else’s lens of experience. It had to come from inside of me. I had to realize the answer for myself.
It was only in the pits of my own personal hell that I saw what I had failed to see before. My darkness was breathtakingly beautiful. It was just as beautiful as my light. It was certainly an altogether different flavor of beauty, but it was beautiful all the same. I found that in my darkness I felt deeply in touch with myself. I was able to walk straight into the depths of my soul and give myself comfort. The stark contrast of my recent experiment with bliss and this deep sadness that immediately followed was probably the most effective way I could have learned the lesson of balance. Balance of my dark and my light. I realized how important both aspects were. I may prefer the one, but that one would not be so satisfying were it not for the other.
People often see happiness as synonymous with being centered. Especially in the spiritual community there seems to be this commonly held belief that happiness and spirituality should go hand in hand. Happiness is wonderful and is obviously the preferred state of mind by most everyone, but I feel that it’s equally as important to allow the darkness in us to have its time. There's a time for everything. A time for happy and a time for sad; both equally as beautiful and important as the other. One just happens to be greatly misunderstood and thus disliked.
Think about the word ‘centered’. Something that is centered must be between two things, yes? To be centered is to exist in the space between your light and your dark. The space where both simultaneously exist. In this middle ground, we are able to tap into “the peace that surpasses all understanding”. A plant could not exist had it not first been a seed planted under the earth, enveloped by damp, cool darkness. A butterfly could not exist had it not first been a caterpillar who surrounded itself with the transformative darkness of the cocoon. You could not know yourself as happy had you not first known yourself as sad.
Life is about balance. It’s about the middle path. Being centered in the midst of chaos and being centered in the midst of bliss. Too much bliss can be just as detrimental as too much chaos. Allow yourself to experience the depths of both worlds, as you walk the path deeper and deeper that runs between them.
If you'd like to read about my experience with depression and what I learned from it, check out my post "Depression in the Spiritual Awakening Process"