Journey to the Darkside (Luke)...

I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out a way to talk about something exciting, inspiring, no astounding, instead of what I’m really feeling at the moment…blah!  I’ve been doing everything humanly possible to avoid what I’m really feeling because I like avoiding and I’m really good at it.  Part of me says, don’t write this now, wait a few days until you are in a better headspace, then it will be better, more positive.  But having days like this is a part of my process, writing from the gut is where I need to go.  I know, I know, I recently wrote a piece on how to beat the winter blahs.  This might be considered the sequel, "How to deal with the winter blahs once they come up."

Why do I feel the need to hide this side of me from people?  Is it because I think they won’t like me?  The truth is we all have days like this, days where we don’t know what we are doing, days when we feel talentless and overwhelmed.  I recently had someone write me and ask for advice on ‘what to do when you feel overwhelmed’.  My first reaction to this is "Go for a walk.  Let your mind rest.  Your intuition is bogged down by your mind.  Let it emerge. Do the opposite of what you think you should do.  It is not helpful to create in a panicked state."  This philosophy that has served me well over the last few years.  But there are also times when the soul is craving an emotional retreat of sorts.  I remember reading about it a few years ago in Thomas Moore’s "Care of the Soul".  In it Moore talks about having periodic bouts of mild depression* in which he felt it necessary to go into a dark hole.  By doing this you give your soul some down time to replenish, but also to contemplate exactly what it might be needing.  The result is that you emerge a few days later feeling renewed and motivated, the cloud that has been hovering is gone.  I know this, I’ve been through it many times.

"What if 'depression' were simply a state of being, neither good nor bad, something the soul does in its own good time and for its own good reasons?"  -Thomas Moore

So the question becomes what to you do when you retreat into the hole?  I think the answer is anything you want.  The key is allowing the uncomfortable feelings to come up and not chase them away.  Yes, it’s the Buddhist concept again of "sitting with the pain", it is o.k. to feel uncomfortable that is a part of journey/process.  I think somewhere along the road someone told us that we should be happy and joyous all the time, especially if we are pursuing our passion in the world.  I really believe that enlightenment means "not judging", being present to whatever arises.  That being said…

Here is a list of things I’ve been doing to lately (trying to avoid work and the blahs):

-eating too many cookies
-making collages
-browsing the internet
-internet shopping (it is fun to add whatever you want to the shopping cart but never check out, that way you have the feeling of shopping but not the hangover later.)
-reading "how to draw a cup of coffee"
-venting with friends
-reading travel books
-reading comics
-writing in my journal
-feeling guilty about not exercising 
-watching Oprah

So I think what I am trying to get at here is, "if you’re going to go into a dark hole do it consciously".  Go in all the way!  Let go of the guilt about it, and know that it is natural part of your existence.  Tell people, "I’m going to my dark side, I’ll call you when I emerge."  I’m writing this now so I can see it myself, and feel it.  

Some things you might want to try…

-listen to a cd of Mahler
-cry freely & loudly (into a pillow if you must)
-do some angry scribbling
-consciously not do what you feel people expect of you
-sit in the bathtub for hours reading (yes you can, just do it)
-curl up with a quilt and some movies
-have a stich n’ bitch with friends, you don’t have to sew
-wear all black
-as a form of rebellion wear pajama’s under your street clothes
-follow the recipe for "Dark Side" cookies…eat them

Dark Side Cookies
Makes 3 to 31/2 dozen cookies 

11/2 cup   All-purpose flour
1/2 cup   unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp Baking soda
1 tsp Salt
8 oz Semi-sweet chocolate, broken into 1/2 ounce pieces
4 oz Unsweetened chocolate, broken into 1/2 ounce pieces
11/2 cups   Light brown sugar, tightly packed
12 Tbsp   Butter, unsalted
3   Eggs
1 tsp   Vanilla extract
(3 cups Semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 325° fahrenheit. 

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt onto the waxed paper. Set aside. 

Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place the semi-sweet and the unsweetened chocolates in the top half of the double boiler. Tightly cover the top with film wrap and allow to heat for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Keep at room temperature until needed. 

Place the light brown sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on medium for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat on high for an additional 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, while beating on medium, and stopping to scrape down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat on medium for 30 seconds. Add the melted chocolate and beat on low for 10 seconds more. Scrape down the bowl and scrape for an additional 30 seconds. Add the sifted flour, cocoa, and baking soda (also add the chocolate chips if making the absolutely deep dark), and beat on low until thoroughly combined, about 20 to 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula. 

Portion 6 to 8 cookies per baking sheet by dropping 2 level tablespoons of batter per cookie onto each of the baking sheets. Place the cookies on the top and middle shelves of the preheated oven and bake for 18 to 22 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom about half way through the baking time. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 to 6 minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to thoroughly cool before storing in a sealed plastic container. Repeat this procedure until all the cookies have been baked. 

(note: I didn’t have a mixer so I just used my arms.  Gets out a lot of frustration!)

from the book Death by Chocolate; Pg. 28 renamed by me.

Suggested Reading: Anne Lamott's "Travelling Mercies", a glimpse into the raw nature of human emotions.

*note: this article is based on what we all experience from time to time, mild depression or the blahs.  It is in no way intended to address ‘clinical depression’ which is a different condition altogether and one that I have no experience with personally.

Keri Smith is a free-lance illustrator and native of Toronto.  A graduate of  O.C.A. she has a wide following of clients in North America and Japan.  She currently resides in a “magic” cottage in Flesherton, painting, illustrating, creating, writing, and living out loud.  Her new book "Living Out Loud -an activity book to fuel a creative life" is being released in Fall of 2003 by Chronicle Books.