Q: “I’m 61 and feeling down. Like everything is falling apart around me and I can’t fix things. Advice?”
A: “Pick some part of your life that is working and focus on that.” ~David Crosby
I recently found the sage advice above in an unlikely place—the Twitter feed of the now 80-year-old David Crosby of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame. The person who asked for this advice was a complete stranger, yet Crosby empathized with him and answered. It’s no doubt that he was speaking from personal experience, having once been in a similar dark place.
When life seems to be coming apart at the seams, despite our best intentions, we need to change our focus. We need to take a closer look at what is good in our lives, at what is “working.” When we focus solely on what we perceive to be the bad in our lives, it can swallow us up whole—unless we have the wherewithal to change our perspective.
- When your job has you down, it may be time to focus on your family.
- When your heart is hurting, it may be time to lose yourself in a favorite hobby or activity.
- When you’re dealing with loss of any kind, it may be time to go deeper into your spiritual practice.
What if the bad feelings keep coming back? What do I do next?
As much as we may focus on the parts of our life that are working, there will be times when our heartache breaks through like rain seeping through a broken-ribbed umbrella. What then? Our tendency when we are feeling down is often to fight it or to try and man- or woman-up and push past it. But sometimes you‘ve just got to immerse yourself in the sadness, breathing it into the very fabric of your being.
In the book Dark Nights of the Soul, A Guide to Finding Your Way through Life’s Ordeals, Thomas Moore advises us that the best way to proceed when life is “falling apart” is not to fight the blues, but instead to “live in, and with, the darkness.” Moore tells us we should:
Go with developments, rather than against them. If you feel empty, empty out your life where it needs it. If you feel sad, let sadness be your dominant feeling. Being in tune with your deep mood is a way of clarifying yourself. Speak for it. Show it. Honor it.
Importantly, Moore counsels us that when you feel sad for extended periods, it is best not to treat these moods with pharmaceuticals. Unless one is clinically and chronically depressed, it is best to ride out these periods as best you can, especially when the symptoms can be lessened through exercise, better sleep and diet, meditation and/or prayer. Moore warns:
Ours is still a therapeutic society that values the removal of symptoms over the soul’s sparkle and shine…broaden your imagination of what is happening to you. If your only idea is that you’re depressed, you will be at the mercy of the depression industry, which will treat you as one among millions, for whom there is only one approved story.
The dark night is a time for soul work, for digging deep into the self, and in Moore’s words discovering “what it is to live religiously.” It is to become a monk living within your own personal monastery. The author explains that this period, when you experience the world from the point-of-view of the soul, can be an enriching time:
It is the deep, dark discovery of roots and cellars, the opposite of enlightenment, but equally important and equally divine…letting your spark light up a dark and dangerous world is a way of healing both you and your world.
Moore sees the dark nights of the soul as indispensable to our spiritual growth. While he recognizes the difficulties and challenges they can pose, he believes the darkness can add “character and color and capacity” to our lives, and are a gift to be appreciated. In his words:
Nothing could be more precious than a dark night of the soul, the very darkness of which allows your lunar light to shine. It may be painful, discouraging, and challenging, but it is nevertheless an important revelation of what your life is about. In that darkness, you see things you couldn’t see in the daylight.