It is that particular period of midwinter when everything seems a little inward. Cold and wind and grey weather make the outdoors a little less inviting so I had to push myself out on a windy afternoon walk to break the hours I sat in front of my computer. It is not surprising that I started to feel a little bleak. I celebrated the end of a teaching stint with the lightness of heart that comes with release from a task that has that mixture of the intensity of marking with the joy of interacting with students. And then the tiredness and the bleakness came.
I was impressed recently when someone described his own depressed periods as visits from ‘Trev’ when we were talking about the challenges and joys of welcoming the messengers from our inner stories. Hmm, my encounters with bleakness didn’t feel like Trev, but more like Bev (perhaps they are related?). Bev is one of those visitors who is hard to turn away. She’ll stand outside with her bag of knitting and insist that she should come in. Often she’ll bring some lemons or silver beet (always something healthy) from her garden and leave them on your kitchen bench when you do finally, and yes, admit it, reluctantly, invite her in. Once inside she will take possession of your comfiest chair, turn up your heater and interrupt your work while you make her a cup of tea ‘Strong please darling, and just a dash of milk and a good spoonful of sugar,’ and ‘Whatever biscuits you’ve got in the cupboard will be fine, love’. You make a pot of tea (she prefers that) and you sit down and listen to all of her complaints (she always has lots). She will get out her knitting and say, ‘No that’s fine if you want to get on with your work, dear,’ but she will keep interrupting you with ‘Oh and did I tell you about this gruesome thing that happened…’ if not to her then to someone she knows. And somehow with Bev, I have to sit with her for quite a long time, especially if I’m not feeling 100% and able to deflect her endless complaints or take her for a walk.
That’s what it was like yesterday, I was feeling tired and Bev came in and she lingers as I’m feeling a little low in spirits and in health. And I can greet her and I can welcome her and then I can be patient while she takes her time to tell me all that she wants me to hear. To support myself, I can speak to friends and make some hearty soup, and encourage myself to walk but she will often stay. So, apart from taking practical steps to look after my physical and spiritual health, I can also be willing to be patient and to know that sometimes it will take a while to work out what she is trying to arouse in me. Rilke’s reminder is useful:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Often with other emotions, I find that paying attention to them quickly transforms them from visitors who are desperate to have my attention and frees them to move away but with Bev, who is a familiar visitor, especially when the weather grows a little dark and cold, I require more patience and the questions she is arousing in me are often about my deepest values: ‘How do I allow myself to have a little more courage and trust and greet the world with enthusiasm rather than doubt?’, ‘How do I take the small steps towards the world that I’m wanting to create for myself and for others?’, ‘How do I know what to say ‘yes’ to and what to reject? As Rilke advises we have to live the answers to these questions.
A spotted pardalote reminded me to be patient and to recall wonder. He hovered in the pittosporum outside my door so close that I could almost touch him. Such tiny exquisiteness and clarity of colour and of being. We peered at each other. I felt the lift of the heart that comes when I open up to the mysterious possibility of living the answers to my questions even when bleakness comes or rather especially when bleakness comes.