Urocyon recently wrote a really impressive series of posts on the topic of happiness: 

Happiness part 1: What are we talking about anyway?
Happiness part 2:  In which reality is twisted
Happiness part 3:  The personal is indeed political
Happiness part 4:  Seeing beauty

I am not going to go into the amount of detail she went into, but I had a few thoughts. 

I am reminded of two poems I posted on this blog in the past because I have always found the standard metaphor of depression or sadness as “down” to be terribly misleading:

Rising Into Sadness

When the world is a graveyard
Of dusty skeletons falling apart
And the sky cannot be seen
And even the pines are no longer green
I know that there have been
Too many words

Falling into Joy

Tossed for moments into living color sky
Ever falling back to a cushion of drabness
This is the way of the world, we said
Watching our eyes adjust to the dimness
Gravity works funny ways, said the world
For those who trust in words
Laughing to itself
As the ashen floor crumbled
Knocking the wind out of us
Smelling the soil as sky blinded our eyes
We had landed on solid green

I was thinking about this today, because of my current experience of joy. The thing that has really surprised me going from depression and terror to happiness, has been that joy — combined with love, beauty, and other such things — is built into the world on a very fundamental level.

This means that instead of learning to feel an emotion, my journey towards that joy has involved removing both internally and externally imposed obstacles that were pulling me away from the joy that exists everywhere. 

There is nothing easy about it. I’m not telling people with depression to snap out of it. My experience of depression was that it is incredibly effective at finding many ways to sort of infiltrate my mind and make me totally exhaust myself by getting stuck in thought loops that have the effect of making me always run the exact wrong direction.  It’s nasty and totally effective at confusing a person until they have no idea which way to go. 

But as I untangled the knots in my head, I found gravity pulling me downward towards joy. Sometimes it has been terrifying. This kind of joy can be almost unbearably intense, and allowing gravity to work instead of running away from it can require giving up aspects of yourself that are really painful to let go of. (The mind is a very strange thing.) But because of various circumstances in my life the alternative to giving these things up has been deadly. So every now and then I’m dragged (sometimes kicking and screaming) through the process of allowing that joy to dissolve one more problematic part of how I think. 

And I suspect I am no different than other people in this regard. It’s an aspect of the human condition I’m dealing with and we all have to face such things regardless of neurology or any other personal trait. And I’m not sure it’s ever over, because growth is never over until we die. Or should never be over anyway.  So the road to this joy seems mostly to involve removing barriers to it rather than having to generate it like an emotion.  

But it’s very reassuring in a way to realize that gravity doesn’t pull us down into sadness, despair, or depression. Gravity pulls us to a place where we realize that every single part of the world no matter how small is absolutely saturated with an almost intolerably intense level of clarity, joy, love, and beauty that can’t be destroyed, only hidden.

About Mel Baggs

I am a highly sensing person. I am a child of earth and water, I was born into a redwood forest and I left the forest but it never left me. I'm 34 as I wrote this. If I had an alignment like in role-playing games and MUDs, I'd be chaotic good all the way: I don't think it's possible to fill ethics into a moral code, the world is far too complex for that. I let the world be complex and chaotic and try to respond situation by situation from a small number of principles of right and wrong. My responses may seem to contradict each other, but that will be because either the situation has changed, or I have changed. I am a poet who is trying to practice more every day, hence the poetry blog. I am a cat lover and live with a wonderful elderly cat. I am a painter when I have the time, energy, and resources. I have multiple cognitive, physical, developmental, and psychiatric disabilities, and my health is not usually stable. Put all together, I'd be considered severely disabled. I get a lot of assistance throughout the day. I am a real living cyborg, part human part machine: I have a GJ feeding tube to feed me through one tube and drain my stomach through the other,, an InterStim implant for urinary retention, and a port (a permanent central IV line). I love life. I think Love (not the sentimental emotion, but the property of the world) is the most important thing that human beings can offer each other. Being near death enough times has taught me that, and has also taught me that I have no time for bullies or pettiness. I'm involved in disabilty rights and other causes that people these days would call 'social justice', but I don't consider myself part of the 'SJ community' or the 'anti-SJ community' because of that thing I said about pettiness -- they're more about one-upmanship than fixing the world. I wish they had not taken over the words 'social justice', which used to mean something else. I love talking to just ordinary people about fixing the world, they have far more realistic ideas and more likelihood of putting them into practice. I'm a Hufflepuff to the core, with some Gryffindor tendencies and even a little bit of Ravenclaw. I admire some Slytherins but I don't have much ambition or cunning at all. I still think the Slytherin common room is second best, with Hufflepuff coming first. My favorite color is brown, especially when combined with a bit of yellow or blue. My favorite music is country, and my favorite country artists are Kathy Mattea, Lacy J. Dalton, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn. I don't like most new country but i occasionally hear something on the radio I like. At an early age, my family listened to country almost exclusively to the point where I thought all the different types of country were all the different types of music! I couldn't put Lacy J. Dalton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson in the same category. Although now that I've grown up I can hear that they are all country, but as a kid my ear was trained more for minute differences in country styles, than for recognizing country from other types of music. Country isn't all I like. Some other bands and artists I like: The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Rasputina, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Rich Mullins (I'm not Christian but some Christian music is amazing), ), The Raventones/T.R. Kelley, Planet P Project/Tony Carey, Sinead Lohan, Donna Williams, Suzanne Vega, Phideaux, and Jethro Tull, to name a few. I love the Cocteau Twins in particular because they are everything being sensing is about: Words are chosen for their sound, not their meaning, the voice becomes yet another instrument rather than a conveyor of words, raw emotion pours out of them, there are layers upon layers, and they were around for long enough there's lots of their music in a variety of different styles -- including their later stuff where the words have more meaning than just sounds. Each period in their music has its benefits and drawbacks but I love them all, or nearly so. Their music comes as close as any music can come to conveying how I experience the world, as what Donna Williams calls 'pattern, form, and feel'. And Elizabeth Fraser has a beautiful voice, I once had a teenage crush on her. As I type this, I have a cat sitting on my shoulder, cheek to cheek with me, peering around and occasionally rubbing me. My relationship to her goes back 15 years to when she was six months old, and we've rarely been parted since. It's been an honor to watch her grow into a wise but crotchety old lady cat. She knows she's technically older than me and tells me so sometimes, especially during arguments. She has trouble with the fact that there are parts of the human world I know better than she does. She sees me as her big, dumb kitten who needs protecting, and is beside herself with worry if I end up in the hospital (which seems to happen frequently these days). I don't experience myself as having a gender identity, I call it being genderless. You'll sometimes see the pronouns sie and hir in my work, they are gender-neutral pronouns pronounced 'see' and 'hear'. I was raised female, which gives me both disadvantages (outside the trans community) and advantages (inside the trans community). You don't have to remember my pronouns, lots of people have trouble with gender-neutral pronouns. I won't be upset with you. People make mistakes, and some people just can't get the hang of new words, and that's okay. I have vocabulary problems myself (mostly comprehension), I'm not going to penalize other people for having vocabulary problems of their own. Right now my father is dying of cancer that's metastatized so many places they can't figure out where it started, my mother has severe myasthenia gravis that can land her in the ICU (and she's my father's primary caretaker), my "second mother" (who took over when I grew up and my family didn't know how to prepare me for the world) has endometrial cancer, and my cat is getting old. All of this is bringing death to the forefront of my mind and my poetry. In fact I think I've been able to write more poetry because of all the feelings about so many people dying or with precarious health. It was easier to handle when it was me that was going to die (averted by diagnosis and treatment of severe adrenal insufficiency that'd been going on for years). It's harder when it's someone else, someone you love. My other hobby is crocheting, and a lot of the time if I'm not writing, it'll be hard to find me without a crochet hook or occasional knitting needles in my hands. I love to be able to make things. I have been making hats and scarves with spare yarn (which I have a lot of), and putting them in City Hall Park wrapped in plastic, with notes saying "If you're cold, take this." I know what it's like to be cold in the winter, and if anyone takes them and stays warm I'd be overjoyed. You may have noticed I'm long-winded. This is actually the result of a language disability that makes it difficult for me to leave out details, to see two almost-identical things as perhaps something that doesn't need repeating, and to summarize or condense down my writing. I know this is a flaw in my writing, and it even prevents me from reading it sometimes, but I've found no solutions. Sometimes on my longer posts I'll put a "TL;DR" ("too long; didn''t read") summary at the end in bold letters for people to skip down to.. But even those don't feel adequate, even when I can do theme, which is not always. I think I'm getting better though. Learning haiku and other short poetry forms helps me condense my words better. Anyway, I hope that gives you enough idea of who I am. At my most basic, I care about Love more than anything (whenever I come near enough to death, I feel like I get asked the question "Did you Love, and did you express that Love properly?"), but like everyone I get sidetracked into things that are much less important. I try to make my writing an expression of Love. Sometimes I succeed.

8 responses »

  1. I really like this! Off to read those posts…

    As someone emerging from what seems to be a seasonal worsening of major depressive disorder with psychotic features, I too am rediscovering that gravity pulls you in (like that book!) to joy. Joy hidden everywhere. Right now I’m on my computer, reading your blog and contemplating the internet and various pieces and comments I need to write. The weather is gorgeous, my window is wide open, and I’m clean and fresh from a relaxing cool shower. My mind is in an untangled place, the various barriers (as you mentioned) and knots hacked back away, at least for now.

    Joy indeed.

  2. “So the road to this joy seems mostly to involve removing barriers to it..”

    This really resonates with my own experience, and not just for joy, although I’d never managed to express it so clearly to myself.

    Thanks for this post

  3. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. I love the metaphor of joy as gravity. It echoes my own experience–as I’ve healed, I have discovered intense connectivity and beauty and love and joy that sometimes seems to shimmer and I have this sense of moving deeper toward some sort of center–being pulled down and rooted, both within myself and within this thing that is life itself…

  4. I was depressed for some 5 years, it took a long, long time to get out of that. When I was on the way out, I was constantly noticing when I was happy, and astonished that I could be happy so often. I kept thinking “Wow, I doubt it can get any better than this. Better savour it while it’s here.” And then with more work and time, it still got better, and I was just totally shocked at that. I still notice all the time that I’m mostly happy now, and when I feel joy.

    Before the depression, I never used to notice it (joy, happiness) at all.

  5. “Gravity pulls us to a place where we realize that every single part of the world no matter how small is absolutely saturated with an almost intolerably intense level of clarity, joy, love, and beauty that can’t be destroyed, only hidden.”

    Beautifully expressed. Out in my garden, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed with just how profoundly beautiful the world can be.

  6. Thanks for the mention. :) This topic has been on my mind lately.

    Great post! You wrapped words around this idea a lot more succinctly than I did. Removing barriers so you can experience the existing joy is a good way of describing it.

    I’ve also had similar experiences with depression, including the nasty thought loops which get between you and the rest of the world.

    This kind of joy can be almost unbearably intense, and allowing gravity to work instead of running away from it can require giving up aspects of yourself that are really painful to let go of.

    Oh my, yes.

  7. Pingback: Just the links: more stuff I’ve been reading 6 « Urocyon's Meanderings

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