Perhaps we can view our low moods as transformational rather than disruptive or annoying.Years ago I read an excellent travel memoir by Canadian doctor Kevin Patterson called The Water In Between. Until I read that book I had no idea what the origin of the word ‘doldrums’ was and that they were an actual thing.
Patterson and a friend were sailing from Vancouver Island to Hawaii. At a certain point near the equator in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the winds died down, the sails went slack, and the boat stopped moving. The men couldn’t use the ship’s motor, because they’d run out of gas long before they reached the edge of the flat calm.
So they wait.
And then they wait some more.
What does this have to do with our explanation of the inside-out understanding?
We like to think we’re in control. As humans, we are almost always caught up in the illusion that we are in control of our lives. After all, we make fire and build shelter!
But when we take a step back, we can see that we are actually in control of very little. We don’t control our thoughts. Or our moods. (Sometimes we like to think we control these things, but when we look at it objectively we can see we don’t.) We don’t control those around us (though we often try). We don’t control when we’re born, or when and how we die (usually). We don’t control the children we have, if we have them, or the parents we have, or the siblings. We don’t control the era we’re born into.
My point is, we actually have a lot less control than we think we do.
Which brings me to the doldrums. The flat calm. Just like the ships that encounter this phenomenon during ocean travel, as humans we experience it as well. Times when, without any input from ourselves, we experience a time of an extended low mood.
And just like the men in the sailing boat, the more we relax into these periods, the less suffering we’ll experience. If the men on the boat had fretted and fussed and complained about what was happening to them, they would have exponentially increased their suffering. But they knew enough to simply wait it out. They knew that what they were experiencing was natural and that the wind would pick up again, eventually.
The same goes for us when we’re in a low mood, or even a depression.
In January of this year, I experienced just such a period of doldrums. It went on for a couple of months and was, to say the least, not comfortable. I felt like my personality had been surgically removed. I cared for nothing. I was tired much of the time, yet I was sleeping badly. I lost enthusiasm for everything in my life. It was not a very nice time.
But the saving grace for me was that I knew it was temporary and completely natural. Just as the tide comes in, it must go out. And because of this understanding, I knew that if I fought how I was feeling I would only increase my suffering.
I’m going through something sort of similar right now. The difference is that with this stretch of doldrums, I’m exhausted all the time. I sleep for nine hours a night and wake up exhausted. I usually need a two-hour nap in the middle of the day. When I go for a walk, which I do nearly every day and have for 30 years, I feel like I’m walking though molasses. Like my limbs have no strength.
But I know that this too shall pass.
When these periods of flat calm do eventually pass, I find that they are transformative. When my depression ended this past February, I suddenly had the idea for this website and the podcast.
I was just about to start creating an online course when this current spell of exhaustion hit. So instead, I’m going to wait. My sense is that some fresh new idea is coming, and the exhaustion I’m experiencing is my body/higher self’s way of telling me to wait. Just hold off taking any action for a bit, and see what happens.
Maybe this doesn’t happen to you. But I wanted to write about this phenomenon in case you do experience it or something like it.
The intelligence behind life that is flowing through us knows so much better than us about everything. When we relax into that flow, and fight it less, we suffer less.
I could push myself during this time, chastising myself for being tired. But that approach would only increase my suffering.
Instead I choose to relax into what’s flowing through me at this moment. Take naps when I need to. Be less productive, if that’s what’s required.
The doldrums DO end. The wind does pick up again and the sailors continue on to Hawaii.
For us, it is the same. No mood lasts forever. And perhaps when this mood lifts, there will be a new land on the horizon that we could not have envisioned earlier.When you’re in a low mood, do you struggle with it? Or are you able to let it flow through you? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
This post is not a substitute for medical advice.