The end of fall

cropped-red-sky-jan-15.jpgWhere I live in the Canadian Maritimes, late fall can look a lot like winter elsewhere.

This is the time of year that leads people to (frantic?) celebration, lighting up houses and trees, sprinkling glitter in unusual places, more parties, more drinking, more attempts to push back the darkness in any way we can.  But the darkness deepens.   Hours of daylight are few:  the sun is barely visible over the horizon at the beginning of the workday, and by the time supper is taking shape in my mind, much less on the stove, the darkness is encroaching again.  So we dance, and sing, and light our homes and maybe get half lit ourselves.  What are we celebrating?

With the growing darkness two things come up in us:  first, there is a primal fear that the darkness is all.  That there is really only darkness and any suggestion of light  is just self-deception or ignorance.   The world growing dark merely demonstrates the darkness of the human heart.  There is a lot of darkness in the world right now. Our hearts and minds grow dark, and we focus on the violence, the poverty, the problems both public and personal.  We fear that we will be overtaken by dark, there will be no more warmth, no more growing season, no sunlight toward which we turn our faces to soak in the energy of our star.

But there is also something else in us, sometimes a very small something but it is there.  There is also a spark, of faith, or belief, perhaps, but something that reminds us to keep on going. Even when the days are long and dark, when the nights seem to last forever, there is something in our human spirit that keeps us plugging along.  I don’t think it is hope.  Hope is too intellectual, too cognitive a concept.  It is something more like life itself.   Within us there is the fear of the ultimate darkness but more important, there is a push toward the light, toward life, a movement within us that says, “Yes” when all the world looks so much like “no.”

So maybe I need to re-frame my picture of our end-of-fall holiday mania.  Maybe it isn’t really about desperate pushing away of the darkness.  Maybe, instead, it is about our own small lights within reaching out to join with other lights, to band together until the light comes back into the world.

May you join your spark with many others to help bring light to the world.  Now more than ever, your life is needed to bring light into the darkness.

Peace.

candle1

 

 

 

 

Simple pleasures

 wpid-img_20150215_170132.jpg

There is not much more important than experiencing pleasure for us human-type beings.   Pleasure is a label for certain types of sensory experiences: some things we do are pleasurable.  Sometimes, things that once were pleasurable do not seem to evoke pleasure any more.  When I hear that from people, I take note.  Anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure, often accompanies depression, and sometimes is the most difficult part of depression.

Pleasure is an enormous motivator for us.  We’ll do a lot of things because the consequence is experienced as pleasurable.  These things can range from preparing and eating gourmet cuisine to climbing up rock faces.   And when pleasure as a motivator is not available, due to depression, stress, or preoccupation, then it can be difficult to do some of the things that we need or want to do.

Pleasure is a body experience.  That is, we have an experience of pleasure through our sensory systems. There is also a cognitive component, as there is for many emotionally-based experiences.  We’ll have words or images to reflect our pleasure (“Mmm, mmm, good..”).  We savor pleasure.  Pleasure requires our sustained attention, and when we cannot give our attention to our experience, we have a dearth of pleasure in our everyday life.

When people present in the office with symptoms of depression, I ask a lot about what they enjoy….have they been having any fun lately?  Lots of times people are taken by surprise by this question.  First surprise, then a sudden realization and often sadness….no, no fun lately.  In fact, often people cannot think of anything at all that would be fun.

Finding the pleasure again is essential.  When depression is the diagnosis, we look at shifting thinking, motivating activity, and regulating sleep, appetite, and attention.   Simultaneously, I ask people to start to notice where they can feel pleasure, even the most limited little bit of enjoyment, or even just relief of negative symptoms.   This is a mindfulness task, requiring attention to sensory experience in the here and now, and is a very useful marker for getting better.

Pleasure is our birthright.  We are creatures who have a wonderful and awe-inspiring capacity for pleasure….what will you enjoy today?