SADness and the Intuition of Peas

When I was a teenager, a not-very-intuitive psychologist I briefly saw thought I might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Perhaps I did, but if so it was the pea buried beneath twenty down quilts and twenty feather beds, and I did not at that life moment have the necessary stillness to discern or listen to anything so minute. There were too many definite torments in the room for me to start dealing with the indefinite ones.

Now, gratefully, all that has changed. For the most part I have the freedom and peace of mind to attend to the indefinite, to intuit the presence of peas under mattresses and to go down looking under each layer, each quilt which is different from the last.

And here is what I’ve found in the last little while. It has something to do with seasonal affective disorder, which feels like a beautiful metaphor. Clinically, SAD is understood to be related to lack of light in the winter–specifically to a lack of full-spectrum light. Sunlight is full-spectrum light. Most artificial light is not. Some of the symptoms of SAD can be alleviated by sitting under a full-spectrum light bulb in the winter. (This is all anecdotal, and poorly researched, but that is okay because I am mostly interested in the figurative implications at the moment). I’ve been thinking about what happens to us, to our bodies, to our souls, when we are missing part of the spectrum. I recently watched a commencement speech given by Jim Carey, a surprisingly insightful talk in which, at one point, he asks his audience, “What, you didn’t think I could be serious?”

This question illuminated something for me: the inverse. My life and work have been dedicated for decades to the intuition and articulation of peas-under-mattresses, those large and small fragments of grief that bruise us in our sleep, but that are also the source of every story, every art. And suddenly I think there is so much more going on in the room. So many other curious, illuminating, nourishing things.

So the extraordinary shift that is taking place in my thinking right now is this: even this amazing thing, the intuition of peas, to me right now, seems–for all its mystery and necessity–like only a part of the spectrum. Can this really be me speaking? / “What, didn’t think I could be (less) serious?” But it is me speaking. I’m opening up to the rest of the spectrum in a way I have not since, probably, I was a child in my parents’ garden, the garden of my living parents.

Children come full-spectrum. They come up to their knees in soil, still rooted in what nourishes them and unconcerned about where future nourishment will come from. They are open to what they feel: laughter, tears, anger, delight. And they need to be consoled! They are not little Buddhists, sitting in their pain without wanting to move away from it. But they are amazing at letting it go, once it subsides. We grown-up children live in exile, for the most part, from this creaturely inheritance: presence with the energy that comes up and buffets and nourishes, and humanizes, us.

When my son was only a few weeks old, I used to lie in bed with him and play and watch his face, how quickly he moved from distress to pleasure, from smiling to squeezing his face up in pain, and back again–and I thought to myself: this is resilience, he is teaching me resilience, how not to stay unhappy, how to just let something go.

And now I realize, too, though it should have been obvious at the time, that I was teaching him resilience. I was teaching him to trust that someone would love him no matter what he felt, that someone would mirror pain and love and happiness, so he could know what they were, and that none of them would last forever, and that each one would return.

So now I’m thinking so much about the other halves of things, how reciprocal everything is in this creaturely, natural world which is full of emotional processes that are also natural, and have phases, and spectrums which will be as full, I think now, as we are willing to make them. I’m thinking these days not only of resilience, of how to let something go, but also about openness: how to let something come. How to let it all arrive and depart like the sun. Or — more accurately — like the weather and the orbit and the phase and the tilt and the direction and the openness that make up our relationship to something that is, on its own, fundamentally unchanged.

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