We all get low sometimes. Some more than others, others more often than some. As a woman, I know that my hormonal cycle, tiredness, diet, candida flushes, work pressures, the moon, general over-burdendness, lack of time to my self, lack of connection with my self and just the general grind and ups and downs of life can all have a significant effect on how I feel and relate to the world.
‘Our mood fluctuations are the gift of our sex, if we could only embrace them.’
It’s estimated that over 350million people suffer from depression, and the figure is increasing year on year. It is more common in women than men. 1 in 4 women will require treatment for depression at some time, compared to 1 in 10 men. The reasons for this are unclear, but are thought to be due to both social and biological factors. Likewise, figures published recently in the US show that 1 in 4 women there take prescribed antidepressants compared with 1 in 7 men. These figures are shocking, but perhaps not surprising when we consider how disconnected most of us women are in our daily lives from our essential nature, from the cycles of our body, and how we dismiss, repress, medicate against and block out the natural mood fluctuations which are in fact part of the gift of our sex, if we could only embrace them.
What I know is that great wisdom lies in the darkness, in the very depths of those emotions. Our changeable mood responses to a situation over a number of days are the coordinates of a map, helping locate our truth. I’ve found that if I can just sit with the emotions and enquire, I can find out all sorts of things about myself, my true feelings and needs, patterns of behavior that lead time and time again to a place of anxiety or sadness, things that I really need to let go of and so on. What I’m talking about here is a sadness, a low, a darkness that can be explained, has clear reasons and does not have a medical and chemical context (beyond the hormonal), not clinical depression which does not in general follow an emotional pattern of cause and effect.
‘Ultimately it’s by learning to acknowledge the darkness as a very real and enlightening part of ourselves that we become whole.’
Of course, understanding why I feel a certain way doesn’t necessarily change the situation. It’s not a miracle cure, but it does give me a way of understanding myself, and often accessing deep truths about needs I’ve overlooked or denied or even hidden. Ultimately, the emotions we experience when things feel wrong are the most direct gateway to our deepest truths. It is in this darkness, in that murk that change begins to manifest, it is from here that we will find the impulse to shift, change and improve life for ourselves. It is by looking at the not so pretty parts, by getting our hands dirty with the sticky, stinky stuff about ourselves that we grow. Ultimately it’s by learning to acknowledge the darkness as a very real and enlightening part of ourselves that we become whole.
The earliest written story ever found is that of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna. In it, she is a powerful goddess of the heavens, of fertility and love, yet one day she feels the need to explore the darness – she feels the tug of the underworld. Inanna senses this so strongly that she dares to journey into the heart of darkness, into the depths of the unknown. The queen of this dark underworld is her hag ‘sister’, Ereshkigal, who allows her entry, but strips away each shred of Inanna’s glory and worldly power as she descends. Inanna dies, only to be reborn and ascend to the world with greater wisdom, strength, depth and power. Her re-emergence into our worldly realm is full of action, creative vigor and determination. She is deeper, more real for it.
Scholars, feminists and psychologists have poured over this myth, finding a deep and resonant richness within it, and of course interpreting it in many ways. For me it offers guidance – as stories mostly do. It shows, perhaps women in particular, the way to balance and centeredness through embracing that which lies within the darkness. It challenges us to make that goddess journey to the core of our being, so that we may embrace our dark sister and ultimately become whole.
‘In darkness lies wisdom. Explore it, embrace it.’
Our monthly hormonal cycle would guide us, if we allowed it, if we could be still enough to listen to the physical and emotional promptings of our bodies into and out of Ereshkegal’s cave. The hormonal ark of our lives from puberty through to menopause is one great ark of such a wisdom journey. If we could let go of reining in our emotions, of numbing them with anti depressants, or simply of distracting ourselves from them, we would find them instructive. If we leaned to channel our feelings constructively to aid our own self knowledge and find clarity on our situation we would find a gift more valuable than all the earthly treasures of the world. It is what Inanna discovered. It is there for us to. In darkness lies wisdom. Explore it, embrace it.
If you’d like to learn more about Inanna’s journey, or join a retreat to explore her story with other wonderful women, please visit http://www.returntocentre.org.uk