Are You Feeling Melancholy?

Besides my numerous circle of acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant – my melancholy… My melancholy is the most faithful mistress I have known…” Soren Kierkegaard

The word “melancholy” is no longer used much these days, sad to say. So exactly what does the word mean? There is no exact answer but here are my ruminations and reflections on this under-used, misunderstood word.

Melancholy is a particular species of sadness. It isn’t an illness or a mental problem – it’s just part of the human condition. Melancholy tends to involve the pleasure of reflection and contemplation of the things we love, lost or long for. The author, Susan Sontag, says: “Depression is melancholy minus its charms.”

The word that best describes melancholy is the word “missingness,” if that indeed is a word. Missingness is a longing for an absent something. It is a momentary emptiness and a combination of sadness and perhaps even some happiness. Missingness or melancholy is a wistful longing and yearning for the return of something gone.

On the day I wrote this blog, I was listening to the Righteous Brothers,’ “Unchained Melody.” I longed to be in my old friend’s living room when we were thirteen. Bob would sing along with these “Blue-Eyed Soul” brothers and I swear he could switch from tenor to low base with elegant ease just like the duo could. It was a sight and sound to be held close to my heart but without depression, just melancholy missingness. Bob has been gone now for a long time.

While melancholy is no substitute for feelings of sorrow, sadness, grief, or loss, it does carry some amount of energy and creativity for me whereas depression is exhausting. It has always been the midnight oil I burn so I can write. Melancholy is a kind of white magic that allows artists to paint, sculpt, play music – listen sometimes to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and let the melancholy wash over you.

Lastly, too much solitude can cause melancholy (“Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody…” Sam Cooke) and sometimes my melancholy aches for solitude and if I don’t find it, it can turn into loneliness.

Melancholy is my speed-of-light time machine into the past and my path into my more creative self where I can yearn, become wistful and comforted.

I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy.” Charles Baudelaire

Lack of Grief: A Thorn in the Flesh

It’s Good Friday here in Coronavirus Land. We might say on this “Holy Week” that the virus itself is our thorns, or the fear being distributed by the media is pricking and piercing us, for some it is the Federal Government that is sticking it to us.

For me, it is all of the above, but the thorn that is so troublesome and painful is the sore lack of going down into adult grief over the millions of different losses, difficulties endured, and the damage done to families and friends.

There is no demonstration of adult grief in the morning or nightly news about the crisis pandemic. The newscasters are telling us how many people now have the virus and how many have died or will die. They keep a straight face at best during their report on it, at worst, they smile a little and end with a “feel good” or “America Strong” piece that lasts less than 20 seconds.

From the very “Top Down” no models for mature grief, no dissent into the soul, and certainly no weeping. No Kaddish for the dying will ever be spoken on commercial TV, radio, or Internet.

If, as I believe, grieving is the doorway through which we step into our maturity and our humanity, this weekend, or hopefully, for the coming sad weeks ahead, let’s add some gravity to the Nation, not just short-sighted checks on toilet paper, but engage in the alchemical process of turning our heavy lead hearts towards all of those golden people who are suffering from all the losses, changes, short-changing, and fearful transitions.

“…Max grieves alive in an office on Lower Broadway, lone large mustache over midnight accountings, not sure. His life passes – as he sees – and what does he doubt now? Still dream of making money, hired nurse had children, found even your immortality…” Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Kaddish

Feeling Guilty: Maybe Not

Guilt is a teacher, love is the lesson.”

Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.

Guilt is not a feeling. Guilt is a judgement and a social/religious construct that has been drilled into our heads for so long that we actually think we “feel guilty” a good deal of the time.

I ask my clients and workshop participants to tell me where they feel their guilt in their bodies. Their faces turn into question marks; but when I ask where they hold anger, sadness, fear, joy, and love, they point to their stomachs, shoulders, backs, jaws or hearts.

Guilt then is a way to shut down or numb our feelings.

Cindy says, “I don’t want to invite my alcoholic sister to have Christmas with us this year. But I’ll ‘feel guilty’ if I don’t. She’ll be all alone and will probably just stay drunk.”

“But what do you really feel about her drinking and coming to your home that way? Are you angry, sad, or scared for your sister?” I asked her in a session.

“Yes, all of the above,” she said.

When I was growing up if my parents heard something like Cindy didn’t ask her sister to Christmas they would have thought/said she was being selfish and should feel guilty. Which looking back was code that if I didn’t come home from Christmas someday I “should feel guilty” and years ago I would have. Self-Care were not words used in our family back then in the dark ages.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If I steal from you or slander your good name or abuse you in some way and the poisonous snake in our heads we’ll call the Guilt Snakes hiss at us and bite into our brains then we must chop their heads off by admitting we were wrong, make apologies and amends, and make restitution out of our regret and remorse. This removes the snakes by putting them back in the garden where they belong. Remember, speaking of the Garden, Adam and Eve (Adam in Greek means “man” and Eve means “woman”) – neither of them felt guilty about their nakedness, but rather felt joyful at the freedom and ecstasy until someone told them they should feel guilty and grab some fig leaves. That’s a lot of guilt leaves in almost every household.

So, guilt, while not a feeling, says we’ve done something wrong and we need to put on clothes of compassion to make things right, we must not let it override our true feelings and learn how to express them appropriately.  Now shame says we are “wrong, broken, damaged, beyond repair,” but that’s a whole other blog.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through

the desert repenting…”

Mary Oliver

 

INSANE FOR THE LIGHT

“We can make our minds so like

still water that beings gather about us

that they may see, it may be, their own

images, and so live for a moment with

a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer

life because of our quiet.” 

Robert Bly

 I’ve always wanted more quiet in my house as a child. By the time I was nine, I was seeking silence in the woods that backed up to the dirt-poor farm my dad bought. I’d sit on the million’s old rocks on Sand Mountain in Alabama and let the wind and noiselessness wash over me and baptize me with serenity.

For 30 years I had a quiet cabin in the foothills of the southern Appalachians. I tell you all this because my home here in Austin, Texas, thanks to this virus being passed around like an inhuman hot potato, is more quiet than it has been in a hundred years or more.

What do we do with the potentially deadly lull in assaults to our overstimulated ears? Maybe, just maybe, we let more light into our daily lives – perhaps some almost heavenly light. We’ve been looking at modernism’s electric lights, neon signs, cell phones and computer lights for so long that we have, to quote an old song, been “blinded by the light.”

We have been Plato’s cave dwellers for so long seeing dollar signs, credit cards, GNP flashing upon a movie-like screen in our collective caves. Chained to the dark floor thinking that what we are seeing projected on the screen is reality.

We may be the generations who break free of our chains, crawl out of the caverns, see the sun, and finally see that what we have been looking at is not real but illusions and brain-washed fantasies. Perhaps due to the Coronavirus (not “Chinese Virus”) even in the quiet nights we can feel human again and

“We know the road; as the moonlight

Lights everything, so on a night like this,

The road goes on ahead, it is all clear.”

Robert Bly

And the road ahead, while cluttered a bit with hoarders and dishonest politicians, is also filled by those who are helping others, shopping for others, praying for others, loving strangers, and maybe, just maybe, we will start crawling out of the darkness of greediness and entitlement and live more gently on the earth and with each other so that when the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado asks us the question: “What have you done With the Garden that was entrusted to you?” We will say we tended it with lots more love and very timely tenderness.

“I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

and it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.

I am ill because of wounds to the soul, take a long, long time, only time can help

and patience, and a certain difficult repentance

long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself

from the endless repetition of the mistake

which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.”  

D.H. Lawrence

 

The Missing Peace: Solving the Anger Problem for Alcoholics, Addicts and Those Who Love Them

Anger ventilated often hurries toward forgiveness; and concealed often hardens into revenge.” Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Have you ever loved an alcoholic or addict? Probably most reading this would answer, “Yes!”

Alcoholics and addicts (love, sex, porn, gambling, shopping, eating, etc.) are angry about a lot of different things:

Growing up in an alcoholic’s or addict’s home
Being poor
Being rich
Wrong shape, size, color
Terrible education
Bad, dysfunctional relationships
Hating their jobs

The list could go on and on.

The people who love us have to put up with abuse, bad moods, depression, frustration, lies, manipulation, and lots and lots of broken promises and relapses.

Our loved ones pray for us, berate us, leave us, pay for interventions, give up on us, and come back to us or find another alcoholic or addict and experience the Bill Murray “Groundhog” movie mania that can drive anyone insane.

Now one of the misleading missing pieces of recovery is the rule that you’re not supposed to be angry. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says we don’t have the luxury of our basic human emotion – anger.

Years ago, I attended an AA speaker’s meeting in Georgia. The guest speaker had 36 years of so-called sobriety. She was one of the angriest “old-timers” I’d ever listened to.

After the meeting, about eight of us went to lunch. I was hesitant to say anything at first. Most of my lunch companions knew I worked in the field of recovery, and I have done so for 35 years.

Finally, Stan, who doesn’t talk at the meetings said, “Did anybody think she was very angry?”

Well, the gossip flew around the table like buzzards pecking over a dead possum carcass. By the way, gossiping in my book, The Missing Peace, is a form of anger and rage. I slipped. But everyone at the table agreed she was pretty much full of venom that spewed out on all who heard her – so it wasn’t just me. Never mind the alcoholic cliché, “If you spot it, you got it.” Anger and rage are like a virus that spreads contagion (sorry about the timing of these words).

So, here’s what I did after that meeting. I went directly home, sat down, and wrote this book, The Missing Peace.

It is not anger that drives us to drink, drives away the people who love us, but RAGE!? Rage is what us alcoholics and addicts must avoid for the fear of relapse and self-destruction. Rage is what covers our emotions. Rage covers sadness, loneliness, and sometimes, even love. Anger is a feeling while rage is an action or behavior that numbs our feelings.

Anger is an emotion that is God-given for us to feel, to stop injustice, abuse, and get us out of stuck places. Rage is a stuck place that alcoholics, addicts, and those who love us know too well.

I want to thank Teitelbaum Publishing for publishing The Missing Peace and I hope it will help you or someone you care about or love deal with their anger/rage.

Missing Peace Book Cover 2

Courting a Woman’s Soul – Part 2: In Search of the Feminine

It still hasn’t occurred to Western man to stop looking on woman as a symbol of something and to begin seeing her simply as woman – as a human being.” Robert Johnson

Still here in 2020, most men are still unconsciously searching for their own feminine part of their being in the faces, eyes, and bodies of women.

Ironically the patriarchal mentality which still rules is what drove the Feminine almost completely out of culture and a man’s individual life.

When men finally start removing our projections of the Feminine from women, we can develop the strengths of our own Feminine or what C.G. Jung called our “anima.” When this is in process, it completes and compliments our own masculinity in a healthy positive way.

This connection not only makes a man more human, it allows him to see women – from mother, to lover, to sister, and female friend – as human beings and not as a repository for his own Feminine part of his soul and psyche.

If this is not accomplished, or I should say in the on-going process of being accomplished, by mid-life or older, the man who hasn’t accessed his interior Feminine may become ill, seized by a depression, lose interest in life, or find himself angry and abusive towards women in general.

If a woman should feel and/or say to her women friends, “I wish my husband would court my soul,” she may mean a number of things, but some of the things she actually means is that she wants her husband, lover, or partner to be more attentive, thoughtful, and show her more feeling.

A man who is stunted in his ability to feel and express emotions will not see, cherish, and hold dear a woman’s soul.

Without a man’s ability to reclaim his own Feminine he will believe unconsciously what way too many men believe that it is a woman’s responsibility to make his life whole, keep him happy, give his life meaning, and intensity and ecstasy. This is not a woman’s job.

If a man finds his Feminine, he finds his soul, and he will see a woman’s soul instead of only her physical appearance and court that woman’s soul now and possibly forever.

The minute I heard my first love story

I went looking for you, not knowing

How blind that was. Lovers don’t

Finally meet somewhere, they’ve been

in other all along.

Rumi

Picture1

Courting the Souls of the Ones You Love: the “Platinum Rule of Loving”

I was forty-something and still longing to be loved the way I needed to be. She had the same longing. Misguided like a missile missing its target, I practiced the “Golden Rule” – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So, I tried to send her love the way I wanted to be shown – showing up with flowers, buying odd little gifts from Australia or New Zealand where I spoke for years.

She would sigh and set the flowers in a vase in the curio or on the mantle, and I couldn’t understand where her enthusiasm for such gifts had gone.

Then one day, quite by accident, with no conscious thought to it, I took the rough draft of my third book into her office and said, “I’d like for you to read this and tell me what you think.”

She burst into tears and sobbed for several minutes. I’m good with tears, but I wanted to understand what the hell was going on. Slowly she stopped crying.

“Would you tell me why this touched you so deeply?” I asked.

“This is the first time you have asked me to read your work. You usually send it to Robert or Bill first. Thank you so much for loving me so respectfully.”

“Damn!” I said. “I didn’t know you really would enjoy the books about men. I highly respect your intelligence and would always value your input on my work.”

The next day I came home from work and found she had bought me several little gifts that touched me so deeply I broke down and sobbed.

You see I stumbled on to the “Platinum Rule of Love” – Do unto others the way they have been longing for probably their whole lives. In other words, send the people you love – partners, parents, children, husbands and wives – the way they, not you, the way they can feel loved. If you don’t know how they want to be loved, here’s an idea, ask them.

Last night you looked at me

So lovingly I had to turn away.

A friend said to me

There are two ways to love

Face-to-face, eye-to-eye,

Skin-to-skin

And in the other way

We give love at a distance

And hope they pick up the clues.

Yesterday I brought you a

Dozen red roses and each

One was a clue and a promise

Some day I would learn to

Love the open way of the flower.

Poem by John Lee

Conference Feb 2020john-lee-courting-womans-soul

 

Courting a Woman’s Soul

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly

By the time I met my friend who became my wife for 16 years, I had failed so many times in my youthful attempts to love and be loved.

Every book I’ve written in my 35-year career emanates out of my old failures. Courting a Woman’s Soul is no different.

By the time a man is, say 35, he knows, even if he can’t say it, that the things he has been taught, told, saw, and heard from his peers, Playboys, and yes, even his parents, do not work in life or love.

Like most “straight” young men, I was only seeing, no – worshiping, the bodies of the women I slept with or wanted to sleep with. I was un-tutored and un-emotionally intelligent.

By my 40s, thanks to about a million hours of therapy, recovery and men’s work, I finally was yearning to see something eternal – for a glimpse of a woman’s soul, bare of society’s makeup and my upbringing. I wanted to see the beauty that time and knowing enhances. Now don’t get me wrong – I can still enter the slip stream of my own latent narcissism and regress back to adolescence from time to time.

Here are just a few lines from Courting a Woman’s Soul about the moment I stopped being a naïve, irresponsible boy:

We are not going to be lovers, are we, Isabella asked timidly.

No, Isabella. You deserve the kind of love I can’t give you… If we made love, I would be one more pathetic jerk included on the list of men who have hurt you. I have hurt enough women in my life.

Why had it taken me nearly four decades to realize the difference between lust and love?

Lust takes everything and gives nothing; love gives everything and takes so little.

At first when I was working on “Courting” I didn’t have a title. I asked my wife (my ex-wife and still best friend) why she picked me to love and marry. Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “That easy. You’re the only man who ever courted my soul.”

I hope you can join me Feb. 29th at “Recovering Our Power” A conference for women inspired by the dedication of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to make women’s lives matter presented by Creative Changes Conferences being held at the Annenberg Health Science Building in Rancho Mirage, CA.

John Lee Anger (4)

Writing from the Body: For Writers, Artists, and Dreamers Who Long to Free Their Voice

Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s makeup, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.

– Ray Bradbury – Zen in the Art of Writing

I’ve been teaching, coaching, and counseling new and seasoned writers for over three decades. It has long been one of my favorite things to do – to help writers get their words whirling in their heads and on to the blank page. I know how hard it can be. I wrote six drafts of the first chapter of my best-selling book, The Flying Boy: Healing the Wounded Man, before I got out the seventh one, which thank God it worked. Why was it so hard? Because I couldn’t get out of my head. I couldn’t stop imitating my favorite authors. I had to come to terms with “who do I think I am to write a book?” I couldn’t get past the fear of what people I loved might think if I told the truth about my life. Now 23 books later—novel, poetry, self-help, memoirs, screen plays, non-fiction – it still can be hard, but I’ve helped more than a few writers and dreamers over the years because I’ve learned a few things like:

The call to write is a call that’s received in the body first. If we are to answer the call, we have to feel every part of our lives. In order to write and write well we must get out of our heads. For everyone who is tired of living life in the little closet between the ears, call and set up a time to get to work and get to writing.

If we are to answer that call, the desire and dreams to write, we have to be able to feel every part of our lives. A writer can’t afford to walk numbly through the house with a blanket over the head. When the lover steps, dripping from the shower and bends to dry herself, the writer’s eye takes in the droplets as they fall to the floor, and the fire of creativity is ignited: the little spheres of light encased in the water, the gently sloping curve from hairline to ankle, her hands as they guide the cloth over her skin. Let others drink life from a tiny cup! Face plunged in this ocean, the writer reaches deeply with every pore, not just to taste, but to merge with that greater Body, to experience the larger Self. To live like that, and to write from that truth, we have to radically reclaim and renew the body.

For hundreds of years poets and writers have described the creative process as a physical urgency, a sense that things will fly apart if they don’t get the pencil to the page in time. Creativity is not tidy or polite – it’s insistent. It calls us to feel, not dimly, not safely, but wildly, passionately, in every cell and fiber.

I needed a lot of help to discover my own body of writing. Most people need help to experience your physical self as an endless creative well from which to draw amazing drink, regardless of your age, writing experience, or educational background, you can do this.

Thank you for reading and for your support.

John Lee

Call or email to schedule an appointment to work with John 678-494-1296 or john@johnleebooks.com

 

THE CROW’S MESSAGE: Are We Afraid or Anxious?

If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life—and only then will I be free to become myself.” Martin Heidegger

In my last blog post I talked about the differences between depression and despair. For me to really work my own despair or really listen to anyone’s, I have to be connected to the anxiety that I have numbed with alcohol, work addiction, love addiction, and thus, avoided, suppressed and discounted, and most of all, confused with fear all the while being diagnosed and treated for depression.  Freud tells us that anxiety “is a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a floodlight on our whole mental existence.”

Anxiety, unlike fear, has no external source, cause, or cure, unlike it’s near relative fear. Fear has an object. If I’m afraid of flying, which I used to be, talk therapy and immersion therapy and then getting in a plane can make the fear disappear. If I’m afraid of the dark, then I just keep the lights on. If I’m afraid of lions, then I don’t go to the jungle or the park; but the anxiety that comes from being on the planet and confronting my mortality is amorphous, ephemeral, but just as damn real as any lion. Kierkegaard says, “Whereas fear sharpens the senses, unrecognized anxiety dulls the spirit” as well as the soul and creativity, not to mention any connection to something divine if that is what one is searching for. Once fear is identified I can fly, fight or freeze. Anxiety is a disorder of desire for something that we can’t put a name to and can’t see, taste, hear or smell but everyone knows it is there if we just get quiet enough. The dictionary says, “Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” The dictionary goes on to say anxiety “is a feeling of worry, nervousness, a dis-ease about an uncertain outcome.”

The philosopher Karl Jaspers speaks of anxiety this way, “a feeling of restlessness… a feeling that one… has not finished something… or that one has to look for something.” After my divorce I went to my quiet, windy mountain cottage to look at my anxiety right in the eye because I have been anxious my whole life. The Catholic monk and mystic Thomas Merton wants us to know, “anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity.”

One of the deepest forms of anxiety is “disintegration anxiety.”  This is the anxiety that something or someone might destroy our inner-most self, and to put it simply, we don’t know what is going to happen to us in the future except death for certain and then what?

When the preacher that baptized me over on Sand Mountain when I was nine years old and laid his bony hand on my shoulder and pronounced that I’d be a preacher, I started asking myself, my mom, my god, preachers and priests what to do and not do. However, Merton goes on to say anxiety comes from “being afraid to ask the right questions because they might turn out to have no answer.”

So, am I finally, at the tender age of 68, poised to start asking the right questions? Am I ready to follow the Christian theologian Paul Tillich’s advice who says one of the cures for my despair and anxiety is to “believe you are accepted” and to accept myself questions, despair, bone loneliness and all in the words of the old spiritual, “Just as I am without one plea…”

The post-modern novelist, Walk Percy, says “Anxiety summons us to an authentic experience,” and if I strip down to all that I have learned, felt, seen and heard, then one way to move out of despair and anxiety is to strip away as many false selves that have been created over the decades in my on-going search for happiness.

Are you afraid or anxious? Even though these words are used interchangeably by very intelligent people.  I hope after reading this short blog that it may help you sort it out as I continue to do so.

Anxiety is altogether different from fear and similar concepts…” Kierkegaard