Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The You Below the You

Who are you when you open your eyes in the morning? I don’t mean the one who starts planning the day or stumbles down the hall to the coffeemaker. I mean what is the base feeling you wake up with or go to bed with, the You below the You, your base line of consciousness? Without reacting to yesterday’s events or anticipating today’s, what kind of note is your undertone? A solid steady hum? A joyful opera hi-note? A cool swingin’ bluenote? A crackly, staticky drone?

I don’t have the language yet to talk about this, don’t know any terms from psychology textbooks. The machine metaphor would be the screensaver behind the programs and saved files, except something else gets to choose the color or image that appears when the computer is turned on. Perhaps the ancient Greek idea of four temperaments or humors is a step in that direction—melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine and choleric. Each temperament is paired with a fluid, an element and an essential character, as follows:

Sanguine: blood- air- sociable
Choleric: yellow bile-fire- ambitious
Melancholic: black bile-earth-reflective
Phlegmatic: phlegm-water-calm

I started checking this out on the old Wikipedia and as with any system, it is too complex to easily summarize or apply and as soon as you accept it, you realize there are myriad different systems from China, India or your neighbor next door.

So rather than research it all, I want to stick close to home with the feeling that prompted the question. Without undue pride (since I seem to have had nothing to do with it), it feels like my base camp for the day’s thoughts and feelings and experiences generally tends to be a happy one— positive, looking forward to the day or grateful at day’s end. When all the events and feelings sift down in solitude of a hotel room looking out at the nearby mountains, there's a quiet little hum of happiness. From that base, I know my fair share of grief, pain, stress, anxiety, anger, outrage, disappointment, loneliness, longing, sadness, restlessness, that long list of negative emotion that can press down on me, clothe me in bulky armor or throw me to the ground, But at the other end, this bottom line of happiness awaits.

So when I felt a shift in that background the other day, the sense that everything that brought pleasure and meaning was suddenly flatter, greyer, less pleasurable or meaningful, I got a peek into the screensaver of depression. And it ain’t pretty. In fact, I’m okay with genuine grief and anger often gives me energy in its own strange way, but the loss of the normal color in life felt unbearable. I know that due to all sorts of things— chemical imbalances, genetic inheritances, traumatic life issues or a via negativa spiritual path—many people experience depression (my mother is bi-polar and has been her whole life) and this mild case helped me to be more sympathetic and compassionate about it.

Mine seems to have passed as mysteriously as it came and perhaps just visited to remind me to keep following the places where the world comes alive in three-dimensional vibrant color. I think almost obsessively these days about what signals I’ll get to announce retirmenet from my school and that loss of pleasure in the daily classes will be sign number one. But I can’t think about that now—Spring concert is next week! Now just who should play that glockenspiel part?

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