In Praise of In Praise of Melancholy

January 21, 2008

There’s a great piece titled “In Praise of Melancholy” (from a book that comes out tomorrow titled Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy) in The Chronicle Review.  It’s a well-reasoned piece arguing that in all the new agey search for eternal happiness and contentment, our souls are being sucked from us.  The author says that melancholy feelings are often mistaken for depression and that if that’s the case, the feelings should be embraced.  Feelings of sadness, being overwhelmed, and just being “down” are healthy and can often drive the creative urge.  This paragraph sums it up best, I think:

Melancholia pushes against the easy “either/or” of the status quo. It thrives in unexplored middle ground between oppositions, in the “both/and.” It fosters fresh insights into relationships between oppositions, especially that great polarity life and death. It encourages new ways of conceiving and naming the mysterious connections between antinomies. It returns us to innocence, to the ability to play in the potential without being constrained to the actual. Such respites from causality refresh our relationship to the world, grant us beautiful vistas, energize our hearts and our minds

What I like most about Zen is that it doesn’t try to hide melancholy feelings.  It doesn’t encourage you to distance yourself from them.  It makes you see them for what they are and accept them as they come.  No doubt, it’s challenging to do this, as I’m finding to be the case an awful lot recently, but it’s essential in maintaining a life that’s not devoid of feeling but isn’t wallowing in constant sorrow, either.

The world exists as it is all across the spectrum, from extreme sadness to extreme happiness, and we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we run because we’re afraid to be sad.


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