My Right to be Melancholy

I have severe bouts of melancholy. My friends and husband can attest to it, they’ve seen me on my “quiet” days, when I don’t feel like talking much, when I don’t care if it’s green or black tea, when I frankly should have cancelled our time together because I’m giving the impression I’d rather be elsewhere - or rather that I am elsewhere in my head.

I have long fought against it, judged myself for being “so soft.” I’ve tried to identify triggers, I’ve tried to control my environment, I’ve tried to surround myself with happy music, movies, and people. It doesn’t work. It just makes it worse.

Truth is, what harm is it to be melancholy? Why is it such a bad thing? Why is it expected of me to be happy, smiley face every day? That doesn’t sound real to me. True happiness is not a 100% setting all the time. True happiness is knowing that everything, whether good or bad, is temporary. Some days, I just don’t feel like smiling my ears off, it doesn’t mean I’m depressed, or that I don’t like you, or that I don’t have my shit together.

So please, please stop asking me if I’m OK and if I want to talk about it. Some feelings are just too deep for words, some internal contradictions cannot be resolved by the mind. I just need time and space to process and digest.

I understand that this is a touchy subject. And you might be thinking that I’m justifying my mood swings, or I haven’t yet reached nirvana. The confusing piece is that there is a blatant disregard of the truth in the yoga world regarding happiness. We picture ourselves in yoga poses on the beach with our big smiles. How luminous, brilliant wide smile-asana! I’m happy, you’re happy, we’re happy. If you haven’t mastered that pose yet, keep trying.

Truth is, yoga never made any promises regarding happiness - in fact, I’ve never seen it mentioned in any traditional texts. The true yogi understands that happiness is neither a goal, nor a fixed state. Feelings come and go, they evolve, they transform. Without our ability to recognize our feelings and to honour them, we become empty masks. I try to put up face, of course I do! On Facebook, in my classes, I don’t want people to think I’m depressed. But I can’t help but think that if, as yoga teachers, we acknowledged our feelings, we would be much better guides.

In times like these, I look up to Dhumavati, the crone Goddess of Disappointment and Letting Go. She’s taught me many things over the past two years. If her nature is to obscure the obvious, it is to better reveal the hidden, the unknown. Unlike other Mahavidyas, she is depicted as old, and she isn't beautiful. She represents what we avoid, what we turn away from in an effort to ignore. Indeed Dhuma, in Sanskrit, means smoke. Like the smoke of sorrow and melancholy, she obscures something to reveal another. A messenger of sorts, an ally.

When we honour Dhumavati's wisdom by “giving reverence to sorrow and disappointment as Divine friends who have come to teach us the limitations of the body-mind,” she rewards us with clarity. Melancholy is an opportunity to dig deeper, to uncover what we have left undone and what our true life purpose longs for. 

As today’s melancholy bout comes to an end, I am thankful for its light. I understand myself and my mission in this world a little better.

*Quote pulled from Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses by David Frawley.