Exploring Melancholy

Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.” 
― Anthon St. Maarten

Exploring melancholy, thanks to Mini’s beautiful words on melancholy that refused to leave me…

She writes:
“I like melancholy. It speaks to me. It speaks to me of sadness: profound, lingering, filling the eyes at unexpected moments –  yet, unlike depression, it’s not without warmth.

To me, melancholy is about the sadness you feel when watching a quiet sunset from inside a bus, or when you come across a little yellow flower nestled among the debris of a torn down building that you are walking past. Or the catch in your throat when, out of the blue, the words from a particularly beloved piece of poetry drifts into your mind…

Yes, that kind of sadness. Dark, but lit from within by a feeble sun. There is hope in the despair. Yet.”

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I still remember the world in which I grew up.

A slow-paced, emotion-driven world where I derived all my joy from my interactions with fellow human beings. That joy stood high in my life, and colored my life in the most vibrant colors. My life then was characterized by unconscious perceptions that sought no goal or outcome. There was that silence in all our interactions that spoke more powerfully than did words. We cherished the emotions that hid in these silences.

As I grew up, a world of emotions disappeared around me. The warmth that filled the infinite moments of nothingness in our day to day lives, gradually disappeared. Growing up in a fast-paced world was a painful transformation. It was a thought-driven world; emotions had no place in this world, for they were not of survival value. Where mutual interactions with fellow human beings once instilled a spectrum of wholesome emotions to cherish, the sophistication of thought was beginning to take away the joy of that simplicity we once enjoyed. We now cared a lot more about relating intellectually; intellect alone seemed capable of giving meaning to our interactions in the real world. We now aspired for constant change and banked on our intellect to drive us forward….persistently.

We were now scared of our moments of nothingness, for the emotions that once filled that nothingness were conspicuously absent in our lives.

My mind always sought those emotions in the real world, but ironically, they no longer seemed to come from human interactions. Human beings seemed to have transformed as a species. We had all shed the raw human being within us. People no longer had the luxury of time, and the constant stress made it imperative to be alert and in intellectual mode all the time. I filled my moments of nothingness with malayalam cinema, music, books, animals and nature. The only human interactions that evoked feeling were the ones with human beings who were suffering- either from the adversity of their circumstances or from the overt vulnerability of their minds.

Malayalam cinema would make me cry. It still does. Sometimes I tell my mother- ‘As long as I have the companionship of these movies, I shall find the inspiration to live.‘ The beautiful stories woven from the rich essence of the emotions that once characterized our real lives, Johnson’s warm background music that spells out to me the music of my own soul, the characters of inspirational value- this concoction would abruptly thrust my mind into deep melancholy, shutting out all the thoughts. I loved this melancholy for it suddenly made me feel alive. Despite all my intellectual engagements in the real world, there was not a moment when I felt so alive. These movies were therapeutic for they were soulful. They allowed me to feel in silence what could no longer be felt in the real world.

They connected me to that raw, vulnerable being that defined me once upon a time, the one that I lost to survival in a fast-paced, insensitive world.

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I love melancholy. It represents to me the sweet residue of a deep sorrow…the silent symphony that the harshness of life leaves behind in our hearts…that fertile patch of nothingness that continues to exist in our minds, where emotions sprout yet again.

Melancholy is sorrow in its purest, most beautiful form. Sorrow devoid of anguish, denial, shock, spite or bitterness. Sorrow that has penetrated into the soul.

Sorrow transformed by the strength of the soul.

Our sorrows mature into something profound and overwhelming… something that suddenly awakens us to the profound beauty that lies hidden in our vulnerability and in all our stories of survival. Melancholy is holding close those moments of sorrow….for those moments in a strange way, belong to us….and only to us. Who can walk those paths with us, and feel what we felt? Who can claim those sorrows, save for us? Melancholy is looking back in calm reflection those moments that threatened our very existence….those moments we walked all alone, never once pausing to make sense of the circumstances or the intensity of what we were fighting.

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Melancholy is to look within the battered, bruised soul that life leaves behind, expecting to find nothing but barren patches where emotions once grew prolifically, and discovering with relief a tiny patch of green that speaks of life, of survival, of hope. Melancholy is the ability to cry again at the tears that had dried up with the realization that one has to fight one’s battles alone, and that there is no room for emotions in this survival game.

Melancholy is to step out into the bleak sunshine, baring oneself of the infinite layers of defense built over the years, bringing out one’s vulnerable core briefly into the real world, and feeling without fear all that one wishes to feel. A moment of nothingness, into which the emotions come of their own accord, unrushed and free flowing.

A familiar vulnerability floods me and I can feel life running in me yet again. There is the sorrow of loss and there is the joy of life. Ironically, it is the sorrow that makes me feel alive. For it is within this deep darkness of sorrow that I see something glow within me. I cry with relief at this ability to feel. Feel the abundance in that tiny glow.

It is a moment of vulnerability that tells me I am alive….

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4 thoughts on “Exploring Melancholy

  1. Thank you, Vidya, for this honour. I’m beyond words… That aside, a beautiful read! I could add ‘practical’ to the intellectual here. We have become too intelligent and practical to be wistful, emotional or idealistic, haven’t we?

    1. Dear Mini,
      I have always been drawn to melancholy, but I have never explored it in thought. So when I read your words, I was so overwhelmed….and inspired to write this.
      What I love about your writing is that they preserve the emotional tone that must accompany every analysis. In the absence of that emotional tone, the words are more a burden than a relief. The emotional tone shields us from the ‘burden’ of depth, and converts that depth into something beautiful and alive. Just like how stories have more life than a well-written essay.
      You are very right about the ‘practical’. We are now practical, intellectual and forever in cognitive and executive mode. All of which is compromising on our ability to feel!

  2. Totally agree with Mini. It’s a beautiful, beautiful read, Vidya. Perhaps the richness of this emotion also lies in the fact that it can only be truly felt if one is sensitive to a wide spectrum of emotional experience?

    1. Uday, I feel melancholy reflects our ability to hold our emotions within us, without diluting them by attributing instant thoughts to them. Despite sensitivity, we can sometimes lose this ability to feel melancholy. Especially in the modern world where we fight our battles all alone.

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