Melancholy or Quality Time?

I’ve been reading a lot of books and writings from thinkers and artists lately, and the notion of solitude, bordering on, or even fully embracing, melancholy keeps being centered.

That word, melancholy, it’s become something deeply negative, to be avoided. But, maybe there’s a bit of a different take. A more recent definition describes it as deep sadness, bordering on depression. Something to be avoided at all costs. But that’s not really its history.

To me it’s really more a description of the experience of allowing yourself to settle into a certain feeling that may arise on a regular basis through the simple act of engaging with life.

We’re not always happy all the time. Nor should we be. Life well done is a contact sport.

Sometimes that contact yields grace and joy, ease and laughter, happiness and elevation. Other times it delivers sadness and fear, anxiety, loss, and grief.

Truth is, many of us touch into the extremes here and there, yet dwell most often in the middle. Floating, or depending on the day, week, month, or year, crashing between a good day with the occasional laugh and more reflective, stiller moments with maybe a hint of sadness that is more about touching into honesty than grappling with demise.

That latter state, by the way, is what I see as melancholy. It’s a space that often provides fertile ground for growth. Where affect leads to clarity that engenders just enough discontent and emotion to fuel insight, followed by the opportunity to evolve or create or innovate or, maybe, just be. It’s no surprise that many of the greatest minds throughout history have reported and written about their relationship with this state.

A passage from Camus’ Notebooks:

“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk, It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transporting you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter.

Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but “steal” some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.”

This lands so beautifully and powerfully for me. What if melancholy was not sadness, solitude was not loneliness? How might we frame our relationship to them, when viewed not as something to be avoided at all costs, but rather to be allowed in as a sort of source-fuel for self discovery and revelation?

That’s what I’m thinking about today. Much Love.

Courtesy of Jonathan Fields.
“The Good Life Project”