Embracing the Dark Side

darkside photo: Darkside darkside.jpg

This picture cracked me up, so I had to use it – but I’m sorry if I misled anyone who was looking forward to a post about Guinness or Star Wars. This post is about welcoming our darker sides and difficult emotions, though, so fortunately I have plenty of material to draw from!

One afternoon during my junior year of college, shortly after my heart had been broken, I lay on the floor of my sister’s apartment. I sobbed, wailed, rolled around on the floor, pounded my feet and fists on the floor, and blared Alanis Morissette. And then I realized the outfit I was wearing was all wrong. I needed to borrow my sister’s pants. She had these wonderfully stretchy shiny crumpled deep purple velour pants. I found them in her dresser, slid them on, and immediately felt indulgently slouchy, loungy, elegant and adventurous, all at once. I needed more purple. I pulled a lavender blouse out of her closet. I shuffled through another drawer and found an eggplant scarf. I tied it into a headband, Rambo-style. But that wasn’t enough. I eyed the violet throw pillow on her couch. Grabbing a mauve scarf, I tied it around my waist and secured the pillow to my rear end for a crazy person’s I-just-got-my-heart-stomped-on bustle. Don’t ask – it felt right at the time. And then I was ready to go to the movies with my sister.

I didn’t know much about chakras then – but maybe I was trying to get in touch with the divine through the purple seventh chakra. What I did know was that I needed to express difficult emotions, and that it helped heal me to embrace whatever weird-seeming instincts I was having. I didn’t know much about goddesses then, either, but some of their stories have since helped me articulate the importance of feeling my feelings. One of those stories is about Persephone:

One day as a young adolescent, Persephone was innocently playing amongst the flowers, and was suddenly pulled down into the underworld by Hades. The devastated Demeter searched the world over for her daughter and demanded help from Persephone’s father, Zeus. Persephone was terrified at being wrenched from her mother’s side, but eventually began to accept her new world. She didn’t have a choice – she couldn’t escape. She started getting along with Hades and learning the lessons of the underworld. Eventually Demeter found a way to rescue Persephone. But before leaving, Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds that Hades offered her – meaning that Persephone would forever spend six months of the year with Hades, as Queen of the Underworld. Now during the dark, cold months on Earth, Persephone the Queen acts as guide to anyone who makes the journey to the underworld, and when she returns to the land of the living, Spring returns with her.

This story has some twisted elements, but overall it gave me comfort when I was in an underworld of mourning my own mother. It helped me accept that sometimes really horrific things just happen. And you can’t do anything about it. And it’s okay to feel bad about them. In fact, we should spend time dwelling in the underworld of dark feelings when that’s what’s going on in our world. But in our culture’s mythology, the underworld has morphed into hell, a place evil people go to be judged and tortured. In psychological terms, we view difficult emotions – sadness, anger, fear – as an “underworld” to be avoided. We’re seen as weak or crazy (or too feminine) if we feel and express strong emotions.

So we tell ourselves that we’re not really scared, mad, or sad, and try to suppress the feelings. But when I find myself doing this, the feelings just hang around in a different form and give me the sense of being in a discontented fog. Then later I take those feelings out on someone in totally unexpected and unfair way. So if I have the opportunity, if I’m alone or with someone I really trust, I let myself feel the feelings in the moment and cry, yell, or punch a pillow. If necessary I’ll cocoon myself in purple, make a collage, drown mini storm troopers in Guinness, or write a play about my ex-boyfriend called Asshole – who, by the way, I’m now friends with on Facebook and hang with at college reunions. Don’t know if that would have happened if I’d just bottled up my feelings until they turned into simmering resentment and bitterness for ten years. So next time you find yourself trying not to feel something, maybe try letting it all out instead. Find your own purple butt bustle. I bet it’ll feel good.

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