Down on Down
We’re okay with ‘calming down’; we’re cool with ‘cooling down’; we’re hot on ‘going down’ —yeah baby!—and we rhapsodise about ‘falling in love’.
Mostly, though, down gets short shrift.
Up and Down Are Not in Opposition
With our leaning towards one part of a pairing over and above the other part, up gets a thumbs up. Add to this Western society’s upward-looking spiritual orientation, and I learned to fear down. But I also learned you can’t get to the bottom of something by looking up.
Even so, going down meant visiting the lizard brain and the immoral, uncivilised parts of the psyche (soul). It was a damned dark and scary experience … until I came across these eye-opening words from author and activist, Parker Palmer:
‘I had always imagined God to be in the same general direction as everything else that I valued: up … I had to be forced underground before I could understand that the way to God is not up but down.’
‘If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going,’ Said Winston Churchill. Why?
If you go on regular excursions into Hell—it’s a free trip—you’d already know that a taste of Nirvana awaits you beyond the fire and brimstone. If you don’t, then getting your head around Palmer’s flipped focus might be an issue. It’s not all that controversial, though, when you consider those often-quoted words, ‘At the darkest moment comes the light.’ Or, to take it all the way back to The Creation Story, ‘Let there be light’ saw light emerging from the dark, formless earth.
Still, words might convince us of the value of going down, but words don’t console us when we’re being assailed by, well, words!
Those words and a billion+ others that have constructed and shaped our realities make up our stories. Our lives are a series of these: dramatic, romantic, tragic, comedic, ridiculous; sagas and short stories; poetic and prosaic; fact and fiction. We might not be familiar with or even aware of the very early ones—the bizarre ancient stories, but they’re still imprinted on our psyche and encoded in our DNA. When something shakes up our existence, we time-travel back through the layers of stories (think of the flashes of memories that emerge on the way down). And we can end up crash-landing in these raw, uncut ones.
Giving the Right Brain Its Due
Personally, I don’t think trying to think your way out of the badlands of psyche is all that helpful when you’re feeling insane and confused. Overthinking used to be my knee-jerk reaction. But when I lost my mind, intellectualising was useless. It fed the voices. If I ignored them or tried to scramble up and out, they bit me on the bum. And wrestling with them was just shadow-boxing. It weakened me, strengthened them. I learned a different way.
Imagining takes me part of the way.
I imagine I’m just passing through this village of crazies (like a long transit stopover as a necessary evil on the way to a holiday destination).
Letting myself feel down takes me the rest of the way.
Feeling breathes life into the starving, discarded-but-not-dead low-lifers of the psyche. Then every subsequent descent feels less unnerving and less murky. And results in less stagnancy. With more movement, as impulses and emotions become resuscitated, it’s better for our well-being.
What I’ve learned is that in looking up, we perceive our spirit. In going down, we retrieve it.
Maybe, one day, when many willingly undergo what is essentially a healing journey, Down will be the new black.