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🌚 How to Dispel the “Dark Cloud”

Or at least: here’s what worked for me this time.

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So last month a realisation came to me: “lo! Well, now—what’s this? It seems to be that I am no longer depressed!” That grim-dark cloud that followed me has somehow transmuted into something more akin to the healthier kind of grief-acceptance. From doom-and-gloom to gloom-and-bloom.

Or something like that. (I’m still a fan of the gloom-aesthetic.)

In this museletter I’d like to share with you what worked for me to work through The Dark Cloud this time; in the hopes it may offer some solace to you or someone you might know.

Mine wasn’t a capital-d “Depression”—it was more of a “high functioning” chronic low-grade despondency; a discontented doom-tinged disquiet. I don’t consider there to be anything “bad” about depression.* In many instances, it seems a natural and almost-necessary interlude betwixt developmental chapters.

* It is unfortunate, and not ideal—but not “bad”. I should add, though: depression is also often a very serious, chronic and debilitating medical condition. I don’t mean to appear flippant or dismissive about this. Much of what I refer to here is of the chronic low-grade kind of depression. The ‘persistent funk’ kind.

As discussed previously

“[...] I am quite the fan of Professor Randolph Nesse’s theory of depression. Nesse and his colleagues speculate that depression could act as a biological constraint system that helps to minimise wasted effort and loss by forcing the individual to slow down, reassess, and potentially change strategies.”

I don’t recommend you seek to be depressed.

But to have Deep Rest™️—I think many of us could do with that!

Deep Rest

Remember: momentum inhibits reinvention.

Without Deep Rest, we run the risk of perpetuating momentum in a direction that is no longer congruent to “meaningful progress”. Instead, it’s just an autopilot perpetuation of hollowed-out habituation—potentially set upon a trajectory towards incoherence and irrelevance. It takes a pattern-disrupt to shake us out of this.

Unfortunately, three things tend to hold The Dark Cloud in place:

  1. The stigma of sadness // Ours is a society that loves it some forced cheer. If you’re not happy, then there’s something wrong (with you).
  2. The delusion of progress // You feel The Dark Cloud—but all the metrics indicate you are doing fine, so it’s [seemingly] easier to simply persist with the delusion of progress.
  3. The cage of capitalism // You can [seemingly] buy happiness. Just work more. Also: you cannot afford to take the time for Deep Rest anyway. Chin up!

Obviously there are more elements than this. But I’m of the belief that sadness, grief, and depression are important developmental thresholds that all adults must contend with at some point in life. These events can bring about a positive disintegration (wherein your sense of self becomes dis-integrated and then re-integrated with metastability at a higher order of complexity)—or we can squander the developmental opportunity and succumb to distraction, dissociation, or regression (where we find metastability at a lower order of developmental complexity).

Hmm, how to put it another way? Ursula K. Le Guin offers a perspective within The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia.

“Suffering is a misunderstanding. [...] It exists… It’s real. I can call it a misunderstanding, but I can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, or will ever cease to exist. Suffering is the condition on which we live. And when it comes, you know it. You know it as the truth. Of course it’s right to cure diseases, to prevent hunger and injustice, as the social organism does. But no society can change the nature of existence. We can’t prevent suffering. This pain and that pain, yes, but not Pain. A society can only relieve social suffering, unnecessary suffering. The rest remains. The root, the reality. All of us here are going to know grief; if we live fifty years, we’ll have known pain for fifty years… And yet, I wonder if it isn’t all a misunderstanding—this grasping after happiness, this fear of pain… If instead of fearing it and running from it, one could… get through it, go beyond it. There is something beyond it. It’s the self that suffers, and there’s a place where the self—ceases. I don’t know how to say it. But I believe that the reality—the truth that I recognize in suffering as I don’t in comfort and happiness—that the reality of pain is not pain. If you can get through it. If you can endure it all the way.”

This echoes a sentiment Daniel Schmachtenberger shared in response to concerns that learning about the metacrisis will have people become depressed.

“I think people should let themselves become depressed... Either you’re actually an obligate sociopath that can’t feel shit,” Daniel says. “Or, you won’t let yourself because it’s overwhelming and you don’t know what to do with that. Trust that. Let yourself go there anyways.”

After all, as the monk Jiddu Krishnamurti says,

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.

There’s a deeper wisdom to be found on the other side of Deep Rest. But! The rivalrous dynamics of our current system disincentivise any active pursuit of it—for wisdom is an existential threat to most business models. This is why philosophy—the love of wisdom—is so difficult to maintain within the context of capitalism.

Sophia

I do love Sophia so, but gosh she is a Bad Influence on us. The more time you spend in her company, the less inclined you’ll be to ‘hustle’. The less you’ll care about vanity metrics, or the accumulation of new trinkets. The less you’ll care about winning the game most-everyone else is playing; the game that’s perpetuating our metacrisis, and creating the generator-conditions for exploitation and extinction.

But what’s worse: the more you hang out with Sophia, the more you’ll find yourself caring about others, the path we are on, and the role you might play. This is a terrible alchemy.

I jest. It’s not so bad. It just means playing a different game; the infinite one.

This game runs on different metrics.* The goal is not to win but to continue the play, in the direction of flourishing. For all-of-life.

* There are none.

To elucidate, here’s a favoured excerpt from Hanzi Frienacht’s The Listening Societya book I continue to appreciate as profound. I share this with you because this encapsulates an element of the developmental progress that is available to us (and, likewise, denied to us if we don’t allow ourselves the dark patches of Deep Rest that allow for reflection, introspection and integration).

There is a great fabric of relations, behaviours and emotions, rever­be­rating with human and animal bliss and suffering, a web of intimate and formal rela­tions, both direct and indirect. Nasty whirlwinds of feedback cycles blow through this great multidimensional web, pulsating with hurt and degradation. My lacking human development blocks your possible human development. My lack of understanding of you, your needs and perspectives, hurts you in a million subtle ways. I become a bad lover, a bad colleague, a bad fellow citizen and human being. We are inter­connected: you cannot get away from my hurt and wounds. They will follow you all of your life—I will be your daughter’s abusive boyfriend, your bellig­erent neighbour from hell. And you will never grow wings, because there will always be mean bosses, misunderstanding families and envious friends. And you will tell yourself that is how life must be.

But it is not how life has to be. Once you begin to be able to see the social-psychological fabric of everyday life, it becomes increasingly appar­ent that the fabric is relatively easy to change, to develop. Metamodern politics aims to make every­one secure at the deepest psych­ological level, so that we can live authentically; a byproduct of which is a sense of meaning in life and lasting happiness; a byproduct of which is kindness and an increased ability to cooperate with others; a byproduct of which is deeper freedom and better concrete results in the lives of everyone; a by­product of which is a society less likely to collapse into a heap of atrocities.

All of this sounds like co-creating a world more curious and kind (and a future less grim). I’m so down for this.

Anyway—I’ve lost the thread of this museletter, hoho lol. I’m meant to be sharing with you the “How to Dispel the Dark Cloud”.

Well, I don’t think dispelling it is quite the angle we ought to take. Because, in hindsight, it is something we can be grateful for. But we still want to move through it. And so, as a general principle, it’s good to remember:

Everything has its season,
all exists in oscillation.

If you find yourself in a dark patch; if The Dark Cloud looms heavily upon you, here are three things that worked for me (this time). They might work for you, too.

i) Nature

You cannot think your way out of a funk.

This is so vexing to those of us who relish in thought. Yet even we hermit-wizards must get out for a stroll. Or, better yet: a hike. Time immersed in the wilderness. Time and physical exertion enough to burn through the monkey-mind chatter and surface-level rackets we subconsciously maintain.

There were moments when, in the deep of winter, after days of hiking, I would get up in the middle of the night simply to appreciate the vastness. The stars glimmered so bright—enough that distant nebulae could be perceived. And there was a crispness to the air; a light breeze that made the heathland move as alive. And I felt that sense of at-one-ness; coupled with a deep felt-sense that everything is going to be okay.

I can’t explain it; but I highly recommend it. Even to find a patch of wilderness locally—as best you can—to sit with and be.

The dangerlam and I have a habit of meditating upon a rock in the middle of The Birrarung (aka “the river of mists and shadows”). Find your place; attend to it, and attune. Become nature. It’s in your nature because you are nature.

ii) Nurture

We co-create each other. You were never an island.

Yet my default—when going through The Dark Cloud—is to withdraw, isolate, and go deep-hermit mode. To pretend to be alone upon my island. It kinda works for me as way to cope—but we all need to have our hermetic bubble benevolently disrupted by friends, on occasion.

What I really sought, though—and what really helped—were friends to sense-make with. Properly grappling with the implications of the metacrisis (and our complicity)—without grasping for The Naïve Progress Narrative, simplistic (not simple) affirmations, or defaulting to blind faith in humanity, science, the market, big tech, billionaire schemes, etcetera—requires curiosity, negative capability, living systems acuity, poetic sensibilities, and a kind of warm perspicacity that is seemingly so rare these days.

The Rekindling* serves this purpose. Verily, this gathering of bright minds and warm hearts has been an absolute boon in my own ventures through the dark. The folks that this event attracts are collapse-aware.°

* Co-hosted with my friend and co-conspirator Paul Kearney.
° They’re also, I am quite sure, anti-racist, anti-genocide, and abhor the thought of children being tortured, maimed or killed. Good people, all.

So, what worked for me: a nurturing, sense-making community that gathers in real life not just to sense-make, but to inadvertently cultivate kinship.

The essence of this is nurturing friendship.

I previously had a weekly ritual of squash with friends followed by a pint at a pub. It was only once we all moved on to different parts of the world that I realised just how important this was for my own vitality and spirit. Also: there is seemingly a worrying trend where adults don’t have many friends (and don’t spend regular time with friends in real life). This is something all of us could do better to actively nurture.

iii) Notsure

The third element that helped me through the dark is something I’m not sure about. But there’s something enlivening to be found in the ambiguity and the mystery of it.

What I allude to—which has been a theme of late—are what could be described as mythic and mythopoetic sensibilities.

They were something I warmed to, very much, as a child. But then in my 20s I kind of ‘grew out of them’ (or so I thought), and had many years successfully purporting myself to be rational and “science-based”. In my early 30s I began to consider the mythic as a novel ‘aesthetic’. Calling myself “a wizard” was infinitely preferable to calling myself a “thought leader”, a “futurist” or a “consultant”. The archetype of wizard was much more enlivening and expansive; the mythic quality to it that appealed to me. And still does.

In my mid-30s I began to appreciate mythic qualities from an intellectual perspective. Oh the coordination-amidst-complexity that can be guided by myth! The sincere-ironic millennial management science of lore. Those shapeshifting yet eternal principles, and those ‘beautiful lies that tell deeper truths’.

“Myths, told for their own sake, are not stories that have meanings, but stories that give meanings,” writes James P. Carse in Finite and Infinite Games. And meaning was what I—the champion of meaningful progress—sought.

In my late-30s—that is, just a few years ago, aka the dark times, of bushfires, pandemics, systemic racism, moral apathy and genocides, mass extinctions, rising inequality, rising existential risk, a distraction economy and the metacrisis—I was awakened to ‘the meaning crisis’ via Professor John Vervaeke’s stellar course. There was a kind of coalescing of elements that highlighted, to me, the limitations of rational thinking alone. It opened me to the notion of rational-and.

And so, in my now early 40s, I find myself baffled.* So much I had once scoffed at and dismissed now speaks mumbles to me. In language to which I have no defence.°

* “The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry
° That’s David Whyte—“Poetry is language against which you have no defence”.

Where once my rational mind would objectively and dispassionately assess our current trajectory—enough to question the point of hope—now I read Palestinian poets like Mahmoud Darwish.

“Hope is not the opposite of despair,” he writes. “It is a talent.” And “suffering is not a talent” but a test of it. And indifference is “one aspect of hope”.

If hope is a talent, I’m not sure I am very skilled at it. But it is a skill worth developing.


All of this is to say that, without the Deep Rest I may not have so earnestly reconnected with nature. Without the Deep Rest I may have continued to take friendships and scenius for granted. And without the Deep Rest I may have remained within my rational confines, blind to the deeper wonders that give [a warm, wisened, weathered and sometimes twisted kind of] hope.

We’ll be exploring themes of poetry, myth and even “magic”* in our next gathering of The Rekindling (tonight!). I also know that many of you are located well beyond the locale of Melbourne. Please know: I intend to host some online gatherings sometime soon, so stay tuned for that.

* I had previously referred to magic as “emergent phenomena that exists at orders of complexity beyond our reckoning”. Recently, I’ve been indulging in the metamodern wizard Layman Pascal’s definition of ‘xagick’: “Xagick is the focused use of somatic and affective stimulation, intentionality & semantic suggestiveness to responsively organize emergent, contextualized patterns of human experiential unfolding into “enchanting” zones of transjectivity and synchronicity. // Through adaptation to those zones, sapient beings can cultivate a new indigeneity and organic hierophantic agency relative to subconscious, unknown and/or unintelligible forms of causality and communication. // These procedures operate via particular neurophysiological states. They also involve a sensitized retro-teleological reconsolidation of our multiple intelligences in the present moment such that we orient toward hyper-futures that are interpreted as already implicit within the indefinite imaginal extension of our currently expressed gestures of meaningfulness. // What? // Exactly.”


Thank you for indulging me in my public therapy, hoho. These kinds of museletters always give me a vulnerability hangover. I really ought be only presenting the warm charismatic authority-aspect of my persona, instead of this mere human aspect. Next time!

Still, some of you have been with me for more than a decade. I feel comfortable to write to you as a friend. I hope that there have been some glimmers amidst this for you.

With warmth,
Jason

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