Renewal from the Deep

This post was originally published on the excellent, as part of my monthly creative practice colum

A friend reminded me recently of some lines of poetry:

...While the tide pursues
its known slow-turning
seas and season dredging up
renewal from the deep...

I remember exactly where I was when I composed those lines, in 2017 or 2018. I remember the low tide inside me as the winter sun dropped and faded in a clear-green sky. 

It was my standard sort of low tide: compounded of a little melancholy, my body’s natural late-afternoon ebb, and the building tension of a human spirit that had recently discovered a sense of existential terror, made visible on a national and a planetary scale. 

So I wrote those lines from hope. From trust in the turning tides and seasons I have lovingly observed my whole life — which continue to cycle and renew, even as their forms are changing. 

Today I heard those lines as affirmation. 

I haven’t felt much for months. (If you aren’t counting despair and helplessness, and anger, when I can reach that far.) I’ve been mired, unfocused, disorganized in a way that doesn’t respond to productivity tools. I’ve been confused and forgetful, uninterested in activities I supposedly love, and exhausted in a way that sleep could not repair. I’m been coming to understand why people say that depression is an illness. It feels like one. I found this great metaphor: the weird energy-sucking flu.

I can see it’s taking me a while to work up to this, even in print. What if I’ve misread the signs? What if I jinx it? My brain also tends toward anxiety, which is superstitious.

Mary Oliver reminded us: “Joy is not made to be a crumb.” So here it goes: my depression, at last, is lifting. The tide, as it always does, is slowly turning. From depths uneasy to fathom, renewal is welling up. 

Of course I want to know why. I want to learn the formula, so I can apply it to myself, or someone else, in the unknowable future. I want to distill a series of practical, numbered lessons from this experience. I want them right now. 

Lesson number one: nope. Better lean in to that Mystery — capital M — because it’s one of life’s few constants. And it’s not bent on handing out answers. Responses, yes: Mystery speaks all the time. But answers? Doors you can label and lock and walk away from? Not in my experience.

So I’m asking, and I’m listening, and I do hear a response: commitment. Or maybe faith. Or maybe: movement. 

The shift feels sudden. A week and a half ago, I was crying at a frequency and volume I literally could not control. I did not want to die, but I had no phrase as strong as that to express how I did feel. This happened for 24 hours, with a brief, exhausted plummet into sleep somewhere in the middle. I do not recommend the experience. 

And also: I’m beginning to suspect it of functioning as what a friend who does energy work refers to as “the healing crisis.” If you look that up on the internet, you’re going to get a lot of discussion about homeopathy and detoxing, both which I regard with mild skepticism. But I accept the metaphor. There’s a whole lot of new and energetic movement in my life lately. I started it intentionally, some weeks before the Abysmal 24. Quite quickly after this crisis, I am feeling enormously more myself.

What is this intentional movement? I thought what I needed was to move out of my house. And in a longer-term sense, to break up with my landscape. I suspect I do still need those things. But they’re not available to me right now. 

So I traveled. This was also not available to me before. But I got my vaccines and I packed my masks, and in the brief window before the delta variant slammed us backwards, I took myself on a pair of roadtrips, bracketing a two-week sojourn in my southern California home-landscape. 

I walked on the beach. I drove a lot of backroads. I sat outside and sipped the ocean breeze. I spent time with very dear humans.

At the same time, I started a course — the kind contained in a book, that you do by yourself — designed to “unblock” my creativity. 

I did not feel blocked; I was writing. And I did not trust this course: too many people rave about it, in terms too glowing to uncritically accept. It has an undeniably airy-fairy feel. But something had to give. The famous book was sitting in my favorite Little Free Library one morning. I picked it up, read the introduction, rolled my eyes, let it lie for a week. Packed it on my journey south, and started doing the exercises. 

An astonished line about floodgates probably goes here. My left eyebrow is still permanently raised — and I’m still working on the course — so I’ll hold off on the rave reviews. But I can say this: energy is moving. 

For months I have not made regular time to journal, wander in solitude, or pursue most of the other non-art things from which I and the great Mystery weave my creative being. Since I committed wholly to these two big journeys, however — the inner, the outer — I have felt a responsive whoosh, like the very wind. It is returning something essential to me. I am returning something essential to me. Though I could not do it alone.

I said this shift felt sudden. It is not just the journeys. Those have provided the push, but first I needed to find enough faith to undertake them. 

In the way of much stochastic change, the timing and nature of this one could not be predicted, but that it would occur absolutely could be. It was nutured and encouraged over time, and it’s this encouragement, these tiny movements faithfully pursued, that I think can be identified, and seen to predict the dramatic, tangible transformation.

What kind of encouragement? Small stuff. Baseline stuff. Stuff that sounds easy but turns out to be incredibly hard to practice with consistency. Sleeping enough, exercising daily, seeing a kind and helpful therapist. Eating to nourish, not to restrict or reward. Scheduling dependable quality time with your dearest ones. Writing a little on the regular, even when it isn’t going anywhere. Giving yourself a whole lot of breaks. 

In fact, this stuff was easy for me (well, except the eating part), but then I got depressed, and it was hard, and it felt stupid to keep doing it so doggedly for months, when it exhausted me even to think about, and it wasn’t helping. 

But it was helping. I kept the faith by action when I could not keep the feeling. So I was there for me when something deep said: create movement. And I was there for me when that movement began to work at levels both deep and superficial. 

Please don’t take this as an instruction manual. I am not a therapist. I am not even an expert on having depression. The kind of depression I had was the situational sort, which is distinct from the persistent demon. I am not peddling a cure. 

But I do think there is some healing to be sought in the sorts of things a creative practice teaches. 

Knowing (or finding out) how to nourish youself. 

Showing up for those things every day, whether the output is brilliant or not. 

Checking in with the work and with yourself. 

Knowing when it’s time to push. 

Following your intuition, even when it’s pointing you out into the wild ocean.

Holding on for the ride, and trusting you and the ocean are both doing the best you can. Paying attention to the deeps that are moving — slowly, invisibly, unstoppably. Knowing they are bringing you some kind of renewal.

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