One of my favorite cartoons online is called “How to Adult” features a man picking out a tie, making macaroni, exercising…then sitting in a chair with a stressed look on this face with the words “don’t let the existential dread set in.” So then he gets up and vacuums the rug (see cartoon below). Everytime I see it I laugh, and then cry a little. It hits a little too close to the human experience, or at least the human experience I'm working to integrate.
In graduate school one of my professors would often use the word “gravitas,” the first time he said it was the first time I had ever heard the word. I immediately felt my body sink closer to the Earth, like gravity. The word felt heavy…heavy like grief--or depression, or melancholy. Heavy like being human.
Heavy like the parts of being human that spiral into existential dread and meaninglessness. Where it is 3 a.m. and my life feels pointless. The sadness swallows me whole some nights, swallows me like the San Francisco fog I watch it from my window envelope the city…like a dragon or a snake.
Sometimes it doesn’t move so slowly and I don’t even noticed it has arrived until everything has lost its luster and I can't understand why I can't stand to be alone. On occasion I wake up and feel it inside, unsure of when it landed or if is left over from my dreams. I wouldn’t describe myself a sad person per say, but I have become more and more acquainted with the feeling grief and the depression it carries with it. More "acquainted" because there is an intimacy with self that I think can only happen in this heaviness.
It has taken me years to understand this feeling. Before I would sense it taking over and I would grab for sugar or caffeine, or go meet a friend, or go shopping. I’ve stopped avoiding the weight of existing. The cost of disassociating away from myself has gotten too high. The self-abandoning too often. No relationship, situation, amount of money will get rid of this. The years of spiritual bypassing taught me not to get stuck, and yet sometimes I need to be stuck. Stuck in this sadness and depression to find myself again, to come back down to Earth and feel the weight of being human.
Grief comes from Proto-Indo-European meaning "weight"…and has the same root as gravitas and gravity. The sensation of feeling so much it is hard to bear, like a weight in the shoulders, or entire body.
I’m carrying the heaviness in my bones--I don’t know whose it is or where it came from. It feels like my mother’s sadness and my father’s loneliness have taken residency inside of me and multiplied as chromosomes and DNA. It is simultaneously mine and not mine all at once. Sometimes it exists with joy and other emotions, though often it sits alone inside me as numbness.
And while sometimes the cause of the sadness is as mysterious as the fog, other times it is clear as day. The Earth is dying, animals are dying, children are in camps at the border. My romantic relationships end even when I want otherwise. I’m grieving all the things I don’t believe I can have or deserve – a loving relationship, a home, my health, children. I’m sad for the things that have yet to happen and have already occurred.
Archetypally this part of being is Saturn, the taskmaster and mature one. It sits at the bottom of my natal chart opposite my Moon as a weight into reality--if the astrological makes no sense to you, please ignore it and skip this paragraph. All of us have Saturn and the energies of Capricorn in our charts, but how and when it activates is the difference. And while I find knowing my chart helpful, and knowing this archetype has a deep relationship to my soul can help understand its blessings and burdens…there is no astrologizing out of this feeling. The answer is almost always to feel it or move more slowly. I don’t ever want to astrology myself out of Saturn, however, knowing my chart helps me negotiate how much I need to work with it.
Collectively we are going through an initiation of sadness/grief--more on that some other time--and knowing it personally feels as the only pathway to collective healing. So I know I need to keep going, keep sitting, keep feeling the existential dread and do my best not to vacuum the rug...again. My deepest fear is that this is actually who I am. It isn't how I see myself...I'm excited easily and enthusiastic, love adventure, a seven on the Enneagram I proclaim to myself! But a new story has emerged as I get older, an identity that is more grounded, secure, and also sad. More hybrid puelle and crone and less only young woman.
What becomes of unprocessed grief and emptiness? It sits, stagnantly at the bottom of the soul and rots alone. It makes me want to dig up the past or places of pain for another look. But often when I start to go there, it shows me the bones that are left, the rotting flesh gone, with only the memory of what it felt like.
When not tended to, grief becomes an overarching existential dread that haunts my dreams and waking life. An underlying desire to be alone because at least there it has more space to be. When it overtakes me, I used to attempt to function and pretend nothing was wrong, now I have cried more in public than I care to share.
Somedays, I don’t have the courage to face the grief or sadness, instead I avoid it through disassociation whether it be movies, sugar, or caffeine. It feels like too much to hold. It feels like my family who covers up pain with niceness. My unprocessed grief takes up space in my anger, depression that sneaks in when I’m alone and without distractions. It’s a loss of appetite, a sense of meaninglessness in being alive.
Suddenly, I am skeleton woman who has been brought up from the bottom of the ocean and I’m not sure I want to be above the surface. The coldness of underwater feels more satiating somehow than warmth that I can't relate to, I don’t believe it will help or heal. Fear of feeling this pain that has been here so long I don’t know how to release it. Afraid it won’t ever go away, that is me and I am it and it is forever.
Then often just as mysterious as it arrived, the heaviness goes away and I’m left with contentment in my solitude, and not sadness. The gravitas makes ways for lightness and love. The sweetness of small pleasures of existing. The desire to create something new, like a blog post, instead of staying in the stuckness.
Sometimes to it helps to sit quietly or spend time in nature with its stability. The season of Saturn and sadness may be winter, but internally I have accepted it is year round. There are many ways to lighten the load of the gravitas, sometimes it’s sharing with others what is going on behind my façade. Other times it means sitting still and sobbing. And other moments I move myself into some kind of motion, whether physical or into creation.
I’m learning to love the gravity of it, the gravitas of being human and the serious undertaking of existing. My fear of it no longer overtaking the stillness it offers, sometimes even welcoming the beauty of the foggy sadness. Yet knowing when to vacuum the rug, make macaroni (ew) and when to tend to my soul.