In the age of sails, crossing the equator was a treacherous thing. You risked the extremes of squalls, thunderstorms and hurricanes or worse, no wind at all. More than one vessel spent days or weeks caught in The Doldrums, languishing in the sweltering heat of the equatorial sun, praying for a breath of wind.
“Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes the Doldrums thus in the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
But the doldrums have a psychological counterpart as many know all too well. They can be a season of languishing with no motivation or drive. It’s a hard season of life to be in. Family and friends can become concerned. No amount of being told to “snap out of it” ala Cher in Moonstruck can shake you out of it.
So what’s person to do? Here’s a couple of suggestions:
1. Accept it as a normal part of life. To expect to be constantly up is unrealistic. Yes, there are optimistic people who seem always to see the up side and be positive. But even they have moments of quiet and feel down from time to time. But many of them move through it quickly and are able to do so because they allow themselves to have these feelings and process them as they arise.
Driven personalities rarely allow themselves to even admit to having down thoughts or slow times. They power through and seem to dominate but end up paying the price for it in brokenness; broken marriages, broken families, broken health. It is true that life evens itself out. For every inhale there must be an exhale. Rest denied is rest postponed but rest will come. The question is whether you rest in the hospital after the heart attack or. . .
2. Embrace rest. In Western culture we think of life as linear and speak of constantly “going forward”. We are divorced and insulated from the natural world around us. As a result, we have lost or ignored the truth of the seasons which is that life is cyclical not linear.
Say for a moment that I am a plant and decide one bright sunny September day that this year I will ignore Fall and move forward into new growth regardless of the temperature. The result will be that Jack Frost will take not only the new growth I have put forth but probably my life as well. The hemorrhage of frozen foliage will drain me of my life blood. Or. . .
I can embrace rest. If I feel drained and fatigued I will nap. I will keep early bedtimes. Physical exertion will be gentle and in moderation. New projects may be postponed and I will do only what is needed to maintain my life. I will also delay making any life changing decisions.
Like the Winter, eventually this will pass and a season of renewed vigor will come and energize us into productivity which is the third suggestion.
3. Understand that this too will pass. Life is comprised of seasons each of which has a distinct purpose. We ignore this truth at our peril. What is debilitating today will be motivating later. What is lacking today will be supplied in abundance later. Only a very few things last forever, most come and go cyclically. Not only must I accept this season, I must know in my heart of hearts that it will pass when it has accomplished its work.
4. Resume slowly. Spring comes gradually and often we emerge from the doldrums in much the same way. As you feel your energy resurge, choose wisely how you invest it. Refuse to “play catch up”, instead take time to organize, evaluate and prioritize, then act.
Choose more wisely and you will reap the benefits of your season of doldrums. Choose unwisely and you will come quickly back to the same place. It isn’t very comforting but it is true that most people don’t live 70+ years, they live the same year 50 or 60 times, ironically, never truly moving forward.