Thursday, August 6, 2009

Zen & the Art of Rotten Mood

A good friend called the other day, a bit discouraged because she'd been visited by a couple of days of Rotten Mood, after having enjoyed a month's worth of Good Vibration. Although she didn't say so directly, I had the feeling that she was interpreting the Rotten Mood as a bit of personal failure, as perhaps an indication that her recent good stretch had been canceled. The good stretch had made her feel like she'd turned the corner in some way, so the return of Rotten Mood perhaps hinted at some sort of failure on her part——perhaps an indictment that her recent life changes weren't as valid as she hoped.

This got me to thinking about the role of Rotten Mood in my own life. LIke most people, I am periodically visited by Rotten Mood myself, so here are some personal reflections on my own reactions to it.

First, I don't think it makes sense to simply blow off Rotten Mood as inconsequential or meaningless, tempting though it may be. Rotten Mood that repeats frequently, or comes and stays for a long period of time, is called clinical depression, and this isn't something you can pretend doesn't exist. Rotten Mood seems to me like a natural form of pain response. Just as the burn impulse causes you to recoil from a hot stove, Rotten Mood needs to be acknowledged as a subtle form of pain. It exists as a natural response to some previous conditions, and basic intelligence dictates that we pay attention and learn from it. Rotten Mood, for example, may exist because we have worked ourselves into a state of exhaustion, and we need to cut it out. Or, it may exist because our brain is starved for some kind of nutrient it needs. Sometimes a handful of peanuts or a bit of Prozac might be in order. Rotten mood sometimes visits me after I drink wheat-based beer, for example, which is a signal for me to stop ingesting allergens. On even more subtle levels, Rotten Mood may be the result of a mental delusion or wrong belief. I've known those causes, too. Rotten Mood, like everything, has its causes.

It's also true, though, that Rotten Mood is only that——a mood. It has no particular concrete or permanent reality, and its entry in the encyclopedia doesn't have a photo attached to it, because there is nothing to point to. In very many instances Rotten Mood simply needs to be accepted for a short while until it decomposes and becomes resurrected in some other form——such as bemusement or even Good Vibration. I've noticed a somewhat paradoxical thing: fighting Bad Mood often seems to prolong it, while bland acceptance causes it to get bored. I viewed Rotten Mood as my own tragic failure for many years, which seemed to encourage it to sleep next to my bed, longing to be recognized.Once I gave it its own space, Rotten Mood no longer yells in quite the same way, but is fairly willing to yawn and stretch occasionally and watch TV in the den.


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