Katabasis as a catalyst for change

Sometimes it takes a lot to get us to see change in our lives. We need a catalyst, or a katabasis. Katabasis is a term that comes to us from Ancient Greek. It means a descent or retreat. It has been used to describe everything from a military retreat to a descent to the underworld to a descent into a personal hell.

Make no mistake on the military roots of this term. When we feel we are under attack, we retreat to safety. Sometimes physically, sometimes mentally. Sometimes both. We don’t live in Ancient Greek. We live in the modern times, and that means katabasis looks like depression. It’s a retreat when we’re under attack from the stresses of everyday life.

Mostly a human thing.

Carl Jung analysed Picasso with the idea of katabasis in mind, noting that should find a cave of initiation and knowledge to know all parts of themselves.  As Dr. Michael Vannoy Adams, a Jungian psychoanalyst and licensed clinical social worker in private practice in New York City, noted it’s a way for our subconscious to get our attention and balance out the conscious part of our being.

We all get down from time to time about things, and the low will start to override our lives. That’s the descent.

student loan collectors, education mafia, loan sharks

I was there not too long ago. I needed to make some difficult financial decisions for Insanitek as I’m willing it to grow. It’s a balance between incoming clients, people to work with them, and being able to ensure that any new employees we bring on will have stable work. At the stage that Insanitek is in, I can’t afford to cock it up. There just isn’t the money for that margin of error.

During the time I was trying to work this out and feeling the stress, student loan companies are calling me several times a day, every day, interrupting work to inform me they are going to take all of my tax returns to pay for the interest on the loans and ask for me to pay more money now.

There’s more but that was enough to lead to sleepless nights pacing my living room, exhausted days, and a gradual slide into depression. I only came out of it when I hit “fuck it” and stopped caring. I can’t work more than my current 80 hours a week, and they won’t stop calling demanding all the money right now.

Katabasis is not necessarily a bad thing.

Although the epics are largely works of fiction, they have a theme that rings true in reality. They talk about the lows teaching us lessons about life while giving us new skills to push past the boundaries we got comfortable with.

katabasis, change, do it

What could I possibly learn about working too hard and still not being able to make personal ends meet AND make Insanitek grow? Well, I could bitch and whine about how unfair the world is, but ya’ll know I don’t roll that way or even condone rollin’ that way.

I learnt how to budget, live well below my means, and make really hard decisions without apology.

I learnt that I’m stronger than exhaustion, desperation, and depression. I learnt that it’s OK to take the occasional an afternoon nap to refresh my resolve. I learnt that this is a long game, and the only way to play is to give yourself a little flexibility with a whole lot of discipline.

I learnt that little things, like making my bed and prepping food for a week can make the difference between a good day and a really shitty one. I learnt that being nice to people makes a huge difference, too.

It’s no wonder that Jung wrote “katalysis” (catalyst) in his analysis of what happens to people when they go into their cave. A change, brought on by a catalyst, is definitely going to happen.

Embrace the challenges, emotional turmoil and all.

Life has a tendency to toss you about. Embrace it, grow with it, and remember that you can always make your retreat a tactical one.

What was a katabasis you’ve undergone? What was the change at the end?