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Mindful : February 2017
Honoring Sadness The invitation, the mindful approach, is to pause long enough to con- sider not only the immediacy of the moment of sadness but also how much we valued the thing we lost, the thing we didn’t get, or the thing that changed against our will. If we didn’t get the job or the promotion, sadness might signal how much we value our contributions to work. Perhaps sad- ness is reminding us of how much we need warm, supportive friendships when we lose one. When we realize how quickly our children are growing up, sadness informs us how deeply in love we are with these little beings and reflects our own tender hearts that treasure our connections and our responsibilities. This isn’t simply “looking on the bright side,” but instead it is remind- ing us why we care. If we don’t care about something, we aren’t really sad when we lose it. In a similar manner, we can learn to have a less painful relationship with sadness. And it begins by—to what- ever degree we’re able—befriending these difficult feelings when they arrive. One way to do this is to rec- ognize that we are suffering in these moments and are also worthy of com- fort, of soothing, of self-compassion. Most of us are great at taking care of others, but when it comes to us, we deny ourselves that same compassion. What if we were able, when the blues arrive (as they inevitably do in every life), we could comfort ourselves in the same way we would comfort a friend in their place of feeling down? What would we say to them, what might we do, what tone of voice would we use? Could we possibly say, “This is SO hard and I know it’s painful. I’m here for you.” Could we make our- selves a cup of tea and simply allow ourselves to be with the sadness that is here? Just like with a friend, we would offer this compassion not to get rid of the pain, but simply because the mood is uncomfortable. By being kinder to ourselves in times of difficulty, we shift the rela- When we live in that distorted world of shame—“I am uniquely bad and flawed and therefore unlovable”—sad- ness can lead us to isolation, rumina- tion, and depression. So, making the sadness about how uniquely bad we are is not a helpful way to go about things. We are wallowing in sadness, making an occupation out of it. At the other end of the spectrum, we can deny sadness. “Get over it,” we’re quick to tell ourselves. “Suck it up, buttercup.” It’s no big deal. I didn’t really care that much anyway. The thing is, though, we know that what we resist, persists. Ever tried to NOT worry? How did that work out? It’s possible to bypass our painful feelings, to erect a semi-permanent roadway that goes around, or tunnels under, or rises over, the bad stuff. But this only creates a superficial calm and composure, with a volcanic ulcer developing underneath. Someday it will give way. When it comes to sadness, as with any emotion that makes us uncom- fortable, feel vulnerable, or otherwise imposes itself in our days and lives without our permission, there’s a middle way: Letting go of resistance, and without wallowing and indulging in it, simply acknowledging the truth of the situation: I tried and it still didn’t work. It happened and it hurts. I’m disap- pointed. I’m scared. I’m lonely. During my divorce, I discovered that when I approached my sadness with tenderness, it actually helped keep me focused. I felt calmer as a result. Sadness was powerfully helpful and effective in fact, when I let it be there, with less fighting. Sadness was what tempered my anger when I wanted to lash out, to say the hurtful thing or take the action that I couldn’t take back. When I could take moments to truly admit that sadness was present for me, it allowed me a pathway back to myself; to the person I truly am and know myself to be: A man who simply wishes to be happy and free from suffering. tionship we have with the suffering from one of avoidance and resistance, to one of acceptance and kindness. By softening our relationship with a feeling that is already here, that then allows us to turn toward it with some degree of curiosity and willingness to see what it’s saying to us. To hear our own inner wisdom emerge from the shadows of sadness. Treating my sadness with gentle- ness and respect, I could admit that I had loved my wife and had the best of intentions for our union. That in turn allowed me to look myself in the mir- ror and simply treat myself (and her, on many occasions) with kindness for the hardship of divorce. When we let go of needing an uncomfortable feeling to go away, we find we can meet it more fully and listen when it says, “this matters to me.” This is far from wallowing, ruminating, or generally getting lost in our sadness, taking it personally and making it our own monumental project or cross to bear. It’s honoring our unique journey through life: the loves and losses, the hopes and disap- pointments equally. And really, would we want anything else? In sadness, we can learn to simply appreciate the presence of this little bout of suffering as a reflection of our wholeness and our humanness. ● PHOTOGRAPHBYGETTYIMAGES/JASPERJAMES We can learn to have a less painful relationship with sadness. It begins by befriending difficult feelings when they arrive. February 2017 mindful 49 inner life