We all experience some things in life that have brought us to our knees. Whether it’s an illness, death, divorce, loss of a job or financial troubles, our uncontrollable situations can cause us great suffering and grief. At times, we feel sad for no discernable reason. It’s very similar to and often related to negative thoughts. Sadness comes from a lack of meaning and purpose, from a lack of hope, from fear of the future, or worry about loved ones. It’s part of the human condition that we naturally have the ability to feel blissful and melancholy and everything in between. This is a good thing.
My son, Rocco, is intelligent, sensitive, and very spiritual. He studies many different spiritual practices from Christianity to Buddhism. During a phone conversation, he told me that he was sad but okay. Parents worry when their children are unhappy, especially when they live far away. My first reaction was to jump on a plane and make darn sure he really was okay. Rocco was the first person to explain to me—his mother—that being sad is part of life and that it made him appreciate the good times even more. I asked Rocco to recall our conversation and if he would share a few sentences about his interpretation of our discussion. Here’s what he said.
Sadness is not the end. Sadness is the beginning of a deep understanding. It brings forth new awareness. You are shedding your emotional walls. To have sadness is to have awareness.
Think of sadness as water and our body as the earth. When it rains in dry places, it nourishes the land. Water is health. Water is already there. In fact, it makes up much more of us then we think about. Sixty percent of our bodies are water, and the world is made mostly of water.
In this metaphor, let it really sink in that emotion is water and it must be allowed to flow.
A big part of what happens to most people when sadness arises is that they judge it because Western culture has programmed us to believe that the only true state is euphoric happiness. As humans, we go through many states. We are constantly changing.
When we prevent the natural order of our emotional state we get in the way of the emotion trying to come through and happen, which will only clog us up and cause what I call “emotional constipation.” Perhaps we judged the environment we are in as inappropriate to express whatever deep, dark, emotional truth we are experiencing. If that’s the case, then leave. If a negative emotion comes up, wanting to be expressed, the inner depths of your humanity want to be represented. It reveals a scary truth: emotion is just story. It isn’t real. It is our perspective at that specific point in time. Once it passes, our emotion changes.
We have the choice in every moment of every day to accept this. We don’t have to wait for a silent place to contemplate or meditate; we can do it throughout the day. Simply bring your attention to your breath. No matter what is going on, bring your attention, your awareness to each inhalation. Be your own guiding light. Be your own best friend. Take the time to be there for yourself.
We are fragile creatures. Much of our internal progress has been with us since early childhood. If we were vulnerable then, we are vulnerable now. As adults, we have the ability to heal ourselves … to make a choice. Do you want to be happy? If the answer is yes, let go of whatever is inhibiting you. Build the life you want. Your life is the refuge from the weather of time. But there’s a hurricane outside and the wind is ablowin’. Let it blow. Buckle down. Stay warm. Find friends. Relationships act as a wonderful insulation to stay warm.
In my darkest nights, thinking about how bad things were was never helpful. While in the eye of the storm, the best path for me was to take action. There’s a voice inside us all that makes us think the end of the world is happening in our turbulent times. Don’t listen to that voice. We can’t always change things that make us sad or mad. Take a look at the pain and just breathe.
We must accept that sadness is a part of living, but that doesn’t make it easy. The most traumatic event I endured left me heartbroken and devastated. My hopelessness and anguish turned into depression. I found it difficult to function normally for several months. My eyes were constantly red and swollen from crying. There was a tightness in my chest and lack of energy in my step. My stomach was constantly in knots, and I couldn’t eat.
One day, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and almost didn’t recognize the person I had become. My smile and happy demeanor had turned sour. My brows were constantly furrowed, and I looked ten years older. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to snap out of this suffering state or it would ultimately affect my health.
The Buddhist faith holds that misery and a lack of happiness are natural states and that change is the only constant. Although change is often viewed as a negative, sadness can also be an opportunity in disguise. We think we have our lives planned, but then something dreadful happens that throws us off guard. Perhaps there is a greater reason for us to endure an occasional roller-coaster ride; it can help us determine exactly what we want and don’t want in our lives. And if you’ve ever been on a roller-coaster ride, you know there’s no getting off in the middle. At times, you better just hang on!
As I look back at some of the things that were devastating or disappointing in my life, I realize that by experiencing those turbulent times, I came to understand more about myself and I became stronger. But how do you get through the eye of the storm alive? Unhappiness (or sadness) stems from a lack of acceptance of reality. Take a few minutes to write about your obstacles, tribulations, or losses and what makes you sad. If you were your own psychologist or if you’ve been in therapy, what lesson can you learn from the grief you’ve experienced? Is there some sort of silver lining, something that has prompted to you to be more thoughtful or caring to yourself or others because of this tragedy? The sadness you endure may indeed help you become a stronger person with a more clear vision of what you want and don’t want in your life.