Sadness isn’t something that comes naturally for me. It’s something I’ve had to learn how to feel, recognise, and experience. This article is very much about my own experience of sadness. You may well experience it differently, in fact, you probably do.
Habits formed in my early years mean that anger comes more easily, even when I’m actually sad underneath (see part 2: Geek Rage for more on this mechanism). For years, I was unable to access my sadness without first having massive anger, fits of temper, and raging. As the anger wore itself out, the sadness could poke its head through the surface and let me know that it was there. Under the storm lay an exquisite pain, a pain masked by the writhing anger above.
The intensity of geek emotions can make sadness intensely, intensely painful. The agony of it. The sheer sharpness and depth to which it penetrates. The ice-like cuts and stabs.
And the detail of it: the specific sadness about this, the grief for that, the bittersweetness of yet something else in your experience.
Sadness, in Buddhist thought, is the emotional response to being separated from that which is loved, or to being in contact with that which is unloved. Grief, dismay, unhappiness.
When my Grandma was in her final years, I went to see her every few months when I was in her area. Each time we said goodbye, I didn’t know if it would be the last goodbye or not. We didn’t know if she’d make it until the next visit. We didn’t talk about this, either.
When it came to our actual, final goodbye, it had been obvious for a few weeks that she was on her pathway out. And yet the mental and emotional preparation of the years before meant that I’d already gone partway through the grief process. Saying goodbye each time, a little death each time, a little grief each time.
It’s very often complex. Grief and relief. Sadness that the good times have gone. Grief for the good times that never were, or never will be. Relief for the end of difficult times. Relief that a loved one’s suffering has come to an end, too. Relief that you escaped a relationship that was slowly killing your spirit.
There’s the grieving for what never was, too. The grief for the well-parented childhood you didn’t have, the friendships which never blossomed as you’d hoped for, the dreamed-of marriage and kids that evaporated when the relationship went south.
As each door closes, my Grandma used to say, another one opens.
And yet. When the door closes, there is grieving to be done for what lies behind it. Even when that new door opens onto wonderful things, what lies behind must be grieved for.
Grief for the ideal birth you couldn’t give your child, even though your child is a wonderful, healthy and amazing being. A sense of loss inside: the loss of the ideal birth you were hoping for.
Grief for the career path you never took, even though the path you did take has been nourishing, nurturing, and full of treasures for you to share with the world. A missing-out on life, the life that so many of your friends are living.
On an energic level, grief is the process of disconnecting from what you love. Each tendril of connection is severed, or dwindles, or dissolves as grief passes through you, doing its job.
When you encounter a change, a passing-on of circumstances, people, or opportunities, be aware of what you are separated from that you loved.
Allow yourself to feel into the separation, feel into the gap that lies between you and what you love, what you would have loved.
Let the pain rise through you: like a pinprick, a jolt of static, a stabbing knife, a spear that runs through you. Bear only what you can bear at the moment – don’t force it or get stuck in it. Go to the edge of your pain only for as long as you can bear it. Rest, recover and do things which bring you healthy relief and joy in between.
When feel the sadness, really feel it – feel how much you loved and how much it hurts to let it go.
Let it hurt, let it flow, let it ebb and change, let it change you.
You can only grow from this, if you let yourself pass through it.