Softening Sadness

February 7, 2012

I recently returned from a two-week teaching and lecturing trip to Australia. After one of the sessions a woman approached me and asked if I had a few minutes to talk.   she confided in me that,  although she does do things from which she gains a lot of enjoyment, she often feels sad and isn’t sure exactly why. She went on to tell me that she sometimes gets frustrated because the reason for the sadness is not clear, and that fact sometimes adds to the frustration and creates even more sadness.

During the consultation, we talked about the thoughtfulness practice of ‘feeling the feeling.’  In this practice, the purpose is to remove any resistance from receiving the messages that your subconscious or unconscious body/mind is attempting to send you through the conduit of emotions and feelings. Ironically, it is often our resistance to undesirable feelings that produces the majority of our suffering,  this concept is at the core of many spiritual teachings, primarily Buddhism.

As I asked her questions about the feeling and about what she was doing about it, she did seem to understand the dynamics in which she was engaging. She seemed to acknowledge that, even though she couldn’t identify the reason for the sadness, she was unable to prevent the feeling from taking over.

My recommendation was that she set aside some time, when she could focus and be undisturbed, to allow herself to feel the feeling and even invited  it into her being, thereby allowing it to flow in and through her. I explained that it is often our resistance to negative feelings that creates the dynamic of tension–two forces working in opposition to each other.

I recommended that she focus on the feeling and try to identify where it manifests in her body. We often feel sadness in our chest and/or abdomen, although not exclusively so. I invited her to explore the feeling and to ask it, as you would a child,  “What can I do for you?” or  “What’s wrong?”  By meeting the feeling of sadness with compassion, we can tear down the system of tension and suffering, opening up a dialogue with ourselves that can lead to greater peace and well-being.

By the end of our conversation her mood seemed quite a bit brighter. She was smiling and had a certain sense of lightness about her. She assured me she would try the thoughtfulness practice, even if, and especially when, she wasn’t in the mood to do so!

It’s completely understandable, but in today’s world of Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, that one would feel the pressure to always be  “up” and “cheerful.”  The reality is, everyone feels sad some of the time–for various reasons. There’s nothing wrong with feeling sad. In fact, feelings always have a purpose–to inform us of what might be going on in our subconscious. It’s only when we are unable to cope with these feelings and when they cause us further suffering that we need a more functional approach.

The next time you’re feeling sad for ‘no reason,’  try using the thoughtfulness practice of “feeling the feeling” and see if it makes a difference. The only thing you might have to lose is a little bit of your sadness.

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