Working through Sadness
“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” –Buddha
As you may remember, my beloved Titan crossed the rainbow bridge a little over a week ago. Three days later, I drove to Northern Virginia to help my daughter get to doctors’ appointments in preparation for a “redo” neck fusion surgery. During the same period of time, I learned that a former colleague from my university died from cancer. And, like a nail in the coffin, I also was told that a dear friend’s husband has prostate cancer. As I drove home from my daughter’s house a few days later, I had to fight back tears as sadness rolled over me.
“From a survival perspective, it has been said that sadness was hardwired into us to keep us safe after significant loss. It is associated with a feeling of heaviness, sleepiness, and withdrawal from activity and social connections.” (Barbara Scoville, TinyBuddha.com) Certainly, I’ve had my share of sadness over the last few years – the deaths of both my parents, Jim’s mother, and two dogs. But, as I told my veterinarian, it never gets easier, no matter how many times you go through the process of loss and grief. Not a day has gone by over the last week that I haven’t either dissolved into tears or withdrawn to the bedroom and pulled the covers over my head.
Despite my bouts with sadness, I’ve soldiered on. I taught the third session of my workshop on mindfulness and meditation; I finished reading a couple of books for my book clubs; I engaged in some internet activism, and I carried on with routine daily tasks, such as cooking, housekeeping, and exercise. Life goes on, doesn’t it? And yet, in the back of my mind, I wondered, like so many times before, if that heavy rock I was dragging around with me, e.g. sadness, would ever go away.
It is hard to learn from sadness when one is in the midst of it, but in my sixty-plus years, I know from experience that time really does heal. Scoville offers the following:
What Can Be Learned from Sadness?
- Sadness can help clarify our identity by showing us what we value.
- If we are mindful of the visceral sensations of sadness, we become aware it is an emotion; it’s not who we are.
- It is a signal that we are processing something we don’t want to let go We can explore our attachments from a non-judgmental stance.
- As we become acquainted with sadness, we are able to have empathy for others, which strengthens our connections.
- We are better able to appreciate the good times when we have something to contrast it with.
- When we have the courage to handle sadness, we expand our capacity to handle other hard things.
- When we honor our sadness, we find that passing through it is expedited. (http://tinybuddha.com/blog/7-steps-to-move-through-sadness-and-what-we-can-learn-from-it/)
A few days ago, I received a card from our veterinarian. It was not like any sympathy card I’ve ever received. Inside, not only had every member of the office staff signed it, but everyone wrote a personal message of compassion – many including personal memories of Titan. The message from the doctor consisted of a full paragraph. Although I cried when I read it, it contained a gesture of empathy that has already helped me to move forward. I set up a place on a bookshelf for Titan’s ashes, with the card displayed on top of his beautiful redwood box.
Staying mindful, e.g. being in the here-and-now, helps us to work through sadness. Here are a few tips, adapted from those of Barbara Scoville:
- Identify the source of your sadness. When I blog about what makes me sad, the act of naming the source prevents me from keeping it a secret. Sharing the “secret” source of my sadness unburdens me and makes me feel “lighter.”
- Practice self-compassion. Loss and change are very real. As adults over sixty, most of us have encountered both in our lives. I allow myself to feel sad and I stay present with it as it occurs. If I start to become angry at my “misfortune” or begin to criticize myself for my reactions, I note that and return to the present moment. Being mindful means to unconditionally accept that everything changes; all life is impermanent. Acceptance allows me to manage life change more effectively.
- Paint a survivor’s picture. I find meaning in picturing myself being mindful and joyful again. This picture starts with experiencing a moment of happiness, noting it, and allowing the feeling to persist as long as I can. This morning, along with my cup of coffee, I played “fetch” with Chuck, my ball-obsessed Welsh Terrier. Instead of wondering how long it would take him to get tired, I just observed his unmitigated joy at finding and returning his squeaky ball to me. Dogs are masters at mindfulness and I surrendered myself to the happiness of participating in his joy.
I hope you enjoy this poem:
Hurt and Pain by Lora (January 2011)
Hurt and pain.
There’s much to gain.
Peace and love.
It’s all the same.
Confusion and doubt.
We’re not without.
We weep, we cry.
We plead, we try.
We laugh, we smile.
Only to be hurt
By one last trial.
Life is a lesson,
So learn it well.
Maybe, one day,
You can tell its tale.