Image: Francois Peladeau / Instagram
Out for tea with a good friend; she asks how I am.
Me: “You know, actually, today I’m a little sad. I got an email this morning with some bad news that was really disappointing, and one of my colleagues resigned today and I’m really going to miss her.”
Friend: “Oh, well I’m sure you’ll still keep in touch, right? And you still have other people at work? Atleast you’ve still got your job.”
This happens a lot, and I need to say upfront that I know it’s well-intentioned. Sadness can be uncomfortable to be around and when you see someone you love feeling sad it’s very natural to want to move them out of it. Especially in a world that does not really embrace Sadness.
We are a culture that is chasing happiness. If I look at my Facebook feed on any given day there will be atleast 5 articles on happiness (How to be happier in 5 simple steps, How to raise happy kids! 10 things the happiest people do every day, etc). And while wanting to be happy is not a terrible thing, the side effect is that we are avoiding and repressing all of our other emotions.
Anger is bad, grief is only tolerated for so long, and we apologize for crying!
Here’s what happens when we repress our emotions – they get stuck and make us sick, or they come out another time (sometimes very inopportune moments, like crying at work when your boss gives you tough feedback, or screaming at the customer service rep who won’t help you fix your cell phone bill).
We watched “The Bridge to Terabithia” at family movie night this past weekend, and I sobbed through the ending. Granted it’s a sad moment, but I was doing a full body ugly cry. I’m pretty sure I scared Lily. Now, was all of that sadness for the movie? Probably not. I’ve seen this movie before and didn’t cry that much. It was probably some unfelt sadness that decided to come out at that moment.
“Sadness helps you slow down, feel your losses, and release that which needs to be released – to soften into the flow of life instead of holding yourself rigidly and pushing ever onward……When you welcome your healing sadness and your tears and release that which must be released, you’ll feel freer, lighter, and more focused in every part of yourself. This is probably the most important thing to understand about sadness: If you truly let go of your outdated attachments, you’ll be rejuvenated and revitalized by its healing flow.”
– Karla McLaren, “The Language of Emotions”
This morning I woke up to the second day of yellow skies and smoke filled air from the BC forest fires. I am deeply sad about what’s happening in BC and Saskatchewan right now. And this is where the work comes in – discerning what the emotion is telling you.
Sadness asks us “What must be released? What must be rejuvenated?”
I don’t think my sadness is telling me to let go of the homes and lives lost in the fires (although that might be the case if it was my home being burnt to the ground). I think my sadness is asking me to let go of my sense of sheltered security.
The trouble with living a relatively safe and sheltered life is that when something like this happens it’s quite jarring. This is all around me – it’s not on the news where I can shut it off and walk away when it gets too uncomfortable. The environmental impacts of the decisions we have been making as a culture are directly impacting me now, and I am feeling so sad. I’m sad I don’t feel sheltered and safe anymore. This is what needs to be released.
Notice within yourself right now – how do you feel about what I just wrote? This is an invitation for you to practice feeling into sadness. Don’t brush it off, don’t go to gratitude yet. Just feel it for a minute.
Cry if you feel like it. Notice where you feel sadness, or anger, or grief in your body. Just feel.
Our capacity to be with our own emotions, to really feel them and allow them to move through us at their own pace, is an integral piece to living a whole, full life.
This is what it means to be human.