Over the past 2 years I waged a battle against sadness. Surrounded by ghosts in my waking life and stalked by nightmares in my sleep, I would do anything to outrun the heavy sadness pooling in my chest. It would begin to spread, filling my veins and coloring my mind's eye, and I would immediately push back- with hope, anger, apathy. If I could only focus on something, anything else, then I wouldn't fall into the valley I knew lay in wait for me.
When a hurricane starts raging through me, I need to take time to meditate, relax, process, and breathe the destructive winds out. There is one particular chapter of the Tao Te Ching that has helped me immensely:
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
This incredibly simple and yet astoundingly profound truth is sometimes the one thought stopping me from, quite frankly, punching a wall. Happiness and sadness create one another, they depend on each other, they define each other. When this truth started coming into focus for me, I wrote the following in my meditation journal:
I am beginning to understand how very important Balance is.
It has allowed me to give proper weight & appreciation to sadness.
One can be a truly happy person while also being deeply sad.
The two create one another.
To attempt to avoid sorrow would cheapen my joy, even if I never knew it.
It is necessary to grieve, necessary to be sad, in order to be whole.
Only the heart that has been broken can be truly open, I suppose.
If I run from sadness I will not find real happiness. I need the balance. When we're not open to joy and sorrow, we're denied both. It is quite easy to fall into the patterns of denial, to cultivate habits of avoidance, but this is ultimately harmful. If you don't want bad news about your health, then don't go to the doctor! Problem solved? Sadness will not be ignored. I've found that when I try to avoid sad memories, I end up being overly sad about petty issues later on, when the microwave breaks. Taking time to experience sadness has proven as important as taking time to revel in joy.
I’ve often heard people say “I don’t follow the news; it is too depressing.” But to acknowledge that things are so bad, and to turn from them- what is to be gained? You are spared hurt feelings? You are spared sadness on others’ behalf?
When I feel happy during a frivolous moment, e.g., at a concert or after buying new clothes, I can never seem to shake the echo of "you do not deserve this happiness." That whisper in my ear You can only afford this new dress because somewhere in the capitalist supply chain an impoverished person was taken advantage of, and while you stand here delighted at a performance, there are millions of people who will never have the luxury of claiming a favorite band.
As I'm learning to face and appreciate sorrow, I've felt the weight of that "first world guilt" lift, ever so slowly. By holding myself accountable for acknowledging the lives of others, whose poverty and powerlessness my luxury depends upon, I am made more aware of the balance between us. Holding ourselves accountable to our role in others' slavery allows us to make conscious decisions to live simply, so that others may simply live. Every time we choose convenience over community, we act as the oppressor. By holding myself accountable to that fact, I am able to find a better balance in appreciating big and small sadnesses, and in turn, big and small happinesses.
No one likes to talk about sorrow- “don’t dwell,” we are told. But things arise, we should let them come. When they leave, let them go. What else are we really to do? That is how they last forever.
Pangs of sadness used to stop me in my tracks until my mind would wildly spin off to grab hold of any other thought. But now, in allowing myself to accept the sadness flowing through me, I can also let it flow back out. Over time, the waters have begun to calm little by little. I've noticed a difference in my values as well, and my empathy. The frivolous habits I once utilized to avoid responsibility and introspection can now seem dull and unappealing. I read about mothers burying multiple children in south side Chicago and my heart breaks for them in a deeper way; the need for real reform and compassionate change is stronger, and deeper. I am motivated by this greater understanding of how we are all humans experiencing the same trials of life. It is better to think of "I" less, and understand it is "we."
Now that I have lost that which I feared losing most, I am left with the understanding that my loss is nothing new, & is an inevitable loss for everyone to ever live.
No one before me had answers I do not, and none after me will.
Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?
Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.