November 20, 2020

How Loving Sadness Waters the Roots of Happiness.

“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.” ~ Osho Rajneesh


We have been programmed to believe that our shadow side is to be hidden from the world, that if we let ourselves be seen in our darkness, we will infect those we love. So we isolate, quarantine ourselves from others, and hide when we no longer have the energy it takes to pretend.

Whatever Arises, Love That—teaches Matt Kahn. But what if what arises is self-loathing, internal talk filled with so much vitriol it puts the most abusive parent to shame. What if the laugh lines and smile crinkles I saw on my face yesterday have turned into deep slashes I see as old and angry today? What if I can’t find my passion, my purpose, my reason for getting out of bed in the morning?

So I try the positivity route. I write down three appreciations every night before going to bed. I study The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben. I do mirror work and shower my inner child with words of self-love. I place a pencil between my teeth to mimic a smile and wait for the release of the feel-good hormones to flood my system. I watch funny pet videos. I jump out of bed and move my body. I meditate. My intention is to outrun the darkness I feel breathing down my neck, to fake it till I make it—the “it” being everlasting happiness.

There is only one problem with this prescription. It goes against nature and if the last 4,543 billion years have taught us anything, nature has a way of setting things straight. Nature does not bow to our keep happy agenda. Nature is ruthless. She is the great equalizer.

One day, I can no longer outrun the darkness. I stop writing. Stop exercising. Stop meditating. Stop getting together with friends. I spend more and more time on social media, staring numbly at the TV. I slip a Lorazepam under my tongue to ease the anxiety that snuggles up next to me like a lover each morning. I search outside myself for validation and when that doesn’t come, sink deeper into darkness.

I rage at the new age teachers I loved in the past. Sneer at their talk about loving everything that arises. How can I love myself if all I can manage is the bare minimum of tolerance? How can I love aging when all it does is take things away? How can I love menopause? How can I love the me who has lost the motivation to create, the me who feels insecure in social situations, mute among learned people, less than, unworthy? Where can I find the courage to shine the light into the marrow of my darkness and love the me who is all that?

I decided that instead of utilizing the happiness tools I have used in the past to avoid negative emotions, I would give myself permission to fall into the armpits of hell.

I dive deep.

I let myself wallow in the belief that I will never make a living as a writer. That ultimately, I’ll have to go back to doing what I am trained to do so that I can keep a roof over my head and food in the fridge.

I sink deeper.

I listen in on all the thoughts that cause me to rock unconsciously forward and back in my chair. I let the darkest of them run loose like a pack of hyenas. They tell me I’m too demanding, too selfish, too self-absorbed, too introspective, too everything.

There is only a crack of light at the edges of my consciousness now. I don’t reach for it. I don’t try to change my thinking. I don’t turn it around and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I let darkness have her way with me.

I spelunk into the deepest of caves. I touch down on the cave floor and switch off my headlamp. I sit in the terrifying quiet and wait for the beasts to come and find me. I feel them crawling closer and taking their seats around me. I hear their raspy inhales and smell their rank odor. I listen to them speak their thoughts, even those that say, “You don’t deserve to be here.” Yes, even those. I listen without distraction, and when all is quiet, I turn on my headlamp to see who sits around me.

They are all versions of me. Anger; sadness; anxiety; judgment; fear; doubt; denial—all small, with big eyes. All wanting to be seen. Be seen!

Sadness takes a seat across from me. She can’t meet my gaze. She is ashamed because all her life, she’s been told she is not welcome. She sits with her stooped shoulders and concave chest, her downturned mouth and watery eyes, with her, I don’t knows and long sighs. I don’t move. I stay until sadness looks up and says, “Love me too.”

Love what arises.

Can I love my sadness? Can I love her even though I blame her for my inability to snap out of it? For taking away my motivation to exercise, to write, to connect with people? Can I love her even though I hold her responsible for my low energy, my despondency, my lack of faith in the world? Can I love her even though she made happiness leave?

I decide to host her for a while. I lean into her and embrace her bony shoulders. “Sadness,” I say, “Let’s go for a walk and when we get back, I am going to make us a cup of tea with lemon and honey. Let’s sit together and cry.”

I understand I am not sadness. I feel sadness. I make space for her in my body, allowing myself to experience the physical sensations in their entirety. I feel heat in my chest and back, energy flowing up into my throat, followed by a squeezing that forces tears from my eyes. I cry, loud raspy sobs. Fear of being swallowed up warns me to cut the flow, but it’s too late. I cry until I feel like a rag that’s been wrung out of all moisture.

I feel peace.

We are perfect in our light and darkness. By allowing our emotions to have a place in the circle, we accept all the bits of ourselves that show up to teach us self-acceptance and love.

There is nothing for us to do. There are no five easy steps that will eradicate sadness from our life. She will stay until we make space for her. If we avoid her by distracting and numbing, by faking happiness, she’ll wait for us. She’ll wait for the song that will remind us of her, or the movie or the line in a book, or catch us off guard when we see an old couple holding hands at the park, or a woman gently removing snow from her dog’s paw. She will wait until our guard is down. She will take us by the hand and show us the roots of our happiness.


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