The Weird Self-Help of Sadness

hidden depths of iceberg, in sunlightI’ve been remembering how freeing, how life-enhancing it is, to allow deep sadness to rise and move – becoming fully, even bodily, aware of its origins and meanings – and then to notice it slipping into nothingness, once it’s been bathed in the light of consciousness.

In radio stories leading up to today’s Titanic  centennial, my attention was caught by the telegrapher on the Californian, who had messaged Titanic that the Californian had stopped for the night, because of the ice. Stopped. Because of ice. No surprise to see the metaphors here – how sadness can freeze us underneath, an image reminiscent of Kafka’s wish that writing might be “an axe, to break up the frozen sea within us.”

Stopping, and sinking inward, are not on all self-improvement agendas. Even my own post about Three Liberating Choices celebrated a take-charge style of evolving (Accept, Change, or Leave a conflict). Underneath, unsensed, was the deeper river creating the disturbance: a profound sadness, the kind the psyche pretends isn’t there because it feels weak and immobilizing. Better, the egoic psyche thinks, to grab hold of the reins, control the situation, be sovereign, command this, intend that. While helpful in a tight spot, over the longer term it can blind and split the deeper self if the first step (Accept=Notice=Witness) is shallow, intellectual, adopted as a permanent dissociative strategy.

When there’s time and space for it, allowing the sadness to surface can be a magnificent movement into complete integrity. The dynamic that starts this movement happens when an organism experiences pain, interpreted as a threat to the expansion of life. A self-protective (thus life-form-enhancing) reaction arises: anger, or its recessive inverse of fear.

Most spiritual teachers closest to my paths describe the “problem” of humanity as fear – with all “negative” reactions stemming from that. I think that’s the judgmental macho view. I now know the notion of mentally “choosing” a supposedly more worthy attitude is a recipe for paralysis and dissociation, for perpetuation of the vulnerable blind frozen spot in the unconscious.

A much richer solution is available. A deeper middle way in the inner self flows between, at one extreme, commanding an attitude and, at the other, collapsing under a tidal wave of ancient pain. It can come from developing a Witness perspective so reliable, so accessible, so practiced, so kind-minded, so flexible, that the hidden pains can let themselves be felt at last, can move in a graceful way, and thus dissolve.

The first step might be fully Knowing that Nature created the bodymind with these reactions in service of the life-force, to protect by informing and warning. It can sound weird to declare that terror, fury, and agony are acts of  love, evolved to support the living being. Until that makes sense, until a wise, thankful tenderness arises for the reactions (which eventually neutralizes and dissolves them), treating them as failure or evil only strengthens them. Marveling at Nature’s creativity is a place to begin.

From inside that tender gaze, sadness can be experienced as a polarity: a tension between my lived life now, and my life as my surface-mind imagines it could or should or won’t be. Thousands of traditions have named the pain, yet naming it, without feeling it, while riding on a raft of “received wisdom,” closes the door to experiencing, a denial that forecloses the possibility of completely dispersing it. Some traditions even shame this feeling, calling it a blasphemous complaint – or narcissism or selfishness, or undignified desire. Cultures have developed thousands of ways to squelch this unnerving truth, thousands of ways to manipulate people by playing on it.

One way toward a solution, with powers to liberate, is to ask inwardly, sinking deep within, about the nature of a dream or desire that’s not being fulfilled, resulting in sadness: Why do I want what I say I want? Allowing surprises and revelations in what emerges can amplify the benefits. Once the hidden hopeless-seeming dream is viewed, honored and comprehended, fearfulness about it melts in the soft gaze of the Witness, and a sense of empathetic communion with others who share such hopes can dissolve the sensation of being the only one omitted from the circles of worthiness. There could even be a shift in notions of what is actually a worthwhile desire after all – and whether it truly belongs to the self or was imported as an artifact from family or culture. The torquing effects of compensatory anger, compulsion, and (self-)judgment subside. “Accepting what is” suddenly includes the existence of someone (the self) having beautiful dreams for a fully harmonious life – a very good thing, not a liability or embarrassment. Dreams can be in the sunshine, as one with all living beings, rather than buried under superficial indignation or martyrdom.

Eventually, with practice in melting these ice-blocks over and over, the whole inner river warms and picks up speed. The blocks can’t form any more. The wisdom of higher esoteric teaching (all is divine) is felt. For some psyches, in some cultures, saying Life is suffering, or We are born in sin, or We can choose love, can be a helpful first gate – or, if inadequately understood through inner experience, can become a prison. The vital difference is in seeing, instead, the beauty of one’s own visionary being: if it didn’t exist, there would be no sadness, for there wouldn’t be any grounds for painful comparison between what’s hoped-for and what’s happening.

If that beauty has never been touched or enlivened before, sometimes awareness of it can be received as a gift, as a transmission of grace – through a person or other phenomenon of Nature, or through unformed direct experience. Sometimes it can come through profound contact with Nature’s genius. It’s different for everybody.

In the absence of such a transmission, allowing the river of sadness to flow can move (dissolve) mountains, once it’s realized as an act of love.

About Cat and the Gateways