Working with Emotions

The Importance of Sadness

Sadness isn't necessarily something to be avoided. In fact, Susan Piver says despair can be the consequence of fighting it. Compassion is what happens when you don’t. 

Photo © flickr.com/LIN CHIA HUI

What if I told you that the way to change the world was not to be bold, resolute, brilliant, or even compassionate? What if I told you that the way to change the world was to be sad?

It sounds so improbable. When we think of those who have taught us the most about meaningful change, we think of people who are very, very brave, say, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama. Unwavering. Deep. Devoted to others and willing to die for what they believe, quite literally.

How do you get to be such a person?

Well, I have no idea, but I would put money on the idea that the ground, path, and fruition of their lives is sadness.

When you look out at this world, what you see will make you very, very sad. This is good. You are seeing clearly. Genuine sadness gives rise, spontaneously, naturally, completely, to the wish—no, the longing—to be of benefit to others. When your wish to help is rooted in love (i.e. sadness), it is effective. There is no question.

But because it is so uncomfortable, we immediately want to turn sadness into what we imagine will hurt less: anger, hopelessness, helplessness. When the wish to help is rooted in anger, it will only create more confusion. And of course, when we feel hopeless or helpless, we take refuge in non-action, which also creates confusion.

Meditation teaches you to relax with the discomfort of sadness and stay with it, not turn it into something else. At this point, you can lay claim to your brand of helpful activity (whether it takes the form of activism, leadership, charitable work, making art, prayer, and/or simple, basic kindness to all).

Despair is what happens when you fight sadness. Compassion is what happens when you don’t. It will not feel “good,” it will feel alive and this aliveness is the path to bliss.* So the key, and this is a big one, is to learn to stabilize your heart in the open state. The practice of meditation is this stabilization. It is so much more than a self-improvement technique, as I’ve said 100 zillion times. It is a path to peace. It is a path to love, not the sappy-silly kind, but the real deal.

You have a soft spot. Contrary to popular belief, it is not where you are weak, it is the gateway to indestructible power and that is what The Open Heart Project is all about. Please take on your meditation practice for the benefit of all. My purpose in life is to help you do this, so don’t hesitate to ask questions, report your experiences, express doubt, and offer encouragement to others.

If you open your heart, you can change the world.

Thanking you in advance, on behalf of all beings.

*I once heard from a student of Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche that when asked what bliss felt like, said, “To you, it would probably feel like pain.” So there’s a little clue, something to think about for this and all our other lifetimes. But I digress.

 


Susan Piver is the New York Times bestselling author of The Hard Questions,  the award-winning How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, and The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. Learn more about her and her work at susanpiver.com.