September 9, 2016

How to Make Sorrow just as Valuable as Joy.

Sorrow had come into my life—in fact, it felt like it had buried me with stone after stone of loss until there didn’t even feel like there was room enough for breath.

My tears even felt like they took up too much space and would only slide out under the cover of darkness, like my own secret, silver streams of grief.

During the day, my puffy eyes and blank stare were telling—but how does one explain to others just how dark and heavy a life can be? It wasn’t depression, nor was it an unwillingness or desire to experience the good that was still bountiful around me. It was more like a shattering, a breaking and a deep nauseousness that permeated my world, as if the experience of what had happened was so unacceptable that every ounce of my body wished to get rid of it—to throw it up, get it out and to un-become the person who was living this part of the dream.

I didn’t want to survive this much sorrow. I didn’t see the point of it. What value could there be in letting this difficult feeling carve its path through me?

So I got angry. Really mad, and I swore often to and at the universe. I stubbed toes and dropped coffee cups; I lost phones and misplaced most everything. I forgot dates and confused names. I left stores in mid-sentence with acquaintances and friends in mid-hugs.

I wanted to deny sorrow from my existence, to pluck its thorny branches from my heart and burn its dried up twigs in a giant bonfire…but I didn’t. I mean I couldn’t—get away from it.

I tried. I became a wanderer who just kept moving. A stone, whose hard exterior nothing could land on—but running only made it worse. When I got too tired to escape from it—it, unfortunately, was waiting right there.

And it jumped on me and covered my entire body in its fearless cloak, because sorrow has no excuses or explanation, she just is…a deep, wrenching, gut-twisting experience of life and the living through loss.

I thought, “This feeling is useless, and I am becoming that way too.”

But once I slowed, I heard a voice whisper, “Lean in. Lean into this feeling. Use it to transform.”

This was certainly not how I had planned on transforming, growing and moving on. I thought growth would look happy and joyous and light. But the truth is, it’s not always so and we must learn to make use of sorrow too.

For on the spiritual path, anything that breaks us—that grinds us down and changes our shape forever—is seen as useful. It was only when I started to view this heavy experience as valuable, that I was able to feel there was still light.

Through my Facebook feed this morning, came a reminder of an ancient Buddhist teaching called the Lojong practice.

In the Lojong practice, written by 19-century Tibetan teacher Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, all the experiences of our lives are seen as an opportunity to wake up. Joy is given no more creed than sorrow, and neither are to be avoided or chased. Lojong translates as “mind training” and is seen as a manual to assist us in ending our suffering.

How can we experience sorrow and not suffer—so much anyway? My answer was written directly in one of the Lojong teachings, ‘”When everything goes wrong, treat disaster as a way to wake up.”

The pain I was feeling could actually be the conduit in which I would transform.

Once I started to see sorrow as a tool for my awakening, I felt permission to feel it. There was value in these hard times and the intensity of sorrow could be exactly what was strong enough to move me forward—at least wise spiritual teachers seem to have believed so.

Pema Chodron wrote a beautiful book about this called, When Things Fall Apart. It is about how devastation is the perfect place to work from to build greater love for our self and others, and in fact is often more transformative then joy.

For in our heart there is such a great wealth of warmth, even when our world has come crashing down. We can use this time to touch what is human and whole in us and to connect to suffering that is universal. It can help us discover that even through great darkness we all carry inside us a place where resides an abundant and ever flowing source of light, and from this we can deeply grow.

I found space in my world again with these teachings. With them, I lovingly picked up each stone of loss from the pile covering my body. I held them, and I told them they were of value—that I accepted them, and that now I knew their purpose.

Sorrow made sense, and it had arrived so that I could know myself and others better—so that I could understand the great value in loss.


Author: Sarah Norrad

Image: Instagram @elephantjournal 

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina


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