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Among all the unwholesome emotions we are familiar with, I think sadness is the most problematic.
Unlike anger that could dissipate within hours or days, sadness lingers like vines that grow on walls, spreading their roots to hold on tightly.
Like a vine that covers a wall, sadness covers our hearts. It spreads to our entire body and leaves us feeling aimless and hard-hearted.
Before being introduced to Buddhism, I lived off suffering—sadness, in particular. It gave me a viable reason to survive, and to be honest, a life that was filled with peace and contentment was of no interest to me.
Buddhism has taught me many beautiful things, but one of the most precious lessons I have learned has been the gift of transformation. In the past, I wasn’t open to transformation. I’d get stuck in an emotional state for months and months, not accepting (nor seeing) the next phase.
But through the teachings of the Buddha, I have finally accepted that to move through anything in life—especially sadness—I have to open my heart. I have to open myself up to new possibilities, new emotions, new phases, and new selves.
To move through sadness, I shall not remain stagnant, for stagnancy hurts me and others.
May these three quotes inspire you:
1. “There is no connection between I myself yesterday and I myself in this moment.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki
Shunryu Suzuki is one of my all-time favorite Sōtō Zen monks, and this quote of his has always been precious to me. One of the most hurtful things I did to myself when sadness took over me was getting attached to who I was in that moment of dismay. Even when my heart was ready to move on to the next phase, my ego wasn’t. I somehow insisted to remain sad, as sadness strengthened my sense of self and purpose.
But, as Suzuki once said, who I was yesterday and who I am today are not related. Sadness, just like intense grief, comes in waves, and one of the most healing things we could ever do is to actually ride that “wave.” Eventually, bit by bit, we get closer to the “shore.”
Consequently, start your day with the intention of moving away from who you were yesterday. Who you are today might welcome slightly better or less intense emotions.
2. “In order to develop love—universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it—one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad. One must open oneself to life, communicate with it.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
Another grand mistake I made in the past was expecting life to be either fully good or fully bad. The in-between felt unnatural and awkward, and maybe that was why I was unable to move through intense emotions of sadness.
This quote by Chögyam Trungpa invites us to open ourselves to life, in all its situations—the good and the bad. When we accept that life encompasses sadness and happiness simultaneously, we can navigate our days smoothly and better understand how life actually operates.
3. “If it’s painful, you become willing not just to endure it but also to let it awaken your heart and soften you. You learn to embrace it.” ~ Pema Chödrön
I love Pema, and I love her for saying this extremely wise quote. In the past, I got stuck in the “endurance phase.” I thought that enduring my pain was enough to make me “spiritual” or “enlightened.” But enduring the pain is never enough and maybe even not the point.
The point is, as the wise Chödrön says, to awaken our heart and allow sadness or any other unwholesome emotion to soften us. When we allow sadness to transform us, we embrace its purpose and presence. We no longer dwell on the whys and instead focus on the hows. How can I transform this from being painful to purposeful? How can I allow it to change me and mold me into who I am meant to become?
If you feel sad today, keep these three (Buddhist) tips in mind: transformation of self, communication with life, and embracing the pain.