“I’m sorry you feel ____.”
“You shouldn’t feel that way.”
“What will make you feel better?”
I have heard phrases like these all my life. I think most of us have. Sentiments said by caring, well-meaning people who truly want to see us happy.
Sometimes it works. We feel better. At least temporarily.
More often, we bury the feeling that is so uncomfortable (uncomfortable to those well-meaning others as well as to ourselves), and the feeling grows and festers. Frustration grows to anger and then to rage. Sadness grows to grief. Unexpressed rage and grief grow to depression. And so on.
People often speak of certain emotions as being good or bad. Or that some are right and others wrong.
We try to make the “bad/wrong” ones go away – in ourselves or in others – by “thinking a happy thought,” thinking of others who “have it worse,” “bucking up,” and so on.
While it’s not good to wallow in emotions and give them control of how we experience life, all emotions are teachers, and when they are accepted and understood, they can inform us of ways to have a better life than we would have by ignoring them or “fixing them.” No emotion is bad or wrong, but many are uncomfortable (as the truth often is).
Recently I’ve come to a liberating awakening about a feeling that has ebbed and flowed as background and foreground in my life since pre-adolescence. I’ve been diagnosed by several psychiatrists over the past 45 years as “clinically, chronically” depressed, and prescribed various medications which I always opted not to take. (Please note: I do NOT advise avoiding medical advice! Research deeper and get a second opinion if you aren’t comfortable with it, but don’t ignore it!)
In its worst depths, I was suicidal. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, it’s that I was afraid and unsure how to live. But I was intensely curious about life, and that curiosity saved me. It enabled me to go on and to function.
I have always felt that my depression, since it was not so severe that it incapacitated me on a daily, moment-to-moment basis, was an opportunity to grow and learn something about my core self and psyche and soul, if I could only learn its language.
So I have sat with the emotional, physical and spiritual pain of it. I have listened.
At times, it has all but disappeared, leaving only a faint whisper reminding me of its presence. I was neither happy nor unhappy, emotionally alive or dead.
At other times, it has been a pit bull gnawing on the bone of my well-being and snarling at anything that smacked of joy and life.
And still other times, it was a vast dark pit – a wormhole into a deep void that was simultaneously both inviting and scary.
And there have also been times when it has been asleep or on vacation and I have had brief experiences of what I think is true happiness. I can’t be sure. That’s the nature of this omnipresent shadow.
I can tell you that the pit bull and the wormhole are better than being the undead. There is more aliveness and hope in the anger and the fear.
The liberating awakening that has finally emerged through this process is a sense that the depression, debilitating as it can be, is not truly depression at all, though it has many of the signs and symptoms. Once I accept it, understand its language, begin to learn what it had been trying to teach me, I realize that it is something quite different…
… a sacred sadness.
It is not here to stop me from having a life but to teach me a different way of life. It is a deeply vulnerable, empathic experience of intimacy with my own feelings and also the feelings of others.
Some Native American tribes have a phrase they use in many of their ceremonies to honor all who have come before, are present now, and are yet to come: “All my relations” (mitakuye oyasin). This is a term of reverence and reminder that we are all related as one people, and interrelated in the web of life. I have come to see that my sadness is a thread of that web. It is not depression unless I live it as such.
Each of us carries our own thread. Some of us are called to be a thread of joy; some a thread of shadow; some a thread of leadership. There are many threads and each one is sacred because each one plays a part in the weaving of humanity’s tapestry.
Of course, we all have pieces of every thread woven into our own, but I believe we each have a primary thread that is prevalent throughout our lives. Accepted and understood, it opens the way to our greatness and personal “superpower.” Ignored, it becomes our greatest enemy and downfall, our kryptonite.
Mine happens to be sadness. I carry a sadness for all people who have been hurt, wounded, saddened, isolated by their experiences in life, whether real or perceived. Knowing this frees my compassion and understanding. It allows me to know when and how I can be more available and when I need to take care of myself. It makes me a better coach, partner, friend. Embracing sadness frees my joy.
Seeing that, finally, has led to an immense liberation. I see how my relationships have been affected by my blindness to this thread or my fear of it. I see how my career has been both led by it and thrown off course by my reaction to it or self-preservation from it. Even my perception of who I am, my self-esteem, self-worth, self-care and self-respect have been affected by how well or poorly I reacted to it.
Among the many overall benefits of awakening to and accepting the sacred thread of your primary, underlying emotional energy include:
• Your awareness of all your other feelings improves;
• With that awareness, your ability to learn from your feelings and use them for a better life also improves;
• Your capacity to feel and express love and joy expands;
• Your boundaries improve;
• Your energy blossoms (it is VERY stressful, wearying and fruitless to deny, ignore or fight with this intrinsic part of yourself!);
• Your clarity for making better choices improves – in relationships, career, life;
• What hat weighed you down in life now lifts you up.
The thread does not go away – it is not supposed to. I will always have sadness. But now for the most part I have the sadness, it doesn’t have me.
Maybe you see yourself caught in an emotion or thought that seems to weigh you down or slow you down. If this speaks to you in any way and you’d like to have a conversation about it, contact me here.