Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sadness: Not Just a Downer

I like the idea of sadness being useful. Most of the time, I think of sadness as something I have to shrug off or get away from--as fast as my feet can carry me. Looking at sadness as something that can change me and inspire better things is kind of comforting. I guess Rilke says it better:

To Trust Our Sadness

Consider whether great changes have not happened deep inside your being in times when you were sad. The only sadnesses that are unhealthy and dangerous are those we carry around in public in order to drown them out. Like illnesses that are treated superficially, they only recede for a while and then break out more severely. Untreated they gather strength inside us and become the rejected, lost, and un-lived life that we may die of. If only we could see a little farther than our knowledge reaches and a little beyond the borders of our intuition, we might perhaps bear our sorrows more trustingly than we do our joys. For they are the moments when something new enters us, something unknown. Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.

Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke

Okay, so sadness doesn't feel great. But it helps to believe that it's not useless. Even if we don't realize it, something is changing inside us, allowing something new to enter. That's actually pretty close to the opposite of how I've thought of sorrow or sadness. I've always thought sadness held me down, made it so I couldn't enjoy life or change. Somehow trusting the work of sadness makes it easier. Accepting sadness as a tool for change also makes it easier to spot the things that need to happen, the things that will move me forward or at least bring a sense of peace. Because, sometimes, the change that sadness brings is simply the knowledge that I should be kinder to others. And myself.


  1. I have always believed that one has to FEEL one's sadness, and not be ashamed of it. It's not weak to wallow. It feels good. It's necessary. Extended wallowing? Not so much. Sorrow is such a necessary emotion. Without it, we're not allowing ourselves to be all we are, all that makes us human.

    1. "Without it, we're not allowing ourselves to be all we are, all that makes us human."
      Well said, Terri-Lynne! Thanks!