Posted by: Bruce Black | March 1, 2014

Sitting With Sadness

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” – Carl Jung

“Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.” – Khalil Gibran

Even my practice of yoga, as wonderful as it is, isn’t always enough to send the sadness that I feel at times scurrying away.

But the gentle twists and forward bends, the breath work and mindful attention to the way my body feels in each pose, can help me sit with sadness.

This sadness has a way of worming its way into my heart on some days. It’s not just fatigue, the kind of tiredness that comes after a hard day of work or the morning after a restless night, nor is it the byproduct of the major surgery that I underwent almost a year ago (though at times I think it is related).

I’m talking about a feeling of sadness that’s deeper and darker than fatigue, a feeling that reminds me of life’s fragility, finitude, and imperfection. The missed opportunities. The mistakes. The resistance to change. The reluctance to opening up. The days of stubbornness and frustration and pain.

This kind of sadness brings with it a deep sense of powerlessness and loneliness, an excruciating awareness of my mortality and how much of life is out of my control. It makes me feel as if life itself is like a steamroller, preparing the inevitable crushing experience that has the power to steal away the very breath of life.

It’s a sadness that is pervasive. It is everywhere—in the kitchen, the office, the backyard, the yoga studio—and it can siphon all the air and joy out of a room in the blink of an eye.

It’s numbing, paralyzing, perplexing.

In the midst of such sadness, though, I can step onto my mat and begin my home practice, and the sound of my breath or the movement of my body can help dissipate the feeling of sadness and remind me of my connection to something larger than myself, a river of energy flowing not just through me but through everyone and through all of life.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting patiently for the sadness to leave on its own. Like the fog. Like storm clouds that gather overhead obscuring the sun and then float away to reveal a bright blue sky.

My practice can help me sit with sadness rather than run from it, and, in sitting with it–actually exploring it in my poses–I may be able to find a way to accept what is with gratitude and bid sadness goodbye.

On my mat, if I lean forward in Child’s Pose or recline in Bound Angle, I may gain the ability to see through the fog to a distant memory, a person who I love deeply or someone who is no longer alive but whose life once touched mine and whose spirit can still inspire a sense of worth (and worthiness) that I seem to have forgotten.

If I listen closely to the sound of my breath and feel the beat of my heart, the pulse like the rhythm of the sea, I may notice how the fog has tiny fissures in it, cracks through which I can catch a glimpse of a bright blue sky.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of closing my eyes while lying in Savassana and finding the courage to let go of sadness, and then rising refreshed, the sadness only a memory.

There are different levels of sadness, of course, some deeper and darker levels than others (and in some extreme cases life-threatening). Sometimes you can’t sit with sadness alone. You need help.

The thing that yoga has taught me is this: I may not be able to avoid sadness, but if I sit with it in my practice, I can remind myself that sadness is simply another part of life, impermanent, like darkness or clouds or fog, another way to experience the full variety and depth of life’s always changing offerings.

If I learn to sit with sadness, rather than seek ways to avoid it, I may find a path that will lift me out of sadness back to gratitude and joy.

Practice Journal: How do you deal with feelings of sadness on and off your mat? Do you try to run from these feelings? Or do you attempt to understand them? How does your yoga practice help you sit with these feelings. And how do the poses help alleviate sadness? Write: 10 min.

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