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The value of sadness

As we sit on the tipping point between the light half of the year and the dark, I’m reminded of the greek goddess Demeter, whose grief corresponds with the coming of winter.

Years ago, I first began to befriend the emotional energy of sadness, as I felt my way (messily) through a profound experience of loss. It changed my whole attitude towards the darker side of our emotional life: I learned to welcome the beauty of certain feelings that I’d been told by western culture are wrong, or shouldn’t exist.

At the moment, I find myself opening beyond those vulnerable feelings I’d describe as ‘mine’, to let myself be touched by the energy of sadness that is sometimes just here, being felt as part of a shared human experience. (And it feels very different from trying to rescue other people from pain, and depleting myself). The only way I can find to express this is through a poem I’ve been writing to help me commit to this relational practice…

Not Mine

There’s a wildcat making a den

inside my chest.


I used to keep her locked up

in the cold clenched chambers

beneath my rib-cage.

I could feel her prowl around in there,

rattling her chains.


So I got good at locking her out,

making her belong to other people.

Not mine.


With her gone,

I could drift in a comfortable dream,

relieved of the burden

of that wounded beast.

Not mine.


But I began to miss

her soft furry sadness,

her animal warmth.


Slowly I learned to leave the door

of my lonely prison

cracked open.

And now she wakes me up

when I drift too deeply,

padding her claws

into a tender pain that’s

not mine, but ours.


She lets me be touched

by the unbearable harmonies

of life’s twisted symphony,

as she sits and purrs

on my chest.

Here are a few wise teachings that relate to the energy of sadness…

Susan Piver talking about how sadness is often misunderstood.

Iain McGilchrist on the associations between sadness, creativity and empathy.

Ram Dass’ talk Embracing Our Humanity, in which he reflects on how ‘if you want to be free, you’re going to have to incorporate the darkness into your light’ (it’s a much funnier talk than you might expect!)

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