Often, we are sad precisely because we don’t want to be sad, or suffer because we don’t want to suffer. We want to feel good, but we always stumble along the way, or else find out that what we achieve or attain isn’t what we hoped it would be. And we suffer, and we grow sad. But what happens if we reserve some space for sadness and suffering in our life? What if we don’t try to chase them away with positive thinking or a hopeful attitude but beckon to them to come nearer, that we may understand them better?
“Why should you want to exclude from your life all unsettling, all pain, all depression of spirit, when you don’t know what work it is these states are performing within you?”
As a teenager, and then as a young adult, I wallowed in sadness. There were many things I did not like about myself and my body, and about the people around me. I became withdrawn and critical, mostly of myself, but also of others. What kept me going was the hope that in the future my sadness would end, that someone or something would rescue me from it.
“Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where it all comes from and where it is leading? You well know you are in a period of transition and want nothing more than to be transformed.”
Suffering may lessen in time, but does it ever go away? I mean deep suffering, the result of trauma of some kind, or inherited from our parents. Years have passed and those early sufferings are still with me – I have come to realize that they will never go away, not even if I am at peace with myself and contented with my life.
“If there is something ailing in the way you go about things, then remember that sickness is the means by which an organism rids itself of something foreign to it. All one has to do is help it to be ill, to have its whole illness and let it break out, for that is how it mends itself.”
It is easier to deny suffering – and in the process to become bitter, critical, negative, mean, withdrawn, or apathetic – than to accept it. We have to be careful. If we don’t understand where it springs from, accept it, and keep it close, but push it in a dark corner of our mind, it may grow into a monster, it may silently change us for the worse.
“There is so much going on in you now. You must be patient as an invalid and trusting as a convalescent, for you are perhaps both. And more than that: you are also the doctor responsible for looking after himself. But with all illnesses there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait.”
Let’s accept suffering and sadness. Let’s suffer well. Let’s be sad and okay about it. All we have to do is not to deny our suffering, not seek easy cures for sadness. There aren’t any.
What’s the last thing that made you sad?
All quotes are taken from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Charlie Louth, Penguin Classics