Making Space For It All

Please call me by my true names,    so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,    so I can see that my joy and pain are one.   Thich Nhat Hanh

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Thich Nhat Hanh

This year has possibly been the most intense of my life. A year where I’ve experienced great love and also loss; a time full of both joy and sadness.

Like most of us, I greet joy with arms wide open. However, when sadness arises, my instinctive reaction is to wish it wasn’t there, to turn away from it, and even to believe that, unlike joy, it’s not part of the natural order of things.

The truth is, though, that both joy and sadness are appropriate responses to life. How can they not be, when it holds so much beauty, yet also disappointment and heart-ache. Just as there will always be day and night, summer and winter, our individual lives will always include experiences that delight us and ones that hurt us. On a macrocosmic scale, there’s the wonder of a sun that rises and sets every day, yet the anguish over how our planet is being destroyed. If we open to life, we’re going to taste both these flavours. And as I’m experiencing, they’re sometimes even both present in the same moment. Which actually makes perfect sense, given the exquisite magic of aliveness and the ultimate temporality of all things.

I feel society can put pressure on us to always try and be ‘positive’ and ‘happy’. Sometimes I even feel a bit ashamed when I’m sad. But while I’m a huge believer in counting one’s blessings, and attuning to the beauty of life as much as possible, to expect to be happy all the time is unrealistic.

Making space for sadness can be easier said than done. I’ve noticed how I’ll distract myself by getting busy or heading to Instagram! But I’m becoming more aware of my habits and instead of automatically picking up my phone, I’ll try and pause: to feel into the texture of the emotion, and stay with it a while. To sense its presence in my body and breathe into that place. And when I do, somewhat paradoxically, it becomes sweeter than when I push it away, and I’m also able to digest it.

Sadness is an innate facet of being human. This being human that gives us the capacity for love. And it’s from this love that both joy and sorrow emanate, as through our lives we both welcome and say goodbye to what we love, in a myriad of both small and larger ways.

I used to think being happy all the time was a sign of a well-lived life. I’ve come to believe it’s rather our capacity to be a vessel that’s strong enough to hold and digest all our experiences.

I may never run towards sorrow with arms wide open, but I hope I’m learning how to be more gracious towards it when it comes my way. Much as I’ll always relish life’s delights, I know that often it’s our challenges that bring about the greatest opportunities for growth and learning, and there is magic - albeit a more painful kind - to be gleaned from the darkness, too.