The way of Sadness

“Trying to avoid sadness is trying to avoid life” – Maxime Lagace

Sadness is not suffering, although it could be. Sadness is not “bad,” although holding onto the perspective that sadness is bad could be.

I stopped to drop off some material with a friend, and he invited me in to talk for a few minutes. On a book self in his apartment were an assortment of Chinese Daoist books and a small urn. The urn was beautiful and he saw I was drawn to the beauty, a milk white surface with gold streaks.

“That’s Benny he said, tears coming to his eyes. He caressed the vase, and turned it around to show a script that, sure enough, spelled “Benny.” Benny was a German Shepard, a steady companion and friend, and a being that Larry loved deeply.

And then Larry smiled.

Through the tears and the smile he recounted what a marvelous journey he and Benny had taken in life. It seems Benny had become terminally ill, and Larry had made the most painful decision a human who has bonded with another life form can make. (I can only hope to have a Larry in my life if I ever start to suffer constantly because my body no longer supports quality of life.)

There are times to feel sadness, and there are times to feel sadness and joy simultaneously, and that state is different than joy or sadness. It’s a feeling that celebrates living in the bittersweet universe. If Larry had started talking endlessly about how Benny’s absence had impacted his conditioned separate self, talking solely about himself and his needs, then Larry would be suffering. (Somewhere along the line humans decided that we can only experience one emotion at a time. That’s absurd. There are no boundary lines that divide joy and sadness, and yes they can occur together, along with jealousy and other emotions. Why do we continue to limit our experiences by containing them into singularities when existence is so rich and complex?”)

But Larry spoke of the bittersweet, the balance of life, the love, the good times, the sweetness of laying on the couch with Benny, watching television, and eating junk food. Telling me of the joy of Benny, while smiling through the tears. That’s sadness, but not suffering. How sweet, and how Human.

Language is a limiter, a box and container of how we are at any time. Some cultures have gone into this deeply in a very exacting manner.

Kilig – the jittery, fluttery feeling you get when you talk to someone you fancy. Tagalog

Mbuki-mvuki -the irresistible urge to “shuck off your clothes” while dancing. Bantu

Iktsuarpok – the anticipation one feels when waiting for someone, whereby one keeps going outside to check. Inuit

Before I jump to the words “I’m suffering” I need to experience how I feel in its entirety, not just attach to a label I’ve been conditioned to use every time I “feel” something. The “Oh, I’m sad, and that is bad, so now I’m suffering,” conditioned shortcut. (It’s why meditation also requires knowing one’s own conditioned states.)

Or, “Oh, I’m sad.” And examining whether that “Sadness” is a bitter conditioned separate self looking for attention, in which case it’s suffering, or is it also the body and hearts bittersweet sadness that speaks of a deeper richer feeling, one that isn’t suffering at all. Just a Human, Being, experiencing.

How are those beautiful, complex, bittersweet feelings today?

Bryan Wagner

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