Since last week, our cat, Bidi, has been sick. Seeing her suffer without being able to do anything about it was one of the worst feelings I’ve experienced. We did bring her to the vet, and gave her all the care we could, but we still couldn’t control her pain.
This unpleasant experience brought a lot of sadness into our home, as we had to think of options if Bidi wasn’t getting any better soon. We feared we would have to let her go. And I couldn’t deal with that thought.
So at first, my reaction was to not think about it. I simply shut myself off from any emotion related to it, and chose to focus only on the positive. I refused to look at the possibility that she could die.
That worked for a while. However, having tried in the past to use that self-defense trick when feeling hurt, I knew it’s not a long-term solution. Refusing to accept sadness as part of our lives also means refusing to bring joy into it. You cannot cherry-pick which emotions you want to feel or not. I learned along the way you have to accept the whole package, with the pleasant and unpleasant experiences that may arise.
What Patanjali says about it
One of the yoga sutras of Patanjali, Sutra 15 of Chapter 2, teaches us that since the only constant in life is change, and since we tend to get attached to things we care about, we’ll undoubtedly be confronted to suffering. There is a little bit of sadness in everything.
“ Parinama tapa samskara duhkaih gunavrtti virdodhat ca duhkham eva sarvam vivekinah.” – Sutra 15, Chapter 2, Light On The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali, B.K.S Iyengar
Every change, even seen as mostly positive, will bring a little bit of sadness as we have to get detached from our previous experience to move on to the other, neaning somewhere, somehow, a part of how we define ourselves will die.
However, the next sutra brings us hope : future suffering can be prevented. Since our suffering comes from that relationship between what we confuse as our identity and our true Self, we can learn to let go of that idea of what we are to fully embrace our pure consciousness. When we succeed in doing so, we’re free from this suffering caused by our attachment to our fixed identity.
“Heyam duhkam anagatam.” – Sutra 16, Chapter 2, Light On The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali, B.K.S Iyengar
How we can apply that knowledge to exploring sadness
Knowing that one of the causes of our suffering is too much attachment, we can then explore the causes of our sadness with a more detached state of mind. Not refusing to feel the emotion, but simply acknowledging its presence, using it as an indicator of what we might have get too attached too.
When I chose to not push away the feeling of sadness anymore, and sat down on the floor with Bidi and my boyfriend for the first time of the week, tears began to run down my cheeks as I felt sadness all around my chest and heart area. I opened up my heart to all the good memories, and let the sadness be.
After all that time resisting, letting go felt good. Of course, I was sad, and still scared I’d have to say goodbye to Bidi, but I was also at peace with the fact that it could be the only option available to us. I wasn’t holding on for dear life. It freed up some space to fully embrace the present moment and truly be with Bidi instead of avoiding her because of the sadness I didn’t want to feel.
“Suppressing unpleasant feelings because we’re afraid of pain typically only leads to greater pain in the future, either as a result of the misguided steps we take to avoid feeling it initially” – Alex Licherman, The Benefit of Sadness
It’s okay to feel sad
Now Bidi is almost back to being her old self, full of energy and cat spirit. We still don’t know if she is going to be okay, but we appreciate every moment we have together.
Just as much as joy, anger, disgust, and fear, sadness is part of the full-palette of emotions that are the colors of our lives. Without one or the other, we are missing something.
So let’s accept sadness for what it is: a feeling that results from a sense of irrevocable loss. Avoiding the pain will not only lead to greater pain, but will also prevent us from the great opportunity to learn about the impermanence of life, and to slowly start accepting the idea of change, and eventually of our own impermanence. Meditation on impermanence and death is one of the great meditations I recommend to you, as we’ll all eventually be confronted to our own death.
Go ahead, be sad, and then be happy again, as it’s one of the great things in life: the sun does come back after the rain, that I’m sure of.