Sadness is a core emotion that we all experience for a variety of reasons, but in our largely emotionally repressed and unaware culture that often shuns feeling our negative emotions and overly promotes being happy, sadness is often buried or ignored, which is unhealthy and unnatural. It is very important we welcome sadness and suffering as part of life, because as the famous psychiatrist Sugmund Freud famously said:
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sadness, like all emotions, is a signpost that is trying to tell us something, if we allow it to, and it is important that we listen to it and take the time to allow it to move through us because we grow through what we go through.
It should be stated though that intentionally sitting with sadness is not necessarily an easy feat, as it can be scary, bewildering and difficult. If you think that touching into your sadness may be overwhelming for you, please refrain from this exercise or do it in the company of a trained professional.
Steps to befriending your sadness:
– Begin to become aware that you may be carrying sadness. Take time to reflect on things that happen to you in life, and start to identify areas that may have triggered emotional hurt in you. It’s good to do this in a quiet and safe space, and it can be useful to have some self-soothing and grounding tools at your immediate disposal when you do it.
- Name the sadness. Acknowledge to yourself you are carrying some sadness and that it is OK and is part of being human. You could do this through practicing self-talk or journaling.
- Identify the sensations in your body that accompany your sadness. How does it actually feel in your body? Is there a lump in your throat? Tightness in your chest? Part of befriending our feelings is identifying how they actually feel in our body, so we can better recognize and respond to them in the future!
- Start offering your sadness some compassion. This could be in the form of breathing loving energy and thoughts into the area you feel the sadness, or placing your hand gently on the area you feel the sadness. You may feel shifts and sensations in your body as you do this, and that is totally normal because you are in contact with the feeling.
- Ask yourself what your sadnes s has to say. If your sadness could talk, what would it tell you? Wait for a response and say it out loud or write it down when it comes. This can take some time. Maybe nothing emerges and that’s OK too. If something comes, repeat it out loud or write it down a few times. This can sometimes provoke an emotional release of sadness. Try to allow the emotion to emerge without judgement. If it feels overwhelming, stop the exercise completely, take some deep breaths and practice self soothing. Do not rush this step. Sometimes buried sadness has a lot to say!
- Next, respond to your sadness from your compassionate self. What does your sadness need to hear for comfort? If you were your own best friend, how would you respond to this sadness? What would you say? Say your response out loud or write it down. Repeat the words if you feel the need to. Again, nothing may emerge here and that’s OK. If this is a new practice, it is important to be kind to yourself. If nothing else, you deserve some kindness for even attempting to confront your sadness!
- To end your meditation, take a few deep breaths and long exhales. In your imagination, picture yourself putting a lid on your sadness which is contained in a special and safe box that you can return to at a later time. Your sadness may contain thoughts, visions, words, memories, beliefs and sensations that can be contained until you are ready to reconnect.
- Don’t rush off to the next thing. Thank yourself for the great work you have done in starting this practice. If your emotions are still stirred, use your self soothing skills to help ground yourself before moving on. If you need to, connect with a friend, family member or therapist for more support.
Congratulations! You have just started a new relationship with your sadness and are expanding your emotional awareness, leading to a more rounded human experience. This is big work that is to be celebrated and honoured. Well done!