Welcoming the gifts of sadness

    —
September 16, 2013

On this blog – and through our facebook page – we hear from many of you who are struggling with difficult emotions, with sadness often being at the top of the list. I wanted to share an article with you here by empath and Sounds True author Karla McLaren on the transformative power of sadness, a new way of looking at the healing potential right in the center of this challenging emotion. I hope you enjoy Karla’s perspective and find it useful in your lives.

We’ve just released Karla’s new book, The Art of Empathy, highly recommended for those interested in this essential life skill.

Welcome the gifts of sadness – by Karla McLaren

Sadness is a wonderful emotion that arises when something needs to be released. This might be an idea, an attitude, a possession, a stance, an ideology, a belief, a relationship, or a way of behaving in the world (etc.) that no longer works for you. Sadness has a kind of alchemical magic to it, because if you can listen to it and honestly let go, you’ll find that you can relax and breathe again. Sadness is about letting go — and letting go means that you’ll be freer than you were before (when you were holding on tightly to something that was honestly not working). When you can listen to your sadness and work with it empathically, you’ll experience relaxation, spaciousness, and a sense of rejuvenation.

Many people have problems with sadness, and as I think about it, I sense what I call a fundamental correlation error. That’s a fancy way of saying that people often blamesadness for the way they’re feeling, instead of realizing that sadness arises in response to the fact that they’re holding on to something that isn’t working anyway.

Sadness doesn’t come to steal your stuff! Sadness arises when you’re holding on to stuff that doesn’t work anymore. This stuff — this thing, idea, relationship, or whatever — it might have worked in the past, but it doesn’t work now, and sadness arises to help you let go of it. When you can let go, you’ll be able to relax, reassess your current situation and your current needs, and become aware of who you are and what you need now, today.

Sadness helps you let go, relax, rejuvenate yourself, and come fully into the present moment — not because you’re chasing after happiness or any other allegedly positive emotions (there are no positive emotions), but because you know how to let things go and rejuvenate yourself. And when you let go, your sadness will recede naturally (because you’ve attended to it skillfully), and other emotions will arise, depending on your situation and your needs.

Sadly, most of us haven’t been taught to approach sadness in this way, so that when it arises, we tend to lose our way. Before we talk about the billions of ways that we’ve been socialized to distrust, repress, and squelch our natural sadness, let’s get comfortable.

A simple exercise to help you relieve tension

Breathe in deeply until you feel a bit of tension in your chest and ribcage, and hold your breath for a count of three. (Don’t create too much tension. If you’re uncomfortable, let some air out before you hold your breath.)

As you breathe out, let your body go limp, relax your chest and shoulders, and feel the tension leaving your body. Let your arms hang loosely, relax your body, and let go.

Breathe in deeply again until you feel a slight tension, hold your breath for a count of three, and this time, sigh audibly as you exhale and relax your body. Repeat one more time, and sigh out loud as you exhale and let go. If you feel relaxed and a bit less tense, thank the emotion that helped you. Thank your sadness!

I intentionally evoked your sadness by creating something that didn’t work or feel right — which is the tension you felt when you held your breath. And then, I intentionally had you perform the actions your sadness requires (all emotions require different, specific actions); the sadness-specific actions involve relaxing, releasing, and letting go. Simple.

bluewater

Sadness is a simply wonderful emotion that helps you let go of things that aren’t working for you … such as tension, muscle tightness, anxiety, and what I call “soldiering on” behaviors. In The Language of Emotions, I call sadness The Water Bearer because it brings a kind of fluidity to a tight, tense, and arid body. Sadness is a gorgeous emotion that brings you the irreplaceable gift of letting go.

However, sadness really isn’t welcome in our emotional or social worlds, and as such, most of us tend to soldier on without the relief of sadness. We run our lives with our intensity, our tension, our plans and schemes, and our sheer willpower, but we tend to ignore the need for simple relaxation … we forget to let go, release things that aren’t working, and then re-set our priorities in present-focused and self-respecting ways.

I have been interested to see the ways that we’ve all socially created a sadness-avoidant world. Relaxation has become severely compartmentalized, to the extent that we relax on weekends and during vacations, but very rarely during the workday, at school, or in front of other people. Relaxation and deep breathing have also become professionalized, such that we pay masseuses, yoga teachers, and alternative practitioners of all stripes to help us breathe deeply, relax, and let go.

Notice, too, the ways that we disrespect sad people: Gloomy Gus, Crybaby, Weakling, Boys don’t cry, Big girls don’t cry, There’s no use crying over spilled milk, Stop your sniveling, and so on. I know I’m not the only person who has felt that crying in public would be a very dangerous thing, because it can mean that we’ll lose face in our emotionally-stunted world. The message is clear: Crying is not okay, and sadness is something to avoid. Completely, if possible.

And what a sad, tense world we’ve created because we refuse to honor the gifts of sadness. Without our sadness, we can’t relax, we can’t release our tension in healthy ways, we can’t cry and restore fluidity to ourselves, and we can’t let go of things that aren’t working anyway.

Without our sadness, tension piles up, unsaid words pile up, muscle tightness adds up, things we don’t need pile up, ideas we don’t believe any longer pile up, relationships that no longer work pile up, and we find ourselves crowded out of our real lives by a bunch of unnecessary debris. And we can’t find the present moment with two hands and a flashlight, because we can’t find anything in all the clutter. When we don’t allow our sadness to do its proper work, we lose a great deal of our liveliness and flow; we lose ourselves, in a way.

So let’s welcome sadness to our lives by remembering to breathe deeply and let the tension go. Let’s listen to sadness instead of always swatting it away or soldiering through it. When sadness arises, let’s look for things that aren’t working anyway, andlet them go.

The questions for sadness are What must be released? and What must be rejuvenated? Many of us, because we’ve had such poor socialization around sadness, think that sadness is only about loss. It’s not. Sadness is also about restoring flow, ease, and relaxation — because when you can finally let go of things that just don’t work, you’ll suddenly have room for things that do.

The next time you feel sadness, see if you can breathe in deeply and let go of tension as you exhale. The breathing technique I just taught you is a sadness-based exercise, and it will help you learn how to access your sadness with ease and simplicity. This practice will also help you learn how to work with your sadness internally — so that even when you’re in a social situation where honestly expressing your sadness would be socially hazardous, you can still take good care of yourself.

The next time you feel like crying (but you can’t because the people around you can’t deal with sadness), observe your reaction. Most of us tense up and get very tight and rigid when it’s time to cry (this reaction often makes our inner situation worse, not better!). If it’s not socially safe to cry, see if you can’t at least relax a bit, breathe deeply, and let your body have a felt sense of letting go. It’s not the same thing as a good cry, but it’s better than becoming rigid and inflexible, and crushing your sadness under the weight of everything you’ve been holding on to.

As you move into a closer relationship with your healing sadness, be aware of your habitual responses to hectic situations. Notice how often you distract yourself when your tears and sadness attempt to come forward, and watch for any movement toward the siren song of “fun.” If you’re like most people, you’ll respond to tension and your honest need to let go by trying to bring more joy to your life – which will never work, because flow, relaxation, and rejuvenation are the gifts of sadness; they’re not the gifts of joy!

Joy and its comrades (happiness and contentment) are lovely states, but they don’t work in the way sadness does. Manufacturing joy, chasing happiness, or courting contentment or exhilaration when it’s actually time to work with sadness – these are all distractions and avoidance behaviors that cannot and will not heal you. When you require deep relaxation and deep release, you must move honorably and meaningfully into sadness. When you do, joy will naturally follow your sadness and fun will naturally return to your life. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s the emotional truth.

Welcome your sadness, breathe deeply, and relax into yourself. Sadness doesn’t come to steal your stuff! Sadness arises when you’re holding on to something that doesn’t work anyway. Let go. Welcome your sadness, let go, relax, and then more forward with clearer eyes and a stronger vision of what works for you now.

And make more space for sadness in the world

What do most of us do when people around us are sad? The first thing most of us do when we’re confronted with sadness is to smile and affect a cheery attitude. This is often a response to the way people behave when they’re sad, which is to apologize and feel ashamed of themselves. So we try to make it better, and help the sad people repress their honest sadness. The more skilled among us might be able to listen supportively, but eventually, we’ll probably try to put a happy face on any sadness we encounter.

Very few people are ever given the time or permission to feel truly sad for as long as they need to. We dry their tears, hug them, make jokes, jolly them along, and try to slap happiness or joy on top of the situation. Unfortunately, this emotional bait-and-switch usually just lengthens people’s stay in the house of loss, and stops them from being able to receive the rejuvenation sadness brings. That’s not a truly empathic or supportive act, even though it may suppress the sadness for a while.

As you learn to work with your own sadness, see if you can find ways to welcome sadness in other people as well. If people around you need to cry, don’t stop them or turn away in embarrassment. Just breathe in, relax, and create a space for the real emotions of the people around you. Our culture is deeply emotion-challenged and deeply sadness-avoidant, but you have the power to change social rules about emotions, at least in your area of influence. Really!

Thank you for bringing more emotional awareness and more empathy into our waiting world.

 

Author Info for Sounds True Coming Soon

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Six Summer Reads You Won’t Want to Miss!

After the stillness of winter and the slow waking of spring, summer is a time for getting up, getting out, and getting our hands on what inspires us the most. Here are some recent Sounds True releases for tapping into a life well lived.

1. The Biophilia Effect – Clemens G. Arvay 

Summer Super Sale - The Biophilia Effect

This is a book that celebrates our interconnection with nature and shows how to deeply engage the natural world wherever you live to dramatically improve your health. Clemens G. Arvay presents fascinating research, practical tools and activities,

inspiring stories, and more in this accessible guide to the remarkable benefits of being in nature.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/the-biophilia-effect.html

 

 

 

 

2. The Healing Code of Nature – Clemens G. Arvay

The Healing Code of Nature - Clemens G. Arvay

Human beings are inseparable from the natural world, coevolving with all of life. In order to thrive, we need to nourish this bond. In his latest book, biologist Clemens G. Arvay illuminates the miraculous ways that the human body interprets the living “code” of plants, animals, and our larger natural habitat for healing and sustenance.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/the-healing-code-of-nature.html

 

 

 

 

 

3. Book of Beasties – Sarah Seidelman

Summer Super Sale - Book of Beasties

From an ancient perspective, everything—including all natural things, like rocks, flowers, trees, insects, birds, and mammals

—is alive and infused with conscious energy or spirit,” writes Sarah Seidelmann. If you’re one of the many people looking to reconnect with the creativity, wisdom, and vital energy of the natural world, here is a fantastic guide for tapping into the power of animal totems, or “beasties.”

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/book-of-beasties.html

 

 

 

4. No Recipe – Edward Espe Brown

Summer Super Sale - No RecipeMaking your love manifest, transforming your spirit, good heart, and able hands into food is a great undertaking,” writes renowned chef and Zen priest Edward Espe Brown, “one that will nourish you in the doing, in the offering, and in the eating.” With No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice, Brown beautifully blends expert cooking advice with thoughtful reflections on meaning, joy, and life itself.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/no-recipe.html

 

 

 

 

5. Yoga Friends – Mariam Gates & Rolf Gates 

Summer Super Sale - Yoga FriendsFrom the creators of Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga comes a beautifully illustrated city adventure that introduces children to the delights and benefits of partner yoga.

Perfect for teaming up with a friend, sibling, parent, or caregiver, each easy practice shows how cooperation helps us to imagine, move, and have fun in a whole new way.

Includes a back-page guide for parents and caregivers, showing how to do each pose and how to connect them into an easy-to-follow flow.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/yoga-friends.html

 

6. Happier Now – Nataly Kogan

Summer Super Sale - Happier Now

What if you could be happier, right now, without radically changing your life? As nationally recognized happiness expert Nataly Kogan teaches, happiness is not a nice feeling or a frivolous extra. It’s a critical, non-negotiable ingredient for living a fulfilling, meaningful, and healthy life—and it’s a skill that we can all learn and improve through practice. In Happier Now, Nataly shares an illuminating, inspiring, and science-based guide to help you build your happier skills and live with more joy, starting now.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/happier-now.html

 

 

 

 

 

Have other books you’ve read by the poolside or under a shade tree ended up changing the way you see the world? Tell us about those summer reads that ended up being more than you expected!

 

Singing Bowl Meditation Sounds True Spotify Playlist

Sounds True is on Spotify!

Need some tunes for rest and relaxation? Check out our Singing Bowl Meditation Playlist! A variety of artists who make a soothing mix of infinite rhythms using Tibetan singing bowls. Perfect throughout a meditative practice.

 

November New Releases and Giveaway

NOVEMBER NEW RELEASES

 

 

The Integrity Advantage by Kelly Kosow

Are you ready to open up to new levels of self-trust and self-love, to get where you want to go?

You vowed to speak up at work, and then sat silent in the meeting yet again.

You told yourself “this time the diet is going to stick,” only to watch the scale inching up.

You felt that something just wasn’t right about someone that—until you learned the hard way that your instincts were right.

“Every time you bite your tongue,” teaches Kelley Kosow, “you swallow your integrity.”

Before Kelley Kosow was a renowned life coach and CEO, she constantly second-guessed herself, let her “to-do” lists and others steer her dreams and passions, and played it “small and safe.”

Inspired by the groundbreaking principles of her renowned mentor Debbie Ford, who hand-picked Kelley to be her successor, The Integrity Advantage is Kelley’s step-by-step guide for facing the fear, shame, and false beliefs that cause us to lose our way.

Through life-changing insights, true stories, and proven strategies, this book will show you how to live on your own terms—according to you—from the inside out.

 

Daring to Rest by Karen Brody

As modern women, we’re taught that we can do it all, have it all, and be it all. While this freedom is beautiful, it’s also exhausting. Being a “worn-out woman” is now so common that we think feeling tired all the time is normal. According to Karen Brody, feeling this exhausted is not normal—and it’s holding us back. In Daring to Rest, Brody comes to the rescue with a 40-day program to help you reclaim rest and access your most powerful, authentic self through yoga nidra, a meditative practice that guides you into one of the deepest states of relaxation imaginable.

It’s time to lie down and begin the journey to waking up

 

 

 

 

Breathe and Be by Anna Emilia Laitinen and Kate Coombs

Teaching mindfulness helps kids learn to stay calm, regulate their emotions, and appreciate the world around them. With Breathe and Be, author Kate Coombs and illustrator Anna Emilia Laitinen team up to present a book of poetry and art for young readers to make mindfulness easy, natural, and beautiful. Here is a book sure to delight parents and kids alike, blending lovingly illustrated nature imagery with elegant verse about living with awareness and inner peace.

 

 

 

 

Leopard Warrior by John Lockley

A Teaching Memoir That Crosses the Barriers Between Worlds

A shaman is one who has learned to move between two worlds: our physical reality and the realm of spirits. For John Lockley, shamanic training also meant learning to cross the immense divide of race and culture in South Africa.

As a medic drafted into the South African military in 1990, John Lockley had a powerful dream. “Even though I am a white man of Irish and English descent, I knew in my bones that I had received my calling to become a sangoma, a traditional South African shaman,” John writes. “I felt blessed by the ancient spirit of Africa, and I knew that I had started on a journey filled with magic and danger.” His path took him from the hills of South Korea, where he trained as a student under Zen Master Su Bong, to the rural African landscape of the Eastern Cape and the world of the sangoma mystic healers, where he found his teacher in the medicine woman called MaMngwev

 

 

Things That Join the Sea and the Sky by Mark Nepo

A Reader for Navigating the Depths of Our Lives

The Universe holds us and tosses us about, only to hold us again. With Things That Join the Sea and the Sky, Mark Nepo brings us a compelling treasury of short prose reflections to turn to when struggling to keep our heads above water, and to breathe into all of our sorrows and joys.

Inspired by his own journal writing across 15 years, this book shares with us some of Mark’s most personal work. Many passages arise from accounts of his own life events—moments of “sinking and being lifted”—and the insights they yielded. Through these passages, we’re encouraged to navigate our own currents of sea and sky, and to discover something fundamental yet elusive: How, simply, to be here.

To be enjoyed in many ways—individually, by topic, or as an unfolding sequence—Things That Join the Sea and the Sky presents 145 contemplations gathered into 17 themes, each intended to illuminate specific situations.

 

 

                NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY

 

WIN OUR NEW RELEASE BUNDLE:The Integrity Advantage, Daring to Rest, Breathe and Be, Leopard Warrior, and Things That Join the Sea and the Sky

TO ENTER: Simply reply in the comments with why you’d like to win!

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Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

 

 

Learn More

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Building the Bridge Between the Heart and the Mind

How can we drop what we are holding on to, if we do not first look for the hand that is grasping so tightly?

Have you ever noticed that you have two distinctly different personae and tend to vacillate between them?

One is very rigid and concerned with the outcome of everything. It worries and frets, its gaze mostly downcast. It doesn’t rest easily, even keeps you up at night sometimes. It acts almost like a dog chasing its tail. It circles obsessively over every detail and unknowable outcome, chasing the same things in a constant repeated pattern. It is cunning, convincing, and tyrannical in nature. It is feverish and ungrounded. Changing, morphing, and flopping from one story or idea to the next. This is your unharnessed mind. The persona you take on when your mind is not connected to the compass of the heart.

For most of us, that’s the dominant persona. But the other aspect of you, as if by some divine intervention, will from time to time slip past the censor of the mind and cheerfully take over your being with its boundless and uninhibited spirit. This personality doesn’t worry. Its face is often lifted, looking in wonder at the shifting sky and swollen moon. Lips curled into a slight smile. It is fluid and flowing, as if it’s on a river of unending joy. It acts like water and reflects light. You feel buoyant. This is your heart-centered self, your true self.

Because most of us moved into our mind long, long ago as a way of protecting our hearts, we now live most of our time in that rigid, concerned first persona. Without even realizing it, we allow our minds to stand between us and our true nature. We have no (conscious) idea how much our minds are acting as a defensive block against our soft and tender core, constantly at work trying to find ways to keep us from feeling, from hurt, from heartache. The price we are paying, however, is that we are also kept from accessing source.

In order to be heart minded, we need to bring the heart and mind into harmony and partnership with one another. For this to happen, we have to train the mind not to fear and close off from the heart, and instead, serve our heart and implement its wishes. In order to do this, we have to undo our mind’s association of feelings of the heart with hurt and harm. In situations that would ordinarily have us retreat or retaliate, we need to remain conscious of what’s happening and choose to soften and lean into our heart’s center. Each time we practice this softening, we send a new message to the mind that signals that we are safe, willing, and wanting to live in this more open, more sensitive way.

Over time, if we are resolute in our intention to step into our heart, our mind will become less rigid in its defenses against feelings and tenderness, and gradually we will become more heart centered.

Remember, we are not trying to pit the heart and mind against one another; we are trying to marry their aptitudes.

Let’s say a wave of anxiety washes through you. You notice your mind begin to race and attach to fearful thoughts. The anxiety then morphs into panic, which courses through you and makes you feel like jumping out of your skin. You begin reaching for an escape, resorting to some form of substance or distraction that can act as a numbing balm.

What just happened? Because you avoided your distress, you are only slightly comforted. A part of you remains braced under the distraction, in fear of the next time this could happen. Your mind’s instinct to protect and defend has been confirmed.

Your heart is neglected and still aching.

But let’s say a wave of anxiety washes through you and instead of looking for an escape route, you go to a quiet room to confront the feeling. You let go of the notion that something is wrong and respond as if something very right is taking place. You know some part of you is calling out for your love and attention.

Let’s say you close your eyes and open your heart to the bigness of the feeling. You create space around it simply by looking without resistance at its contours. You know the only antidote is self-love and hospitality. The mind stops racing away from the distress, which makes room for the heart to begin healing and soothing the body. Your mind learns a new route. You are gifted with courage and resilience.

The only difference between these scenarios was one simple choice: to remain a bystander as the mind continues to ignore the call of the body and heart or to act in ways that support leading from the heart, so the mind can follow.

The two can be wonderful allies if we let them.

As we become heart minded, we begin transforming our human experience from something out of our hands to something very much in them. We begin to cultivate joy instead of haphazardly stumbling upon it when we are willing.

Each moment, our bodies are counseling us to make choices that bring us closer to love. The wisdom of the heart and body is there for us, always, if we listen and let it lead.

For a guided practice in learning to stay in our hearts during difficult times, follow along with Sarah in this video.

 

This is an adapted excerpt from Heart Minded: How to Hold Yourself and Others in Love by Sarah Blondin.

 

Sarah Blondin

Sarah Blondin is an internationally beloved spiritual teacher. Her guided meditations on the app InsightTimer have received nearly 10 million plays. She hosts the popular podcast Live Awake, as well as the online course Coming Home to Yourself. Her work has been translated into many languages and is in use in prison, recovery, and wellness programs. For more, visit sarahblondin.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Virginia Abraham says:

    Much needed, thank you kindly for working with “difficult” emotions in this “I’d rather not” culture. It’s a fact that in our dysfunctional, corporate controlled environment, health-care workers are not able to support of each other, and I am brainstorming a “Care for the Caregiver” class. Please let me know if I have permission to refer folks to your material- it is vital, for sure. (Love Sounds True and all you do!)
    Blessings,
    V. Grace Abraham, CMT, LPN, Rev.

  • vicki lynn says:

    Hi Matt, Thank you for putting a lovely positive spin on a difficult situation in our American culture. Emotions are healing once we feel them. Sadness can be very overwhelming at times, and feel like it’s never gonna end. By the grace of god I have been fortunate enough to have a therapist who has done her internal work and felt her own pain, so she can hold my hand while I go thru mine. Unfortunately it seems common for professionals to try and practice before they deal with their own stuff. I am reminded of the saying, “if you can feel it you can heal it.” Not the easy path, but I am blessed.

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