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Living with Sadness


Today, I woke up feeling sad. All of my basic needs are met. I have a pantry full of food and a warm, safe place to sleep at night. 

Put simply, my life is going well by most objective standards. I have (almost) nothing to complain about.

So, why am I sad? I don’t think there is a reason. I think there is a wellspring of emotion, and when we wake up our cup is filled with whatever happens to be in the well that day.

Sometimes, I wake up angry and irritated. Other times, I wake up quiet and contented. But today I woke up sad.

I’ve been sad a lot lately.

And I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about it. I could explore the tide pools of sadness. I could tie a rock around my neck and and sink into its dark waters; looking for the source. But I’m scared I’d drown.

I’m scared I’d fall in love with the dark anonymity of the sandy bottom, find peace in the fullness of my grief until I forsook the surface world and breathed watery death into my lungs.

There’s comfort in sadness.

And that comfort is frightening. Because it asks nothing of me. I can lay in bed until noon and be sad. I can not eat or brush my teeth and be sad. I can ignore the calls and emails of family and friends even as I complain about my loneliness; sadness wants nothing from me.

It just asks me to be… sad.

And it’s because sadness is so easy that I must fight against it. It’s because it fills my cup so often, that I must be thirsty. I can’t choose when and where sadness washes over me. But I can choose to not drown in the waves.

This is where Buddhism becomes helpful. I turn to the countless hours I’ve spent on retreat; doing the practice in spite of my emotions.

Buddhism taught me to sit when I’m confused. It taught me to sweep floors when I’m scared. And it taught me to chant when I just want to ball up my fists and scream.

Buddhism taught me how to not be a slave to my emotions. So, I turn to it when I must escape the clutches of grief.

I respond to sadness by turning my daily life into a Buddhist retreat. For the sake of all sentient beings, I stick to the retreat schedule, and I let my emotions be what they will.

In spite of my melancholy, I feed the animals, wash dishes and fold laundry. I go about the hard work of living with the zeal of a first-year Zen student. And by the end of the day, my sadness… is still there.

But it’s less scary, less important. I don’t have time to wallow in its cool, dark waters. I’m too tired, and there’s too much living to do.

So, I go to sleep; wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Namu Amida Butsu

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  1. Sadness is a part of life just like happiness and contentment. We can recognize sadness and know that is but only one emotion of many in life. Talking to our sadness can make it not as scary. Perhaps we can even learn and grow from it, learn something from it and hopefully come out a better brighter happier person.


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