The Unexpected Gifts of Being Sad

Going “right through the centre of yourself”

This is Rilke’s description of the movement of sadness, in Letters to A Young Poet. I like this definition of being touched: being a conduit for feelings rather than a reservoir for them or a victim of them. It makes me think about whether perhaps we are built to process emotions. It is possible for feelings to pass through the centre of us without damaging us, just as it is possible for emotional experiences to hurt us in deep and lasting ways.

Understanding the architecture of your centre allows you to know what your capacities are.

Knowing ourselves, we know how much we can take. This is particularly important for HSP, as our sensitivity can make our capacities and strengths different from other people’s. When it feels safe, allowing ourselves to be deeply touched by emotion can be a way to move toward growth and change.

Our sadnesses [ . . . ] are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Whilst sadness can spark a change in us, so too can change make us feel sad.

This is part of the reason transitions can be so difficult, even if we’re leaving behind something that no longer serves us or moving on to something exciting. Whether we are intentional and resolute or we feel that we’re being torn from our comfort zone, we are often thrown off kilter when things shift.

All change is a kind of loss, isn’t it? And this loss is not only external. Change can make us feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves or turning away from a path we expected to travel in our lives.

Moments of loss and sorrow create important spaces within us.

We can experience grave and overwhelming sadness when we lose something important to us—sometimes when we just think about how that loss might feel in the future—and loss can take many forms, from cancelled plans for coffee, to being laid off, to an illness that changes our abilities temporarily or permanently.

But it also seems that we can experience the sadness that comes with change as a  vital kind of loss, as a feeling of being emptied out and ready for something new to enter. A feeling of being “empty” may mean that there is  a space in our heart whose purpose remains undefined. For the new. Or perhaps even that a new space is formed, awakening us to our wholeness.

What if a feeling of sadness indicates a need for reflection, silence and stillness? How can we figure out what the spaces left inside us are for?

Sadness and grief aren’t moments, but processes. Fighting the passing of sadness, circling round in the unpleasant feeling, can be more challenging than taking space and silence, and letting it pass through. We each go through the process of feeling differently.

We cannot avoid sadness. If we understand our individual process, accepting the fact that we are deeply touched both by sorrow and joy, Highly Sensitive People can live in our intensity in ways that serve us, making choices based on our individual desires and boundaries.

Sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more, — is already in our blood. And we do not learn what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

I wonder what we might gain by welcoming sadness and joy as they move through us, in all their transformative potential?

P.S. If you’ve found the quotes in this post interesting, you might like to have a look at the rest of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet here.