Sit With Sadness

Demeter by David Robinson

Demeter by David Robinson

I awoke this morning deeply, profoundly sad. It is unusual for me to emerge from sleep with sadness; I’m generally a happy person. It was the brand of sadness that has no attachment to a reason. I was earth-sad. I’ve learned that when I come into possession of a sacred sadness, I need to pay careful attention to it rather than struggle to find a way out. It will inevitably illuminate something important if I sit with it, feel it to my bones, honor it, and listen.

I brought sadness with me when swam out of my dreams and broke the surface of consciousness. It was as if I was pulling a drowning man from the ocean floor to the surface; he was heavy and I was exhausted by the effort. I gasped for breath when I broke the surface and I can only imagine that my companion, sadness, gasped, too. I lay in bed. He sat with me. Our breathing calmed. Both of us were quiet. I wanted to say, “What?” but I know better than to force the conversation. Sadness talks when sadness is ready.

Khalil Gibran wrote that, “Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.” In his Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke advises, “Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write: find out whether it is spreading its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied to you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night: must I write?” If the answer is yes, Rilke advises the young poet to build his life according to this necessity.

I believe everyone has an inner imperative. For some it looks like having a family. For some it is tending a garden. Some need to travel. Some people need to seek spirit. It’s hard to explain a drive that must either be satisfied or kill you – especially when that drive looks like an art form. What must you do or die? What inner necessity transcends physical comfort or safety or security or measures of success? Twice in my life I denied myself my artistry in an attempt to have a normal “career” and twice I nearly died (not metaphorically). Of course, on the up side, following an inner imperative makes you bullet proof. Social norms wad like wet tissue paper in the face of do-or-die necessity. Fear has no footing when the alternative to acting on the imperative is to die.

I’ve known since I was a small child my answer to Rilke’s question. After a long silence, Sadness looked at me this morning and said, “Well?  Are you ready to redesign your garden?”

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