Conquering the Great Big Sadness

Sometimes, as feeling human beings, we feel a significant sadness weighing in our chest, inexplicably. It certainly seems as though some are more prone to this sadness than others, and when frequently visited by it, the clarity of peace is obscured, leading us to dull ourselves.

Although it’s okay to feel sad, when it becomes intense and cumbersome, there are ways to work with yourself in order to overcome the heavy feelings.We now consider three sisters, walking alongside the bank of a river in a forest, and their conversation… One the eldest, who is M, and one the youngest, called S, and the troubled heart in the middle, and she was H…


S: That tree over there looks like it has a face in it!

M: Perhaps it does! H, you’ve been awfully quiet. Are you thinking about a dream?

H: Nightmare, more like. But no, I’m just feeling sad today–and maybe forever.

M: Ha! Let’s hear it, sister. Describe to us your sadness.

S: I bet it’s fog-like. Like a ghost.

H: No, it’s not. It’s as big as our house and bulbous, like a ginormous frog, but scarier. It’s called the Great Big Sadness and it loves to eat me. It has eaten me today, and now I’m sleeping in its belly. When people get near, I can’t hear them because their voice is muffled from the belly, and when I try to call for help, I’m sure they can’t hear me either. It’s stuffy and I can’t breathe within the Great Big Sadness, and the walls are too slimy to climb out. A slight beam of light breaks into the pit from above and it shines in my eye so I can’t rest, I only struggle.

S: Sadness makes you weird.

H: Hush!

M: Sadness makes you feel.

S: That’s what hands do!

M: You know, you’re looking at it all wrong.

S: Hands don’t feel?

M: No, about the Great Big Sadness. You rented out that belly for your story. I can help you. Will you?

H: Help you?

M: Help you.

H: I don’t like where this is going.

S: What are you two talking about?

H: I have no idea!

M: Listen, sister. Humor me. Think of one of your dearest friends. Think of how you watch her suffer, complaining about her reflection, and dwelling on the flaws she hates so much about herself. When you see her like this, how do you feel?

H: I feel sad for her, because she is a beautiful person and I don’t know anybody else like her. But even though she hates the parts of herself that make her different, those are the parts I like most about her.

S: That’s really sad. Bummer!

M: And then by her being sad, you feel sadness too. See, you love your friend. How do you help her?

H: I try to tell her all the wonderful things about her and about life that maybe she wasn’t paying attention to, and I let her know I love her. I don’t know what else to do.

M: Does it work?

H: Yeah. Well, now and then. Pretty soon she’s going through the same battle again. And I try to help her see the beauty again. Sometimes… honestly, it gets frustrating. I want to help her so much but ultimately I can’t, not really… I can say great things but I can’t control how she feels, only she can do that.

M: Sister!

S: Ahh!

H: What?

M: Do you feel that? Right now? What you just said?

S: What! What is it? I fell asleep!

M: She was just revelling in the powerlessness of controlling others’ feelings. She was thinking about how she can’t help her friend.

H: Wait, I can! And I do! She just won’t love herself.

S: You two are really sad today. My mood is totally killed.

M: So, sister, tell me, about your friend, does it seem that easy? That your friend could take what you tell her with love to heart and begin to love herself?

H: Well, it seems that way.

M: Is that not why you tell her those things? So she can feel good about what she considers flaws and learn to love those parts of herself? Meaning that you believe she can change, can love herself?

H: Sure.

S: Spread the love!

M: You crack me up, kiddo. H, think of yourself as your friend. Any time you ever feel powerless to your emotions, remember that you have had a small understanding, a minuscule perception, of how easy it is to enable yourself.

H: Isn’t enabling bad?

M: It works either way–you can enable yourself to succeed or to fail. Because you have more self-governance than you realize. We just don’t usually push ourselves to tap into it.

S: Okay, I’m going back to bed now.

M: Sleep well, dear. There’s a soft patch of grass over there.

H: Is your riddle over with yet?

M: I’m still working on it. When you see your friend suffer, you want to help her. You want more for her. You would do most anything she asked of you.

H: True.

M: Would you not do that for yourself, also? When you feel sad, what do you do? Do you tell yourself great things, and do any favor you’d want? Sister, you wallow. You construct a metaphorical belly to trap yourself inside, and you fill it with tears to drown. Tell me, does the thought of being in a dark damp cave of a beast inspire you to feel better?

H: No, it’s just how I feel though. That’s just how bad this feels. When the Great Big Sadness comes along, I don’t volunteer! It just snatches!

M: Baby dear, you conceived the Great Big Sadness. You are the only one who formed it in your mind and named it, bowed down to it! You are saying you are giving up your power to it?

H: I don’t want to! I have to!

M: I’m not saying sadness doesn’t exist nor that others don’t feel sadness. But the way you personally feel and perceive sadness is totally up to you. You’ve chosen to visualize it as a giant monster instead of, perhaps, a harmless old friend who drops by to give you a different angle now and then.

H: Haven’t you ever felt sadness before? That’s not how it works!

M: Let’s calm down.

H: So you just tell people how to feel now? That’s a cool power.

M: The way our culture views sadness is so intense, so dramatic. It is unpleasant, but the way we treat sadness as a society frames the way we as individuals understand how to process sadness. If our whole world tells us, Sadness is bad and is really scary and leads to suicide! Then when we feel sadness, those are the lengths to which our minds may more easily go. But if our world tells us, Sadness is natural, we should use it to learn and mostly in small doses. Then when we experience sadness, we don’t feel as freaked out by it or what it means.

H: You know, I really wish I had the hippy type of sadness, but I don’t. It’s not always like that.

M: You’re choosing to make it the Great Big Sadness. It’s not the Great Big Sadness. It’s the Little Tiny Cloud that sometimes sprinkles rain on you, which is fine now and then and helps you hydrate and grow, but when you’re quenched and satisfied, just open up your umbrella.

H: So you want me to go to the store and buy and umbrella? Do you have stock in rain gear?

M: Sister, you are so silly it brings me joy! We are all much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. When I tell you that you can overcome your burdensome emotions, why do you fight me? Expend energy to tell me that I am wrong? That you are too weak, too weak to enjoy, to feel peace? If you put the energy you use to dwell on your sadness and make up stories about it, if you used the energy you use in arguing with me to prove you’re unstoppably sad, don’t you think you could have began to open up that umbrella? It’s only a little cloud.

H: But I can’t do it! I need help!

M: I am helping you right now, love! This is all I can do for you, remember? The rest is you. Just like your friend.

H: Oh… ! My friend.

M: Just like there is only so much you can do for your friend but love her, there is only so much that someone can do for you. Only so much that I can do for you. Most of it is going to have to require your hard emotional work.

H: So, I can.

M: Exactly.

H: …What if life is just sadness? We are all doomed to lives of endless miseries?

M: Does that have anything to do with what I just said? Did you hear me say anything about the world’s fate being sadness? Precious, balance is key to life. Balance will always find a way. It is essential–and so, your fate is not sadness. No one’s is. It’s just a part of the balance. Happiness can grow anywhere, so long as you give it light. You mustn’t block out the light.

S: What’d I miss?

H: Oh, forget you! I feel like I’m on the cusp of something.

M: This is all out of love. I hope you know that. It’s because I believe in you. How’d you sleep, little one?

S: Like a sock!

H: No one says that.

M: Hey there. You know I love you?

H: Yeah, it’s just a lot.

S: What is?

H: Slaying the Great Big Sadness.

S: Adventure!

M: See? You’ve already begun. You’re no longer sitting in the beast–you’re visualizing your conquer. Being mindful about how you frame your thoughts is the first step.

H: Of how many?

M: All of them. However many. This is not an easy skill to learn, but you become better with experience. For now baby efforts. Little tiny steps are still steps. As you climb them, you grow stronger. And more open to the light.

S: I’m hungry.

H: You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’ll probably forget half of it.

M: That’s okay. Maybe this isn’t the right time for you to hear it, in which case there will be more opportunities. But if you take any of this away today–

S: Ahem, I said I’m hungry!

M: You’re right, let’s head back now and see what Mother’s been working on for dinner.

S: Yay! Race ya!

H: But what were you going to say?

M: I don’t remember! Come on, sister! She’s getting ahead! (laughter)


So, from these sisters, we can gain a lot of wisdom. We must be mindful of the power we allow our emotions to have over us; we can do this by perceiving our emotions in loving, growth-oriented ways. When we have compassion for ourselves, we realize punishing ourselves is not helpful, and we realize the light that we can radiate. Sometimes all it takes is allowing ourselves to smile at a joke, or a silly child, or a funny play on words. And every sadness we feel does not have to be the Great Sadness, because when we succumb to that personification, we unnecessarily give it power that it would otherwise not have.

It is important to feel that you love yourself, and that you are able to experience your emotions in a healthy, productive way. You deserve that. You can accomplish that. I believe in you.


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