Sorrow

Nobody's life is free of sorrow. As human beings we do get sorrowful and depressed at times — for all and various kinds of reasons. How can mindfulness help?

First, we can be aware of this sorrow, this pain or feeling of unhappiness in our heart. How is it like? How do you feel it as a sensation in the body? Does it feel like a sharp or searing pain in the heart? Or is it more like what they call a heartache, that is, a sort of aching pain varying from dull to acute in the heart? Or would you describe it as a feeling of heaviness, a feeling of disease, a tension, a knot, a disquietness? Or does it feel like something gnawing or biting away in the heart? Or whatever? You'd find that ten people would have ten different ways of describing their pain, each using different metaphors and imagery.

And as for that state of mind itself, how would you describe it? How is that mental feeling like? Which word might best characterize it — sorrow, sadness, grief, pain, woe, lamentation, mourning, regret, remorse, melancholy, depression, malaise, disease, a feeling of emptiness, hollowness, meaninglessness, gloom, desolation, despair, agony, vexation, anxiety, anguish?

Observing the pain helps because as you do so you'd find that it is not something impregnable. It is not something as solid, permanent or lasting as you might have thought it to be. Both the physical sensations and the mental state can be found to be impermanent, as phenomena that are arising and passing away. This ability to observe in an objective or detached manner can help alleviate the pain. It is a like the case of observing the anger where instead of focusing on the person you were angry with, you turn your attention inwards onto the anger itself. And as you do so, you find the anger lessening rather than increasing. Similarly, when you turn your attention from the person or the situation that is causing you the pain, to the pain itself, the pain too may lessen. Initially, however, you may feel that the pain is becoming stronger, but as you observe you'd find that it does subside. It is like a wave which has its ebb and flow, rise and fall.

On the other hand, if you do not acknowledge or observe the pain, you might get more and more sucked into that vortex of sorrow. It might just overwhelm or smother you. It may totally pin or weigh you down.

Oh Lord Buddha, I know this pain in my heart is there because of attachment. You have taught me well about the danger and pain of attachment. But how can I not be attached to dear dear Spot? He was so loyal, so faithful, so affectionate, — he was my best friend! and now he's gone & my heart is broken.

[It's okay to grieve. We understand. All of us (unless we are anagamis or arahants who have uprooted aversion) do grieve. But please note the grief. Please feel, observe and understand it — understand how it has arisen and learn to reconcile with the pain that must come from attachment. And ask yourself the question: how can I ever love without attachment, without pain? When you can answer this question, you would have come to the end of all pain and suffering, you would have solved the riddle and puzzle of life.]

Acknowledging the pain can also help you to see things in a proper perspective. As you observe it, you can also reflect on how the pain has arisen. For example, you can remind yourself that pain normally arises because of craving and attachment. So you can ask yourself, how or in what way have you craved or become attached so as to now feel this pain? There are many forms of attachment — attachment to persons, to possessions, to the status quo, that is, to things remaining as they are, not wanting any change, but how can that be possible when it is in the nature of things to change and transform into something or other, which could be better or worse? There is attachment to name, to one's status or position in life; to one's ego or image of self; to one's job or career; to sensual pleasures and pleasant sensations, to a thousand and one other things. Attachment is insidious and furtive: it develops without our realizing and before we know it we have become deeply attached.

Attachment leads to aversion. When we lose something we have become attached to, there is anger, pain and grief. Because we can't get something, we get upset and depressed. Expectation, too, leads to disappointment. So we can consider how the pain had arisen because of our grasping or clinging. In understanding the causes, we can be liberated; for once we understand, we can begin to let go since we know it is the clinging that is the cause of suffering. Also, adopting various wise and skillful attitudes can help to greatly reduce our suffering, for most of the time the pain is ultimately of our own making and it is better not to blame others or external conditions so much, for finally it is how we respond that counts.

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