Welcoming the gifts of sadness

SADNESS: The Water Bearer

GIFTS: Release ~ Fluidity ~ Grounding ~ Relaxation ~ Rejuvenation

WHAT YOUR SADNESS DOES: Sadness arises when it’s time to let go of something that isn’t working anyway.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Let go. If you can truly let go, relaxation and rejuvenation will follow.

THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: What must be released? What must be rejuvenated?

Sadness is a wonderful emotion that arises when something needs to be released.

This might be an idea, an attitude, a possession, a stance, an ideology, a belief, a relationship, or a way of behaving in the world (etc.) that no longer works for you.

Sadness has a kind of alchemical magic to it, because if you can listen to it and honestly let go, you’ll find that you can relax and breathe again.

Sadness is about letting go

And letting go means that you’ll be freer than you were before (when you were holding on tightly to something that was honestly not working). When you can listen to your sadness and work with it empathically, you’ll experience relaxation, spaciousness, and a sense of rejuvenation.

Many of us believe that sadness is only about loss, but it’s not. Sadness is also about restoring flow, ease, and relaxation — because when you can finally let go of things that just don’t work, you’ll suddenly have room for things that do work.

Many people have problems with sadness, and as I think about it, I sense what I call an emotional attribution mistake. That’s a fancy way of saying that people often blame sadness for the way they’re feeling, instead of realizing that sadness arises in response to the fact that they’re holding on to something that isn’t working anyway.

Sadness doesn’t come to steal your stuff!

Sadness arises when you’re holding on to stuff that doesn’t work any more. This stuff — a thing, idea, relationship, or whatever — it might have worked in the past, but it doesn’t work now, and sadness arises to help you let go of it.

When you can let go, you’ll be able to relax, reassess your current situation and your current needs, and become aware of who you are and what you need now, today.

Sadness helps you let go, relax, rejuvenate yourself, and come fully into the present moment — not because you’re chasing after happiness or any other allegedly positive emotions (there is no such thing as a positive emotion), but because you know how to let things go and rejuvenate yourself.

And when you let go, your sadness will recede naturally (because you’ve attended to it skillfully), and other emotions will arise, depending on your situation and your needs.

What a sad, tense world we’ve created because we refuse to honor the gifts of sadness

Without our sadness, we can’t relax, we can’t release our tension in healthy ways, we can’t cry and restore fluidity to ourselves, and we can’t let go of things that aren’t working anyway.

If we don’t know how to access our sadness, tension piles up, unsaid words pile up, muscle tightness adds up, things we don’t need pile up, ideas we’ve grown out of pile up, relationships that no longer work pile up, and we find ourselves crowded out of our real lives by a bunch of unnecessary debris.

And then we can’t find the present moment with two hands and a flashlight, because we can’t find anything in all the clutter. When we don’t allow our sadness to do its proper work, we lose a great deal of our liveliness and flow; we lose ourselves, in a way.

The questions for sadness are What must be released? and What must be rejuvenated?

So let’s welcome sadness to our lives by remembering to breathe in and let the tension go. Let’s listen to sadness instead of swatting it away or toughening up. When sadness arises, let’s look for things that aren’t working anyway, and let them go.

Related post: A healing practice for sadness


5 Responses

  1. Clay Reid
    | Reply

    We’re encouraged to divert ourselves from the emotion by engaging in physical activity, imagining pleasant and relaxing experiences, or looking for humor in a situation that makes us sad. Some people, who are naturally empathetic, have decided to protect themselves from sadness and other untoward emotions by not watching the news. I can understand why. There’s even a danger of becoming hardened and developing “ compassion fatigue ” in the face of overwhelming tragedy like the recent disasters in Japan.

  2. Patricia
    | Reply

    Karla, In your books you mention the idea of leading with sadness, or, using a set of survival skills as a personality. I think I may fall into this softened person catagory, although I have done an aweful lot of swashbuckling things, it has often felt just like that.Swashbuckling. Most people would describe me as nice. When I am with others, I am often out of my self and into “causing them feel good about everything” so that I may be ok. You say that this is a choice, and I have heard this for many many years in therapy, in self help books. My question, where is the choice made? When and how can I become aware of making this choice at the time of it? I identify with what you call run away healing…healing others so that I may be ok. Where is that choice made and how do I change it?

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hello Patricia — I see your point, and your question about choice is a good one. The choice isn’t a logical one that you can change by thinking about it.

      This choice was usually made in early childhood, and sometimes before a child develops full use of language. So talking about this choice doesn’t often work either. Instead, the work is to focus on your emotions, use the Burning Contracts and Rejuvenation practices, and retrain your brain and your psyche to do things differently.

      It can take a while, but like any habit, it is amenable to change. One very important thing is to thank the sadness for doing such a good job instead of trying to slap it down or shame it. It’s been working hard! It needs to lie down on a lounge chair with a cool drink while anger and shame and everybody else arise again and learn to work together.

      A very good approach to learning to set effective boundaries is Sharon Ellison’s Powerful Non-Defensive Communication process. She’s got a lot of audio clips here, and I think you’ll like her work.

      Bringing anger back out to its rightful place and helping sadness step back a bit is a process that will have its ups and downs. It’s involved work to change ingrained behaviors, but it’s good work if you can get it!

  3. Adam G
    | Reply


    Thank you so much for your website as a resource.

    It is helping me through a pretty huge shift in how I relate to others and myself emotionally.


    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Welcome, Adam!

      I’m glad that this information is helpful for you!

      Emotions are so amazing, and also very powerful. The fact that we’ve been taught so little about them is a constant astonishment to me.


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