Feeling sad happens to the best of us – until you learn how to turn it off. Turning off the ability to be sad, though, has disastrous consequences for us emotionally. Why? Because sadness is the result of a letting go. Letting go of something frees us to grab on to something more productive and more useful.
Imagine your emotional life is like a refrigerator. Like a fridge, if you let stuff linger in there too long it goes rotten. Things that may have been healthy to hold on to emotionally for a while, go bad over the course of a life. Like a bad odor in a fridge, the smell and texture of rotten food quickly spreads until the entire thing is full of rotten awfulness. Not only is there no room in the fridge for more stuff, the stuff you do manage to jam in goes rotten almost instantly.
Cleaning out the emotional fridge is absolutely critical. The problem is, like cleaning out a fridge full of rotten veggies, it’s unpleasant. Unlike a fridge, where the unpleasantness comes from a bad odor or physical activity; cleaning out the emotional fridge produces a few overripe emotions. Anger, frustration, sadness; all of these emerge as we clean out our emotional icebox. Sadness, though, is the most telling. We know we are doing it correctly when there is a naked and pure sad feeling. Why?
Emotions like anger and frustration are usually a fear of some kind trying to surface. When you resolve a fear it produces one of two emotions: joy and sadness. Both of these are the positive and negative outcomes of a fear, or to say it differently, joy is a fear conquered, sadness is a fear realized.
Honest sadness, one that feels simply like a hollowing out, or a cleaning fire is the beginning of a clean emotional space. You get to this sadness by, ironically, letting it hurt. One of the best ways to do it, particularly if you have lost the ability to cry on your own (it happens), is to watch a movie about something that is sensitive to you. Almost any movie pertaining to the loss of something will do.
If you haven’t let yourself feel sad for a number of years or decades this may take several times (spread them out). Watch the movie but don’t pay attention to it intellectually. Try to feel your way into the characters – put on their emotions like you would a bathrobe. The more you do this; the more you reconnect with emotions or emotional items in your own life.
As you begin this process you will find that often, just feeling sadness, can allow you to let go of things in your life. From loved ones no longer with us, to situations where you didn’t get what you wanted, feeling sad is the only way to stop hanging on (sorry – you can’t think your way out of this one Spock). That’s not to say you forget them, but you neutralize their ability to influence your behavior. They can’t hold you back anymore – and that is what we are shooting for.
Over time, as you re-cultivate your emotional sensitivity, you will find your entire emotional range opening back up. Like the Wizard of Oz going from black and white to color, you will find a whole new way to look at the world and experience life. Emotions are a powerful and often overpowering perspective on the world. Many of us have learned how to shut them off, but by doing so have closed the door on an important part of life.
Remember: the goal of your sadness is to clear out space for new emotional experiences. If your sadness is unproductive (i.e. not helping you clear out space) you may be depressed or something else may be going on – get help in this case, there’s no shame in it – everyone needs a helping hand sometimes.