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Tasting the Bitter with the Sweet

By Kathleen Metcalfe July 31, 2023 Mindset

Sometimes I find that after I write a column for Sixty and Me, I can’t stop thinking about it. Last month I wrote an article entitled “Can You Be Positive if You’re Not Feeling It?

One of the things I wrote was:

“If we are going to be full human beings, we cannot avoid sadness. Sorrow and loss are part of living. Periods of lack of confidence, lack of hope and lack of energy are inevitable. There is nothing wrong with us if we experience these feelings. To me, the point is just not to be stuck there.”

Honor Feelings We Don’t Necessarily Like

This is what I have been thinking about, and I would like to take it one step further. Beyond not getting stuck there, beyond giving ourselves permission to have down times, perhaps we could actually honour these feelings and the special state we are in when we are somewhat down.

I am not talking about what could be called clinical depression, where we lose interest in everything for long periods at a time. What I am referring to could be called melancholia or the blues – a time when hurtin’ music feels healing.

How can it be that hurtin’ music feels good when we feel bad? Someone who asked herself that question, and wrote a book about how she answered it, is Susan Cain. I am reading her book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. For those of us who have those feelings, it is such a validation!

Our Sorrows Need Validation

Our sorrows and our longings, she suggests, come from our sensitivity to being separated from our best selves, even from humanity’s best possibilities. This can show up in our more mundane issues when we feel we could be loved more or could love ourselves more.

Susan Cain talks about loving music in a minor key. There is a piano piece by Brahms (an Intermezzo, which so aptly in Italian means something in between) I often listen to when I need deep companionship in my sorrow. Either that, or some Hawaiian music I bought when I was in Hawaii nursing a deep hurt.

Both these pieces of music remind me of a line of poetry I love by Gerrard Manley Hopkins: “Sorrow’s springs are the same.”

The music and the sorrow that accompanies it seem to expand the soul. In that space, we are often creative, seeking expression for what we feel. It is a time we can contemplate our lives and make changes. The feeling it evokes fosters compassion, and connection with all that is.

It is as if, for a time, we can put our weight on our back foot, rather than our front foot. The world is slightly different there. As poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “Things as they are, are changed upon the blue guitar.”

The Possibilities in the In-Between Zone

We can look upon this state as an opening, an opening that contains possibilities we can’t reach in our more ordinary way of being, or, to go back to Intermezzo, when we aren’t in the in-between zone. Not just a source of pain, sorrows can also be a source of growth that allows us to feel more.

Janice Skinner, my long-time yoga teacher, often exhorts us, as we practise, to “feel everything.” To me, this suggests a conscious act of permission I give myself. I have had a good and fortunate life, and yet sorrow and longing are part of who I am. Perhaps I can welcome them more fully when they come to call and see them as reminders. Reminders of what, exactly? I’m still not sure. But I treasure them.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you thought about honoring those times in life when you feel sad and sorrowful? Do you think sorrow is a way to grow and become more of yourself? In what ways have you used your sorrows and blues to create a different life?

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Carolyn Frick

It’s all part of the Yin & Yang of life. Unless you’ve experienced sadness, how would you know what happiness feels like. Unless you’ve experienced sorrow, how would you know what joy feels like. It’s a balance, we can’t have all good and no bad, it’s our reaction to the bad that leads to unnecessary suffering.

Deloris Walker

The idea of appreciating sadness or sorrowful feelings is a new way of looking at it. The idea that even sadness or sorrow has some value is very thought provoking. I have always considered them entities on their own, brought on by unhappy events, but never a value. However, they are part of the whole picture of our lives and maybe some value to grow and create does come from it.

The Author

Kathleen has developed a unique set of skills through her diverse experiences in corporate boardrooms, international war zones, and other environments. Kathleen advises and coaches people going through difficult situations. She finds her work to be fulfilling and enjoys the opportunity to bring her wealth of experience to the table.

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