I recently spoke with a woman whose gut is telling her to quit a job she once loved. 

She’s worked in her position for six years, doing work she finds incredibly meaningful. But in the last two years, her director has made some decisions that she finds highly problematic. She’s done all she can to speak up and protect her organization but to no avail. After lots of effort, she realized that she’s too small to hold back the tide and that her organization is headed in a direction that she cannot abide.

On the phone, she told me that the situation breaks her heart.

I asked if she’d taken time to allow herself to grieve. She shared that she hasn’t.

Her story inspired me to write this message to you today.

Our culture scorns sadness.

When you get sad, what do you do? Perhaps you embody the compassionate part of yourself, give yourself a hug, respond with kindness, tell yourself that you’re there for yourself no matter what. Perhaps the grown-ups you grew up with taught you how to respond with care. Maybe you learned self-compassion later in life. If so, that’s awesome.

But if you’re like most people, you probably push your sadness away. Maybe you tell yourself that things aren’t so bad. You try to distract yourself. You look at the bright side—anything but just sitting with your sadness.

If you’re like most people, nobody ever taught you how to listen to your sadness.

So we store our sadness.

The problem is, when we ignore our sadness, it doesn’t go away. Instead, we bury it deep in the underground of our cell tissues. 

And grief that’s not fully grieved in one generation often passes down to the next. We hold the accumulated, unshed tears of our ancestors in the cells of our bodies. Perhaps we fear that if we tended to our stored-up sadness, we’d never stop crying.

To cope, we go numb, distracting ourselves with the mundanities of life. 

But the same parts of ourselves that feel pain also feel pleasure, so when we don’t feel our grief, we can’t feel joy.

Besides, sadness hurts. Of course, we don’t want to feel it. But it is a mistake to confuse hurt with harm. Sadness stings and it can heal. 

Sadness is a messenger.

A calling is a longing to rise to a challenge to meet a need or serve a purpose, often larger than ourselves. 

Our callings speak through our bodies. Sometimes, a calling feels like excitement, a warm rush of energy, goosebumps, or heart flutters. Other times, a calling feels like an unemotional, guttural yes from deep in our bellies. Often, a calling feels like fear or trepidation or Ugh! I really don’t want to have to do this thing, but I know I must.

Callings often start as sadness. 

In my morning journaling practice, I have recently been asking myself: How is my heart? Around the holidays, I discovered that some mornings, the answer was sad

I was surprised. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve often felt a twinge of guilt for how good I feel. I feel immensely grateful to live on beautiful land that hosts many walks with friends, be well-sustained by my work even during the pandemic, and still get along so well with my son this many months into almost nonstop time in the same place. 

And yet, there are days when I feel sad. As I’ve listened closely, my sadness has had a lot to say. My heart hurts as I think about my kiddo becoming a teenager. Tears come as I immerse myself in the history of settler colonialism in New England (which I’ve been doing in recent months). I often feel sadness as I hear the death count on the morning news. 

When I feel sad, I can choose to distract myself. Or I can choose to honor my sadness by listening closely, not trying to make it go away, and asking what my sadness is calling me toward. When I pay attention, my sadness lets me know which choices I need to make now, what I need to prioritize, and what I’m ready to let go of. 

What is your sadness wanting to say?

The next time you feel sad, I invite you to refrain from asking yourself, How do I get happy?

Instead, ask yourself, What is the sadness wanting to say? 

Perhaps your sadness is asking you to reach out to a loved one you’ve been estranged from, even though you worry how they’ll respond. Or to contribute a more significant percentage of your paycheck to a reparations fund, even though you’re still paying off student loans. Or to speak up at a local city council meeting, even though you’d rather do anything but. 

Sometimes, sadness simply wants you to witness it. Acknowledgment is the first step toward healing.

Your turn.

If there’s a part of you who is grieving or feeling sad, I invite you to try this now. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Then get comfortable and settle your body. Notice where you feel your sadness in your body. Gently place a hand there, offering yourself warmth. 

Then, ask your sadness the following questions:

  • What do you want to tell me? 
  • What do you want me to know? 
  • What are you longing for?
  • What do you need?

You might discover that each of these questions elicits slightly different responses or that not much new comes up as you move on to the next question. The important thing is that you listen closely and give your sadness ample time to respond. 

If you find yourself skipping quickly over each one, I invite you to set a timer and give yourself at least two minutes per question. Free write, keeping your pen moving until the time is up. 

If you are feeling a lot of sadness, please know that I see you. May you find the insights you seek, and may you find kindness and warmth as you navigate along your journey. 

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

With much love and gratitude,

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