As I sit staring out the window, there is gently falling snow accumulating on the February ground. The sky is white and gray. It’s the kind of quiet where you wonder if you’re the only one in the world. The texture of my inner world reflects this quiet gray. I feel a tenderness and aloneness that does not collapse in on itself. When I breathe into this feeling of quiet sadness, it expands in a way that helps me feel alive and more full.
I have challenges in my life. I have some health conditions which deplete my energy and require me to be disciplined in what I eat and my self-care and it’s friggin’ hard. I’m raising a super energetic 5 year-old boy mostly by myself and while there is a lot of joy in our relationship, it’s hard. I’m tired. I’m lonely, I wish I could find a man to be in a loving relationship with. I live with my mom and while she helps me out so much and I love having the company, it’s hard. I have a job that doesn’t reflect what I’m passionate about and I don’t make enough money. I have two Master’s Degrees and loads of debt, I’m pushing boulders up hill to upshift my vocational reality, it’s hard. I’m tired. In the past I probably would have sunk into a mild depression and used pot or alcohol to numb out. Most of my life has been tinged with a sense of feeling sorry for myself. Most of my life has been a pendulum swinging back and forth between healing and self-sabotage.
Yet as it sit here on this snowy February morning all alone, I feel the texture of what it is to be alive. All of these challenges, past trauma, healing, and pain rolled into a soft feeling of tenderness and aliveness. I am not afraid to feel.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the late Buddhist teacher and Shambhala warrior, has a teaching on what is called, the genuine heart of sadness which is a very useful teaching. The genuine heart of sadness is a human birthright and yet we spend much of our lives avoiding it. We think we’re supposed to put on a mask and feel happy. Feeling raw and tender can be scary. Take a moment to feel your heart, if you want put your right hand on your heart and take a few deep breaths. What do you feel?
We might not feel anything at all, or if we are in a painful situation we might feel something very solid. When we stop and actually feel our hearts and be present with our state of mind what’s left is often a feeling of tenderness and softness. As Trungpa Rinpoche says, by simply letting yourself be as you are, you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself. This means we need to drop the storyline of how we should feel.
This genuine heart of sadness is not being sad about something, it’s unconditioned, it’s the sadness we’ve carried our whole lives, part of what makes us human. It’s not a depression or a “poor me” sadness, it’s the same sadness you feel when watching a beautiful sunset or see something so beautiful it breaks your heart a little. We are sad because life is both beautiful and heartbreaking and it touches us. In the Buddhist tradition this soft tender heart is called bodhichitta or awakened heart”.
This soft tender heart is our greatest strength but ironically, like I said, we spend most of our lives avoiding it. We sheild ourselves by spacing out, watching TV, reading the news, scrolling through Facebook. What are we avoiding? Often, it’s this feeling of sadness. We feel it might overwhelm us.
Trungpa Rinpoche writes:
When you awaken your heart in this way you find to your surprise that your heart is empty. You find that you are looking into outer space. What are you, who are you, where is your heart? If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness. Your experience is raw and tender and so personal. The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your nonexistent heart is full.
Your nonexistent heart is full. I love that. During these long cold winter months when it’s easier to feel alone and sad, this teaching helps me remember to allow for that beautiful sadness and breathe into it. I still have my challenges, those are always changing. Having this practice has helped me navigate the ebb and flow of these challenges without sinking into depression or self-pity. It helps me feel the texture of these challenges and the rawness of life without feeling like I need to “perk up” or put on a happy face. It helps me feel my awakened heart. This awakened heart is our birthright.
Here is a practice
Find a quiet place and sit upright.
Take a few deep breaths, as you exhale relax into your body, into the present moment.
When you feel settled, put your right hand on your heart.
Drop the story lines. What do you feel?
Be with yourself for a few minutes feeling the texture and quality of your heart center.
Expand that feeling and be with it.
Make a genuine commitment to touching into your awakened heart a few times a day