Pathwork teaches the profound distinction between sadness and depression. (For this essay, we exclude clinical depression, which is another animal.)
Depression is a self-generated, stuck state. In depression there is no movement.
Depression includes the attitude, “this shouldn’t be,” which is incompatible with flow, with life. It’s a feeling that we’re alone in the universe. A feeling that there’s absolutely nothing I can do. It includes the notion that there’s something outside of me that can be blamed for my depression.
However, depression can be a powerful teacher. It alerts us to tap into our sadness, so that healing can begin.
Nothing external can harm our spirit. People who have enlightened us on this notion include Viktor Frankl, whose spirit was not adulterated by the holocaust, and Nelson Mandela, who endured unconscionable imprisonment for 27 years without losing an iota of grace.
Unlike depression, sadness is a highly enabling state. Sadness in the present is a trigger of childhood wounding. We can’t always name the wounds, because at an early age we didn’t have sufficient ways of processing the experience. Rather than vivid memories, what are stored are the feelings.
There are many painful realities in our current life to stir our sadness. When we get hurt, misunderstood, rejected, dismissed, when our longings are unfulfilled, when we become present to the painful conditions in the world,sometimes a current sadness triggers our “ancient” pain and we grieve both at the same time.
Healing comes from feeling the sadness and from re-experiencing childhood wounds. While we can’t necessarily recreate the childhood events, we can recreate the feelings. Rather than resist the sadness, we can drop into it. We can feel those feelings. We can map our current feelings to those childhood feelings. We can alternate from just totally immersing ourselves like a child, crying, screaming, punching pillows, kicking our feet, rocking, etc. to engaging our adult conscious ego, who can soothe our child. Our adult can help our child distinguish that what’s happening in the present is just a trigger. Our adult can remind us that we are whole and complete and ultimately in control – that our true self will still be there when everything else goes. And that by opening ourselves to sadness and vulnerability, we are ultimately making ourselves more available to life.
Oh break my heart,
Oh break my heart,
Oh break my heart again…
So I can love even more.
Depression is unidentified sadness gone underground. Said another way, it’s an unhealthy attitude to the way we respond to sadness.
There is such a warm, wonderful richness in feeling our sadness. And there is catharsis. Not only do we wind up feeling better in the present, we also begin to heal our child consciousness. That child sadness may never fully go away; but, if we continue to re-experience it in healthy ways, its power over us diminishes over time.
When the heart weeps for what it has lost,
the spirit rejoices for what it has found.
(Adapted with liberties from a lecture by Sue Van Doeren on October 3, 2013.)
In the winter of 1964, Nelson Mandela arrived on Robben Island where he would spend 18 of his 27 prison years. Confined to a small cell, the floor his bed, a bucket for a toilet, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. He could write and receive one letter every six months. But Robben Island became the crucible which transformed him. Through his intelligence, charm and dignified defiance, Mandela eventually bent even the most brutal prison officials to his will, assumed leadership over his jailed comrades and became the master of his own prison. He emerged from it the mature leader who would fight and win the great political battles that would create a new democratic South Africa. (source)