our deep bonds with sorrow


We have all kinds of needs of those we love

Most of all in sadness, but joy too

Strains to track down eyes that it can trust...'



I'm posting this excerpt from an old piece of writing in the aftermath of a 'Between Defeat and Destiny' workshop. Something of that experience and of our dialogue together reminded me of the depths of our bonds with sorrow, and the very good reasons for them.

I hope this piece illuminates some fragments of our bonds with sorrow, and also demonstrates that, for all the challenges of such a leaning, there are riches too. It's short, but I've linked it to more thorough elements, on the Comforts, Shadows and Gifts of Sadness, for those who are drawn. 


Mostly, we see sadness as a problem and we say we want a cure.  But this is not always the whole picture: we may also be mired in a love affair.

When we struggle with low mood, we come to think of sadness in entirely negative terms: we speak of it as an enemy, and a hostile force that haunts us.  But many of us are also deeply bonded with sadness: It is part of the landscape of our psyche, and our identity. This is not to say that anyone yearns to be depressed. But until we see the bonds we forge with sorrow, we are fighting a false battle with low mood. 

None of us yearn for lives as dominated by sadness as ours are.

Being sad so often hurts us: Sadness dominates more than it should, sapping hope and vitality, dominating our emotions and obscuring our capacity to see life as buoyant and hopeful.  As adults we continue to be pulled, in multiple ways, toward sorrow. It is this ‘perpetual call’ of sadness we need to explore – the almost magnetic force-field exerted by this mood state.  

Why do we ‘seek sorrow’? (if we do)

I want to invite us to consider our own ‘calls’ toward sorrow: the strands in it that beckon us and the promise they appear to hold. Why do we ‘seek sorrow’?

  • we may sense that being sad may deepen or complete us;

  • we may yearn for the intimacy that being sad with others brings;

  • we may find solace in the retreat of despair;

  • we may treasure the calming physiology of grief;

  • we may rely on depression or despair to avoid responsibilities;

  • we may believe our ‘sad self’ is more authentic, more profound than other selves;

  • we may sense that our suffering improves us, or represents something important that we cannot lose. 


Sadness is not our fault, yet it has infiltrated us,

at times flooding us with inexplicable density,

or clouding us with a relentless heaviness we cannot shrug off.

In us, it feels over determined, even if we do not always know why.


We need to move through this difficult terrain with tenderness. Being sad so much is not our fault. Its' causes lie beyond us as well as within us: We feel sad in part because we have been too hurt, too lonely, or too hopeless, because our psyche was forged in pain of some kind that we have not found other ways to bear. And so sadness has infiltrated us, at times flooding us with inexplicable density, or clouding us with a relentless heaviness we cannot shrug off. In us, it is over determined, even if we do not always know why.

To help explore this territory more easily, I have grouped the attractions of sorrow in three very rough categories: comforts, shadows, and capacities.  (It is worth exploring these - click on the link - if Sadness is deeply bound to you.)

Comforts considers the genuine delights of sorrow - how it can be heart-warming and bonding.

Shadows identifies some of the more pathological or dysfunctional patterns it may form in us - martyrdom, indulgence and masochism

Capacities looks at the positive growth which occurs when we learn to engage well with sadness, by loving reality for what it is.

In reality, these categories are not so distinct. They dovetail into each other, weaving unique patterns in each of us. Our task is to form as clear a portrait as we can of how each moves in us.

Sorrow calls us this powerfully for good reasons. It has offered us moments of respite, bonds of tender intimacy, resonance with our own depths of tenderness, and opportunities for growth, healing and repair.  

But many of us have also lost too many hours and days of our lives to states of gloom.  Are we willing to ask ourselves personally where we seek sorrow – and why; which of these leanings are alive in us; which may have run their course; which obstruct our development and which still carry richness and meaning?  It is important that we consider where we attach to sorrow, where this is pathological, and where it is beautiful.

At its best, contact with sorrow offers a rich seasoning of the soul – a route to enhance our capacity for love and meaning. At its’ worst, as we well know, it has the capacity to stagnate our vitality in moody gloom. The more fully we understand our allegiance with it, the more attention we free up for fresh experience, untainted by bias. This lightens us. It is as if the tide changes: we give sadness ample room to express itself, and when it has thoroughly done so, we are still here. Clearer, fresher, ready for something else: joy, curiosity, the less-tainted, open world.