Suppose we are sad. What do we usually do? Frequently, although not necessarily, we get lost in sadness, we get identified with sadness. There are a number of variations. We can fall into self-pity because of sadness, or we can fall into irritation because of sadness, amplifying its power. This is our habitual reaction. In a sense we might say that sadness in all these forms could be called “unclean sadness.” It is loaded with layers of reaction and fear and aversion; it is not pure sadness. What do we see when we look more closely? First of all, we see the very great power of habit. The habit of reacting in certain ways creates deep ruts, and it is not easy to come out of ancient and ingrained routines. This is why it is crucial to develop a counter-habit, if we may call it that: the practice—an adequate, proportionate strength to counteract all the negative habits, all the afflictions or intoxicants that generate our fundamental suffering in life.

In addition to a general habit, however, I think that if we look closely we shall see something very subtle and maybe even more important. This is the tendency to invest great energy in the desire to get rid of sadness. I am not saying always, but it is often there. Sometimes we can be relatively free from this tendency. At other times our tendency is to indulge in sadness—we don’t want to get rid of it, we want more. But there are many other situations in which we can see clearly how much energy is invested in trying to get rid of sadness. Lots of energy is literally thrown into the desire to get rid of it. Of course, I am not referring to those small acts of wisdom in which one gets together to talk things over with a friend, for example, or goes into nature. I am referring to something compulsive, something obsessive—thinking, judging, reacting about how to get rid of this unpleasant feeling. We might as well talk about total nonacceptance of sadness; we might as well talk about aversion to sadness. A lot of energy goes into this desire.

“Patient Awareness,” by Corrado Pensa. Reprinted with permission of Buddhism Now.

Illustration by Roberto La Forgia

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