Many writers have dealt with sadness or depression. It is one of the most common ailments for anyone, even non-writers, and there are varying degrees and forms of it.
As common as it is, our culture frowns upon sadness. We get the slight impression that we are “bad” or “less than” or doing something “wrong” if we’re sad. But sadness may actually have a purpose. It may be of more value than we think.
In the eighth letter of Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke consoles Mr. Kappus, the young poet, who was apparently suffering from a type of depression. Rilke’s method of consolation is to suggest a different perspective on the state of sadness:
“Please consider whether these great sadnesses have not rather gone right through the center of yourself? Whether much in you has not altered, whether you have not somewhere, at some point of you being, undergone a change while you were sad?”
We’ve all heard the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” This includes our moments of sadness, but in our limited knowledge, we can’t always identify those reasons. In Rilke’s eloquent words:
“Where it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches. . .perhaps we would endure our sadness with greater confidence than out joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us. . . .
Many signs indicate that the future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens. . . .
Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you really do not know what these states are working upon you?”
That last question reminds me of the self-numbing that so many of us use to escape from sadness and pain: alcohol, drugs, sex, food, buying. Not only do these futile tactics drive us into deeper trouble, the resistance to sadness and pain also prevents us from learning from it and becoming stronger as a result of it. So pain can be scary, but we must take courage! Here’s why:
“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
So you must not be frightened. . . if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen.”
But sadness is a transition word.
“We stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes.”
Sadness is not an end unto itself. Surely our beings are not created to dwell in depression. When we face pain courageously, we can move through it to the next phase of our spiritual evolution.
Rilke nears the end of his eighth letter with a hint about why our souls experience sadness:
“I see that it is now going on beyond the great to long for greater. For this reason it will not cease to be difficult, but for this reason too it will not cease to grow.”
You do not have to deal with your sadness alone. If you find that you are unable to transition out of it on your own, please talk to someone about getting help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call the following numbers:
In the U.S. – Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). These toll-free crisis hotlines offer 24-hour suicide prevention and support. Your call is free and confidential.
Outside the U.S. – Visit Befrienders Worldwide to find a helpline in your country.