Harboring an emotion, we cling to it. Instead of seizing its energy to face a challenge, we bog down. Rather than using the arousal to confront a threat, we mull it over. A harbored emotion becomes chronic, corroding our insides and spoiling our relationships with others. Author Thomas Buckley describes such a prolonged attachment to anger:
"The 'sinfulness' of anger may not lie in anger itself but in prolonged attachment to it; in the refusal, out of fear, to let ourselves back into the impermanent world of interrelationship, across the bridge of sadness."
When we cling to feelings of anger or loneliness or guilt, we refuse this crossing. We choose, instead, to dwell in a private world of regret and self-pity. In Buckley's words, this is a "refusal of grief, and thus of the possibility of going through and beyond both anger and sorrow." But what is this bridge of sadness and how are we to cross it?
The bridge is constructed by all the disciplines by which we make something of our painful emotions. On one side of the bridge is raw pain, the mute, nameless hurt we feel on the inside. Certain moods — sadness, guiltiness, loneliness — seem to envelop us, absorbing attention and deterring us from action. But emotions are transitive: they are meant to move us, to impel us to face a threat or to seek forgiveness — to cross the bridge.— James D. Whitehead, Evelyn E. Whitehead in Shadows of the Heart