Editor's Note: The more you gaze at sorrow with the intent to understand, the more you see that it is inextricably bound up in the fabric of life. Different traditions vary in their perspective on whether that means we need to give sadness its due or move beyond it or go even deeper into it in a transmutative process. We suspect that there's a grain of truth in each approach, and we offer you this rainbow of quotes so that you can see the various shades for yourself and match them up against your own experience.
SADNESS IS: Balanced with Joy
"Life is not all sadness. Yet without sadness we would not yearn for joy, and strive to find it, and treasure it when it comes. It is also a fact that neither sadness nor joy is with us constantly. And how often one or the other is part of our journey is not always within our control. We all want joy more than sadness and rare is the person who wants sadness at all."
— Old Hawk in Keep Going by Joseph Marshall III
"Look carefully: sometimes behind the sadness of grief lies, inexplicably, a poignant sense of joy."
— Ezra Bayda in Saying Yes to Life
"The reward of choosing joy is joy itself. . . . There is so much rejection, pain, and woundedness among us, but once you choose to claim the joy hidden in the midst of all suffering, life becomes celebration. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy."
— Henri J. M. Nouwen in The Dance of Life by Henri J. M. Nouwen and Michael Ford
"An authentic religious path or spirituality can never be a fire escape from the ghastly evils of humanity or some insulated spiritual cocoon from the repulsive and hideous pains that saturate our world. To be genuinely joyful demands a companionship with the pains and sadness of life, and perhaps, the deep wounds of betrayal."
— Edward Hays in Chasing Joy
Blended Together with Love
"Love and sadness are blended together in the waters of our life, and we must drink them together, just as they are. Neither cancels out the other. Love, added to the sadness, makes our grief bittersweet. Sadness, injected into our love, creates a love that burns the heart."
— Wayne Muller in How, Then, Shall We Live?
A Call to Service
"To smile at someone who is sad; to visit, even for a little while, someone who is lonely; to give someone shelter from the rain with our umbrella; to read something for someone who is blind; these and others can be small things, very small things, but they are appropriate to give our love of God concrete expression to the poor."
— Mother Teresa in Mother Teresa: In My Own Words by Jose Luis Gonzalez-Balado
"The job of the peacemaker is to stop war, to purify the world, to get it saved from poverty and riches, to heal the sick, to comfort the sad . . . to create joy and beauty wherever you go, and to find God in everything and everyone."
— Muriel Lester in Living Peace by John Dear
"All human beings have an extraordinary destiny! Sometimes things brings us joy and, at other times, sadness. But these ups and downs are part of everyone's destiny. I believe the most important thing in this existence of ours is to do something that can be of benefit to others. What we need more than anything is to develop an attitude of altruism — that is what truly gives meaning to life."
— His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Mind in Comfort and Ease
Connected to Our Soul's Exile
"Loneliness presents the emotions of exile; the soul has not been able to fully grow down, and is wanting to return. To where? We do not know, for that place the myths and cosmologies say is gone from memory. But the imaginative yearning and the sadness attest to an exile from what the soul cannot express except as loneliness. All it can recall is a nostalgia of feeling and an imagination of yearning. And a condition of want beyond personal needs."
— James Hillman in The Soul's Code
Dispelled by Kind and Loving Thought
"Kind thoughts bring deep joy to the heart. People crave joy, and they don't have it. They cannot find it because they are looking for it where it does not exist. Neither amusements nor splendid deeds can by themselves bring the joy that satisfies the thirst of our souls. A simple kind and loving thought can do it, however. The simple kind and loving thought possesses the ability to dissipate the clouds of sadness, dissatisfaction and depression. Kind thoughts make miracles."
— Jean Maalouf in The Healing Power of Kindness
Eased by Play
"Not that play is easy. It demands every ounce of a child's energy. But what rewards! Psychiatrist John Bowlby is quoted by Cass: 'It develops skills of both body and mind. How to compete, how to take hard knocks, how to win gracefully. Play offers healing for hurts and sadness. It breaks down tension and releases pent-up urges toward self-esteem.'
— George Sheehan in Going the Distance
An Element of an Underlying Hopelessness
"The reason I never give up hope is that everything is basically hopeless. Hopelessness underscores everything — the deep sadness and fear at the center of life, the hole in the heart of our families, the animal confusion within us. When you do give up hope, a lot can happen. When it's not pinned wriggling onto a shiny image or expectation, it may float forth and open like those fluted Japanese blossoms, flimsy and spastic, bright and warm. This almost always seems to happen in community: with family, related by blood, or chosen; at church, for me; at peace marches."
— Anne Lamott in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
"Dysthymia, a chronic sense of sadness and lack of life energy in spite of high-level success and apparent happiness in life seems to be increasingly 'normal.' "
— Paul Pearsall in Toxic Success
Interrupted by Silence
"If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death."
— Margaret J. Wheatley in Turning to One Another
The Key to an Unseen Gift
Difficult experiences, whether they are sadness, loss, hunger, poverty, illness, or death, rarely occur because you invited them into your life. But when life does place hardship in your path it always offers a chance to learn strength. That is the unseen gift.
— Old Hawk in Keep Going by Joseph Marshall III
Not the Opposite of Happiness
"For the witness, everything is workable. Nothing needs to be pushed away. To the contrary: our seemingly most intractable neuroses become the doorway into full life. What emerges when we open this door is a happiness that is not the opposite of sadness, a self-love that is not the opposite of self-hate. It is, rather, a happiness that embraces sadness, and a love that embraces hate. Witness consciousness cultivates a place behind dark and light, behind good and evil — behind even personality, behind even the mind. . . .
"As Rumi says, 'Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. Meet me there.' "
— Stephen Cope in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self
Not Something to Escape
"We must learn the art of weakness, of non-achievement, of being able to cope with the knowledge of our own poverty and helplessness without trying to escape from it into something we an accept more easily. And we must know that it is even in that poverty and helplessness that God sees us with love, even with approbation, however much it may be tinged with sadness and censure. God never says to us, 'I want you to be something else' without also saying 'I love you as you are.' "
— Simon Tugwell in A Glimpse of Jesus by Brennan Manning
"I try to practice in a way that allows me to touch my blood ancestors and my spiritual ancestors every day. Whenever I feel sad or a little fragile, I invoke their presence for support, and they never fail to be there."
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."
— M. Scott Peck in Invisible Acts of Power by Caroline Myss
"The practice of taking refuge can be done every day, several times a day. Whenever you feel agitated, sad, afraid, or worried, you can go back to your island of mindfulness. If you practice when you are not experiencing difficulty, it will be easier to go back to your island of self when the need is great. Don't wait until you are hit by a wave to go back to your island. Practice every day by living mindfully each moment of your life, and the practice will become a habit. Then when a difficult moment arrives, it will be natural and easy to take refuge. Walking, breathing, sitting, eating, and drinking tea in mindfulness are all practices of taking refuge. This is not a matter of belief. It is very grounded in experience."
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
"Now and again, over the next several days, give yourself the opportunity to pause and touch base with the 'small ruby' inside of you. You might begin to pay attention, particularly during moments of sadness, separation, intimacy, or joy, to the texture of your "heart cloth" as reflected in the sensations of your chest. Without judgment, allow yourself the room to feel the presence of this inner gem. Be patient. This ruby may be protected or momentarily obscured; nevertheless, it is adamant, indestructible, always available.
"Remember that we are learning to pay attention without self-judgment or discursive analysis. You might say that we are "rolling out the red carpet," welcoming — beyond liking or disliking — whatever enters the field of the heart. Offering ourselves such close and caring attention is itself liberating."
— Saki Santorelli in Heal Thy Self
Part of Something Larger
"When I accepted certain parts of life and denied and ignored the rest, I could only see my life a piece at a time — the happiness of a success or a time of celebration, or the ugliness and pain of a loss or a failure I was trying hard to put behind me out of sight. But like the dark pieces of the puzzle, these sadder events, painful as they are, have proven themselves a part of something larger. What brief glimpses I have had of something hidden seems to require accepting as a gift every last piece."
— Rachel Naomi Remen in Kitchen Table Wisdom
"To regard our partner as the source of our happiness or misery is to abdicate responsibility for our own experience."
— John Welwood in Love and Awakening
A Potential Ally
"There is nothing in your life too terrible or too sad that will not be your friend when you find the right name to call it, and calling it by its own name hastening it will come upright to your side."
— Laurens van der Post in Behold Your Life by Macrina Wiederkehr
Shared by God
"I have heard it said that when you share your sadness with another person it is halved, and when you share your joy it is doubled. This is all the more so when you realize that God shares in your sadness and joys."
— David Aaron in The Secret Life of God
"There is an old Jewish saying: 'God is closest to those with broken hearts.' For most of us this is a true statement. At times of great sadness and personal crisis we feel more tenderhearted and closer to our soulful center."
— Lama Surya Das in Awakening to the Sacred
"There is only one thing to live for: love. There is only one unhappiness: not to love God."
— Thomas Merton in A Year With Thomas Merton by Thomas Merton and Jonathan Mantaldo, editor
Soothed by Encounters with Goodness
"We exist for each other, and when we're at a low ebb, sometimes just to see the goodness radiating from another can be all we need in order to rediscover ourselves."
— Kathleen Norris in Your Daily Life Is Your Temple by Anne Rowthorn
"A certain brother came to Abbot Poemen and said: What ought I to do, Father? I am in great sadness. The elder said to him: Never despise anybody, never condemn anybody, never speak evil of anyone, and the Lord will give you peace."
— Desert Fathersin The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton
"A short walk in the woods detoxifies my spirit when I'm preoccupied with the sadness, futility, and fear I have encountered. Renewal zones are essential, then, if we are to remain vital, compassionate and grateful in life."
— Robert J. Wicks in Riding the Dragon
"The Baal Shem Tov taught that the soul, whose source and root is in the World of Joy, requires joy by its very nature. . . . We should make our sad times short, taste the bitterness God has given us, and return to happiness in God's presence."
— Yitzhak Buxbaum in Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy
A Train Standing in the Rain
In his Book of Questions, Pablo Neruda asked questions about rice, trains, beer, and snow. He wanted to know how the abandoned bicycle won its freedom and if the world holds anything sadder than a train standing in the rain.
— Peter Levitt in Fingerpainting on the Moon
An Understanding of the Poignancy of Our Situation
"The fundamental human imaginative act is to see the other, to guess what the other needs, to engage with the other, to be the other, and to make thereby our own selves. Through this empathy, our fear of deep night gives way to a chastened sadness, an understanding of the poignancy of our situation. Expression is all, and yet life flows through and falls from us like a dream."
— John Tarrant in The Light Inside the Dark
"I feel this is a stunning demonstration of the unity of all life. We humans share these emotion molecules with the most modest forms of microscopic life, even though evolution has caused us to develop into trillion-celled creatures of extraordinary magnificence. If emotions such as fear, love, joy, sadness, and sorrow are based on opiate receptors, how can we be so species-centric to think that only in humans can the results of these molecules be interpreted as emotions?"
— Allen M. Schoen, Kindred Spirits
"What happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to you."
— Meister Eckhart in Confessions by Matthew Fox
"Our ability to feel sadness, shame, anger, pity, compassion, or elation — vicariously or as direct experience — is the foundation of the empathy that connects us to others. To the extent that family and friends shared our tears during times of crisis, we were able to speak a common language, even if the dialects were sometimes indecipherable. Tears are part of the glue that bind us together."
— Jeffrey A. Kottler in The Language of Tears
Worth a Plunge
"An English professor at college once told our class about how he dealt with the death of a close friend. He said he went home and played a recording of the saddest music he knew. He plunged into the darkness; he acknowledged his grief and allowed it to pour out. He knew that the only way he could get beyond his loss was to allow himself to feel the pain in all its intensity. In the same way, if we evade the darkness in our lives, we deny some of the most significant portions of our personal and collective experiences."
— Helen M. Luke in The Way of Woman
You can find more quotes about sadness in "The Spiritual Path of Grief" collection of wisdom.