Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When Sadness came calling

The walls we build around us to keep out the sadness also keep out the Joy.  Jim Rohn
This last week has been disturbing.  I witnessed a sudden turn of events that resulted in the manager of my store being told that her part-time position was to be made redundant.   

She was given the options of a full-time position which she has not been willing to take as a result of family commitments, or a part-time position as a sales assistant with no loss of income, something that she felt she could not ethically justify.

J has been the store manager for five and a half years and in that time has seen the store move location twice, cultivated a loyal team of volunteers and helped build the wonderful reputation that the store currently enjoys.

She was the person who took me on as a volunteer and almost instantly recommended and secured my position, first as a casual and more recently as a part-time sales assistant.  We are the only two paid staff at our store.

J also jumped in and gave me a loan when I first joined the store.  She’d overheard a conversation I had over the phone with the people who receive my rent and, without my asking, put a couple of hundred dollars into an envelope and quietly told me to use it.  You see, I was unable to pay my rent in time and that would have put me in a precarious situation.

Although our working days rarely coincided, in recent weeks, we had been working together for two or three days a week.  During that time, with great patience and competence, she has broadened my scope of responsibilities by getting me to take on more of the store’s operational duties. 

On the day that she was told about the redundancy of her position, J and I had spent the morning working through a number of tasks while singing away some of J’s frustrations with the direction and national management of the store.  

 Just as well, for in the afternoon, upon her return from her meeting with the national manager, she left abruptly with tears in her eyes and lips quivering.  She could only manage to tell me that she’d call me and talk to me about the banking.

I spent the next hour or so in a bit of a daze, wandering aimlessly through the store and, at one point, crouching behind the counter so that I was invisible.  I just needed to try and let events sink in even though at this point, I did not know about the redundancy.  But, like most trained pessimists, I feared the worst.

This marked the beginning of the visit by Sadness who arrived from somewhere, perhaps that vast dungeon of sad emotions that we humans know only too well. I can tell you that she hasn’t left yet although I do feel that, today, about a week later, she may be starting to pack her bags.

Yesterday, again somewhat suddenly and following a phone call, J was told that she could wind up at the end of the day with the assurance that she would be paid for the few weeks leading up to the annual week she was scheduled to take at the end of this month.

When she told me the news, I knew instinctively that, sudden as it was, it was the better thing for J.  She would not have to endure a slow and painful few weeks of handing over to whoever it was who would be taking her place. 

She had, in fact, spent the last few nights with little sleep and a churning stomach, one of many such nights she’d had over the last two years since the new national manager and new business directions had kicked in.

Despite the turmoil that she was going through, J had sought reassurance from the national manager (who was on the other end of that phone call) that I would be supported adequately in the running of the store. 

When we had finished talking about the few remaining operational tasks and procedures that I needed to know about, J allowed herself to talk a bit more about her years with the store.

At some point, I asked her what was causing her the greatest pain just now, and watched as she tearfully told me that she felt it was moving away from its original mission to support economically disadvantaged women throughout the world.   

She had felt for some time now that the corporate model being pushed by the new manager was increasingly overshadowing the stories of these women and their need to live with dignity and greater freedom of choice.

I cried too as I saw and felt the pain that J was stoically trying to contain.  In the end, I suggested we sit down and meditate for a minute.  I guided our little meditation, first by bringing us to our present moment, our breathing, our physical space, both internal and external and finished by giving thanks for all the blessings we have encountered in our lives and the continued blessings we have received and shared with all our customers and the women throughout the world who are supported by our work. 

I also gave thanks for all the kindness, sweetness, joy and care that J had brought into the store over the last five and a half years.

It was a beautiful way to *end* and we both felt better for it.  As I walked home, I felt that I was walking home with Sadness.  There she was, right within me, leading the way, stirring vague memories of feelings that I’d felt on so many other occasions when she’d visited – times of relationships ending, goodbyes at airports, news of someone’s illness or death, the end of a job and moving house.  Painful times.

I would be lying if I told you that I was entirely at peace with these feelings.  There was a part of me that didn’t want them.  I would have been quite happy if Sadness had left as suddenly as J had. 

I woke up earlier than usual this morning.  Much earlier.  And there was Sadness.  I think she must’ve stayed up while I slept, waiting for me to arise.  Having spent some time meditating and reading from one of my favorite books, Anam Cara ('friend of the soul' by John O’Donahue, I now feel able to write and allow Sadness to say what she has to say, if she has anything to say.  Perhaps all that I have written is what she’s wanted to say.

But there’s more.  In my meditation, I realized a few things that I would like to share with you:

1.  I can extend the hand of friendship to Sadness

In fact, when I do, she is less threatening.  I also realized that in the same way, I could genuinely offer the spirit of friendship to the national manager, who admittedly, I have thus far not really cared to have any kind of relationship with other than that of someone taking directions from a manager.

2.  I can have a really good relationship with anyone if that is what I want and choose

Now, this is not something new.  But I was reminded of it in my meditation.  It is something that I have made use of on many occasions in the past with relationships that had been difficult and almost toxic. 

What I’d discovered was that a relationship, first and foremost, exists in our mind.  It is how we think and feel about someone that determines how we interact with them in person. 

So, if I can have thoughts and feelings about someone that enables me to feel joy, peace and power, then I know that joy, peace and power will flow through whether or not I am in physical contact with that person.

Establishing the relationship that I want in my mind first has resulted in all my unhappy and painful relationships (all three of them) to be healed completely, long before contact and communication was re-established. 

This is truly powerful stuff.  I have seen years of distrust, anger, hurt and mean spiritedness dissolve in relationships when I first allowed them to dissolve in my mind by redirecting my focus on what I wanted instead.

3.  I am not obliged to feel sad or angry as a demonstration of loyalty towards another person

We are conditioned to react, often with anger and indignation, when we believe that someone, especially someone close to us, has been wrongfully treated.   

We tend to align ourselves almost rigidly with that person and declare our *loyalty* towards them while denouncing the offending party.  It’s probably because we’re reacting as if we, ourselves, were that person.

To some extent, this may seem helpful to the person we care for.  But I’ve discovered as a result of being on both sides of such a situation that it’s generally unwise and unhelpful to react in this way.  

 Sure, our friend may feel comforted by our response but I don’t think it helps them move forward towards greater peace and joy, which is after all what they (and we) want most.

We're conditioned to want some kind of revenge or at least some recognition of the hurt that’s been caused.  Revenge is clearly no ticket to peace.  Recognition of hurt, however, is useful.  

If we can acknowledge the hurt that someone is feeling, it’s a wonderful thing.  We can be with them and be there for them.  But engaging in recrimination or blame games really does not help anyone.

Being with someone i.e empathizing does not require us to act out their anger or hurt.  It does not require us to pledge loyalty toward them by condemning others.  If we sincerely desire a peaceful and joyous outcome, then we must think, feel and act in peace.  And not just for some but for all concerned.  There is no such thing as *partial peace*

If you believe, as I do, that whatever we give our attention and emotion to, we manifest or manifest more of, then it only makes sense that anger and condemnation will only manifest more of the same.

On the other hand, by giving our attention and emotion to a peaceful and joyous outcome for everyone involved, we are likely to see that manifest.  

4.  You cannot expect a good outcome if you don’t truly desire it.  

This may seem so obvious, yet it is something that most people don’t seem to take seriously enough.  Most of us claim we want a good relationship but we tend to say that with our heads rather than our hearts.  

We know intellectually that it makes sense to have a good relationship whether it is with our partners, children, bosses or colleagues.  However, we assume that just thinking it is sufficient. 

Without sincerely and wholeheartedly desiring it, the way we would desire a glass of water when we are desperately thirsty, for instance, we lack the full intent and commitment that is required to make it happen.  

However, when we do intend it with our mind and heart, we can be sure that nothing will get in our way of turning this intention into a reality.  After all, a relationship exists, first and foremost, in our hearts and minds.  Whatever we say or do physically is merely an outflow of what is in our hearts and minds.

As I said, I had thus far not wholeheartedly desired to have a good relationship with the national manager.  I had not really seen it as necessary. 

I certainly did not want to have a *bad* relationship with her but it didn’t really cross my mind that it might be a good thing for both of us if I actually wholeheartedly desired to have a good relationship with her.   

And there is a difference.  A big difference between indifference or mild caring and caring fully.  

I have now intended this and I am certain that we will have a good relationship.  Perhaps, in time, I might desire to have a great relationship with her.   

In fact, what’s stopping me from desiring that right now?  Yes, that is exactly what I shall do!  Now!


  1. Your friend sounds like a lovely, caring person, and it's too bad she had to find herself in this predicament. I'm not quite clear why she turned down the part-time position at no loss of pay, but obviously that's her decision to make. I'm not a big fan of sadness, I consider it mostly a bad habit, except in those situations where one consents to be sad, as in the death of a friend or loved one. In terms of your work situation I certainly agree with your attitude. Whatever jobs I've had in my life I've always stayed aloof of office politics, and tried to be as friendly toward all my fellow workers as they permitted to be.

  2. All this might be a blessing in disguise for her. Go and do something fun.

  3. @np She turned it down because she would have been getting paid at a much higher rate than a sales assistant would be paid. As someone working in an organization for social justice and the empowerment of workers generally and women specifically, she did not feel it was ethically justifiable.

    I can tell you that I'm no fan of sadness either especially because I know what it's like to become *addicted* to her!

    And yes, I believe it's important to have an open mind and heart about someone rather than preconceptions acquired by someone else's experience of them.

  4. @ Meredith Yes, it was with a huge sense of relief and gratitude that she left! Woo Hoo!

  5. I like the way you dealt with Sadness. I was wondering whether you were giving it too much meaning by giving is a capital S. But accepting how you were feeling seems to have helped you to move on.

  6. @ Winton, Thanks for your comment, Winton. I think the *S* was more a way of indicating that she is a like a person for whom I have neither attachment nor aversion :).


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