Perhaps as we grow in sensitivity to our actual feeling/experience within this dream-like Saha world, a realm where all sentient beings are enduring some form of suffering, stress, and dissatisfaction, our own heart may begin to shed its accumulated armor and awaken to a humble vulnerability and tenderness. In its manifestation, this open tenderness might also be characterized by a certain quality of sadness. The late Buddhist author and teacher Trungpa Rinpoche described it this way:
“If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely exposed. There is no skin or tissue covering it; it is pure raw meat. Even if a tiny mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched. Your experience is raw and tender and so personal.”
There are some salient elements we can notice as we investigate this wound at the heart. For one thing, we can observe that the poignancy of evanescence, of impermanence, accompanies every experience. We soberly recognize that there is nothing which we can really claim as ours, nothing that we can grasp for long, nothing that we can cling to and possess, despite our most passionate ambitions and efforts.
The body itself comes with an expiration code, and even getting plenty of exercise and taking organic supplements, eating a vegan diet and thinking calm thoughts, is not going prevent old age, sickness, and death. Even the most beautiful day will eventually include a sunset.
Indeed, for a majority of humans currently on this planet, suffering in the gross forms of physical pain, hunger and thirst, injustice, warfare, and so forth are only infrequently interrupted by all-too-fleeting moments of pleasure and respite. The living standards for many in the burgeoning developing world are little improved from centuries ago, and in some respects, perhaps even worse due to environmental degradations and over-population.
For those whom we might consider relatively free of those traditional scourges, sorrow still takes its toll, often in the form of thwarted desires and expectations. The industrialized countries have witnessed an alarming increase in a wide variety of mental afflictions — the disturbing legacy of societies which have seemingly lost their moorings and drifted into pervasive anxiety, confusion, and hopelessness about existence itself.
Fear of the future and contagious discontent, antagonism and division among economic, religious, and political sectors, and distrust of corrupt and uninspiring leadership (among other factors) has led to more and more jaded attempts at escape via drugs and the media-fueled exploitation of every manner of distraction. One glaring consequence of such a breakdown is found in the suicide rates which continue to climb dramatically, especially among the young and disaffected.
Beyond all of that, however, and as dismaying as it all may be, there is something else to be recognized as we delve into the heart of this existential sadness. That is, even if our life and relations might appear to be functioning relatively smoothly, and even if our survival needs are well met and no longer a concern, and even if all the standard markers for a “happy life” are in place, there is still a core contraction that subtly dominates our consciousness and experience, remaining stubbornly untouched by all our efforts to eliminate it.
Indeed, as long as we are swept up in the kinds of challenges that most humans must face in their struggle to just get by, or alternately are just complacently going along to get along, we may not even be aware of (much less be willing to inspect) this more fundamental knot in the being. Nevertheless, it is actually the very source of all of our suffering itself — the clench or fixation generated by the sense of separate and limited identity which we typically imagine constitutes who and what we really are.
Truly, until the emptiness of our personal constructs is directly recognized, we will remain in a drowsy trance of mistaken identity, at the mercy of conditioning programs that keep us bound to the wheel. In such a state, we are little able to actually appreciate the rare and remarkable gift that sadness of the order being spoken of here represents. We are too bound up by self-interest, and cannot see beyond our fabricated concerns to the bigger picture. Our own complaining makes it impossible for us to hear and respond to the cries of the whole world.
Moreover, contrary to the glib happy talk bantered about by the preachers on the spiritual circuit, even seeing through and releasing all such fixated identities, me-stories, and contracting self-images does not “cure” the sadness inherent in our born condition. There is no such remedy, nor would we want one, if we were to genuinely become intimate with the kind of empathetic sadness being pointed to in this consideration – the living wound at the heart which ushers the Unconditional into the conflicted realm of human life and relationship.
Indeed, it is that very sadness which we have come here to deeply and thoroughly experience, all the way down into the cells of our feeling being. We want that because it represents our blossoming into a vividly compassionate relationship with existence that accompanies awakening at the heart. One might even say that such an awakening is the true purpose of all authentic spiritual systems, because only then is love able to reveal itself in its full potency, even transcending at last the provisional distinctions of self and other that ego-mind projects out of hope and fear.
Furthermore, this all-embracing tenderness arises simultaneously with both humility and gratitude. For example, the more gratitude which emerges as a vibrant quality or attribute of this unity consciousness, the greater is the circuitry of vital energy connectivity which allows the vibration of love to flow abundantly throughout the whole being, reinforcing pathways of pure grace.
Love is the most efficient conduit for energy exchange and transference there is. The greater our capacity to give and receive love, the deeper will be our immersion in the luminous essence of life itself. In this way, sadness is not so much transmuted into joy, but rather is revealed to be not other than joy in its infinite radiant fullness.
Such a seeming paradox may confound the mind of logic and reason, but is utterly obvious to the heart which bears the wound of love, the wound that heals all other wounds, As such, it represents both crucifixion and ascension. It brings down the Divine into this material sphere, and likewise elevates the human into its true Divine nature. As the great Persian poet Rumi once wrote: “The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants to help is the secret cup. Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. The whining is the connection. There are love dogs no one knows the name of. Give your life to be one of them.”