Sad-Joy: The (broken) Heart of Practice

(Rebecca Eldridge) #1

This week’s post is by Rebecca Eldridge, a teacher at the CFM.

Sadness is powerful. It softens us when life is tough. It keeps us open when we’d rather shut down. Sadness is not the same as depression—not even close. When we’re depressed we don’t feel much of anything; when we’re sad, we feel everything.

During meditation, we can cultivate a genuine heart of sadness. We can sit upright, in a dignified posture that doesn’t cover over the heart, and let ourselves be exposed—first to ourselves, the movement of the breath lifting and lowering the rib cage that seems to separate our own beating heart from the ever-changing outer world—then to the world itself, not hiding from what we find.

We may even discover that through not hiding, a tinge of joy can run right through sadness. My teacher calls this feeling sad-joy—the two being inextricable, a mixed blessing that makes us weep when we hear beautiful music or remember a past lover and smile. But we can’t script sad-joy. We can only pause, slow down, and notice when it arises, then not rush away from what touches us.

Living with a heart that is willing to be touched is the main reason I practice: I don’t want to push away anything about myself or any aspect of the world. I want to feel. To open. To love. Even when it’s easier not to do any of those things. Opening to sadness is the bravest practice I know, but without it, joy can remain confined to us. With it, the heart breaks just enough for joy to spill out as kindness, as caring.

Will you take a moment right now to touch into your sensitive heart and then perhaps reply below: Is there something that breaks your own tender heart and, at the same time, opens you to the joy of being completely, utterly human?

To read Rebecca’s other posts⏤

6 Points of Mindful Speech
3 Reasons We Don’t Meditate
Looking Back, Moving Forward

Breaking Free of Idiot Compassion
(Fionnuala Gill) #2

Dear Rebecca - thank you for your beautiful thoughts on the joys and challenges of embracing our sensitive hearts - your words, and the heart behind them, touched me deeply! Next week will be the first anniversary of the death of a very dear teacher and friend of mine and as her anniversary draws near I feel deeply the sadness of losing her presence in my life AND the joy of having known her…and knowing that she lives within my heart forever. It is the bittersweet, paradoxical nature of being fully human - which I embrace whole-heartedly as best I can, breath by breath, moment by moment. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this mystery! Fionnuala Gill in Ireland🙏

(Rebecca Eldridge) #3

You’re welcome, Fionnuala. And thank you for touching your heart around the loss and joy surrounding your teacher and friend. Love from Massachusetts to Ireland, from me to you. 💔


(Judy Angyalfy) #4

It was a broken heart and paralyzing sadness that brought me to mindfulness meditation nine years ago following the accidental death of a beloved son. I learned to move into the grief rather than push it away, screaming at the unfairness of my sweet son only having 22 years on earth. I was also astounded at what happened when I sat with the emotion and let go of the story line, how it lost its power and opened a portal to a deeper love than I had known. I reconnected with joy and after a time, entered the oasis training to become an MBSR teacher and I’m still working toward that goal. In the meantime, I offer a four week class called Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation in my community several times per year as a service and find that to be richly rewarding. Indeed, joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. I learned that a broken heart is an open heart, and an open heart is one that is capable of transformation.

(Rebecca Eldridge) #5

Dear Judy,

Thank you for sharing about your precious son, and about your heartache. I can only imagine that the deeper love you touched in the midst of horrendous loss now infuses your work and so much more. I’m glad you’re out there with an open heart in this hurting, wonderful world.

Love, Rebecca

(Judy Angyalfy) #6

I appreciate your response, Rebecca, and thank you! Indeed it is a “hurting wonderful world.” Well said. Judy

(Laura Peters) #7

Thanks to Rebecca and the others who have shared their sad-joy here with such beautiful tributes. I sense myself among kindred spirits since in March I lost my vibrant, beloved older sister, who was only in her mid-fifties. Each day when I open my computer screen, I take into my heart our two smiles side by side in a photo taken just a couple of years ago, filled with gratitude for the rich relationship we shared from my birth, and aching from the shock of her departure. It’s taking decades to do a 180 from my family culture to accepting and honoring feelings as they wash through–to live “the full catastrophe,” as Jon Kabat-Zinn put it (borrowing from Zorba the Greek!). So grateful for a community of practice to share this journey.

(Rebecca Eldridge) #8


I’m sorry that you lost your vibrant, beloved sister, and am so thankful that we get a glimpse of your shared love (and your sad-joy). It touches me to imagine you seeing the image on your computer screen of the two of you–the smiles–and hearing how that image fills you with gratitude. This kind of sharing makes me more brave and determined to stay alive to everything, and more willing to express my love every chance I get.

Thank you, Laura…and all.