The body holds deep sadness.

  • The loss of people you love: those who have died; lovers and friends with whom you have fallen out, or lost touch; children who have moved away.
  • The love you never received, that was not forthcoming; and the love you cannot give, your lack of capacity for loving.
  • The loss as you grow and move on from childhood … from youth … from young adulthood … from middle age … from life: a favourite tree or pond; a loved room; a home; a neighbourhood; a place of work; a relationship; a profession.
  • The ache of mistakes you have made and the consequences in your life: the follies; the choices; the hurt.
  • The changes as this body becomes less mobile, energetic, free, robust; more painful, fragile, vulnerable; the teeth, the tummy, the hair, the eyesight, the hearing.
  • The sadness of this body when you absent yourself from incarnation – when you turn from being yourself (as you do daily, hourly) to fit in, to be liked, to keep the peace.
  • And the moment by moment sadness of breath: each in-breath a welcoming; each out-breath a farewell.



This is the way of all beings. Even the mountains. Even the stars.

Sadness dwells deep in this body.

Only tenderness will ferry you from sadness to joy.

How do you respond? With regret, with anger, with fear? Do you cling on? Do you seek to hold back time, to hold your breath, try to stop this sadness? Do you embrace amnesia? Bereave yourself of bereavement?

But what if there is nothing wrong? What if this is it? Sadness is.

Can you, eventually, having worn out the alternatives, respond with tenderness – to this body, to yourself, to your sadness?

Only tenderness will ferry you from sadness to joy.

(This post is the fruit of an all-day Mindfulness Retreat led by Tessa Watt, who also delivered an MBSR course I attended in Autumn 2010. Thank you, Tessa.)

6 thoughts on “Sadness

  1. Thanks Julian

    Learning to accept the sadness….. be with it, stay with it. not hurry until it leaves you. I feel often I dont let go of things they leave me if I have the patience to wait long enough. And then love wraps itself round the sadness and it disolves.

  2. Mindfulness rightly gets a lot of attention these days. But, having plucked mindfulness out of a broader and fuller path of practice, I sometimes fear that the ‘mindfulness movement’ runs the risk of forgetting such essential elements as the tenderness to which you point. Indeed, it possible that, precisely because tenderness was left behind, some mindfulness practitioners now find a market for the ‘new’ product of self-compassion.
    As you demonstrate, the two elements of mindfulness and tenderness really do belong together – a point also made by Ajahn Brahm who has coined the hybrid term ‘kindfulness’.
    As you say, “Only tenderness will ferry you from sadness to joy”! And, as it is when I am at my most low that I am most tempted to be self-blaming and self-critical, it is good to see your reminder!

    1. Thank you, Tim. I agree. I am concerned about the talk of ‘secular’ mindfulness, which at its worst is a commodification of the spiritual; not that I wish to cajole people into religion, but that, at its best, a religious/spiritual tradition is wise about human flourishing.
      ‘Kindfulness.’ That’s perfect.

      1. At the risk of prolonging this conversation beyond the optimum – and, for now, putting aside the discussion of secular mindfulness, I was again reminded of your post when I read Pope Francis using the term ‘tenderness’ in saying:
        “Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience… Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds…We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love”.
        And none of that can happen without being mindful of the present moment!

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