"expect sadness like you expect the rain. Both, cleanse you." Nayyirah Waheed
The conception of this project began a few weeks ago, out of the desire for a deepening my spiritual being and enrichment of my life through contemplation.
When, only one week ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer, I felt propelled to push Essence and Muse into conception. The site and writing is perhaps not as refined as I had originally planned, but this project is more necessary now than I imaged when its concept flowered in my mind.
The first quote was picked at a time when the future looked bleak and hopeless; I was steeped in sadness. The concept of a cleansing coming from the sadness appealed to me, although I didn’t quite believe in it.
I have been blessed with few disappointments, and no real tragedy in my lifetime. The sadness that enveloped my family in the past week was like nothing I have experienced. While it has been a difficult time, there also has been beauty and teachings. The most well defined has been a sense of clarity. Clarity for the present moment, and the futility of future expectations; for the things that are truly important. My life priorities were distilled very quickly, and decisions that I have been turning over in my mind crystalized.
The second lesson was an immense sense of empathy. In a world where daily news can bring a multitude of depressing stories, filled with human suffering, people have learned to tune out. It is impossible to feel perpetual empathy, lest we all become immobilized with sadness and fatigue. As a doctor, compassion is essential to perform your job well, however, empathy is much trickier. Empathy requires us to keep a piece of our hearts open to the pain and suffering of those around us. In the past few years I have learned to plug that space, protecting myself during sleepless nights on call and long days in intensive care; not thinking of the fears and sadness a family is experiencing, but of the procedure that is necessary to deal with the patient’s presenting complaint. Through my own sadness, I have been reminded that perhaps my heart had been plugged too tight. While I don’t think it is healthy to hold onto the sadness or tragedies of others, feeling empathy for them does not only make one act in a more humanistic way, but it also serves as a gift to ourselves – to remind us of past sadness that we have experienced and lessons that we have learned because of those experiences.
Prior to contemplating this quote, the concept of cleansing, for me, has often been linked to the physical body. My teenage and young-adult life was peppered with stories of women ‘cleansing’ their bodies through feats of discipline – juicing for days, limiting themselves to paprika-spiked water. My own forms of a cleanse was more in line with supporting of the body’s physical detoxification processes (ie abstinence of processed foods, sugars and alcohol, supplementation with herbs that enhance phase 1 and 2 of liver detoxification), however, I look back and recognize that my motivation was still linked to a desire for superficial change.
In his poignant take on smart phones, and our society’s inability to accept ourselves and our intrinsic loneliness, Louis C.K. describes the importance of allowing ourselves to be sad in order for us to feel true happiness (see video below). I wonder if redefining cleansing as a physical activity allows us to be distracted from the need to honor our sadness and accept its cleansing role in our mental and spiritual lives. We reach for our cell phones, look to Instagram yoginis, take supplements, and buy new workout gear, in the quest to find spiritual growth and mental cleansing. But perhaps by sitting with the icky feelings of self-doubt, guilt, or sadness, our mind’s cobwebs can clear, and the curtains of fog can dissipate. Perhaps this is an essential step towards feeling more connected to our intuitive selves.
While I wish I could take away my fathers cancer with a magic wand, I am grateful for the lessons that have been bestowed by this difficult time. I am hopeful that as he recovers, I can still hold on to the lessons I’ve learned and grow from this place. I truly feel layers of myself have been stripped away.