February 7 – A Legacy of Sadness – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Atlas wasn’t forced to hold up the world. He was convinced that if he didn’t, the world would fall. 

Many of us are raised by well-intending parents to be the carriers of their sadness. Often the one child who is softer than the rest, who is more sensitive than the family is used to, is the one selected to deal with what no one else will deal with. It is an odd fate.

I was one of those children. I was often called too sensitive, too emotional, too day-dreamy. But as I grew older, as life visited us with the hardships that life inevitably brings to all families, it was I who was needed to carry the burden of my family’s inability to feel.  Without having my capacity to feel ever valued or acknowledged, I was the one to shoulder the family sadness with the brunt of my heart.

I have come to understand that there is a huge difference between sharing someone’s pain and bearing it.  Too many times, those in pain, use the concern of loved ones as a way to ground what they don’t want to feel themselves. The way electricity runs off into the ground during a storm, they mistakenly use others to run their sadness and pain into the ground of those who care.  Too often, we want others to hold our sadness or pain because we won’t take the risk to ask them to hold us while we are hurting.

As an adult trying to be my own person, understanding which feelings are genuinely mine and which are those I have inherited is often confusing. People like me, and maybe you identify, so let me say people like us, frequently feel responsible for the emotional condition of others.

It is delicate and never-ending work, this sorting of what is truly ours and what is not. When unable to stay within ourselves, we become codependent, never feeling at peace until the emotions of everyone around us are managed and tended – not so much out of compassion, but as the only way to quite our anxious burdens as carriers of sadness.  Or when rebounding the other way, we can isolate, becoming not only dispassionate to others, but also numb to ourselves.

The work becomes that of making an accurate inlet of the heart without closing off to the feelings of others or to the depth of things that are ours to feel. Though some of us were trained to carry the sadness and pain of others, the fiber of the one heart we were given is strong and light enough by itself to bring us to the wind that is whispering. “Let down, let go, the world will carry you.”

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