After we had enjoyed our meal and some light conversation, my wise teacher began my lesson for this week. "Tadpole, the walls a frog builds around him to keep out sadness, also keeps out joy. You cannot escape one without giving up the other. Humans, and we frogs as well, put up walls for all kinds of reasons. We might call these walls emotional numbing. We think we can block out pain and sadness by keeping others at bay; if we don't let anyone in, they can't hurt us. But in truth, Little One, numbing only makes things worse." "Sir," I asked, "how does that work? I mean how does numbing out the pain cause us to numb out joy? No one wants to feel bad. We all try our best to avoid it." Dharma thought for a moment, and then replied, "Irwin, you are partially right. No one enjoys feeling pain but it's part of life's experience. No one get through his time here on the planet without experiencing some sadness. When we feel deep emotional pain, my boy, there's a tendency to deny the pain and suffering. We withdraw from life, becoming isolated and shutting others out. Humans, and frogs too, become quieter and less outgoing. When this happens, the first thing we all tend to do is put up an emotional wall, blocking out the source of our pain. But in doing so, we also block out our joy."
Dharma went on to explain that everyone seeks emotional balance, doing whatever we can to keep our emotional ship afloat and running steady. Life, however, has a tendency to throw things in our path that can send our little "ship" off-course. In reality, though, these events that seem to shake us to our core are, in fact, our greatest strengths. He reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite poets, Kahlil Gibran, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. The self-same well from which your laughter rises was often times filled with your tears. The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
I had never thought about sadness and joy in quite this way before. "Joy is our sorrow unmasked." I found this truth to be eye-opening and uplifting. Joy is actually the result of sorrow. Okay, I know what you're thinking; that this can't possibly be true. But the truth is,not only do the two go hand-in-hand but they are actually part of one another. The struggle is what makes the victory. Dharma says, "You must feel the depth that pain possesses in order to have the capacity to feel the height of joy."
The deeper we feel, the more capacity we are given to carry an even deeper sense of joy to the world. Putting up walls will most definitely keep out pain, but without the pain we have no joy. We become numb to life. While the walls we put up will block out the emotional pain we don't desire to feel, they will do us more harm than good. We need to experience all of our emotions. And so it goes....this is the rhythm of life.
After my beloved teacher left my lily pad this morning, I began really thinking about today's lesson and how I can use it to positively impact my life. Like everyone else, I am often guilty of putting up walls, of trying to shut out pain and sadness. I've kept well-meaning friends away because they have hurt me. I've tried to keep myself impervious to pain and suffering caused by eternal events that I cannot control. But no more. I realize that I am fortunate to be able to experience a wide range of emotions. Like it or not, I need them all and so do you. Starting today, I will begin demolition of the walls I've put up that prevent the hurt from entering my life. And although I don't relish pain, I do relish joy. I now know they are both necessary parts of my life. And when I'm finished tearing down all my emotional barriers, I'm retiring my hard hat...once and for all. I'm officially out of the construction business.