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The surfacing of Sorrow

Alistair wrote:

. I was starting to wonder if I was totally alone here in regard to this question of sorrow

Hi Alistair

We seem to be agreed that a different response to human sorrow is called for, other than the usual avoidances, the common escapes from it, the intellectualisation of it. An approach that somehow comprehends sorrow, goes inwards into sorrow; that perhaps regards it as an ‘honoured guest’

But in real terms what does that mean? Can we explore that? If I ask “How to respond to sorrow”, probably we both know the limitations of that word “how”. It cannot be a matter of thought devising some method of response, and then trying to put that method into practice.

And let us remember we are talking of, or at least I think we are, the vast stream of human sorrow that has flowed through Man’s history, not our individual sufferings. Not that I am drawing a line, but I want to make it clear I am not talking about any sort of therapy here.

Something happened to me today that later brought up the perceptions that we shared about suffering on another thread. After a bout of physical work I came home very tired. I really had wanted to be alone, but my partner has said she had cooked a lunch for us. There had previously been hard words between us, and as a result of a whole series of conflicts, I was ‘primed’ for reaction, although not consciously so. And so with very little provocation anger surfaced in me.

I left the table and became completely physically immobile somewhere. I had become accustomed to bouts of frustration and anger, and part of me was learning to somehow control them. Rather than “control”, perhaps I mean “watch them”, so they did not manifest too violently. I returned to the table, although unable to eat, with intense emotions of various sorts.

Suddenly I realised that the dominant feeling in me was actually sorrow. Sorrow for all the conflict in human relationship, especially in man/woman relationship. That sorrow somehow enveloped all the other feelings that had been in me, hurt, resentment, and so on… It just was. Tears started to well up.

This state did not last long, but it seemed significant. It seemed that to a small extent human suffering had been allowed to flower a little. And not covered up by anger or other feelings. In fact I don’t know if what happened can be rightly described as a “feeling”. And although it probably was therapeutic, it felt more than that, less personal than that.

I don’t know if what happened is any sort of clue to the complete ‘experiencing’ of sorrow. But can we go into the whole issue? of course I open the discussion to everyone on the forum.

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While you had the complete experience of sorrow, was there any awareness on the impact of your actions and anger on the other person and the human consciousness? Or was that just you feeling the sorrow, wanting to be alone? If the sorrow is that of the human suffering, don’t you think it also includes your partner’s suffering? And my question is did you feel any compassion for her?

When one opens up to the sorrow of another so that it touches one’s personal sorrow, in that instant, the sorrow inside changes/transforms into love - compassion [sorrow derives etymologically from the word passio-, compassion is sorrow with the other], which transforms one’s own personal sorrow into love. This is the only form of love (compassion) that one is aware of. All the other kinds of “love” - as so many hold onto - aren’t love. Most people misuse the word “love”; and not only that, they are not even interested in learning anything new. Obviously, when the other is incapable (either by choice or having done really bad things) of feeling their own sorrow, one feels nothing for them. One recoils from people like that, in the same way that K wouldn’t even touch a letter sent by Rajagopal.

Edit: Just dawned on me - to add - had to interact quite a few times with different people (somewhere between 1/2 dozen to a dozen times - can’t recall exactly) who were in sorrow to change what seemed like quite a lot of sorrow inside of me, until there was the feeling and sense that one’s heart was full of love.

Also, it is important to say that until one is able to connect with one’s own sorrow, there is no way that life will provide an opportunity to meet someone else who is in sorrow, and discover what it is to have compassion for the other.

Of course, having compassion now would mean that it would/should be really easy to have insights and experience the mutation that is possible.


As I tried to make clear, the state of sorrow that arouse did not feel like a personal thing. That was what made it feel remarkable. But since you bring it up, I will try to answer to your questions, Scarlett.

As this “universal sorrow” arose, if I may call it that, it had no particular relationship to my partner. Nevertheless, she felt its manifestation in me, or observed my state of near-tears, and was touched by it. She came over to me. As far as I remember ( and my account of things becomes more unreliable as the event recedes into the past) I made no particular response,

The “wanting to be alone” had come earlier, before the event.

Of course this stream of human suffering encompasses all human beings (although perhaps a few have stepped out of it, as K mentions). Can it be said to be “my” suffering", or “my partner’s suffering”? In what sense does it belong to an individual? (in the conventional use of that term individual). In fact can any thoughts or feelings be said to be “mine”? Is it that they are felt to be “mine” when identification with them takes place?

No, there was no particular sense of compassion for my partner, the compassion was for the human race, so lost in suffering. There was a stepping back from my common, personal perception, a sense of “the wider picture”. If any action took place, I suggest it was directly in human consciousness, which seems to imply that at some level it affects everyone. I don’t think that implies that each individual on the planet feels it, experiences it, directly. But I am starting to speculate now.

And I do not want to lay too much emphasis on this particular experience, not use it to prove anything. It was perhaps a pointer.

No amount of theories or explanations will make loneliness disappear. But

the moment you are really struggling in sorrow, and feel that sorrow in its

uttermost depths, then you are seeking the root, the cause of sorrow, and not the

explanation of sorrow. Sorrow then becomes as a soil through which you must

grow, a soil for nourishment, not a thing to be avoided.

These words of K are from 1930. It is a crusial distinction, is it not, between seeking the root of sorrow and not the explanation of sorrow?

So for me the issue is this

“feeling the sorrow to its utmost depth”

But such feeling cannot be limited to sorrow, can it, it must apply to all our states of being?

Do you think feeling the sorrow intensily in anyway help reduce the human suffering? Does this feeling intensily set the soil for any change and awareness in your own actions like getting angry etc? While you get totally immersed in sorrow, experiencing the intensity of it, does that mean you have to cut yourself off from others to experience it? As Charlie mentioned earlier, I feel the true action is not in recoiling but sharing, transforming sorrow into compassion and love.

There is a sorrow that I might identify with when I lose a friend or family member, have an accident, lose my job, etc. But what of a complete loss of something intangible, or something otherwise unrecognised in yourself? Is it a total feeling of worry, anxiety or despair, something like that? Or maybe it is in fact an eternal sorrow of life, which we ignore in our day to existence? Or is it that in our pursuits, we have surrendered the wholeness of living and in our loss, have adopted a sorrowful life? Then everything, all the day to day matters, all our relationships, are in sorrow, aren’t they? Then we use a strategy to overcome the sorrow, bit by bit.

Scarlett, sorry for the delay in replying to you. You have put several questions, and I hope we can enquire into them together. I certainly don’t claim to have absolute answers.

“Do you think feeling the sorrow intensely in anyway help reduce the human suffering?”

I suppose the truthful answer is that I don’t know. And I won’t be so foolish as to search for some quote from K to “prove” something or other. And I won’t claim that all my actions are aimed at the relief of human suffering. But what seems clear is the necessity of not escaping in any way from pain, discomfort. Don’t attempts at escape merely exacerbate our problems? And if we don’t fully face the challenges that life throws at us, I have a strong feeling they will keep returning.

“Does this feeling intensely set the soil for any change and awareness in your own actions like getting angry etc?”

Probably not if one is acting from a deliberate motive of changing oneself. But if one actually sees the necessity for going into oneself deeply, then doesn’t it do away with fear? Because one is no longer running away from things. And to act without fear IS a profound change, no?

“While you get totally immersed in sorrow, experiencing the intensity of it, does that mean you have to cut yourself off from others to experience it?”

Can one cut oneself off from others? As K says, life IS relationship. One cannot escape relationship, in some form or other.

I think there is a danger in turning “facing sorrow, or anything, intensely” into some some sort of technique to be applied to one’s life. Can there be a method to be practised to go into oneself deeply? Isn’t it more a matter of being vulnerable to life?

"As Charlie mentioned earlier, I feel the true action is not in recoiling but sharing, transforming sorrow into compassion and love. "

While I do not see it as something deliberately done, it seems a natural process that feeling the sorrow of the human race DOES bring about compassion. No, I will change that, I would say that feeling the sorrow of the human race (and not being concerned with one’s personal suffering, IS compassion.

Perhaps this is not an answer to you question. But it seems to me that everything does point towards facing sorrow intensely. And when one does so, I think the necessity become clearer.

If one accepts, or rather sees, that “one is the world” - that is, that one’s consciousness is not individual, but is part of a common human consciousness, then it is obvious that if one “burns up suffering” in oneself then that is happening in the the consciousness of the world. So the question is, does this facing sorrow/suffering in oneself actually burn it up. What do you say? What is your experience?

As I see it, the real issue facing us, moment by moment, is not “should I go into things deeply or not”, or “how to experience things intensely”, but to escape or not to escape (or rather try to escape) from our unpleasant feelings. That is our real ‘choice’, although people (including myself) might challenge that word ‘choice’.