The experience of sorrow is heavy, weighty whereas the experience of joy is light. Joys pass; sorrows linger, stay. Sorrow is something that hurts one’s innermost consciousness, which pains, which returns with ever more pain, fresh pain.
As a student of literatures written in English and translated into English, I’ve learnt one basic thing about sorrow – let’s not allow sorrow to affect our personality, our behavior. When confronted with sorrow, people usually become negative, cynical and revengeful. That’s with people of lesser mettle, lesser mental strength.
So long as we don’t leave our goodness, we don’t lose our nobility, sorrows are fine. Sorrows are bound to be there. Joys and sorrows are sides of the same coin. But we should not allow sorrows to affect our thinking and conduct in the psychological term. Let’s not allow sorrows to win. Let’s defeat sorrows by our patience, our simplicity and our goodness. That’s the path I gathered from literature.
‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante is considered to have some of the most poignant words full of sorrow. The couple when divided on earth promise to meet in heaven or hell and live together. But they don’t stop loving each other. Hamlet, struck by the shallowness of his own mother remains noble till the end. He wants proof before killing his uncle. He tries to correct his mother. He loves Ophelia. He keeps his word. He keeps his friendship. The young Prince of Denmark might have died young but his goodness doesn’t die. He remains a noble, heroic soul.
Milton in real life lost his eyes. Yet he wrote the greatest epic in English ‘Paradise Lost’. The examples are endless. Shelley, John Keats, Emily Dickinson − sorrows have a quality of purifying the soul. Sorrows have an ennobling impact on blessed souls. So many deeds of social service spring out of sorrows. Sorrows make us human. Howsoever moneyed, powerful we might be we, the humans cannot escape sorrows. It’s the great leveler, second only after death. Death is the greatest leveler of all. We all have to return to the soil, finally. Our final destination is the same, no matter who we are.
Fortitude instead of fear − that’s the right approach to sorrows, in my opinion. Of course, it’s easier said than done. But we can always try.
John Keats almost had a love-affair with sorrow:
I bade good-morrow,
And thought to leave her far away behind;
But she cheerily, cheerily,
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me and so kind.’
‘Sorrow’ has been personified here; Keats almost calls her Ms. Sorrow. She has the desired qualities of a beloved; she’s constant and kind. Keats is very emotional about the fact that even when he’s tried to dodge sorrow; it has never escaped him.
Shakespeare’s approach to sorrow is that of a doctor. He’s concerned with ways to deal with sorrow. ‘To weep is to make less the depth of grief’, the bard prescribes. There’s no shame in tears. In fact, tears are needed for letting out sorrow. Another way of dealing with sorrow is the use of words. Shakespeare says, ‘Give sorrow words, the grief that does not speak knits up the over wrought heart and bids its break’. When confronted with the unwanted guest, namely sorrow; we must use tears and words.
It is said that time is the best healer. But there are pains that refuse to go with time. Like an old sore, the pain keeps reeking up. But strangely enough, the instinct of life is such that if given a choice between sorrow and void (no experience); sorrow becomes preferable. Such is the desire of the human heart to taste life. Taste we must, sorrow or joy!
Thomas Hardy is supposed to the saddest writer of all. He is a branded pessimist. He believes that ‘happiness is but an occasional episode in the general drama of pain’. But even his characters, Eustacia or Henchard or Tess never lose their heroism, their nobility when faced with adverse circumstances. The force of life drives them on.
There are endless shades and hues of sorrow. The magnitude and depth of sorrow differs from person to person and time to time. But the final mantra is to deal with sorrow when it comes with patience and fortitude. After all, there’s no other way out.
The above speech was delivered by the author on the occasion of Samadhi Divas of Swami Chinmayanand at Chinmaya Ashram, Rewa, MP, India.