Remaining Present Through Both Joy and Sorrow

Overhead view of smiling child lying back on field of grass with hands over heart“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” ―Shunryu Suzuki

To view life with a beginner’s mind is to look at the world through the eyes of a child. The world becomes a place that is full of curiosity and wonder. I’ve witnessed this when I watch children at play. Sometimes they are amazed, open, and playful, but at other times they may be sad, restless and cranky. Yet no matter their mood, there is almost always a willingness to start anew: they are open to the next experience.

In contrast, we as adults can be guarded and cautious with our feelings. We tend to turn away from pain, and when joy arises, we want to cling to it. This conditional way of approaching life can have a negative impact on our emotional well-being, as it tends to create a limited sense of self and a narrow view of the world.

How can we meet life with a beginner’s mind—one that is open, curious, and compassionate toward not just ourselves, but all of life?

Look at the world through a child’s eyes.

Sit with a young child for even a few moments and your perspective on life can shift. Children look at the world with eyes of interest and fascination, drawing joy from the experience of playing in the snow or simply watching leaves being blown by the wind. They also readily feel and express all emotions. Children cry when sad, laugh when happy, express anger when disappointed or scared, and play when the opportunity presents itself. In short, they experience life fully, with few expectations or judgments about how things should or shouldn’t be.

When we put away childish things, we lose our innocence and wonder.

“We don’t have to create joy. It’s an innate quality that at times is hidden or dormant. As innocent babies we all have a natural joy. When we’re not overwhelmed by stress and suffering this natural state becomes revealed.” —James Baraz

As we move from adolescence into adulthood, we often lose our connection to our natural joy and openness, the sense of wonder we experienced as children. It’s as if somewhere along the passage to adulthood, we learned that being authentic and experiencing life fully was no longer acceptable.

When we lose our ability to be open to what’s happening, we often instead find ourselves trying to manage and control things, people, and experiences that are beyond our control. We no longer maintain a connection with the joy, vibrancy, and realness contained in every moment of life but connect instead with our thoughts about how life should be. This attempt to control is reactive and is often driven by our aversion to what is happening in our lives.

 Our ability to see life as a mixture of pain and joy allows us to experience life to its fullest extent. We learn to open to joy when it arrives, to take it in through our senses and appreciate it, with the knowledge it is a visitor that comes and goes.

By cutting off our vibrant connection to life and diving into the murky world of thoughts, judgments, anxiety, and worry, we lose access to what is healing, joyful and transformational. Sometimes, we can become stuck in this virtual world and lose sight of reality.

Coming back into balance with life.

“And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.” —Kahlil Gibran

The truth is that life is not divided solely into sorrow and joy. Neither of these extremes reflects the reality of life. Together, they represent life as it is. Our ability to see life as a mixture of pain and joy allows us to experience life to its fullest extent. We learn to open to joy when it arrives, to take it in through our senses and appreciate it, with the knowledge that it is a visitor who comes and goes.

Eventually we learn to do the same with all other experiences and open ourselves to all feelings: sadness, anger, joy, happiness, and grief. We stay present in the face of pain and sorrow and respond with compassion and kindness. The power of the compassionate heart is such that it helps us stay open to painful experiences in ways that can heal and transform us. It is when we open ourselves to pain that we realize how precious life can be and that we don’t know when it will end. In doing so, we may learn how to better appreciate life, with all its joys and sorrows, instead of avoiding certain experiences.

Sometimes joy is felt when we are at our most vulnerable because that is when our hearts and mind are open to taking in life as it is. 

I’d like to share a personal example of a challenging and painful time I went through with my family.

In 1997, I waited with my son and family in the coronary care unit of the hospital where my father had been admitted. His prognosis was grim, and we had all come together to support each other and our mother. In possession of the painful knowledge that our father was dying, it was challenging to stay present, and we were all caught up in a state of worry, grief, and fear.

Eventually someone said something—I can’t tell you what was said—and what happened next took us all by surprise: My son, who was 4, laughed out loud.

I don’t know what he saw or heard that elicited such a joyful response, but that isn’t important. What is important is that the sound of his laughter was like a balm to our broken hearts. It wasn’t just my family who was affected by it. His laughter, like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, shifted the energy in the room. It didn’t make the sadness or the deep hurt of losing a loved one go away, but it helped us to see that there can still be joy, even in the midst of deep pain and sorrow. In that moment I could see that life is a truly a miracle, filled with both joys and sorrows.

I believe that to be present and open to experiencing all of these joys and sorrows truly is a blessing.

May you be well.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, therapist in Coral Springs, Florida

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Aileen

    October 21st, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    I don’t always think that it is the best idea to remain wondrous about it all like a child, but wow, it is depressing to look at things in such a critical manner all the time! Sometimes it is nice to just enjoy the world for what it is, to appreciate it all without the worry. Those times do not come often for me but when I do have them I try to savor the moments that I do get.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    Hi Aileen! Thanks for your feedback. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is to accept things the way they are, be open minded and open hearted. It’s even more empowering because we are adults and have experience that helps us meet the challenges with wisdom and compassion. Sometimes it’s the patterned way we meet challenges that keeps us stuck so shifting our perspective can help us to connect with the wise mind.

  • Mallory

    October 21st, 2016 at 2:07 PM

    Sometimes it really is the child’s eye view that brings us the truest perspective, no?

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    Hi Mallory! Yes, you got it! It is that the childs view is open and not covered over by all the conditioning that we as adults have accumulated from every experience (more so the negative ones) we’ve gone through. It is that seeing the world with a beginners mind helps us to see things beyond the way life should/shouldn’t be. So we have access to options that aren’t about trying to change or control the things that are beyond our control.

  • Laken

    October 24th, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    Great reminder that we can all use from time to time.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    Thank you Laken for taking the time to stop by and share that! Yes, it is a great reminder and enjoyed writing this post and revisiting that memory.

  • estelle

    October 24th, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    I know that I lost a lot of good friends when my marriage ended not because they chose sides or anything like that but it was so hard for me to even get past that hurt and anger that I was feeling that I didn’t let anyone in who probably could have helped me out of that funk some. I think that in some ways that was me trying to handle it all on my own and being really embarrassed that this wasn’t something that I could ever make work out just right. We had dated forever and had this huge elaborate wedding and then 8 months later it was all over. Yeah I was embarrassed and shut people out. They didn’t hang around to help me get over it.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:40 AM

    Hi Estelle…that sounds like a very painful time in your life. It makes sense that you then pulled away because of the pain you felt and that is was hard for you to let anyone in. We often react at times like a wounded animal; we retreat and it’s painful to have contact with the outside world. It’s also important to have compassion for the part of you that was feeling so hurt and vulnerable. So perhaps being kinder towards yourself and practicing self compassion around this event would help. Thanks for stopping by and sharing this experience.

  • burton

    October 25th, 2016 at 9:42 AM

    The picture that accompanies this piece just makes me smile.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:42 AM

    Hi Burton…it is a joyous picture! I too smiled when I saw it! A great reminder to stop and really take in those moments that are joyous and carefree.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    Hi Aileen…how great that you are able to appreciate those moments that are carefree. I can see how this is a critical way of viewing life. Rather than it being a naive or critical way of looking at life it is actually freeing. We don’t resist pain/sadness/fear/etc. and we are open in those moments that joy is present to take it in. Sometimes both can be present and we can see this when we remain open hearted and our minds are not stuck in negativity. So it’s actually a freeing shift; we do what we can to plan ahead, we let go of overthinking, overanalyzing or getting stuck in worry and if we are stuck we notice this and shift our attention to what heals and restores our connection with life. This is a practice. It’s what mindfulness meditation helps us with. Thanks again for your feedback!

  • Jayme

    October 27th, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    All I can say is that if you be true to you, then everything no matter the joy or the sorrow you will always find the best way to compartmentalize it and give it its appropriate place in your life.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 31st, 2016 at 6:41 AM

    Hi Jayme…yes, we each have to find a way to be there for both the joys and sorrows. It is at times challenging and important to honor each moment of this precious life.

  • liz

    October 28th, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    it can be quite refreshing to be able to look at the world through the eyes of a child, all that curiosity and wonder without the cynicism that we somehow accumulate as we grow older.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 31st, 2016 at 6:45 AM

    Hi Liz, Yes! It is refreshing to let the cynicism, which really constricts our world view to fall away and what we’re left with is the pure experience of the moment. When we meet life with wisdom we can respond in ways that are healing, compassionate and open.

  • Joanne

    October 29th, 2016 at 10:41 AM

    I have had a lot of loss this year but have never really felt like I could grieve those losses as a result of having to stay so strong for the other people in my family.
    I guess I have always been the rock that everyone else has leaned on for their own strength but it left me feeling depleted and like I needed that same thing from another person but no one was there to allow me that.
    I really struggle with how to cope with my own feelings at times when I am so worried about others.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 31st, 2016 at 6:57 AM

    Hi Joanne…I’m so sorry for your losses. It sounds like a very challenging year. I can certainly understand feeling like you have to be the support for others. It’s also really important to take care of yourself, allow yourself to grieve these losses. When we give to others and don’t give back to ourselves we can end up feeling resentful, angry and overwhelmed. If this is a pattern in your life talking to a therapist may help. There is also a wonderful book by Kristin Neff called Self Compassion. It’s a wonderful practice of how to care for ourselves when we’re suffering. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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