The feeling of sorrow, as different from sadness, can take us on to the beyond – the region of universal spirituality where man’s self-centered projections cannot thrive. Can we understand the beauty of that feeling and its deeply cleansing effects?

Generally, the words ‘sorrow’ and ‘sadness’ are considered to be synonymous. Again, as always, synonyms differ from each other in someway. We can say sadness is primarily related to the image one has about oneself while sorrow has a touch of the soul. In other words, while both represent an unhappy state of the mind, sorrow seems to strike a deep impersonal chord in us while sadness is related to the personality. That is why sorrow has the ability to take us beyond the conventional sphere of the mind. It can make us understand how self-centered we are and, hence, move us on to the region of deep feeling for all beings we come into contact with. It is such a wave of sorrow that moved Gautama Buddha into reflecting on life’s vicissitudes and, eventually, to Liberation.

Most of us have heard of poet Shelly’s line “The sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought”; also, of Wordsworth’s “The still, sad music of humanity”. All those pensive words ring a bell in us because sorrow takes us inwardly into ourselves. Reflections on this theme can urge us on to discovering hidden currents of life. In that sense, sorrow can be a great teacher. Such an avenue is not available to those who depend on belief systems because their minds will use the system as a shield against sorrow and prevent them from entering into open-minded explorations. Avenues of atheism and agnosticism also cannot help in understanding sorrow because they overemphasize the rational mind’s ability and are often obstructed by their tendency to explain away the issues intellectually.

These things should not be taken to mean that we should worship sorrow but that we should receive its esoteric messages which can make us mature inwardly. The ego has no value for such perceptions. What can help in our understanding sorrow is the affectionate bystander attitude. It incorporates in itself an eagerness to perceive the whole content and stream of that feeling, instead of merely collecting a verbalized knowledge about it. Sorrow helps us understand ourselves through direct awareness and, in the process, helps us transcend sorrow itself!

The tendency to be emotionally attached to people, things and ideas is part of the habitual neurology. That attitude creates mental blocks and makes us remain clinging to those targets. Under those conditions, the mental state due to attachment is mistaken for love. Freeing ourselves from emotional attachments cannot come through any effort; the freedom takes place when we apply ourselves to sorrow as a field for exploration. It is a matter of gradual inner transformation. That freedom can also come from examining several other esoteric pointers, such as the messages from near death experiences and the facts about varied suffering that living beings go through on this planet.

An avenue to be explored in this regard can be termed as “going through and leaving it behind” or “going through and transcending”. The general tendency of human beings is to stay stuck with the things that give them a sense of security. Those things can be of valuable help. However, if we do not go through and leave them behind, those very things will begin to be corrupted by the mind, because of emotional attachment. A good analogy here can be the doorway to a house. If we build a house without any doorway, that house will be useless. That is, the doorway is very important. For that matter, if we develop emotional attachment to the doorway and remain clinging to it, we cannot move into the house and the purpose will again be defeated. Therefore what is needed is to go through and leave it behind. The same way, religious scriptures, words of great Masters and our own discoveries can become obstructions to inner freedom if we remain emotionally stuck to them. The ensuing corruption will be counter-productive. This has been amply demonstrated in history, especially in the field of religion.

When we ravel in an aircraft at some good altitude, it sometimes happens that we pass through a big cloud. The vision outside is just a hazy grey. Soon the aircraft comes out of the cloud and the vision extends to the distant horizon. We also notice that the wing of the aircraft glistens with moisture. It is as if the plane went through the cloud, collected some essence of it, came out and moved on. Can we do the same – go through some educative aspects of life, receive the essence and move on instead of remaining stuck to it? The constantly chattering mind would then have some space and a sublime quietude would descend into it.

On seeing the fact that emotional attachments can quite often lead to sorrow or sadness, we are moved to exploring the mental state involving such attachments. We then begin to understand the related mental state non-verbally. A catharsis would take place. It is this that can take us to higher dimensions of awareness and the associated in-depth living. From such levels of awareness, we would appreciate the meaning of our life on this planet and of the afterlife in the region beyond. Those would significantly contribute to a planetary transformation and the consequent blissful living on this cosmological marble.

Some authors have produced deeply moving essays on the theme of sorrow in life. One such, written by Jerome K. Jerome, is given in the webpage It will touch a deep chord in the reader as one goes through the passage. In addition, J. Krishnamurti’s presentation on sorrow can be of interest to the kindred enthusiasts.

Author's Bio: 

Gopalakrishnan T. Chandrasekaran was born in Madras (now Chennai), India. He received his doctoral degree in Coastal Engineering from the North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA in 1978; served on the research and teaching faculty of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India, the North Carolina State University and the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, Kuwait.

Aside from his professional involvements, he was interested in the philosophic issues of life for the last forty years or so. This led him to the messages of Ramana Maharishi, Lao Tzu, J Krishnamurthy, UG Krishnamurthy, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Eckhart Tolle, Marcus Aurelius and similar Masters. His book entitled “In Quest of the Deeper Self” is the outcome of his reflections on those and his wish to share the outcome with others.

Gopalakrishnan is a member of the International Association for Near Death Studies, Durham, NC, USA. He lives in Kodaikanal, a hill town in the southern part of India, with his wife Banumathy who also received her doctoral degree from the North Carolina State University, in Organic Chemistry. Now they are both retired and currently involved in developing a fruit farm at a village 20 km from their residence. They have a daughter and son who are both married and settled.