There is not much that is more fun than riffing off of Jeff Foster’s brilliant observations. so let me start with a quote from a recent video of Jeff answering a woman lamenting the fact that after all the work she has done, she still doesn’t feel healed, she still feels profound sadness. Jeff said a lot of wise things in the video (which I posted below), but let’s stick with this, “Sadness doesn’t want to be healed. It wants to be held.”

In the dictionary, the word “heal” means to become sound or healthy again, to alleviate a person’s distress or anguish, or to correct or put right a situation. Right away, we can see a problem with using any word to describe something that needs to happen at some imagined future point in our lives. It suggests that we are incomplete and not whole in this moment and that whatever we are feeling in this moment must change or be different if we are to be healed. In fact, using the metaphor of healing reduces the very natural ebb and flow of life energy—pleasure and pain, sadness and happiness, love and fear—to a pathological state.

We forget that in nature healing is not something we do, it is something we allow to happen. Healing is the natural outcome that tends to be more “disturbed” by doing than “helped” by doing. Imagine a physical wound—a break in the skin. There is nothing we can do to heal that wound. Nature does the healing. We can bandage a wound or sew up a wound, but it is still our bodies that do the healing despite us. When healing does not occur, it is usually because of something we have done. Our doing interferes with the natural healing process in three ways:

First, when we refuse to acknowledge that we have been wounded, even a simple wound may become life threatening. When Jeff says that sadness wants to be held, he is saying that when the pain of life shows up at our door, we must invite it in and welcome it, comfort it, sit with it. Acknowledging that there is a wound might sound like something that needs to be “done,” but the acknowledgement and the feeling of pain is what is natural. When we are “doing,” we are more often engaged in judging and rejecting that pain and it is the judging and rejecting that interfere with the natural process of healing—the natural ebb and flow of energy.

Second, when a physical wound won’t heal, it is usually because we’ve added things to it (like bacteria that cause infection). The bacteria we infect our spiritual wounds with are narratives about our pain complete with causes and people to blame. The narrative infection reinforces the painful sensations—often hurting worse than the original wound.

The third reason a wound won’t heal is if we are constantly picking at it. While it is true that our pain and our sadness need to be held and acknowledged, it is also true that with that acknowledgement pain and sadness tend to travel on and not linger. The only danger inherent in holding and acknowledging is when that becomes obsessing over, and picking at, and focusing exclusively on our wounds or our woundedness. This is not the holding that Jeff speaks of.

It is not uncommon to hear a statement like “I want my pain and sadness to go away so I can be whole again.” Well, if you could ever get pain and sadness to go away permanently, you might be many things, but “whole” would not be one of them. A whole you is an open-hearted you, with the capacity to feel everything that arises and make space for it in this now, this moment. A whole you would have a place set by the fire for those cold nights when pain and sadness show up—your front door open and your back door unlocked—so that they can be held and get warm by the fire and then move on.