The religion of old sadness

“What do sad people have in common? It seems they have all built a shrine to the past and often go there and do a strange wail and worship. What is the beginning of happiness? It is to stop being so religious like that.” ~Hafiz

I had to chuckle when I read the quote above because I recognize myself in the religiosity he speaks of. I have often been guilty of pulling out the stories of old hurts and old losses and fondling them gently as I wallow in self-pity and sadness.

Most people I know are guilty of it at least once in a while. It’s as if there is some pleasure we derive from revisiting old pain. Most people, however, only do this occasionally when they are feeling blue, but this does not qualify them as the kind of “sad people” who Hafiz is talking about.

I’ve known others, though, that I would truly characterize as sad, and often bitter, people. This latter group is made of up of the people who are fixated on some event or loss from their past and seem to be unable to move past it to anything else. Every conversation, every situation comes back to this thing in their past. It holds their attention like a religious fervor. It really is an odd religion, if you think about it.

Now, please don’t get me wrong! I think it is important and valid to acknowledge and face our sadness when something happens that causes us grief. Nor am I discouraging anyone from going back to allow themselves experience sadness over past losses that they never experienced at the time when they occurred. It is only through the process of letting ourselves really feel the sadness that we are capable of letting of it and moving on, so I am not speaking of this at all.

What I am pointing out the absurdity of holding on to old sadnesses and hurts long after the time when we have felt the sadness, dealt with it, and should have moved on. When instead of moving on, we build a shrine to these things in our past and stay stuck there, that is the problem.

I have moments when I feel like I have been stuck in this chrysalis too long and I should be making better forward progress by now. I worry in those moments that I have begun creating a shrine to my own past. I worry that I am stuck.

But most days, I can still see and feel so much shifting and growing and expanding within me that even though there is so much that looks dormant on the surface, I can tell that I am making progress. Most of all, I am reassured when I find that I can still say that despite all the challenges and struggles I’ve faced in the last year, there is nothing that would induce me to go back to how things were.

I am acknowledging and sitting with my losses, but I am not building a shrine to them. I’m determined not to build a shrine to that past. Instead, I look forward to using them as a marker to measure my progress as I continue to grow toward my future.

In the meantime, I love the image of the shrine to the past as good checkpoint for myself to make sure I never allow myself to adopt that particular religion. I want to learn to remain present to this moment, and I can’t do that if I’m busy worshiping the past.