Someone is tired of feeling sad, so they travel to a distant land to find a monk to advise on how to forever banish sadness. The following is their conversation.
Monk - Why have you come here?
Person - I am always sad; I want to get rid of my sadness.
Monk - Ah! That is easy.
Person - Really?
Monk - Yes! Easiest thing in the world, but there is a cost.
Person - I don’t care about the cost, I’ll give anything to be rid of my sadness.
Monk - Are you sure…
Person - Yes!
Monk - Very well. I banish all of your sadness forever, and the cost is that you will never again feel happiness.
Sadness is relative to happiness. It is impossible to know one without knowing the other. We cannot eliminate our sadness without simultaneously ridding ourselves of joy.
When we read a short story like the one above, we understand this paradox of human life. That knowledge provides very little comfort to us when we grieve the loss of a loved one, deal with a prolonged illness, or experience some hardship. What we really want is not to banish our sadness forever, but to lessen the sadness we feel in this moment.
It is a temporary request to be rid of a temporary experience.
In a strange twist of fate, and after a great amount of therapy, I now greatly appreciate my travels deep into the valleys of sadness and depression. I feel I experience happiness, joy, and gratitude that much more now precisely because I experienced the inverse of those feelings to such an extreme degree. A younger me would have given up all future happiness just to be rid of current sadness. I lacked enough of what I call “balancing experiences” to provide internal ballast to neutralize my depression.
At that time I craved numbness because I felt my sadness permanent. Now I know every experience and feeling I have is temporary. That knowledge does not make being in a depressive spiral easy, but it does keep a small light burning hopefully in the distance that I never noticed before.