There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Kahlil Gibran from his writing On Joy and Sorrow:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

In the past few years there’s been a big push on “Happiness” and how to get there. If you follow my blog, you know that I frequently reference and even at times review books in the self-development field. Where a lot of these books miss the boat is in the very wisdom of Gibran’s words.

He continues:

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

It’s not that we’re looking to sustain some happiness permanency, but yet to better understand that there are scales within us and the joy and sorrow are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

There is a psychotherapeutic approach called Psychosynthesis started by an Italian Psychoanalyst at the time of Freud named Roberto Assagioli (Stefanie Goldstein, Ph.D., explains this further in an interview). My own interpretation of a part of this theory goes like this:

We can look at our experience like an egg shape. On the top are comfortable emotions and on the bottom are uncomfortable emotions. In the middle of this egg imagine the shape of an eye. That eye represents our survival personality and it expands its perception of experience equally. So in order to reach the comfortable emotions, one must be able to experience the uncomfortable emotions. If we don’t allow ourselves to dip our toes in discomfort, we continue to just survive and keep ourselves from really living the full experience of life.

This is a similar notion as the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi telling us

Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.

The question then is, since likely, over time, our brains have been shaped in a way to move away from discomfort, how can we change our brains so that it becomes easier to remember that sorrow is not forever and joy is really there or for us to embrace the “bandaged place?”

Well, thanks to the advent of neuroplasticity (more on this on Wednesday); we now know that we can change our brains.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, among others, says that the most researched way to do this is through mindfulness practice. The reason for this is simply because mindfulness practice allows us to become more present to the moment so we actually have more choice. Because our brains have been found to be malleable now, we can reshape the grooves with practice, making our ability to touch the emotional discomfort without our habitual reactions of aversion.

As we’re able to do this, the light shines on the sorrow and we begin to notice the joy slumbering and waking up.

If emotional discomfort is too triggering, we can even work on this by taking moments to explore physical discomfort. One way to do this is by simply naming it and seeing if for a moment or two you can bring a nonjudgmental lens to this feeling exploring it with fresh eyes, as if you’d never noticed it before. Breathe into it and open to it, breathe out and let it be.

This can make a difference even if just for moments at a time.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.