When I was about 24 I had a coworker named Janine. She was in her early 30s and we hung out sometimes after work. I felt honored that an older person would want to have a drink with me.
We lost touch long ago, but I have always remained grateful to Janine for one thing in particular: she encouraged sadness. Or anger, or jealousy. Any hostile feeling that it’s good manners to hide. I had lots of angst at that age. I thought letting it out was a horrible idea.
But Janine had lived in a place called Tonga. She knew how to drink whisky, and had apparently spoken directly to Buddhists. I thought she might know a few things. She told me to just admit that I was sad, or angry, or jealous. In fact, she said I should feel that feeling to its illogical extreme, even if it meant I didn’t get my laundry done. She said that would kill it.
The first time I tried it was heaven. I don’t recall the bad thing I was feeling. But I remember sitting in a chair with the dusk settling in. I didn’t turn the lights on. I sat in the dark. I felt sadness and longing. No way out. I sat there till midnight and cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up it was a Saturday and I was prepared to sit in that chair again. I imagined a crying day, free of social interaction, paying of bills, cleaning of rooms, having of fun. Wallowing was allowed.
I made some tea and went to my chair. When the tea was gone I felt fidgety. I tried to sink back into despair but the thing wouldn’t come back into focus as sharply. “Be sad, be sad, be sad.” I think I managed to squeeze out a few more tears.
Just as Janine had promised, though, the bad thing just didn’t seem that bad anymore. Last night I’d been trying to push away an overwhelming sad thing that wouldn’t have let me sleep. Today I was trying to push away and overwhelming zest for Saturday at the gym and meeting up with friends. I stopped pushing and picked up the phone.
To this day I don’t push. Just roll with the happy and roll with the sad. Thanks to Janine, who loved Jim Beam and the Buddha.