A vague sadness seems to be endemic in my circle of friends these days. No one’s really talking about it, but there it is, just under the fabric of our daily lives.

It’s not suffering we want to make public. At its worst, tears stream down your face, mascara runs, and your features contort, making you look like Tim Curry’s character at the end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

On good days, a net of grief hangs over us, blocking the sun just ever so slightly.

We’ve been led to believe that loss and change are unnatural, but that is a big fat lie, so we’d better learn to deal with it.

Aside from the obvious and significant losses that we’re all subjected to, there are approximately a million and a half more subtle reasons for experiencing sorrow.

Maybe it’s the fact that we move from one project directly to the next, from one task to another and another and another, without a break between to roll success or failure around on our tongues. Shouldn’t we allow the liquor of experience to burn all the way down?

Sometimes suffering is about the loss of an illusion or a habit you know you have to break, or the realization that a relationship no longer serves you (or maybe never did.)

Maybe it’s because the news subjects us to atrocious stories about human behavior, makes the vilest interpretations of the day’s events and prophesies the direst future for us. Anguish creeps in as we gather around the dinner table.

Maybe the source of our misery is the dissatisfaction that arises from the millions (billions?) of marketing messages to which we’re subjected. Those messages hawk a more beautiful, thinner, better-smelling, smarter, faster, more loveable, sexier, and/or younger-looking self. If we resist, we get the message that we’re ugly, fat, impotent, stupid, malodorous, and older than everyone around us.

Act now to take advantage of this special offer!

I say, stop acting.

Instead, sit very still. If you must, hold your hands over your ears to block out all those messages that tell you what to wear, what to think, how to act. Blindfold yourself to the despair, just for a little while. Dig deep into your own heart and find the real answers buried within.

Out on the Sea of Cortez, my kayak on the calm water is a tranquilizer. I paddle one hundred strokes, then glide, drape my hand over the side, look deep into the clear water at my grief and heal from it.

I think of Brad Dimock’s descriptions of Burt Loper in the book The Very Hard Way. I imagine Burt rowing furiously upstream on portions of the Colorado River through Glen Canyon, or on the Green River in Utah. These days, we so often think of rivers as one-way thoroughfares. It’s easy to forget that before the dams were built, some folks traveled both upstream and down, by the grace of seasonal flows and the sheer force of will.

You can travel grief as a two-way street, too.

Grief can sit on your chest in the middle of the night, taking your breath away, leaving you gasping with sorrow and grasping for something or someone to relieve the pain.

But this is a passage that can’t be rushed. Grief, like so many things, takes as long as it takes. The vacuum of loss is filled with sorrow. Nothing has yet crept in to replace the anguish, so we must wait for grace to arise, as long as it takes, and as painful as that waiting is.

While you’re waiting, try to remain grateful that you’re still alive. Welcome the fact that – as my friend Julie says – you’re still being hit over the head with the big learning oar.

One day soon, perhaps mercy will tiptoe in. Your sadness will lose its sharpness. Forgiveness will arise. Judgment will be released to the wind. You will learn to forgive yourself for the millions of tiny cuts you’ve inflicted upon yourself and others. And you will heal.

Negative space – that essential margin between everything — will transform into positive space. You will breathe out and that release of carbon dioxide will free up some air for another living thing on this earth.