Dada Vaswani on coping with sadness: Laugh and let go

Using anecdotes and the wisdom of scriptures, Dada Vaswani teaches us how to cope with sadness by learning to laugh and let go

Young pretty woman enjoying a good laugh outdoors

Sadness and self go together. The more “self’ there is in us, the more sad we are likely to become, at the slightest mishap.

And “self” has many forms. There is the body-self which keeps us imprisoned to the desires and appetites of the body. These desires are as a fire which rages within us, robbing us of the joy of life. He who attempts to gratify the senses knows how futile it is to do so. To satisfy the appetites is like adding fuel to the fire. The rishis of the Upanishads had greater insight into life than many of our modern psychologists, who advocate the cult of sense satisfaction, when he declared that not all the beautiful women of the world can satisfy the lust of a single man. The man who has surrendered to his carnal self is never happy.

Then there is the mind-self which binds us to ideas and ideals. And there are subtler formless selves of which every earnest seeker on the path has some experience: they are the selves which we create when we take delight in virtues we have acquired or in the progress we have made in spiritual life. And the more subtle a self, the more firmly it binds us to itself, the more miserable it makes us.

You are that

The true joy of life is in the abiding Self, concerning whom the Bhagavad Gita says:

The senses, it is said, are great
Greater than the senses is the mind
Greater than the mind is the intelligence
But greater than the intelligence is He, the Self!

That art thou! Tat twam asi! Thou art the Self. And this Self is ever pure, ever free. Established in the Self, thou may know the joy that is independent of all outer happenings, the joy that nothing and no one can take away. So Jesus said to his disciples: “My joy I give unto you, and your joy no man taketh from you!”

The body is not the Self. The senses are not the Self. The intellect, which plays such an important role in modern life, is not the Self. Seek your joy in your true, abiding Self.

I recall the words of Upali, the barber-disciple of the Buddha: “The intellect is a clever thing, but it overreaches itself. Do you see that monkey making great commotion like an earthquake in yon tree? See! Now he reaches over and springs to another tree, making a great commotion there also, and nothing does he achieve thereby. Thus it is with the intellect: it overreaches everything, thinking with its absurdly insignificant brain to accomplish things, when all it can do is to bring them into difficult straits.”

Seek your joy in the True Self

It is within you. And the way to the Self is the way of denying yourself. He who forsakes himself, abides in the Lord, such a one hath fullness of joy. Most moving are the words of Guru Nanak:

Behold! In thine own Heart
Dwelleth He – thy King!
And the way to Him Is the way of Love!
Love Him, not thyself!
Think as He thinketh!
Will as He Willeth!
Do as He Commandeth!
Renounce thy little self And
find the fullness of joy
At His Lotus Feet!

Laugh to drive away sadness

When the black mood of gloom and despair creeps over you, perhaps, the best and simplest way to ward it off is to laugh. Laughter is contagious. If you see someone laugh in your presence, don’t you also find it difficult not to laugh?

There is a man who has pinned to his wall pictures of men and women and children laughing heartily. Whenever he feels sad or depressed, he has but to take a look at the pictures on the wall: he cannot help but smile, and immediately feels better.

The story of a man who made patients laugh

I read of a man who rendered immense service to patients in a hospital. All he had with himself was an album which cost next to nothing: it was a collection of laughing pictures taken from discarded newspapers and magazines. With this album he went to patients, many of whom were in the throes of physical agony. They had not known what it was to smile or laugh, for weeks together. At the sight of the laughing pictures, they burst into laughter — they forgot their physical ailments for a while; they felt so very much better. To laugh like this must have helped them in making a speedy recovery.

When you feel sad or downcast, look at your face in a mirror. It looks so tense, so ugly, so unlike the face you would wish others to see. The strain in the face is due to some negative emotion which is playing havoc in the mind. On the other hand, when you laugh heartily, your face glows and spreads joy to everyone around you.

Laughter is medicine. It helps in building moral muscles. It is a spiritual tonic. It has a great cleansing power. So laugh whenever your feel gloomy.

The power of letting go

One way of breaking the force of the negative emotion is to relax. Relax the whole body. As you do so, you will find that the last part of the body to relax is always the face: and of the face, the mouth is last part to relax. So smile and laugh! And you will see how quickly the clouds of sorrow vanish and you are happy again!

The secret of relaxation is in the three words: “Let it go!” Life is full of incidents, both pleasant and unpleasant. When an unpleasant thing happens, we are apt to lose our balance: this creates a negative emotion which expresses itself in a feeling of sadness or depression.

An effective way of dealing with such a situation is to go to the root of the matter and “let go” what is causing the negative emotion. Let it go! Let everything go!

Has my sister failed to understand me? Let it go! Has my brother spoken ill of me? Let it go! Has my best friend turned against me? Let it go! Have I suffered loss in business? Let it go! Have my plans been upset? Let it go! Have I been treated with disrespect? Let it go! Has a dear one passed on? Let it go! Has my health suffered a setback? Let it go! Have I been cheated, robbed, deceived by someone in whom I placed my trust? Let it go! In this world of transitoriness — a world in which things come and go, is there anything worth worrying over? Let it go! The more we let go, the more do we conserve our energies for the constructive and creative tasks of life.

A beautiful story of Aesop

There is a beautiful little incident in the life of Aesop, the great storyteller. One day Aesop is playing with little children, shouting and laughing with them. An Athenian passed by: he expresses surprise that such a grown-up person should waste his time thus. In answer, Aesop picks up a bow and, unstringing it, lays it on the ground.

To the Athenian, he says: “O wise one! Tell me the meaning of this unstrung bow!”

The man is perplexed: he finds no suitable answer.

“I cannot solve your riddle,” he says “tell me what it means.”

And Aesop says to him: “If you keep a bow always bent, it will lose its elasticity. But if you let it go slack, it will be fitter for use when you want it.” Are we not, many of us, like the bent bow, always highly strung? We need to unstring ourselves, relax from time to time, that we may be fitter for use when we are called to action. And to relax we need to learn to “let go.”

Adapted with permission from From Hell to Heaven by J P Vaswani, Gita Publishing House, Pune

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J P Vaswani
J P Vaswani (2 August 1918 – 12 July 2018) ), affectionately called "Dada", was a spiritual leader with a difference. His message of love and forgiveness resonated deeply with millions of people around the world. He spearheaded Sadhu Vaswani Mission, which he took over after the passing away of his master T L Vaswani. The mission has centres around the world and continues to do humanitarian work. Dada has received the prestigious U-Thant Peace Award for his dedicated service to the world peace.


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