Mining Sorrow For Brilliance

By Justin David Carl

Someone I loved once gave me a box of darkness.  It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. -Mary Oliver


Failure. Abuse. Betrayal. Separation. Death. All part of the darker side of human experience. I’ve had my fair share of encounters with them. We all have. However, it’s up to us to decide how we let the ensuing sorrow run its course. It can be done with grace and equanimity, mysterious decay, or fire and destruction.

All the best lessons in life come from dark experiences—setbacks, breakdowns, reversals, unfulfilled expectation, separation, and death. These all produce sorrow in varying degrees depending on the level and intensity of the dark experience. Even minor dark experiences produce minor sorrow. Sorrow is the the expression of grief, regret, sadness, disappointment or the like. We often try to avoid or suppress our sorrow as if it is taboo to have darker feelings. But suppression just pushes the emotion into hidden stagnant energy that we end up storing in our body and the hidden recesses of our mind.

We need not be afraid of sorrow. Sorrow is beautiful. And unconditional sorrow is powerful when we embrace it. The great liberator. Through the expression of sorrow in whatever form we choose to let it flow we can find purification, renewal, and regeneration. If we can allow ourselves to feel the sorrow in all its glory then we are reborn. We are cleansed of the experience. And after the cleansing we can reflect and begin to mine the experience for the precious diamonds that will be born it.

No matter the size or scope we can find revolution and brilliance from all sorrow if we choose to be open to it. This isn’t easy for humans. We are often fearful creatures by habit. Being open means being vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary as hell for most. And being opens means letting feelings pour out in an unconstrained and respectful way. Feelings are also another forbidden realm for many. Nonetheless, honoring sorrow doesn’t mean you have to burst out sobbing during the middle of work. It means giving yourself permission to feel the feelings and let them run their course in a safe environment. If it’s small, you can have a brief compassionate conversation with yourself. “Well, that was unfortunate. And that is okay. It’s okay for me to have these dark feelings. I trust that in some way, shape, or form it was meant to be. I give myself permission to have and emote these feelings. I have full faith that the more fully I allow them their expression the sooner I will find self-regeneration.” We can have this same conversation with bigger sorrowful experiences. Then we can give ourselves the love and respect to find a quiet and protected place to have the big cry if the situation calls for that level of renewal.

In my own life all the darkest deepest most terrible experiences have led to the biggest leaps in the revolution of my life. They have lead to immeasurable healing, growth, and transformation. Some of my highlights in no particular order are: not getting into Stanford the first time I tried, going through a drug addiction, going through suicidal depression that followed my drug addiction, being physically and sexually abused as a child, taking a 7-year leave of absence from Stanford, ending relationships, ending jobs, ending business partnerships, ending careers (ending anything seems to be particularly challenging for me), and the list goes on.

Most of these experiences plagued me for large parts of my lifetime until recently. They manifested in subtle and destructive ways. Causing problems, stress, confusion, and more. It wasn’t until I began to acknowledge them in the last few years that I finally began to unravel their chains of enslavement. As I brought them to the light of my consciousness I saw that I was both the prisoner and the jailer. Then when I embraced the power of unconditional sorrow I began to find power within the darkness. I discovered that grief and sadness are purifying. I realized that disappointment was simply an opportunity not met, not an indication of my personal worth or value. And I learned that regret was just pointing to where I still had forgiving to do. Ultimately, I have found that by opening and reopening to any dark experience that has been hidden away and giving over to the bottled up sorrow I could be freed and find personal revolution. This is alchemy. Taking base material and turning it into gold.


I am still going back to many of these experiences as they resurface. The darkest experiences of our lives tend to stay with us indefinitely. This is okay. There is a reason they happened. Though the reason isn’t often obvious at first.

I often come upon new experiences in life that trigger old dark experiences. Each time I resist letting the dark experience resurface it persists until it finds a way to the top. Usually it shows up as some sort of breakdown or setback in some seemingly unrelated area of life. But when I finally compassionately turn and face the darkness again I am able to see the connection between the old experience and the new. Then I am able to see that the old dark experience is simply quietly asking to be honored once again. So with patience I allow myself to feel the sorrow. Emote. And be renewed again. Each time I find additional brilliance from the experience. I discover new opportunity that the experience is pointing to. I deepen my forgiveness of others. I forgive myself again. I purify, renew, and am recharged by my compassionate awareness, acknowledgement, and acceptance.

Even though some of these experience happened a lifetime ago I am still able to go back. There are always new diamonds in the dark to be unearthed. No matter how old or new, harsh or polite, the darker experiences are infinite mines to be plied again and again.

With every respectful visit with sorrow we are able to reclaim power and energy we have locked away from ourselves. Unconditional sorrow is a way of honoring our dark experiences in a way such that we are both released and empowered by them. It seems counter-intuitive because it is scary to be with our darkness because of the associated pain. Once we realize the fear of pain won’t kill us we can begin to accept the transformation the experience is offering up to us.

In contrast, when we suppress these darker experiences or try to hide them away they just suck our life energy away. They will find a way to manifest. No matter what. If we keep them hidden in our deep dark closets without sorrowfully honoring them they will find a way into our worldly experience. And it won’t be pretty. They will cause disaster, pain, stress, chaos, and destruction. Often we don’t even realize where it came from because we are still not willing to acknowledge what we hid away. So life will seem cruel and heartless. We play the victim role. Poor me. Pity. Pity. Pity. But at some point the pain and destruction will become strong enough and finally we will bring to light to what was once hidden. Finally, we will connect the dysfunction or disconnect in some aspect of our life to something we have stored away. Either way, sorrow will have its day.

We can choose compassion for our dark experiences and actively embrace them with consciousness or we can hide from them and let them haunt us. It is up to us whether we choose self-oppression or liberation.

In Gratitude, Alchemy & Service,

Justin David Carl | LifesRake 🌒

P.S. After reading this you may be wondering if every day is magic, rainbows, and unicorns for me… More days than ever are now, but I still have my down days too. And I believe it is important to emote on those days so that you can be cleansed by your own emotions.  See this article on sorrow for the other end of the spectrum.

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