I listened to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with the director and co-writer of Inside Out, the latest animated Pixar film. The film is a depiction of the inner life of an 11 year old girl, Riley, who has to move from her beloved family home in Minnesota to San Francisco. The five main characters in the movie are inhabitant’s of Riley’s inner life. Fear, Anger, Joy, Sadness and Disgust take center stage as Riley faces this crisis in her life which takes her from the innocence of childhood to the experience of disappointment, change and loss.
I love hearing gifted people describe the travails of their creative process. Turns out the director/co-writer of this brilliant work had to come smack up against failure in order to find the completed movie. In his initial conceptualization, the main emotional players were Fear and Joy, which at the time the creator believed would be the primary forces at play in a young girl’s psyche when facing such a developmental challenge. But alas, after working on the film for a solid 3 years and coming up with many good scenes, the creator was hitting a wall. The film just wasn’t working. In order for it to work, he said, Riley, would need to be able to face a situation in a way that she had been unable to at the beginning of the movie. He was unable to figure out how to achieve this. Facing impending deadlines and the unveiling of his unfinished work, the creator had to face his own fear. Fear that his work was wasted, Fear that his past successes had been flukes. Fear that he would have to leave his job. Yikes! Don’t we all know this dreadful moment in one way or another? It’s isolating, suffocating and destabilizing. As he contemplated leaving Pixar, he realized was that what he would most miss were the people he worked with there. And that made him sad. And then, lo and behold, “Eureka!” He had a lightbulb moment. He realized that Sadness, not Fear, needed to be Joy;s co-star. And why is this? Because sadness connects people with others and it is this connection that makes life not only bearable but rich and meaningful.
The take home point is that Sadness upstages Fear as an emotion we need to cultivate and highlight. Obviously I am not recommending becoming a depressive, But I am suggesting that if you seek to cultivate Joy, look also for the Sadness that might be lurking around the edges. And when you find it, soften around it and share it with others. I think we could go so far as to say that Fear is more based in the egoic needs to establish safety and security and entails a hardening, while sadness softens the edges and does not posture or masquerade.
We are told in the book, Conversations With God, that fear and love represent opposite polarities of the Universe. Fear contracts, postures and avoids. Love expands, connects and embraces. Sadness, then, is a cousin to love and should be allowed a voice whenever and wherever she emerges.