Sunday, June 20, 2010


Negativity comes in many forms. The varieties and permutations of negativity are as numerous as there are people. Sometimes it is a miniscule irritation at something that happened or should not have happened. Sometimes it’s a burning hot flame of rage. Sometimes it’s a more like a pervasive grime that coats one’s life. It is not necessarily deeply troubling, but life feels like a daily grind. One’s perspective is tinted by a sheen of muck. Sometimes fear is the negativity that manifests. It could be a fear of failure, a fear of being misperceived, a fear of not getting what we want. The various shades of negativity are as endless as the stories that create them.

Every form of negativity is a form of resistance. Every form of negativity is based in a story that has a central character struggling. But what happens when you remove the person in the story? What happens when there is no more narrative? Lets look at fear for a moment. What is it? From a biological standpoint, it is probably the secretion of certain chemicals in the body in response to some external stimuli. Our adrenaline starts pumping, our hearts start racing. The fight or flight response has been triggered. This is very useful when a disgruntled sabre tooth tiger is staring you down, but is perhaps less so when that trigger never subsides and you respond to every psychological challenge by running or fleeing. There is room for a more liberated approach. Without the story about the fear it is just a set of facts and sensations that are happening; a heart racing, blood pumping, adrenaline rushing. It is the negative story which gives those facts and sensations a "negative" connotation. We could use those same facts and tell a story about a running race and it would have a completely different meaning.

So are we to blame stories? Not quite so. That would just be another story. Stories are simply our ways of parcing out reality. They are quite helpful as long as we do not mistake them as the full truth. Stories are never completely true so it is delusive to search for our ultimate meaning in them. It is more useful to look to stories as a guide to how the outer world is being reflected by our inner world at that moment. We are held hostage by our stories when we cannot see that there are many perspectives and that the ultimate truth, in fact, stands even outside of all of those perpsectives.

Our negative emotions can teach us valuable lessons if we let them. Anytime there is negativity it is an opportunity to look into how we have been hooked into believing something false about ourselves and the world. What are we defending? What are we trying to hold up? What is beneath the fear? What are we afraid of? What are we believing that enables this negativity?

Experiment: Identify something that you are a little bit afraid to do. It should not be something that terrifies you or that you know you "cannot" do. And it should of course be safe. It should, on the other hand, be something that produces a certain degree of anxiety or fear. One beautiful example I am going to borrow from someone who writes on the ET TV Forums. As he was about to leap off a cliff into deep waters below, he kept approaching the cliff and then backing away. Each time he would get close to the cliff edge, he would try to be aware of the feelings, and sensations in his body at that moment. He became keenly attuned to what that experience of fear/anxiety felt like in his body and experience. You can do the same thing, even if it does not involve literally jumping off a cliff. Find something that causes you anxiety and just before you are about to undertake the activity become deeply present and witness the sensations in your body. What are you feeling? Where are you feeling it? What is happening to your body? Are there any thoughts that are accompanying your fears? What are they saying? Feel the difference between almost undertaking the fearful activity and moving back to what is comfortable.

In actuality, for this, it matters not whether you carry out the activity. The purpose of this experiment was to witness and truly understand what your own fear feels like rather than just react as your fear. I would be interested in hearing from you about how the experiment went. Please do write a comment.

Its nice to talk abstractly about negativity and all but don't terrible things happen? Isn't there pain and suffering and misery? These things are negative. How can you say that when there is negativity we have been hooked into a falsehood about the world?

It is a paradox that is difficult to articulate. Let me give you an example from my own life that begins to illuminate what I mean. In my last blog, I wrote about my struggle with mental illness. It has been difficult and painful at times. Yet despite this pain, or more aptly perhaps because of this pain, I sought an end to my suffering which led me to eventually "awaken" Sometimes its as if suffering enables us to see beyond the one who seems to be suffering. In my life, my mental illness has at one level been "negative", at another level it is simply a part of my experience and I am grateful, for what it has taught me and brought me in contact with. If something bad helps you to understand your true purpose and essence - can it be called negative so easily? If it expands your ability to be compassionate is it "bad". Now of course I am "lucky", and the pain in my story is not as deep as many other people experience, but the mechanics are the same. Once you feel your essence, you understand that no matter what someone else does to you or what you experience that may be "negative" there is an untouchable sacredness that has always been with you, will not ever leave you, and cannot be taken away, and you are never the same. This sacredness is unaffected by anything that could ever happen to you. This essence is the real you and it is connected to and part of everything else for lack of better words. When that essence is fully grasped through and through it becomes clearer that the "negative" does not really touch the essence of us. And if it does not touch "us" then isn't it a falsehood? This does not mean that something will never feel "negative" at the time, its just to say that the panoramic perspective is available to us if we can access it. Similarly, please don't take this to mean not to alleviate suffering. I am now going to blatantly and knowingly contradict myself and say suffering is real. Language can be so limiting. At a relative level, suffering does happen and we should do our utmost to relieve it when we see it in the world but at an absolute level, things are simply as they are. True compassion enables us to see that on the one hand there is real pain and misery. In fact, if we look closely enough and do not turn from it -- it is heartbreaking. At the same time, the quivering heart is able to see the essence of all things; that which is beyond the misery it is also able to hold the suffering.

So what should you do when you encounter negativity? What should you do when the flames of anger begin to rise and writhe? What should you do when you are afraid?

If you are able, watch the negativity. Become curious about it. Give it compassionate space and treat it with tenderness. Look deeply into it. Let it be as big as it needs to be. Many people have learned to count to ten when they get angry. It gives them a chance to cool off before they do or say something they regret. It can be a good practice. But often times people continue to tell themselves the story of why this person or that situation made them angry, so instead of cooling off they are feeding the fire of anger. See if you can feel the anger without the story. Concentrate on how the actual feeling of anger lives in the body. See how angry you can get for a moment. Not with some righteous indignation over what happened to you, but to experience the raw and simple energy of anger. What does it feel like? What color is it? What shape is it? What is it doing to your muscles? What is happening in your throat? What is going on in your belly or your heart? Give the anger some compassionate space to exist.

Usually another feeling lurks beneath the anger. Usually we are protecting or defending something. Often we are masking fear or hurt - other "negative" emotions. For me, I know I have reached the bottom of any "difficult" emotions when I begin a particular kind of cry. It is a cathartic cry. It is a cry of reaching and understanding truth. It is accompanied by a sweet tenderness towards the whole situation.

Hastily, we are so apt to write off our "negative" emotions and reach for something "better" but true reality, true love recognizes that these so called negative experiences are just other colors in the rainbow of life. They make the picture vivid and vibrant. True reality embraces them simply because they are. We do not need to fear them. We do not need to run from them. We do not even need to change them. Nothing that is real can ever be harmed so we do not need to worry. That which we perceive as "negative" is just another tool to awaken us from slumber and show us our divinity. So rest in peace the next time something "negative" appears. It is another chance to see yourself and escape the dream.

1 comment:

Doreen said...

so well heart-out...