Sometimes cold hard winters can give rise to a lot of negative feelings. I know that’s true for me. However, negativity doesn’t have to be all bad. Feeling bad sometimes can be quite beneficial, not unlike how watching a sad movie can actually make us feel better.¹
The idea that to relieve suffering, we must first embrace suffering is not a new one. This has been discussed in Buddhism for a long time.
Here’s a quote that has been attributed to the famous Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Buddha called suffering a holy truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering and let it reveal to you the way to peace.”
There’s this other guy named Hiroshi Motoyama who is a semi-well-known Shinto priest. He wrote several books on his numerous peak meditative experiences. His whole story is so complicated that I can’t get into it in one blog post. However, in one of his books, Toward a Superconsciousness, he wrote, “Drawing an analology from the carbonated drink, we know that gas will bubble off when the bottle is opened and the pressure is released…Similarly, the psychic contents of the unconscious that surface to consciousness should be left to dissipate as they well up” (p. 18). This is in reference to letting the bad stuff come up.
In some areas of psychology, these bottled up non-expressed thoughts and feelings become part of what is called our “shadow.” The shadow is made up of all of the things that we don’t want to know about ourselves so we pack them away—out of reach of any daylight. From this place, the shadow continues to operate, but it’s under the radar and outside of our conscious control.
Denying our suffering is like bottling up the carbonation. When we keep our negative thoughts and emotions bottled up, then sure, no one ever sees them, but then they are still stuck inside of us, making us sick.
This is the healing wisdom behind having what is called “a good cry.”
Similarly to what is taught by those who started the “law of attraction” movement, I do believe that our thoughts and feelings directly affect our physical experiences and the overall course of our lives. This is the reason that we must be exceptionally careful with how we deal with them. Forcing a negative thought or feeling into the shadow will only cause it to operate from a place that we can’t see. This is much worse than being consciously aware of how our thoughts and feelings are affecting our lives. Instead of awareness, we’re stuck wondering why we’re tired, lethargic, suffering or otherwise unsuccessful in our endeavors despite all of our intensive positive thinking.
Today, the pop-spirituality movement has turned our culture into a “no-negativity-ever” zone. This is not only a stifling environment for growth, but insensitive to people who are truly suffering at the moment.
At the bottom of this post is a talk by Barbara Ehrenreich where she talks about how obstinate positivity has negatively impacted the greater good. I don’t agree with every single thing she says, but overall, she makes a lot of good points.
I’m not advocating for wallowing in depression or cynicism, but I do think that we owe it to ourselves to fully explore our down times. Often times negative thoughts and feelings don’t come flying out in a fit of tears, but need to be given time—to be coaxed out with sensitivity and compassion.
I am advocating for exploring how you honestly feel without judgement.
I say “without judgement” because judgement makes us want to manipulate our emotions into being appropriate to our given situation, something we would rather feel, or expectations that we have for ourselves. Conversely, the judgement tempts us to tell a story about our given situation that fits our feelings. This only serves to intensify bad feelings which is the negative side of being “negative.”
Good luck, folks. Since today is one of the numerous snow-days we’ve had this year, why not take the time to let out whatever you’ve been carrying around?
¹I know that the conclusions drawn in this article are not exactly the same as the message in this post. However, I do believe there is a connection because both support the idea that a more honest perspective about one’s own situation (even if it’s negative) is beneficial.