We often hear that the secret to success is to think positively or feel appreciation and gratitude. While these are definitely powerful practices, they can turn us against parts of ourselves that aren’t thinking and feeling that way. As a result, we may become resistant to having negative thoughts and feelings or try to avoid anything that isn’t sweet and rosy. We also miss the important message in negative emotions.
However, these resistant or avoidant strategies fail to acknowledge the reason why these thoughts and feelings arise. Instead of alleviating negativity, if anything, they perpetuate it. I’d like to give you different strategy that both honors and releases us from the negative effects of negativity.
So, it’s likely that you’ve heard the headlines that positive thinking and feeling boost your energy and immune function and propel you toward all the good things in life. When you hear that news, it’s natural to want to only have positive thoughts and feelings.
It’s natural to get a negative edge toward negativity. It’s natural to see negativity as the enemy of your dreams and higher aspirations. It’s natural to fear it and want to avoid it at all costs.
However, it also seems to be true that what we resist or avoid persists. When we resist something, we keep it alive as something we are pushing against. When we avoid negativity the cause of that negativity goes unnoticed. It gets stored in our subconscious and continues to wreak silent havoc there.
So if resistance and avoidance don’t work, what other strategy is possible? Is there another way to relate to negativity that honors its purpose and creates deeper release and integration at the same time? Is there a way to relate to negativity that actually uses its energy and information in a positive way? Is there another way to view positive thinking and feeling that includes negativity as a healthy and beneficial aspect of your life?
The problem with the “headline” view of positive thinking and feeling is that it leads you to believe that you are supposed to try to always have only positive thoughts and feelings.
Here’s a news flash:
That’s not going to happen.
You are a human being who is involved in complex systems of relationships, events, and circumstances that create many different appropriate states of thought and feeling. Things happen that have appropriate emotional responses of anger, sadness, and fear. When things don’t go well, it’s appropriate to have “negative” thoughts about what is happening.
So-called “negative” thoughts and feelings arise as responses to what is actually happening inside and around us. Now, certainly, sometimes we over-dramatize these thoughts and feelings, blow them out of proportion, and allow them to carry us away in actions that are damaging to ourselves and others. However, if we shift our relationship to these “negative” experiences, we can learn from them and use their energy and information appropriately.
Let’s redefine positive thinking and feeling as a “positive attitude to whatever happens.” It is about how we relate to “positive” or “negative” experiences, events, and circumstances. We can teach ourselves to view each moment, thought, feeling, and experience as informative.
Negative thoughts and feelings can be our greatest teachers, when we view them in a positive way. For example, if you have a negative thought such as “I can’t do that. I’m a loser. I have no skills here,” instead of resisting those thoughts and trying to have a positive one instead, see if you can turn and face those thoughts head-on.
Ask yourself, “What is the message in this thought?” See if you can turn the light of your awareness directly on that “negative” thought and see what you can learn from it.
When you turn and face your thought, rather than resisting or avoiding it, you gain a different relationship to it. If you welcome and accept your thought and seek “the gift” in it, you now have a new positive relationship with it. The thought loses its negative force and becomes a portal of information.
For example, the negative thoughts above could be pointing out that, in this situation, it would be good to learn and practice a specific skill. If you look at what you are not doing well head-on, without shrinking from it, you can learn how to do things better.
The same idea can be applied to emotions. For example, anger can alert you that something or someone needs protection. Sadness can alert you that it’s time to let go of something or someone. Fear can alert you to possible action that you need to take. Any uncomfortable experience arises with information about yourself and others and energy to do something with that information. Negative thoughts and feelings alert you that something needs to be acknowledged, learned, and/or shifted.
When you turn toward, welcome, accept, and appreciate every thought, feeling, and sensation as a moment of information, you gain access to that information so you can use it effectively. You’ve now gained a positive viewpoint within a “negative” thought, feeling, or sensation.
This is a deeper and more productive meaning of positive thinking and feeling. It is an empowering attitude toward life.