No one wants to suffer. It’s totally natural that we don’t want to feel unpleasant emotions like loss, sadness or anger. And, they are messengers too, they inform our lives. There’s another thing that we do betwixt the attraction to pleasant things and the aversion to unpleasant things. We want things to be a particular way (which is of course related). We have ideas about the way life should turn out. Put simply, we overstate our capacity to control things, we develop expectations and when life doesn’t turn out how we’d like it to, we experience a sense of failure or disappointment.

Seeking a palatable positivity

This is my life’s work, a project I’ve been chipping away at for years. With a distaste for the saccharin like positivity purveyed in a culture hellbent on productivity and success (determined by values to which I am not aligned), I’ve been seeking a palatable way to be positive . As someone who has, more than once, fallen into a deep dark hole of depression I am extremely interested in the nuances of how to use positivity skillfully and also how it can quickly become an overlay for something we’d much prefer not to acknowledge. In other words a by-pass, a way of avoiding what is uncomfortable. It’s really easy to get these confused, I find. And why does it matter if we avoid the uncomfortable? Because we miss the information, the message that it is giving us. We miss an opportunity to integrate our disowned parts and move towards wholeness and therefore, greater peace.

A sinking, vulnerable feeling

I awoke this morning expecting a pleasant day, my usual Thursday routine. However, I was plagued by a sense of disillusionment. I wasn’t really able to access why. I just felt a sense of heaviness in my heart and an all too familiar feeling of something like having a hole at the bottom of my chest with my energy draining away. A sinking, vulnerable feeling. This was not the way I wanted to feel. And, there it was. “Hello familiar sinking feeling what do you have to say to me today?” It took me a little while to accept the presence of this visitor, but gradually, I tried to make it feel at home. This is an aspect of me after all, and I have long since learned not to try and shoo these visitors away.

Unwanted visitors

Gradually, I started to feel more peaceful about this visitor and by about lunchtime I had realised that I simply needed a quiet, gentle day, a low energy day. “That’s ok”, I say to myself, “I will be gentle and kind and treat myself tenderly”. Gone are the days of “suck it up”, “get over it”, “there’s something wrong with you”. I feel tender, scared and vulnerable a lot of the time these days. I like it. Well, it still takes me a little while to like it, but I do recognise that it is far more beneficial for me to listen to these guests than to try to shoo them away. They were always there, just buried beneath the guards and fortresses I’d built up over many years.

What matters most to me is peace, love and the acknowledgement of our inseparable interconnectivity. These are the values that guide my life. I often feel that to honour these I have to stand against a raging tide in an external world that is demanding something quite different. As I look back over my journey of Awakening so far, I notice that as my defenses and protections have eroded away (something I have consciously allowed) I feel much more vulnerable and sensitive.

A balance to be struck

I do, of course, have to be careful not to become hi-jacked and overwhelmed by these tender feelings. There is a balance to be struck while in the process of not making them wrong. It’s a practice and it takes care. Sometimes I do get hi-jacked. Sometimes I do get seduced by the attraction of a superficial covering to avoid the discomfort. Wherever I land I always have the opportunity to meet and greet my experience, whatever it is, as it is, with love. My desire to escape, my tendency to get caught or consumed, requiring only a course correction rather than recrimination.

A three step program; let be, let go, let in

Most significantly I think it’s about timing. When the sludge and mud starts to surface, I need first to see it, allow it, honour it. Be gentle with it and heed it’s message. Let it be. The next step is to let it go to the extent that I can. The witness position being essential here. Observing and noticing it’s impact without getting sucked into the vortex. Then, and only then can I bring in the positive to remind me that this sludge and mud isn’t the totality of who I am, it doesn’t define me. I can take my attention to some sort of antidote, perhaps a general feeling of peace, love and contentment or something more specific to soothe the wound. For instance, if I’m feeling rejected and hurt, deliberately bringing to mind a relationship or relationships in which I feel cared about.

A willingness to listen to our most unwelcome guests is required. Honouring our own experience as valid no matter how uncomfortable. Surrendering expectations and a need for a certain outcome. Rick Hanson’s three step program; let be, let go, let in, is a process that lets the positive in appropriately, without by-pass and without getting sucked into the vortex. It is a little counter-cultural. It is a positive use of the positive. And, above all, it’s a practice.