Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Flip Side of Negativity

There is a difference between optimism as a reactive response to pessimism, or negative thinking, and authentic stability and faith. It is akin to the difference between feeling like "I can cope, I think", and feeling the deep, abiding worthiness of being.

People get understandably miffed at Pollyanna-like attitudes in the face of genuine loss. One can only listen to so many well-meaning statements-- "Don't worry, you'll find another house/girlfriend/job/hamster/philosophy...everything will be ok!" (What if I don't want a repeat of the same? I'm looking for ANSWERS! An end to loss, an end to pain! I want OFF the stupid ride!)

I can't tell you how many times I felt that way, and how many times I've heard this from people I care for. It is true that "the only way out is through", so an investigation of pessimism and negativity is ultimately worth the agony.

So, what exactly is this feeling of struggle, entrapment, fear and pain? What is it that wants to dictate my actions, that has me stockpiling defenses and justifications for my behavior? Why do I still feel so insecure, even as an adult who knows how to deal with the basics of life? Why can't I find happiness? Why, when I think I have it all figured out, and I have the right person, place or things to guarantee contentment, do I somehow end up right back in miserable, negative angst?

The obvious answer is that happiness can never be guaranteed by the conditions "out there". There is no stability, no permanence in the flux. Everything rises and falls. A person must somehow find an "inner" stability that does not depend on the environment. We have all heard the trite wisdom about finding real love and contentment within oneself, first, before that genuine state can be found in relation to others or the world; there are endless self-help books, methods and world views to explore (this can be quite an adventure, when viewed as such). We have also heard that we cannot be too "attached" to things and situations in life...but it seems to be natural to be attached, to fall in love or lust, or some kind of desire. To attempt a detachment from life feels patently false.

After a while, all the hunting and finding seems to be adding more and more stuff to an already overburdened self. Anything you "find" is obviously external to you, and again, part of the fickle flux. Inevitably, the search must end, and the disappointment can be brutal. The constructs begin the coming-apart process, and feelings of hopelessness or meaninglessness are common. Our myths are full of references to the "darkness before the dawn". Where, then, is the damn dawn? Anger often sets in, and a kind of rejection of the world. This is good, as long as the "rejection" is consciously undertaken. I am not my feelings. I am not my thoughts. I am not your ideas. I am not my ideas. I am not...what am I?

This "stripping down" is another healing, a shedding of false identity and patterns that no longer serve. If it is taken to the end, we face a dark and yawning void, and may conclude that we are absolutely Nothing.

Let me assure you, and not as one of those pesky "optimists", that we are sitting in the light at the very moment we despair of ever seeing it.

At this point of bottomless crisis/opportunity, we can do what is typical, and reach for another idea, or method, or hit, or distraction, and hope that this time, the band-aid will staunch the arterial flood. Or, we can can be still and feel what is welling up. It's only our lifeblood, the stuff we are afraid of, in denial of, and walled against. It's the ultimate broken heart, the ultimate sacrifice--and oh yes, it ends in death. But not the death we think we know.

There is another level to pain that contains what heals us. The "holy leap", or the "sitting in the fire", seems to be necessary for most of us. (That's the part of the story where we boldly go where no man has gone before, facing the monster, the demon, the black hole, the unexplained.)
But there is a caveat in this scenario. We cannot win the battle by fighting what we already know. We cannot pretend to understand this battleground in terms of all the things we've defined in the past or anticipate in the future.

The eternal sense of frustration that we humans seem to have comes from trying to do things that are impossible and devoid of real meaning. We attempt to live in contradiction to ourselves, like this: When a "negative" feeling happens, the first thing we do is adopt a confrontational stance by trying to split ourselves apart from this feeling, to contain, control or objectify it, somehow. In other words, we attempt an escape. We throw up an "I" that is afraid, victimized, insulted, angry, superior, etc, etc. In this way, we try to turn the unknown into something "known" and familiar. We ring off the battleground with the same old fences, and call up the same old opponents as the cause of our current turmoil. We do it again. And again.

This happens so quickly that we never question it, and simply feel like a creature backed into a corner, one that must now deal with the chemistry and emotions of something attacked and suffering. It's like repeatedly putting your hand on a hot stove and accusing the stove of causing the pain. But psychological pain begs to be understood. Not avoided, not explained, not acted out ...entered.

We finally do, defenseless. In that moment, there is a shift. Suddenly, what we're looking at, out there, is our own insides (or as my friend James poetically put it, "God's Guts"). We now fully experience the self as the "awareing" of life. We are That.

Fear dissolves, and curiosity, gratitude and clear understanding arise. It becomes quite obvious how our security-seeking creates insecurity.

We cannot escape the unknown, standing, as we are, on the cusp of the unknown becoming ourselves. We ARE that process, every second of every day. And as much as we delight in making up stories for our fear that seem to make sense, this is not really knowing ourselves.
We can't taste the theory of cause-and-effect, or touch abstractions as a substitute for experience. These are beautiful compliments to life, in the same way that paintings and poems are complimentary by pointing to that which is much larger than their form.

Here is our reality: We are not free to experience any moment but this one, right now.

This is it.

We cannot enter honest joy by holding a sketchy representation of it in memory--or an anticipation of some future joy--while what is joyful is present. Nor can we deny a current sadness by "trying" to be happy. In this way, we keep the possibility of real joy at a distance. We don't really know what feeling good is unless we ARE feeling good. And a person never feels good while running away from feeling bad, because the running is the bad feeling.

So stop. Roll in the horror, surrender to the grief. Shake in fear. Now, let it leave.
Will it be back? Who knows? Perhaps, in a different form...but, let it go. Stretch out in the peace and emptiness of its wake. No need to relive it or replace it with anything.

I never said this was easy. :)

But if you feel the urge to really know reality as something other than a thing to struggle with, or a definition, or a theory or philosophy, you must be willing to fully enter into it, feel it and be it. What this bestows is a genuine optimism, an active acceptance that views reality as it is before the imposition of personal agenda. The natural manifestation is a deep trust in one's own process undivided from the whole; reality turns out to never, ever be what we think.

You see, we ARE our awareness and everything in it; the very nature of this awareness is to be one with what it knows. Mental activity that fights this actually runs counter to what is true, and results in pain of some kind.

An undivided mind is the definition of peace and security. A divided mind cannot know unity. Division, however, is just one more "thing" abstracted from the whole--one more temporal appearance of an "I". Not a problem. There is no actual division...just convention. Beyond conventional wisdom, the Great Undivided manifests as creative action that could be called "Love", right there on the light side of fear.

Surrender. :)

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